13

This has been something that's bothered me since I joined EL&U, but it's not something that can easily be discussed because it's mostly an attitude thing. We get a lot of bad questions here, but there are always more good ones to be asked as the language and its usage is always changing.

So why do some users (usually the high-rep ones, though this isn't a 1-to-1 trend) seem to assume that questions are going to be bad until they themselves are perplexed? An example I noticed recently came from the hot network bar where lots of users can come to the site and see responses to this curious question that include

D’you know, that’s actually a really good question

and

It is a good question.

To me, these imply the assumption that the question was going to be bad before the replier didn't have an immediate answer. Even if it wasn't intentional, this gives off an air of condescension that is really off-putting to new users of the site. I like attracting more users so I would like it if a more welcoming attitude was the first thing that they see =) Thoughts?

  • Are you saying that high-rep users don't generally have a welcoming attitude toward new users? – user66974 Jun 13 '17 at 18:58
  • 9
    @Josh I'm not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but when a new user has a good question, it should be answered neutrally without any hints of condescension. As a separate issue, new users often have a good question that they just don't know how to word, and they get their questions closed and/or downvoted immediately with little to no proper feedback on how to improve. It can be a little intimidating and off-putting to even the most well-intentioned user. – Chase Sandmann Jun 13 '17 at 19:07
  • Were there previous comments deleted on that example? Comments that the affirmation of question quality referred to? – Helmar Jun 13 '17 at 20:28
  • 3
    I wouldn't say that use of this phrase really indicates a bad attitude, given its definition: "used to admit that you do not know the answer to a question" (Longman). – Laurel Jun 13 '17 at 21:02
  • 7
    Hey there. Erm, I'm a bit perplexed here. I do feel that there's a "Let's close everything because we can" sentiment amongst some users here. However, I feel that you've REALLY misinterpreted the intention and tenor of those particular comments. The term actually in Janus's comment, for example, is a focusing device - it implies something like "Wow, that wasn't obvious to me - but now I've thought about it, well, ...Wow!". So, erm, I think you're trying to stave off bad behaviour. Hooray. But unfortunately you're illustrating it with good friendly behaviour and presenting that as bad. – Araucaria Jun 13 '17 at 23:22
  • 3
    In other words, I think you've really misinterpreted the sentiment and English of those comments. They're basically the most welcoming comments you might hope for if you posted a question here. I think they're worth rereading and using as model comments. Try them out on questions you find interesting and surprising!!!! – Araucaria Jun 13 '17 at 23:32
  • 2
    When people write "this is a good question!" they usually mean "this is an interesting question!" There are lots of very interesting questions which don't belong on this site (because they're too opinion based, or they're too big, or they're about Latin or something else instead of actual English.) There are also lots of very interesting questions which would be on-topic if the OP had only explained how they had tried to answer it themselves first. We're not mind readers, and to prevent everyone wasting their time it is vital that people explain what lines of thought they've already rules out. – curiousdannii Jun 14 '17 at 4:11
17

I disagree with your interpretation that the phrases meant that the assumption was that the question would be bad. To me, it reads more as an exclamation of 'huh, I never thought of that before, and did you also consider these other implications and complexities that add to the puzzle?' But that's neither here nor there.

With regard to your fundamental question, yes. We are able to not assume questions are going to be bad. This presents a couple of challenges:

  1. We don't have much control over how community members respond to questions, at least not until I get these nanites working correctly. The methods at our disposal here can provoke heated exchanges about censorship &c., which compounds the problem.

  2. A lot of questions, at least initially, are pretty bad, so making the assumption that questions are going to be bad is pretty reliable.

So I know you are wondering what my plan is then, because I did, after all, just now, say that we are able to not assume questions are going to be bad. Here is the plan, which addresses the above challenges.

  1. Post a nice, welcoming counter-comment. You don't even need to acknowledge the other comments. You can also upvote. That always takes the sting out of any potentially negative comments. Plus, the more other users see this nice behavior, the more they will be likely to emulate it. In short, be the change you want to see.

  2. Take the time to edit the question. We often leave helpful comments suggesting what to do for edits, but often the best thing to do is to show not tell. Is it missing a reference? Add one. Does it need formatting help? You can do that! Did the OP put all the details in a comment instead of the post? Go ahead and incorporate that information in the question, just like you know should be done.

This does two things. First, it models good behavior, not just for the poster, but also for other community members. Second, it makes it less likely people are going to see bad questions and therefore assume most questions are bad. Plus also, people are less likely to perceive a question as bad if it's upvoted.

  • 4
    I 100% agree with everything in this answer save one thing. I do not think missing references should be added in, unless the OP has quoted material which can be unequivocally traced back to a single source. Then it's fine. Otherwise, most bad questions here are bad specifically because if OP had looked into it for himself before asking, he wouldn't have had to ask in the first place. In other words, editing in refs which the OP didn't (bother to) find effectively answers the question, instead of making it topical. – Dan Bron Jun 14 '17 at 0:48
  • 1
    Yes, point taken. I was thinking specifically of "I read this thing in The Times" where it wild be simple to link to the source, or "this word I'm defining" where you could find a source with that definition. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 14 '17 at 0:51
  • 3
    I also 100% agree with your disagreement. In fact, this discussion makes me want to write a meta question that asks, "Can we not assume that people who are making comments are being rude or condescending?" Sheesh!. – J.R. Jun 14 '17 at 19:03
2

Another case where this comment crops up is when the question looks, from the title, like it's going to be mundane, naive, duplicate or something like that, and actually turns out to be much more nuanced.

In extreme cases I've been known to only open the question to flag it (I'm very sparing with downvotes) but then find it's interesting (where "interesting" has to take into account my state of mind at the time). I'll normally respond with an answer or a comment on the question material, rather than one of the comments mentioned in the question, because I know I struggle with the tone saying something like that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .