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There are a lot of questions put on hold, and because of good reasons.

Maybe we should make the rules clearer? I see every day at least 1 or 2 new questions put on hold.

  • I suspect that most users don't read much in terms of rules before they post. That said, the moderators can edit some of the help documentation, especially webmasters.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic If you have any suggestions for how it could be improved, please make them here. – Stephen Ostermiller Aug 3 '14 at 0:57
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I agree that they could be much clearer, potentially reducing the number of questions put on hold, and confusion for new (and even more experienced) users.

As suggested in this Meta answer:

Our site gets a lot of low quality or ostensibly off-topic questions. How can I fix this?

If your site is having issues with its scope—whether it's from confused users or otherwise—propose clarifying or amending your site's Help Center...

One of the main issues is that users either don't see the first link under Asking in our Help Center: What topics can I ask about here?, or they're confused by it.

Although the heading there reads: What topics can I ask about, it's more of a (lengthy) list for what you can't ask about.

  • I propose that we add a new heading above the list of off-topic subjects (i.e., above "There are some types of questions about running websites that don't belong on this site") to more clearly indicate: What is considered off-topic for this site.

The list there itself is also confusing. Some things that should be clarified are:

  • Web sites out of your control is off-topic, but so is: Specific to only your site, leaving the user to wonder if their question is about a site they "control", but not too "specific" to that site...

    The former should be clarified to: Websites you are not the webmaster, developer, or owner of and the latter to: Would not be applicable to other sites. The text description for these should also be clarified to further denote the difference between these two.

  • Recommendations for sites and resources is one of the most common reasons for putting questions on hold, so it should be raised to the top of the list there.

  • Usage of web browsers and other software is another confusing issue: websites are accessed through web browsers, and consequently testing, managing, and debugging sites are also done using web browsers. Therefore we should edit this to just: Usage of software that's not related to running a website

  • Content management systems (CMSs) indicates that there are other Stack Exchange sites for WordPress, Drupal, Magento, etc..., however there are many questions about these already here, and they're extensively used in a large percentage of websites.

    Therefore the text description for this should be changed to indicate that there are other more specialized Stack Exchange sites that might be able to better answer advanced questions about these, so if they're not related to common webmasters tasks (e.g., SEO, URL management, etc...), they might be migrated to those sites.

  • System and network administration contains a reference to directing questions about "Apache configuration" to Server Fault. This should instead be changed to read: "server installation and maintenance" since we have and receive many questions on Apache and other web server configurations in regards to a host of different webmaster tasks.


This last off-topic reason should be more fully discussed and voted on in another Meta question, which I plan to ask shortly, and have already discussed with Community Team members.

  • HTML, JavaScript, or CSS coding is also one of the most common reasons for putting a question on hold and should be on-topic if it's in relationship to websites, but programming questions related to desktop and mobile applications should be directed to Stack Overflow.

As defined in Wikipedia for Webmasters:

Webmasters may be generalists with HTML expertise who manage most or all aspects of Web operations. Depending on the nature of the websites they manage, webmasters typically know scripting languages such as JavaScript, ColdFusion, .Net, PHP and Perl.

This is even more in need now that the Stack Exchange site DocType that Pro Webmasters used to refer these questions to, as discussed here, is closed.

In the same vein, questions about server-side scripting languages in relationship to websites should also be on-topic since they're routinely used by webmasters.


Lastly, the link for What topics can I ask about here? should be added to the How to Ask text box on the right-side of the question forms appearing under the Ask Question tab, so that it's more visible to users, rather than having to click on additional links in order see this. It might also be added to moderator close reasons instead of just the link to the Help Center, so they're can become aware of all the reasons why a question might be put on hold (often times we'll have users continue to ask different off-topic questions).

In summary, if we clarify what's considered on & off-topic for the site, make that easier to see, and increase the scope of the site to match the definition of what webmasters do, then we'll likely not only have fewer questions put on hold, but more of them, which may help to fuel activity and participation on the site too.

With a consensus from the community, I would make the above changes, and put the last issue (about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) into a separate Meta question since it doesn't involve simple text edits and likely warrants its own separate discussion. Other suggestions, modifications to the above, and answers are certainly welcome too.

  • 2
    I agree with you :) – William Edwards Aug 3 '14 at 7:10
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    Thanks, it's something I've also been thinking about for a while, so thanks for getting it started! Hope this can help lead to clarifying the site so less questions will end up on hold. – dan Aug 3 '14 at 7:25
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    Please mention, if you direct people to Server Fault for any reason, the necessity for the question to be about professional system administration, installation, maintenance, or however you end up wording it. Questions about home servers and developer environments aren't a good fit for SF, but are usually welcome on Super User. – Michael Hampton Aug 18 '14 at 0:28
  • @MichaelHampton No problem, will do. – dan Aug 18 '14 at 2:12
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    @dan Perfect answer! I read the guidelines before and did not dissect them like you have here. After reading this, I wonder what is on-topic? Very little it may seem. No wonder why we are frustrating people left and right. I know that there are good questions that are off-topic that I would like to either take a crack at or see answered due to interest. Yes some are off-topic, but some just barely and is closed as a judgement call or left open for the same reason. If we can be clearer and more definitive, that will go a long way. Plus a more obvious link would help too! – closetnoc Sep 5 '14 at 0:07
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    I like all these changes to this help page. I'm in favor of having you edit this page to include these changes. – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 4 '14 at 16:59
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No matter how perfect the help center text is or can be, it is rarely read by users and even less so before they ask a low quality question. So updating it, while being worthwhile and helpful, will not stop questions from being closed.

I'd also like to point out this is normal. Every site in the Stack Exchange world experiences closed questions every day. And this increases as the site grows and attracts new users (who don't read the help center before posting) and there are more questions for there to be duplicates of.

So this site is normal in the fact that it regularly has closed questions.

  • True. As users become more familiar with the standards of Stack Exchange and what's considered on-topic for this site, the more they tend to understand the need for holds. Hopefully clarifying the above will help users to become clearer quicker, and in the process be able to guide others too. Let's continue to fine-tune this and reference it whenever possible so it becomes more visible to others earlier on. Hopefully that will in-turn result in better quality questions with fewer ending up on hold. – dan Dec 6 '14 at 5:20

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