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The question What does this Pablo Neruda quote mean? was recently closed by two users including site moderator Hamlet, who said in a comment:

Hi. I'm afraid that this question can't be answered with any certainty unless we get more information about the quote. For example, it would be helpful to know what book/poem/whatever the quote came from. I've closed the question, but will reopen when more information is added.

He seems to believe that the question should be closed because the OP hasn't provided context or a specific source for the quote they're asking about. Now I couldn't find any context for the quote either, after searching for it online, but I assume that an expert on Pablo Neruda's poetry would either recognise the quote and know where it came from or be able to locate it easily.

Consider if the question had instead been about Shakespeare's "to be or not to be" quote. If anyone had been unsure about the exact source or context of this line, somebody could easily have edited in a play/act/scene/line reference - the quote is easy to find by Googling. Essentially, by closing the Neruda question but not this hypothetical Shakespeare one, we're discriminating against obscure works, which is against the spirit of the topic challenges and the site as a whole.

Again, someone familiar with Neruda's work would easily be able to locate the quote in context and probably answer the question, even though a random internet user who'd never heard of Neruda and doesn't speak Spanish (such as myself) couldn't find it. Without more context included in the question, most of this site's users will find it hard to answer, but a Neruda expert wouldn't.

Should we be closing questions because they're only answerable by experts and require good knowledge of the subject in order to be properly understood?

  • Sorry about closing the question without seeking input from the community first. My bad. (If people feel the question should be reopened, please vote to reopen it and leave a comment here, so we can get a sense of the community's consensus). And thank you for raising the issue on meta. That said, I would agree with Emrakul that I think this is somewhat of a leading question. I wouldn't say that I closed the question because it's "only answerable by experts and require good knowledge of the subject in order to be properly understood?" Those are questions I want to encourage, not discourage. – user111 May 8 '17 at 22:48
  • @Hamlet Of course I realise it wasn't your intention, but I still think that's what you were unintentionally doing, for the reasons laid out in my penultimate paragraph here: to a Neruda expert, that question wouldn't be unclear at all. Which is why I felt strongly enough about this to make a meta post :-) – Rand al'Thor May 8 '17 at 22:54
  • @Randal'Thor I originally did vote to close, but after doing some digging I did find the source, and have suggested an edit and voted to reopen. I think it is now reasonably answerable and useful to other readers. – Aurora0001 May 9 '17 at 15:04
  • @Aurora0001 Awesome, good find! Only one VTRO needed now ... – Rand al'Thor May 9 '17 at 18:10
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    The answer to the question at the end of your post is of course not. But the question with that unsourced Neruda quote is a bad example. The internet is infested with unsourced quotes, half of them misattributed, and we don't want to add to that. Well, I don't. But that doesn't mean I'm going to be silly and demand a citation for "To be or not to be". – user14111 May 11 '17 at 6:31
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Your statement of the question:

Should we be closing questions because they're only answerable by experts and require good knowledge of the subject in order to be properly understood?

is a leading question. The answer is obviously​ no. But that's not what's being asserted.

The real question here is, is it too broad or unclear for someone to ask about a quote without providing contextualizing details? I'll go out on a limb and say, I don't think so. It's pretty clear what's being asked ("What does this mean?") and the text being analyzed is rather narrow (only a couple sentences). It's context that's missing.

If the question is missing details that we'd want to have, then yes, that's a problem. Downvote the question and leave a comment asking for clarification - that's standard practice. But that's not saying "this isn't clear" - to even bother asking for context, you probably understand the question as written - it's saying "please make this work easier for us to do."

I'd have left this question open for this reason.


(Though changing site policy to close questions that are missing context that's difficult to find might be a worthwhile direction, that's opening a can of worms well beyond the scope of this q/a.)

  • But what counts as contextualising details? Again, if someone asked about "to be or not to be" without a precise act/scene reference, would you close that question? If not, what's the difference between that and the Neruda question? The difference, I posit, is in the reader's familiarity with the work. You and I know the context of the "to be or not to be" quote, but not that of the Neruda quote, so the former question would be clear to us and the latter isn't. For a Chilean literature professor, it might be the other way round. I think this is too subjective to make a good close reason. – Rand al'Thor May 8 '17 at 22:17
  • No, as I say in my answer, I wouldn't close any question for lacking of contextualizing details, as long as the question they have is adequately framed. And we don't need to define "contextualizing details," we can just ask for enough detail to find the quote in context. – Aza May 8 '17 at 22:18
  • I'm confused then. If you wouldn't close any question for lacking contextualising details, does that mean you wouldn't have closed the Neruda question? (Of course I agree that it's preferable for a question to include contextualising details; I just don't think that lack of them is enough of a reason to close it.) – Rand al'Thor May 8 '17 at 22:20
  • Yes, that is what I mean. – Aza May 8 '17 at 22:21
  • I'm sorry then. I misunderstood your answer. Vote reversed :-) – Rand al'Thor May 8 '17 at 22:23
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To answer the title question ("Should questions be closed if they don't provide context for a quote?"): it depends.

  • If the question has sufficient detail (a quote that appears not to require context, a very famous quote, a quote that's easily found*), then it should be fine.
  • If there's some amount of important detail missing from the question, then the question should be downvoted (of course, at user discretion). If it's very unclear, it should be closed as "unclear what you're asking."

I don't think we need to form precise rules for degrees of clarity for close-worthiness; I think that this is something that the community can decide on a per-question basis through the agreement of five users with close privileges.


Now, if you want to discuss the particular question: I took a stab at answering it, even with the missing context (although perhaps I shouldn't have). I'm uncertain whether that question was closable. I didn't vote to close it, and I probably won't vote to reopen it unless it's edited substantially.

I have now voted to reopen that question, because another user found the source of the quote, and we edited the post to include that, as well as an English translation. This post is no longer a post that doesn't provide context for a quote.


*Although if it's easily found, someone should leave a comment or, ideally, edit the post to include that information.

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