I have attempted to simplify this post further, with question first and background second:

My question to the community gurus, in the interest of providing best help and lively conversation, what is the best way to encourage more specificity of the genre or intended usage of the language in the questions and answers?

Background: I'm new to the forum, but I have noticed a tendency, in some questions, to provide reasonable context and research without any information about what form the language is going to take. Yet, those questions receive definite-sounding answers from the community with no idea as to whether the OP is planning to address a professor or their grandma. This has an effect of watering down the conversation (in some instances) or encouraging idle grammar policing.

In order to compensate for this, I can ask the OP for generic information directly (which seems to be the consensus) or add a series of ifs and buts to the end of my answers like this: "If you're writing a speech, or if you're talking to grandma, but not on a college term paper, etc."

(If this topic is just too meta then let me know. I'm new here and just wanted this question on the table to see how the group might address this.)

  • 2
    There's a lot of questions here I think. Can you rephrase it to be clearer?
    – NVZ Mod
    Apr 12, 2017 at 3:25
  • 1
    Is your primary question here "Should it be expected or encouraged of the questioner to fill in a little background about their intended reader or audience?" ? If so, then like all other 'shoulds' the answer is a strong 'Of course, if it is relevant', and a shrug if it's not. If you feel extra context is needed, then ask.
    – Mitch
    Apr 12, 2017 at 13:39
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    +1 for the 4th revision. Now we're talking! Someone will come along and provide a good answer, hopefully. I have deleted mine.
    – NVZ Mod
    Apr 12, 2017 at 18:02
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    I think asking the OP for clarification is ALWAYS better than answering with all possible branches that could come from asking the OP directly. While is does provide a universal answer, I think it waters down the specificity of the post.
    – Hank
    Apr 13, 2017 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


First, you've posted your question to the right place. Questions about the main site are on-topic here. Now, on to the substance of your question.

I've come across many questions that lack basic context, let alone research. So if a question provides both "reasonable context and research", it's already ahead of the pack. Given both research and context, it wouldn't be too far fetched to expect to distinguish between grandma and magna carta fairly easily. Many regulars would probably be happy to infer the register at this point.

Nevertheless, if there is any doubt about it, that's what comments are for. I abuse the comment section by logging less than fully substantiated/argued answers there, but the comment section is the appropriate place to ask the asker or respondent to clarify their post. Dropping a comment with a request for clarification is "the best way to encourage more specificity".

Note that due to time zones and work/sleep/etc habits, it might take quite a while to get a reply to comments. Some people even go away permanently. In that case, if the detail is important enough (and that can be subjective), it would be appropriate to ask your own question or post your own answer. If you do this, it would be courteous for your post to link to the more generic post.

A more controversial approach is to edit the post to make the clarification, so long as you believe your edit maintains the intent of the original poster. It would be nice to also drop a comment to say what you've done - at least, that's something I would like if my post was significantly edited.

The overarching principle is that Stack Exchange intends to be a repository of expert answers to on-topic questions. Requesting clarification and editing for clarity is encouraged and is very much in line with the way the site is intended to be used:

With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage. - EL&U tour

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