I've noticed an abundance of open questions on the forum (just over 30% as I write this.) Many of them have been answered in comments, but don't have a formal answer. These questions are going to sit there, forever unanswered, but with an answer in the comments. This happens because the asking person gets their answer and never returns to close the question.

Is it time that we have a mechanism/policy for closing them? Maybe Stack Exchange needs to add a feature to mark questions as answered in comments?

Or, should we have a way to close questions based on being answered as such? If so, what criteria? The judgement of reviewers to decide that they've been answered? A time limit? BTW, I vote for a time limit only as a minimum elapsed time before an open question can be assessed as answered, if at all. A truly unanswered question should remain open until answered, at least in comments, if not an actual registered answer. I don't want to veto the asking person's right to review answers.

Also, if we do this, shouldn't there also be a way to credit someone with the answer, even though it is in the comments?

We need to start looking at doing the housekeeping on all these questions to reduce the unanswered ones down to the ones that really are looking for an answer.

Finally, who should be able to do this? Maybe a new privilege (if it doesn't already exist?)

Of course, someone may pop up and tell me that this all already exists and I just don't know about it yet. ;-)

Comments and opinions?


4 Answers 4


Executive summary:

Questions on any Stack Exchange subsite will be closed in the event of an upvoted or accepted answer.

I recommend everyone provide a note reminding the asker to accept the answer if helpful (like the ones @Cliff B has been posting for some time). Incidentally if the asker does not accept the answer, a future visitor can upvote the question if it is seen as helpful, thus closing the question.

Of course not every question has an answer, that is those who are found in the unanswered section. These can also eventually be closed by having one user post an answer, upon which the question will start being bumped by Community, then at some point someone else can upvote the answer.

We are currently at 25% unanswered questions, and Stack Overflow is at 28%, so we're not that bad off, though it can be much better.


Take the meta.stackexchange for example, where an open question is defined as:

questions with no upvoted or accepted answers

The same holds true on Stack Overflow.
This is a global policy which is currently in effect here at CS50. I have confirmed so by upvoting answers on a few posts bumped by Community, and watched the “Unanswered questions” counter decline accordingly; if you decide to check for yourself do wait ~30 seconds as it obviously takes some time for things to update.


If I may propose a housekeeping policy, in addition to a way to clean up the current mess


  • The most frequent posters (but ideally everyone) starts providing a reminder like the ones @Cliff B has provided for some time now at the end of their answer reminding specifically new users to accept the answer if useful -- this seems to have had a positive effect, as we are now at 25% open questions, in comparison to the ~30% this (older) question states.

  • Subsequent visitors upvote useful answers to remove the question from the unanswered pool. If however a question has already been answered in the comments, post an actual answer that someone else in the future will hopefully upvote.

De-cluttering the clutter:

I checked a few questions, and it looks like all the posts bumped by Community in the Active tab have at least one answer. If everyone would actively take a look in there for good answers and upvote them if deemed proper, then we would gradually have less and eventually no open questions with a good response. At which point we would start looking for answerable questions in the unanswered tab where we would either answer or close them.

As mentioned earlier we are currently at 25% unanswered questions, and Stack Overflow is at 28%, so we're not that bad off, though it can be much better.

  • This is great news. It's a fantastic answer to the question, and a fantastic solution to the problem. I'm also gratified to know that @CliffB's ~/.signature style reminder has been helpful in spreading the word. I copied that for a while when I was very active on the forum, but I gradually switched to the closing salutation "Hope this helps." Nov 29, 2016 at 21:08

I love it that this question has been unanswered for more than fifteen months as of this writing.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of people have been attempting to answer this question ... but, of course, the entire discussion is taking place in the comments.

This meta question is so meta, it's Hofstadter meta.

If you're happy with this answer, please mark this question as answered. Let's keep up on forum housekeeping. ;-)

EDIT: Here's a more serious and thoughtful answer. I think CliffB is right. The "Unanswered" queue is cluttered up by a lot of "kinda-answered" questions that have been abandoned. I think it would improve the site greatly for everyone if there were a mechanism in place to remove some of these from the queue.

Currently, there's a way for moderators to gang up and downvote a question out of existence (I think it can happen if five moderators flag a post for inappropriate content.) But questions in this category are not inappropriate and should be archived rather than expunged. Perhaps five moderators (maybe even limited to mods with a new special privilege reserved for old-timers with high reputation scores) could, similarly, flag an abandoned post as "answered" after it's been kicking around for a year or more.


