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My question was mostly prompted by this question.

I find the question as originally asked either extremely broad (whole book broad) or totally unclear. Since it is not clear what is being asked, how can we say that it is a duplicate of another question?

Unclear

Let me point out a couple things to reinforce my notion that the linked question is unclear, although the question in question is just a specific example. My question still stands whether this particular example seems clear to you or not.

One answer was posted before the question was posted. It talks about quick-start rules to help the asker create a character and gain familiarity with mechanics. This is completely different than the answers to the linked duplicate, which describe the basic concept of role-playing from a much higher level than the rules.

The asker specifically stated that they have been watching streams of DnD games, which indicates they are already familiar with the information presented in the answers to the linked duplicate. They even ask about creating characters, whereas the duplicate's answers inform the asker that there are characters.

In the question the asker wants to know "how to make characters etc". etc. What is et cetera in this context? What do they want to know? I certainly can't read minds.

Marking as a Duplicate is Confusing

Okay, so regardless of whether you agree about that question being clear or not, let's assume we have an unclear question. Why does that matter?

I was confused by this being marked as a duplicate, and I've been using this site pretty heavily for months. How is someone asking their first question supposed to interpret this?

The provided reason for the question being closed is:

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Nowhere in there does it suggest editing the question or making it more clear. It doesn't say that the question "appears to be a duplicate". It says that it is a duplicate.

On the other hand, we have a different option specifically for this situation. We mark the question as "unclear what you're asking", and the user is told:

Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. The way the question is currenty written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

Which actually tells them what to do.

I asked BESW about this in the comments, and the response was:

result would be the same: a question on hold until edited for clarity so it can get useful answers. The reason for a close/hold does not influence the question's ability to get voted back open later

Perhaps it doesn't influence the questions ability to be repoened on the mods' end, but it certainly affects the users likelihood of editing for clarity, seeing as how there's no indication that that's what they're being asked to do.

To be fair, BESW did leave a comment suggesting editing for clarity at the time that the question was closed. Also to be fair, the big boxes on the screen saying it is closed as a duplicate are much larger and more official looking than this comment.

Summary

Basically, I don't think we can possibly know what the asker was actually asking, and I think that closing it like this makes it unlikely that we ever will.

Furthermore, assuming that users will be aware of the intricacies of the close/on hold system -- which I find incredibly counterintuitive -- is not an excuse for doing something that is functionally equivalent but appears quite different to the user.

So, therefore, we should use the tools and procedures we already have in place to handle such a question in the most effective manner possible so that we can not only maintain the quality of RPGSE, but - more importantly - actually help the asker.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We're quibbling on meta about which close reason to use? Success. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jul 10 '14 at 12:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross Well yeah. That seems pretty important to me because it affects how the user is informed and what they're directed to do. I thought we were trying hard to make this site more accessible to new users? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 10 '14 at 21:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon Not too long ago the hot topic was that questions got closed; Ross is celebrating the maturation of the site. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 10 '14 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Ah, I thought he was being sarcastic. Well good then, I agree. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 15 '14 at 19:41
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The situation was not ideal, but it was certainly within the bounds of "appropriate." In a case like this I don't think there's any appreciable difference between asking a new question and editing the old one, so while your objection that the close reason text is confusing is valid, it doesn't really change the final outcome: if the querent asks a new question instead of editing the existing one... oh, well.

Besides--it's hard to imagine a more obvious indicator that your question is unclear than that it's been closed as a duplicate of a dissimilar question. Roundabout, yes, certainly not ideal, but I'm not sure you're giving the average querent enough credit in the brains or motive department.

Personally I think the "original" question is really very much like the new querent's: since the new querent is confusing D&D, Pathfinder, and RPGs, it's unlikely that answers about Pathfinder character creation will be helpful yet. Is that jumping the gun and reading too much into the situation? Probably. I waffled about which close reason to vote for and finally decided on the one which would point the querent most obviously toward a useful post which would help them re-define their question. Apparently at least one other person agreed with me.

[NB: Questions get closed when they reach 5 close votes--or a mod or gold badge user votes to close them--regardless of whether all the votes are for the same reason. The majority reason gets the billing and all voters are credited with having voted that way.]

Then there's the other issue, which I think you might be mixing together with the close reason: you're also objecting to the question being closed at all. Closing the question is absolutely the right thing to do; it sends a clear message that something needs to be changed, while (perhaps more importantly) protecting the question from getting bad answers which waste everyone's time and clutter up the site.

Standard procedure is to ask for clarification and simultaneously close the question until it's clarified, which is exactly what happened here. So while the specific text box for the specific close reason could be modified for better communication, that's the only problem I'm seeing.

You might want to start a meta post suggesting a better text block for the close-as-dupe box. (And I agree, the close/hold mechanic is a little esoteric, being built as it is piecemeal over years trying to adapt without being ripped out from the roots and redesigned from scratch. A meta.se post about that might be in order; I'm sure there already are several to build on.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I agree it should be put on hold, just for a different reason. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 10 '14 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright that makes sense. I think you've identified the real issue, which is that the close/on hold system is a little confusing and maybe the message to the user could be clearer. I also think maybe you're attaching connotations to the word 'appropriate' that I had not intended, so I'm going to edit the title. That's a helpful note in brackets, I didn't know that. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 10 '14 at 21:34
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I don't think it was unclear. It was the standard "noob wants to know how to get started with RPGs" and that's why we have that other question. If that doesn't answer their question, they can certainly use their words and say so, clarify their question, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Even if you think that this particular question was clear, which is baffling to me, are you saying that you think that this approach would be fine with a question that you did find to be unclear? \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jul 10 '14 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Concrete examples - it's clear in this case, we might handle other cases differently. Naturally we wouldn't close as a dupe if we had no idea if another question answered their concerns. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 10 '14 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, really, I don't understand the question. "Would you do the exact same thing in a different case?" "Uh, maybe." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 10 '14 at 12:29

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