Update: I gave up trying to convince other people to use “too localized” instead of “off topic” when closing too elementary questions. It seems that most people disagree, and I started to feel that it is a waste of time to try to convince people otherwise. For now, I still hesitate to vote for off topic (or to be listed as one of the people who closed the question as off topic) when I see too elementary a question, so probably I will not vote to close it. Hopefully there are enough people to close it anyway.
When we vote to close a question, we choose the reason from several choices. It seems that if a question is too elementary, it is often closed for the reason “off topic.”
I understand that this choice of reason is based on the consensus about the expected level of questions on cstheory.stackexchange.com. However, if a question is closed for the reason “off topic,” the following explanation is added to the question:
closed as off topic by [Someone], [Someone], [Someone], [Someone], [Someone] [Date]
Questions on Theoretical Computer Science are expected to generally relate to Theoretical Computer Science, within the scope defined in the faq.
I have trouble even parsing this sentence because of the tentative name of the website, but more importantly this does not mention the expected level of questions on cstheory.stackexchange.com. It plainly states that the question is not related to the theoretical computer science, which is often false. This gives the false impression that we take the theoretical computer science very narrowly. I think that this is problematic.
(Added in revision 5: The link in the explanation quoted above links to the built-in FAQ, not to the FAQ on Meta. The built-in FAQ is not clear about the expected level of questions, either, except that the sentence “Theoretical Computer Science - Stack Exchange is for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields” may suggest that research-level questions are expected. A clearer statement can be reached by the following chain of links: the explanation of “off topic” → built-in FAQ → FAQ on Meta → What kind of questions are too basic? But I doubt that users can find this path unless they are already familiar with the website.)
What should we do?
Here are a few suggestions:
- If the consensus is really that cstheory.stackexchange.com is for questions of at least certain level, the explanation of the reason “off topic” should be rewritten to reflect it. Is this possible?
On MathOverflow, too elementary questions are often closed for the reason “too localized.” Obviously this is an abuse and it certainly confuses some users, but it is possible to interpret it as “This question is so elementary that it is useful only for the asker,” and it is understandable (or at least less prone to misunderstanding). How about adopting this convention, at least until the explanation of “off topic” is modified to a better description?
- See a related FAQ entry and the links given there for discussions about what we mean by “too elementary.”
Added in revision 4: Whereas the description of the close reason is not shown on the question page on MathOverflow, it is shown on cstheory.stackexchange.com, which may make abusing harder. Here is the description of the close reason “too localized”:
This question would only be relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.
The point of the suggestion 2 above is that it is at least possible to argue that too elementary questions fall into the third group (and possibly also the second group) of this description.