The original intention of the option unclear what you're asking is obvious. Nevertheless, every now and then there are questions in the closing queue that are actually clear enough, but end up receiving close votes as "unclear".

Some examples:

  • Is $Tds=dh-dp/\rho $ a valid definition for entropy? has been put on hold as unclear, but it's only missing definitions of the symbols, which are actually rather standard.

  • First law of themodynamics asks about energy per d.o.f. ($k_BT$) and heat ($Q=mc\Delta T$): whether equivalent and when to use. The question, put on hold for being unclear, is actually understandable.

  • The physics behind Basin structure has a crystal clear, if trivial question (3 "unclear" votes):

    Why are such holes [in a sink] kept and why is not a large gap produced so that water runs out?

What these questions have in common, it seems to me, is that they show a remarkable sloppiness or a remarkably broad misunderstanding.

While the last example might rather be off-topic/engineering, and the first two probably could be off-topic/lack-of-effort, I think that voting "unclear", by requesting the OP to elaborate, delivers more clearly the message that the OP should get his concepts sorted out.

I'm sorry if it's too much hair-splitting, but my question is: Is this practice fine?


2 Answers 2


I would say no, you shouldn't do that. The "unclear what you're asking" reason should be used for posts which don't have enough information to describe the situation and precisely identify the question being asked to an average topic expert. And accordingly, two of the three questions you linked to didn't really deserve their "unclear" close votes. (But I do think they deserved to be put on hold for other reasons, and as a practical matter we tend not to reopen-and-reclose a question just because it has the "wrong" hold reason. So they will probably be left as they are unless they are edited.)

The third post does strike me as unclear though.

In basins, we see that it's outer surface slants downwards towards the middle position.The water runs down through some tiny holes.

Why are such holes kept and why is not a large gap produced so that water runs out?

What holes? What kind of basin is the OP talking about? I really have no idea what physical situation is being described. Now, it's possible that this is common knowledge (among topic experts) that I just happen to not be familiar with. But the fact that it's accumulated three close votes, several downvotes, and no answers suggests that that's unlikely to be the case. The evidence I see seems more consistent with a question where many people are struggling to understand the situation or the problem the poster faces, and that's a perfect setup for "unclear what you're asking".

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, I really consider the meaning of the 3rd question obvious (no sink/basin specialist here) and uninteresting and that's what I attribute the downvotes for. The first comment to the question is as many times upvoted as the question is downvoted and says plainly "The holes are simply there so that dropped objects (like rings) will not go down the drain". And later on the OP clarifies in a comment that 'I'm asking why are there" 3-4 holes " rather than "a big hole"'. But that doesn't really matter, it's not the subjectivity of "unclear" that's being discussed. $\endgroup$
    – stafusa
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 10:11
  • $\begingroup$ @stafusa By "topical expert" I mean someone with expertise in fluid dynamics. We don't care about sink expertise here. Anyway, the reason I discussed that particular question was to show an example of what I do consider unclear, with the goal of clarifying it for you. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 10:17

Whether a question is clear or unclear depends on the reader. For example, a person with beginner knowledge of tensor or relativity might find a question based on relativity unclear, if symbols are not explained. A scientist, on the other hand, doesn't need that.

It is because of this that review queues were created, so that a close vote is given only when the question is truly unclear, and a new user cannot just vote to close a question. High reputation users, who can just give close votes, are expected to know the site and understand the minds of users to some extent before directly voting to close as unclear.

In case someone is not sure, comments can be posted, or the matter can be taken up for discussion in chat rooms.

But voting to close as unclear is perfectly fine according to me, because if one person thinks a question to be unclear, but no one else thinks so, then it'll not be closed (unless the person is a moderator). That's why for normal users, five close votes are required to close a question.

SE has put in enough checks, so that one doesn't have to be worried so much and just do what he thinks is correct.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I know there's not much harm to be done - not only because 5 votes are necessary, but also because only the most often chosen reason for closing is displayed to the user. That's why I apologized for the hair-splitting question. But, somehow, I always feel uneasy when checking the "unclear" option the way I described, so I guess all I want is a bit of community support to carry on. :-) Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – stafusa
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ I understand your concern. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 9:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .