With reference to the proposed FAQ changes, I notice that more subjects have been added to the off topic section.

As we know, many new users never read the FAQ, this is more than apparent by some of the questions we see every day. I'm sure the first time a new user is aware that they've asked an off topic question is when they see comments, down votes, or their question closed.

Out of curiosity, to test what a user would see, I've just started to form a question with the subject of 'Licensing my Windows Server', which as we all know, is off topic. Despite this, as you can see from the screenshot below, it might appear to a new user that this is an acceptable question, as only one similar question has been closed, the top result is definitely off topic and has an accepted answer. What they see re-enforces their thought that their question will be widely accepted.

composing an off topic question

I just wanted to float a few ideas that might help reduce the number of off topic questions we get.

  1. If the title looks off topic, as well as showing similar questions, show a banner stating as much, with a link to the FAQ.

  2. Delete/blacklist tags that are off topic or stop these tags from auto completing when users enter their tags, as this will probably make the user think their question is acceptable.

  3. Keep these tags, allow them to be used, but when a user with a rep below a certain threshold tries to post a question with the tags, they receive a message about the question potentially being off topic, perhaps including an in-your-face excerpt from the FAQ, with an option to continue to post regardless, as in some cases the question could be considered on topic, yet use an predominantly off topic tag.

  • 8
    I believe you just pointed out another way to mine for OT questions to close.
    – sysadmin1138 Mod
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 12:34
  • I've started typing questions into SU before and I DO get a banner saying that my question may be subjective and/or off-topic depending on phrasing and keywords.
    – Magellan
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 13:30
  • 2
    I smell cleanup project. :D
    – Aarthi
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 16:38
  • I'd love to know why the search results here for the phrase in that question title are different to the ones you get searching for the exact same phrase in the site search box. That seems unhelpful somehow; people are likely to phrase titles in a similar way to how they'd search to see if a question was already answered.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 17:44
  • 1
    This looks somewhat different now that all of the relevant licensing questions have been closed as dupes of our canonical question. So that should be the end of off topic licensing related questions ;)
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 11:16
  • 1
    Fail even though all the questions with similar titles have been closed
    – user9517
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 14:10
  • @Iain I think we need voretaq7's suggestion of an animated assistant.
    – user11604
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


If we could have a box pop up saying something like "HEY! It looks like you're writing a licensing question!" (perhaps with an animated assistant of some kind…) and tell potential users why we can't help that would be great -- I'm not sure it's programmatically feasible to determine if the title "looks off topic", but if there's a facility for substring matching we could probably use that.
Of course we also know how great people are at reading instructions / messages…

Certainly as @sysadmin1138 pointed out we should whack most (if not all) of these Licensing questions as dupes of the canonical licensing question.

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