So... will this problem ever be solved? It's annoying! I think a question should be automatically closed after a certain amount of time after which it's obvious that the user won't ever come back again to see the answer to their question, like 1 or 2 months or whatever.


Post one like this:

Answered by XXX in comments.

Details from comments.

More details

Is that all?

That's it.

If you just copy / paste the info, make it CW. If you add something leave it non CW.

  • 1
    No, not an effective suggestion. While it may work for recent questions, there is no guarantee that the question owner will ever come back and mark it as answered. This is especially true for old questions that will just linger on in the database forever because the owner has long since stopped visiting the forum. We need an effective way for the moderators and the high-reputation people to mark these questions as answered in order to close the books on them, without the need for the question owner to take action.
    – Cliff B
    Apr 26, 2015 at 5:36
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    No. The Answered is a private vote that only the OP can use. If they chose not to, then they chose not to. Mods shouldn't interfere in this - submitting a vote on behalf of a user isn't appropriate. If there is an answer then add a comment. No more should be done.
    – Tim
    Apr 26, 2015 at 8:40
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    Tim, you've missed the point. We have too many questions that have been answered in comments, even identified in subsequent comments that it's a good answer, but because it's a comment and not an 'answer', cannot be identified as answered even by the person that asked the question. These questions will stay in the open questions list forever unanswered and obscuring the legitimately open questions that still need to be answered! Also, the "community" bot will keep touching them and bubbling them to the top of the list because they're still unanswered.
    – Cliff B
    Apr 26, 2015 at 17:05
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    So use my suggestion so they are no longer "unanswered".
    – Tim
    Apr 26, 2015 at 17:06
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    There needs to be a mechanism allowing the moderators or the owner to mark them as answered in comments to stop these questions from being tagged by the system bot and to get them off of the list of unanswered questions. This is not submitting a vote on behalf of the owner, this is system maintenance. That is indeed the job of the moderators and yes, it is their job to do so, but only when appropriate. Even so, the owner can always vote a legit answer or add one themselves and mark it as answered. This will not change that function.
    – Cliff B
    Apr 26, 2015 at 17:12
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    Finally, what are you going to do with stale questions? You can answer them all you want, but as it stands, they will stay in the unanswered question queue until the owner marks the answer as accepted. If they don't do so, like all the people that have long since stopped visiting the forum, the status of the question will never change. We already have far too many questions like that. We need a mechanism to deal with them. There are now 587 unanswered questions. How many of them do you think are really open vs. have answers in comments and will sit there forever?
    – Cliff B
    Apr 26, 2015 at 17:18
  • 1
    So what? Just ignore that page. Having a low accepted ratio is no reason to vote on behalf of the user, which is what you are suggesting. Why do you think the status needs to change?
    – Tim
    Apr 26, 2015 at 19:44
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    I give up. You're completely missing the point. It isn't about unaccepted question ratios. It's about maintaining the site and doing something with the abandoned questions that HAVE been answered. If anyone else has any relevant comments, I'll be happy to address them.
    – Cliff B
    Apr 26, 2015 at 20:10
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    How am I missing the point? If the OP has found the answer, it's fine. If you want then add the comments to an answer. Why is marking as accepted needed?
    – Tim
    Apr 26, 2015 at 20:28
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    @Tim to maybe help illustrate - I came to the site today to find the community autobot had poked a lot of old questions with no selected answers. That is they have answers - the OP has in a lot of cases commented that they have solved their issue but they obviously did not have enough experience with SE to know to check the answer button. Now there are lots of questions from way back that are no longer relevant to the course (eg discussing the appliance) that are obscuring the "active" page, where only about 10 on that page are actually really active.
    – Toby
    Jul 13, 2016 at 14:47
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    eg cs50.stackexchange.com/questions/5882/… is from someone that last logged in in December 2014 and has indicated in a comment that they no longer have an issue, yet their question is first on the active page for me atm...
    – Toby
    Jul 13, 2016 at 14:49
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    I know I am a newcomer in this discussion, but what about the option to promote a comment to an answer? This way, if the answer was provided in such a way to be helpful in the comment, then that very comment could be pulled out and given as an answer, and then the upvote of that could close the unanswered queue for that question. Jun 26, 2017 at 20:09

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