After this answer and its subsequent comments, I propose a change to the "Why should this question be closed?" dialog, which is currently as follows:

unclear what you're asking
Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

I suggest the following text instead:

unclear what you're asking
This question is hard to answer, because it summarizes a claim without referencing it. Please add a reference to and quote from the published text which contains the specific claim you want to question.

The current version is standard boilerplate, not customized for Skeptics. When a question is unclear, asking the OP to clarify and add details about the question is less informative than being able to identify and read the specific claim that's being questioned.

Alternatively I suggest that the following off-topic close reason:

Questions regarding claims that are not widely heard or read are off-topic; please see Must all questions be notable?.

... be changed to something like the following:

This question doesn't identify a specific notable claim. Please add a reference to and quote from the published text which contains the specific claim you want to question.

  • I support either, but I suspect the latter is more under our control.
    – user5582
    Aug 26, 2013 at 2:22
  • Related: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/2430/… (which makes me think we only have control over the off-topic close reasons).
    – user5582
    Aug 26, 2013 at 18:29

3 Answers 3


Vote for this answer if you want to adopt the alternative text suggestion provided by @ChrisW in the original question

i.e. change the current custom close reason to:

This question doesn't identify a specific notable claim. Please add a reference to and quote from the published text which contains the specific claim you want to question.

while leaving the "unclear what you're asking" text alone.


This answer serves two purposes. To give some background and to offer a default position.

Vote for this answer if you want to maintain the status quo.

I checked what is possible through the moderator's interface - i.e. without assistance from StackExchange developers.

It looks like we cannot remove the existing close reasons, but we can add a limited number of new reasons.

Note: One custom reason already exists, viz:

Questions regarding claims that are not widely heard or read are off-topic; please see Must all questions be notable?.

We are warned only to add new close reasons sparingly and with community consultation, so I offer this answer as a 'status quo' response, to ensure we aren't going against the community wishes.

Vote for it if you would rather not have a new reason or change to the old reason. I won't vote for it myself, but if enough do, we shouldn't make any change.

  • I too won't vote on any of these answers (I assume that you haven't and cannot because you posted them).
    – ChrisW
    Sep 2, 2013 at 14:05

I propose a subtly different text/link to @ChrisW's, while maintaining the same goal.

Change the custom close reason to:

No notable claim has been provided. To maintain our focus on claims that have been widely heard or read, we generally require questions to include a quote and reference to examples of the notable claim.

  • Do you think this language is too complex for median English-as-a-second-language users?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 29, 2013 at 4:28
  • According to MS Word's "Readability Statistics", my version is less complex (yours is "reading ease 58.5, grade level 9.5" where mine is "ease 62.7, grade level 7.9"). However that may be irrelevant: my guess is that, what new users have difficulty with is the technical vocabulary especially the definition of "notable claim" as 'we' use it here, rather than the grammar and the sentence length and so on.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:06
  • I recommend my text, because: my first sentence is "identify a specific claim" versus "no claim is provided"; my second sentence is prescriptive, "please provide" versus "to maintain our focus blah"; yours is more equivocal, including "or heard" and "generally"; you ask for "examples" plural whereas I want only one, specific example; you use passive tense in the first sentence, and an "editorial we" in the second, whereas I say "please"; your two hyperlinks are to relatively messy walls of text, mine is to the "Welcome to new users" page, which 'ought' to be sufficient/complete/understandable.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:08
  • Based on the popular voting on the answers to meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/2497/2703 I accept that your message may be better and more popular than mine and/or Sancho's (although I wish voters had also left comments or even answers of their own, to let me understand their reasoning). Accepting therefore that it's necessary or desirable to be equivocal in the 'rules', I still don't think that it's as helpful to be equivocal in the close reason -- being equivocal helps explain why some questions aren't/weren't closed, but doesn't help explain to new users when a question /is/ closed.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:09
  • 2
    Either of our answers would be improved (easier to read) if we could use the term "notable claim" with a hyperlink, to a canonical definition of what in fact a notable claim is: perhaps a definition added to skeptics.stackexchange.com/help/asking titled "What is a notable claim?", or edited-in to the Welcome topic.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 29, 2013 at 13:10
  • @ChrisW: I agree that my suggestion is more equivocable. You make a good point about not needing to be equivocable; I was worried the rules-lawyers would complain about the inconsistency, but if you think it is defensible, I'm willing to go with your answer.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:08
  • @ChrisW: Our ability to edit the help page is notoriously limited. I'm all in favour of improving the Welcome topic if you think it will help. My first thought: It should be a meta-question "What is a notable claim?" (tagged FAQ), but we already have this. Reckon it is worth turning that into a FAQ answer? I'm tending towards yes.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:10
  • I'm a little worried at the use of "notable" to mean two different things. First use: a "notable claim" is one that has been made elsewhere in the world in a fixed form. Second use: "notable examples of the claim" seems to use notable in a way that begs the question if we assume the definition from the first use. If you changed the last sentence to "example of the notable claim", it would resolve the problem.
    – user5582
    Aug 29, 2013 at 18:00
  • @Sancho: Interesting. To me the word "notable" doesn't have the first connotation - it isn't about being in a fixed form. It is about it being well-known. "Worthy of attention or notice" Another argument for a FAQ definition?
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 30, 2013 at 1:21
  • @Oddthinking I mean, that's how we've defined it here. A notable claim means a claim that we can point to/link to, and quote. Or, even if we take notable to mean "a claim that is well-known", do we require people to link to notable examples? Or just examples? We've accepted facebook posts, single sign-posts, and email threads as examples... none of which I would call notable, but again, that's sort of begging the question. I still think re-phrasing the last part to "example(s) of the notable claim" is better than "notable examples of the claim".
    – user5582
    Aug 30, 2013 at 1:28
  • @Sancho: Corrected.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Aug 31, 2013 at 6:58

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