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Some recent exchanges and observations suggest to me that users not only have different thresholds for voting to close a question yet still applying the same criteria, but that they even apply so widely different criteria that some decisions feel completely incomprehensible to others.

While there always were disagreements about which questions should be voted to close I feel that over time the disconnect became bigger; while there are less visible conflicts (by way of meta discussions) those discussions also had the (positive) side-effect of sometimes clarifying what the reason to close even was.

The idea of this post is to collect some descriptions on what makes one vote to close a question. To avoid this question becoming overly broad I would like to restrict to the closing of specific mathematical question. A lot can be and was said about the suitability of career advice, big lists, big picture, intuition etc. questions; this is however orthogonal to my current aim, I am mainly interest in criteria for the "typical" question.

The principal idea is to collect first-hand descriptions, like:

I vote to close a question when [...]

However, more general statements like: "I think it is reasonable to vote to close a question when [...] yet rather not when [...]" are also welcome.

The purpose of this get some common understanding of the criteria that are applied in practice in the evaluation of questions. This might not only inform future discussions on votes to close but could also help prospective askers to avoid some pitfalls.

The focus above is on votes to close as those come up most frequently and were the subject of the referenced discussions. However, votes to reopen could also be discussed, as well as the review actions "leave open" and "leave closed."

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  • $\begingroup$ It might be especially good to hear from people who are active at the review queues such as "Close Votes". Without running numbers, my impression is that this is a smallish group relative to the size of community, but often very active, and the impact of this small group on MO can be pretty big. Perhaps some numbers can be run on this, to give an idea. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Aug 28 '15 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ It may also be good to hear explanations of why people choose not to close a question, even when others have voted to close, or who may regret when an interesting question is closed. $\endgroup$ – Joel David Hamkins Aug 28 '15 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble From the about 29k close reviews about a third was done by the top 4 reviewers, and the top 8 collectively did about one half of all reviews. Some more details could be derived from the review-stats page. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 28 '15 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelDavidHamkins as I said statements like (added emphasis) "I think it is reasonable to vote to close a question when [...] yet rather not when [...]" are also welcome. I would still prefer if this Q&A stayed a bit focused on collecting motivations for actions (as opposed to general considerations why no action should be taken or even more why actions taken by others are not so good). Of course, there is also the action of voting "leave open" or voting "reopen." If somebody wants to report on this too they are welcome (I will include this in OP). $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 28 '15 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not quite sure what kind of answer you're looking for. For example, I vote to close if the problem seems very obviously ill suited to me (using a high threshold for badness, if that makes sense), or if it is in an area that I know well and then I judge it using a lower threshold (since I am much more confident of my judgement). Usually I skip doubtful questions in areas far from me, rather than voting to close or leave open. Probably this comment is too vague and general to be useful? $\endgroup$ – Lucia Aug 28 '15 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Lucia mainly I just want users to record their thought-process when voting to close; in that sense your comment qualifies as an answer. However, it could be still more useful if you could describe what "ill suited" means to you. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 28 '15 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ Something like: "I vote to close questions that are clearly at the level of exercises in a first-year graduate course or lower; this requires me to be familiar enough with the subject matter. When a question looks like it might be an exercise but it's in an area I don't know well (so I'm not certain), then I will not vote to close even when there are already some recorded close votes." ? $\endgroup$ – Arturo Magidin Aug 29 '15 at 3:06
  • $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin yes, like this. Perhaps I should have given an own answer right away as illustration. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 29 '15 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ I am a little concerned with how this thread is turning out. One of the users who has been active provided an answer, which met with some disagreement. Nothing wrong with that of course, but there seems to be some subtext that users should not perhaps be so active on closing questions. I can see the point of that too, but perhaps then it would be good to have a discussion of how much any one individual should participate on the review queues. $\endgroup$ – Lucia Aug 29 '15 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia indeed this is unfortunate. I am sorry it happened. I asked explicitly that "why actions taken by others are not so good" is not made the point of this thread. Of course this can be discussed. However, this thread is/was intended as a collection of data, with the potential to inform future discussion. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 29 '15 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ My opinion is that there is a topological moral here. A question should be closed precisely by people whose areas of expertise are complementary to the area of the question. $\endgroup$ – M.G. Aug 29 '15 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I asked the dual form of this question on meta: What makes you vote to open a question? $\endgroup$ – Amit Sing Mukerjee Oct 7 '15 at 18:14
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I vote to close when it's clearly homework.

I vote to close when the question is severely ill-posed.

I also tend to vote to close (more precisely to move to math.SE) when the problem could be given as an exercise in a common course up to beginning graduate level. I emphasize "common" because, unlike core subjects like basic analysis, algebra, differential geometry, some courses appear much less often on the graduate curriculum. Let me give an example, I would say that courses on Riemannian geometry are much more common than on Lorentzian geometry. So I would think twice about closing a question about Lorentzian geometry, even if it appeared elementary, compared to a question on Riemannian geometry, though I might not upvote it. I'm of course speaking hypothetically. If I can't make a judgment of this kind because the question is outside my expertise, I leave it alone.

I tend not vote to close if it appears to me that the question genuinely comes from a researcher who encounters a particular question in the course of their work, but possibly lacks the personal expertise to answer it. I think it's a reasonable professional courtesy to try to answer such questions, even from people slightly outside pure mathematics research. Though, when such a question is sufficiently elementary it's also a courtesy to vote to move the question to math.SE as quickly as possible, if that increases the probability of actually receiving an answer.

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Like the other answers, I vote to close questions that are obviously off topic (e.g. spam), or seem like homework, or seem better suited for MSE or Stats or CS sites. In deciding whether to close or not, I use a very high tolerance level for subjects not close to me (and avoid altogether some areas like geometry/topology, logic etc), and with a somewhat lower tolerance for areas where I trust my judgement (number theory, analysis, probability, combinatorics ...). I also like questions to be well written and clearly posed, and if I cannot understand the question in an area I am familiar with, I am likely to vote to close as unclear. I have noted a couple of differences between my reactions and some other users: when there is a clear math question that I find interesting, I do not feel any need for motivation spelt out in the question; on the other hand, I find myself more impatient than some others about vague questions, e.g. soft questions, or overly broad philosophical ones.

I have reviewed more than my fair share of questions (900+ so far, putting me tenth on the list). I can understand if people have concerns about a few people reviewing too many questions, and perhaps there is a meaningful discussion to be had on that topic. For my part, I am happy to retract close votes if I think a bit more and have second thoughts, or if the OP edits and improves the question. Sometimes I have been surprised to see what I think is a good question attracting close votes, and I usually leave a comment to try to persuade others to consider the question a bit more; on a few rare occasions, I have been disappointed that those voting to close did not reconsider their decisions. I also feel that those voting to close have some responsibility to explain their views if the OP or someone else takes up the matter on Meta for example: in my meta answers, you'll find a few examples where I have tried to explain what I thought, and also a couple of examples where I proposed questions (sometimes ones that I had initially voted to close) for reopening after they had been improved.

Finally, I like the transparency of the system: anyone can find, from my profile page, all the questions that I reviewed (I think this works if I went through the review queue, and not directly from the questions page), and in any case for any closed question the identities of those who voted to close is public. This makes me not so worried about what a few people could do, although again I fully understand if others are more concerned about it.

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I vote to close questions that are clearly at the level of exercises in a first-year graduate course or lower; this requires me to be familiar enough with the subject matter. When a question looks like it might be an exercise but it's in an area I don't know well (so I'm not certain), then I will not vote to close even when there are already some recorded close votes. I have been loath to vote to close questions that seem like they might be homework (from cues given by the way they are posed, etc) but are in areas I am not comfortable judging.

I will not initially vote to close a question that seems unintelligible, badly written, unjustified, etc., unless an attempt has been made to engage the original poster and the poster has either failed or refused to engage and address issues raised in comments, or has completely missed the issue repeatedly. I am unlikely to be the first vote to close such a question, but I might well provide a third, fourth, or fifth vote to close.

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