I simply have to ask, and lash out (a tiny bit), about some of the comments and messages I have received on answers I've provided. I've had at least one moderator (I think?) and another senior member hounding me about my answers for the 8 days or so I've been on the ELU site. I will not name names as there is no point and it adds nothing to this discussion.

I have been scolded for improper citation. What is the proper citation form? I do try to cite all of my references when possible or relevant. However, citing a source does not somehow magically protect you from copyright laws. There is a fair use clause for copyrights. I mean come on. Who doesn't know that? And, 'aha!', Google it? Yes? Sigh.

I have been told that I've answered questions which really should not be answered for any of the following:

  1. They could be looked up on Google.
  2. They are direct dictionary requests.
  3. They should be answered and/or asked on the ELL site vs the ELU site.

Fair enough on #2 and #3. But by this logic, especially #1, then what in God's name (I'm not religious by the way - that's emphatical on purpose and metaphorical) is a proper question to be answered? By the very nature of the limitation that it must be something you can't Google then virtually no question should be asked.

Listen up folks. I'm not being pedantic and I'm not trying to play a semantic word game. This is illogical. Plain as day. What it comes down to is senior members and mods get to decide what they think is "appropriate" and anyone else, no matter how virtuous their efforts, or intentions, is relegated to some "bastard" status for having answered an obviously ineligible question. My God. Virtually 100% of questions should be ineligible in that case, using this logic, or this vague, "well you have to use an educated guess", terminology (which is really just code for: be an elitist member) for determining a valid question or answer post.

You can find ANYTHING online. So what in the world is the purpose of virtually ANY question that is posted? Why not tell every user to go research it? Seriously, not just a dictionary request. But virtually anyone who is not an ELL type should be able to go online and find their answer...period.

Don't get me wrong. I've said in comments on ELU, and I truly mean it, I absolutely do not mind constructive criticism, nudges, helpful hints, etc... In fact, I welcome those most of the time (as evidenced by very helpful members such as Mari-Lou, English Student, Lawrence, Jim, Yosef Baskin, RaceYouAnytime, sumelic, Andrew Leach, ab2, etc - apologize if I didn't mention you). But this has gone far beyond that and it's very unnerving.

What I'm fed up with (and was even commenting to Mari-Lou about that has me ready to leave altogether) is this apparent favoritism and elitism that is going on.

So what exactly are the factors for determining what is an appropriate question? I've answered questions which have multiple upvotes and still gotten flack for that too! It appears to be obvious favoritism and I think it erodes the point of this site, the ability to help it's members who are asking questions, the ability to garner new, useful members, and it takes away a very valuable tool from the users (all of them - askers and answerers).

My observation and hypothesis thus far is that there aren't any rules. It's up to any of the senior members, or anyone in the senior member's circle of "elitist" friends, to decide if they think it's appropriate. I find that quite despicable to be honest; so should anyone else reading this if that is the truth.

I would very much welcome thoughts, ideas, experiences, and so on.

  • 7
    Can I add that Kace26 is a native speaker, and is a well-read speaker. EL&U needs more native speakers like Kace. We should be encouraging competent newcomers, cultivate them as if they were seedlings. Not throw the rulebook on/at their head. Time. Patience. Advice.. and everything will fall into place.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 8:19
  • @Mari-LouA Thank you Mari! I appreciate you mentioning all that. I have to be off to bed very shortly but I look forward to finding what type of conversation revolves around this tomorrow. And thanks for the reference to this version of the site! ttyl :)
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 8:31
  • 4
    I'd call it "the new user syndrome". New users feel unfairly treated as some senior users tend to be a bit "heavy-handed" with them with the purpose of showing how things work on this site. Things usually go back to normal after some time; see it as a sort of "initiation" if you like.
    – user66974
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 8:57
  • 1
    The truth lies somewhere between your perception and the reality, if that makes any sense. I was in your position 3 months back and am still bemused with some things -- but we will stay and contribute to the site IF English matters to us -- in which case enduring a little irritation might be well worth it. I fully agree with the first comment here by Mari-lou A, but would also like to add that almost all senior members are well-meaning, with a great passion for English and a fierce love for this site itself. Congrats @Kace36 for earning 1000+ rep in just 8 days: is this a new record for ELU? Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 9:46
  • 4
    Your question has two points: (1) correct attribution of sources and (2) not understanding what is an OK question, because everything is googleable. I have a lot of sympathy with (2) -- I have lost count of the questions I have not asked, because I got the answer by non-trivial googling. If only non-googleable questions were kosher here, the site would be back to beta in a fortnight. (Figuratively; I don't know If it can be demoted to beta.) As for (1), this is a technical point which some close observation of good answers should enable you to figure out. (continued)
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:15
  • 4
    continued from last comment: For myself, I try to be gentler with new users than with users who have accrued enough rep to "know better". Let me ask you this: Is there anywhere in the world where you would think 8 days is long enough to figure out the mores and taboos of a society that you plunked yourself down in the middle of? I am sympathetic, but think you are being a tad impatient.
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:19
  • @Josh I will write a few comments. Bare with me. Thank you for this J. I had that sort of idea already. In all fairness I posted this basically knowing an "answer". I did it more as an awareness exercise. A way to cast light to and avoid perceived/actual elitism or favoritism that could be going on. I really don't like that stuff. As I've said many times I'm a nearly 30yr veteran of computer science so I've had my fair share of forum usage (even created some). I just want to discourage it if it's taking place among a subset of users. Truly, thx for your comment! :)
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:37
  • @ab2 This brings me to ab's comment :) Also a great one IMO. Very astute ;) Indeed I'm an impatient one...haha. Unfortunately I guess for me and those around me (LOL). Have to agree with you. It does go a little deeper than that though. And I really did do this as an awareness exercise to help nudge anyone doing such activities away from it, and to cast light on it so that others might watch out for it. I expect some "initiation", yes. That being said, I still feel that some of it is uncalled for and a little overboard.
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:45
  • It's very common in various forums and online services for elitist and favoring communities to evolve. It has become the nature of forum culture and the online world. I would like dissuade from it whenever possible. But, yes, I do agree with you - I'm an impatient soul ;)
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:47
  • 1
    Re your cmment to Josh: See english.stackexchange.com/questions/1269/…
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 22:46
  • @ab2 Yes, you are right. That was a flub on my part. I never pay much attention in comments though anyway b/c I'm trying to go fast, and sometimes it just typos (like using my phone quite a lot. But, yes, that's correct, I don't disagree.
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 23:15
  • 1
    @Kace36 My comment was an in-group joke. That particular Question- and- Answer is infamous as the epitome of The Question that Should not be Asked and The Answer that Should not be Given. :)
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 3:42
  • Possible duplicate of Google is not General Reference
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 13:32
  • 2
    If you want answers/comments that address your particular answers/comments, you need to link to some examples. Otherwise, you haven't shown your research for that part of this question, and you're only going to get more general answers that are duplicating information found in the dupes @Tonepoet identified.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 15:36
  • 1
    Even more problematic IMO is the passive agressive voting down of good answers because they are answers to "bad" questions. Higher rep users should remember that <3k rep users have no indication that a question has been voted on for closure, and since the most common close reason around here is "Not enough research", and people seem not to search for duplicates much, there is never a comment to that effect. So voting down perfectly good answers to questions that are in the process of being voted on without any comment why is not particularly helpful.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 21:34

4 Answers 4


Think of meeting your significant other's extended family for the first time around a major holiday. You'd probably sit at the table and observe how some aunts, uncles, and cousins are more soft-spoken while others are more cantankerous; some are more uncouth while others are more polite; some are more amiable while others are more confrontational. But a few years later (assuming you're still dating), you've become used to everyone, and you realize this is just differently personalities crammed into the same room – no one is "playing favorites" and there is no "elitism" going on around the table. And who knows? By then, maybe someone who rubbed you the wrong way that first Christmas is the one you look forward to seeing most next Thanksgiving.

You've wisely refrained from naming names, but you're vague about your examples, so I don't know if you've been the victim of some pedantic tongue-wagging, or if you're simply misreading what was intended as helpful advice. As a new user, you'll probably get some of both, and it's easy to take things too personally and misinterpret the latter as the former. I'd suggest you give most people the benefit of the doubt and assume they are trying to be helpful, even when the comment is terse and seems to be blunt.

As for those things you mentioned specifically:

They could be looked up on Google or are direct dictionary requests.

If the bulk of our questions are too basic, that drives the better users away. Most of us are busy people, and none of the Stack Exchange sites are meant to be "Tier 1" support. Consequently, users shouldn't come here asking what a word means without checking a dictionary first, or come asking for a synonym without first scouring through a thesaurus. And when they have done such research, they should summarize what they found, and explain why they are still confused. Such questions are much more enjoyable to read, analyze, mull over, and tackle. (If you don't believe me, just mouse-over the upvote button on a question at the main site; it will say: This question shows research effort...)

They should be answered and/or asked on the ELL site vs the ELU site.

Such a comment might be directed at you, but there's a good chance it's meant to be a nudge for the OP as well. Most users who stumble on ELU are not aware of its target audience or of the availability of a site geared for learners.

Anyway, I hope that's helpful. Welcome to the table; please pass the mashed potatoes.

  • 1
    Hello zio! I think the OP is mainly referring to their answers, less so about questions. It might be an idea to visit their answers and see what type of comments or re.arks have been posted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 17:29
  • 1
    english.stackexchange.com/a/399361/44619 I would have pasted this example earlier but I'm on a mobile, and I find posting comments etc. cumbersome. My computer laptop blew up today :( (figuratively speaking)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 17:45
  • @Mari-Lou - I looked for such comments, but gave up after reading a few answers with none. But thanks for an excellent link that illustrates my point! One could read that comment by tchrist and imagine him saying it with a condescending scowl: You should not have answered this question. Shame on you. Or you could imagine him saying with a helpful, friendly smirk: Nice answer, kid. But maybe next time invest your time in better questions than this one. It's all how one chooses to read between the lines – and worth noting that a mod could simply delete the answer if it was really that bad.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:25
  • Great, great comment! Love it. As I said, a lot of this is an awareness exercise to open eyes that this really shouldn't be allowed if it's seen, smelled, or starts to form. I suspect you could be right. Your early analogy with the Xmas party was a fantastic example by the way.
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:51

An appropriate question follows all the basic advice on the "Ask Question" page.

"How to Ask" advice from "Ask question" page

That is:

  • It must be about the English language.
  • There must be sufficient detail to allow a good answer to be provided.
  • There must be some evidence of prior research so we don't simply repeat what the asker has already easily found (or could easily find). Not showing prior research simply wastes people's time here.

If it's about a problem encountered when learning English, which can often be deduced with terms like "Third Conditional", or the elementary omission of articles, then it may be better migrated to ELL.

I don't think we are doing users a disservice by assuming that they are intelligent enough to follow that advice, or to look around at how other questions have been asked and voted, or even to "visit the help center" since the link is presented. Or to read the tag info which pops up. Or even to have read the entire Tour (there's a badge for that, so whether someone has bothered to scroll to the bottom of that page is easily verified).

Questions which show effort are generally well-received, upvoted and answered well. Questions which show very little effort tend to attract poor answers which may not help the asker very much, let alone anyone else — and building a repository of knowledge is, after all, the aim of Stack Exchange. Or, a poor question will gain answers which don't actually give the answer the asker was looking for, because he hasn't been clear enough about what he was asking for.

There is no point in answering poor questions. Vote to close (or flag to close, if you have under 3k rep).

This site is primarily intended for "linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts," as the Tour and the Help pages have it. Not every asker will fit into those categories: they have come here precisely because answers might be given by those people. But that description should provide some indication of the level of question which is expected: if you're expecting an answer about a specific point of English, then you need to state that specific point clearly. You need to follow all the help we can give through the system in order that your question is stated clearly.

The site description should also provide some indication of the level of answer which is expected. Some sites are very strict about removing one-line answers. Perhaps we should do more of that.

One issue we have is that most of the world's population has some ability in English, although most of that number are hardly even enthusiasts, far less linguists. So they find english.stackexchange.com and blithely type a barely coherent question which is eminently closeable under my three bullet points but is so bad that it can't even be migrated to ELL. The general policy is bluntly enunciated as "Don't migrate crap".

So there are rules, and they are stated. Perhaps they could be stated better (suggestions welcome¹). Perhaps there is too much latitude given to questions which don't follow them (which leads to inconsistency and trying to guess how the rules are applied).

My own view is that english.se should point to ELL, and that site can migrate to ELU good questions they receive which aren't related to learning the language.

¹ I wonder if "visit the help center" in the Ask Question box might be changed to "check your question is on topic here" since all the other help available is listed in a sidebar. That box can only be changed by staff. (And, just to note, links in the text count towards the total number of characters and we only have a couple of letters or so to spare.)

  • 1
    One problem for very new users is that the 'how to ask' instructions regarding the general guidelines for asking quedtions are not visible on the 'Stack Exchange android page version for browsers' -- since many users routinely access the Web using android mobile phones, I have raised this point at meta.SE meta.stackexchange.com/questions/298059/… but have not yet got much of a response. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 10:17
  • Hmm. You're right. That's unhelpful. In fact, that's a big problem.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 10:22
  • Is it possible to give new users some sort of early ELU notification till SE fixes the android page version? Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 10:24
  • 1
    We can't do anything to the structure of the site. I do think that the design of the mobile site does nothing to enhance the quality of questions which arrive through it.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 10:26
  • I estimate that a majority of new non-native users are opening ELU on android mobiles. It's very true that the mobile site lacks many features found on the main site. The last option would be to prepare some sort of 'form letter' incorporating the 'how to ask' site instructions and find a way to (automatically?) post it as the first comment to the first question asked by any new user. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 10:31
  • @EnglishStudent While the oversight is well noted, I'm going to have to point out that it's irrelevant, because whether Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, MacOS, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Edge, Internet Explorer, etc, etc, etc, no one reads the rules first, before asking, and it's a pipe dream to expect them to. So either SE adds a "triage" feature to ELU, where Qs are reviewed by high-rep users for topicality before they appear on the front page, or we continue as usual: close them after they've been posted. But don't wait for the day people read the rules first: it ain't coming.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 11:31
  • _So either SE adds a "triage" feature to ELU, where Qs are reviewed by high-rep users for topicality before they appear on the front page, or we continue as usual(...) _ Since that is your suggestion, @Dan Bron, you might like to know I suggested something very similar 3 hours back under my own most recent meta Q: "we could set up a rotating 'quality control board' of experienced users with high reputation to block and delete 'bad questions' with the rule that their decision need not be explained using existing close-reasons, nor challenged by any users except possibly by moderators." Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:23
  • 2
    @EnglishStudent That's much harsher! No, there still should be rules, transparency, and accountability. The only change is a question can be put on hold -- with everything else the same as it is today -- before it is ever "open". That is, a message to OP is "no one will ever be able to answer this until you fix it first". That will weed out bad answers and fire-and-forget OPs while still giving the OPs who care a shot at getting the help they want. Basically, it makes obeying the rules, including "do your own preliminary research first" the cost of a ticket to entry.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:30
  • 1
    @Dan Bron you have made an excellent suggestion; it would solve at least 3 currently open meta questions, and bring much-needed common-sense to the whole quality-control issue, so I wish you would post it as an answer to this/my meta question. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:41
  • 1
    @Dan Bron It is a very welcome new information: ELU desperately needs the triage feature. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:53
  • 4
    I'd just like to point out that my suggestion of having a placeholder text would make it (1) almost impossible to avoid reading the rules/guidelines, and (2) work well with the simplified design of the mobile templates. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 13:43
  • 1
    @curiousdannii I think you should take it to MSE now. You've already gained the support of your own community, now let's get it from all of SE.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 15:09
  • 1
    @J.R. On that note, I for one have not read even some of the most important help pages. My experience here is my guide so far, and I read the help pages only when a situation asks me to.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 16:32
  • 2
    The suggestion by @curiousdannii to have the 'how to ask' guidelines as a 'placeholder text' in the 'ask a question' template is by far the best solution to the question of how to bring these rules to the attention of new users. Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 5:39
  • 1
    @Kace36 my policy is simply to pay attention to the criticism itself, though it is often difficult to ignore the tone or implications of the comment. If the criticism is genuine, we can use it as constructive feedback to improve our posts. If the criticism is ill-founded or inaccurate, we must learn to just ignore it! If you have a passion for English, then ELU is the place to be: in which case I expect to find you an 8000+ rep member at the end of the year. Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 5:44

Everything, everything you said, is relatable, so very much, and I was you, three or four years back, and I left for almost a year, and returned when I overcame that initial awkwardness here, and I've stayed here ever since.

Consider this an initiation of sorts, like Josh commented.

Everyone who joins a Stack Exchange community (not just ELU), will definitely face some resistance at first, in some form or another, be it strongly worded comments, random unexplained downvotes, question closures, trolls, and whatnot.

It's unfortunate that some people go away because of that and that we lose so much potential contributions from them, but it is what happens when you allow a lot of people from all over the world to interact online.

I hope you get past this phase soon and stay here and turn out to be one of our best contributors of all time.

This is just an op-ed, not the party line here.

  • 1
    One, if not the principal, point of Meta is to establish the party line. Just because a contribution has a diamond doesn't necessarily make it that, although moderators may well seek to unite the position expressed in disparate posts and codify the established position.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 14:55

There are a few issues at play here. I'll highlight two: repository vs social factors, policy existence vs policy accessibility.

Repository vs social factors

Stack Exchange was set up as a reference repository. Although it has now expanded into segregated silos with subject-matter unrelated to its programmer-centric roots, those roots still permeate Stack Exchange, as is evident in the 'about us' link at the bottom of every Main and Meta page (emphasis, mine).

Stack Overflow is the largest online community for programmers to learn, share their knowledge and build their careers.

These roots help explain some of the peculiarities about Stack Exchange culture: questions must be answerable, answers must be specific, as well as backed by logical argument or relevant authority, with relevant citations linked for verifiability. The programmer's RTFM reflex is consistent with the loathing that questions of a 'general reference' nature attract.

At the other end of this spectrum, I've maintained that social factors are just as important. If everyone came here just for answers, well, there wouldn't be any. Likewise, if everyone came here just to answer, we'd have the same problem. Furthermore, if everyone was a passerby, community moderation would fall apart. Like it or not, the culture at EL&U is integral to the success of the site. And that culture depends on the people who stay for an extended term. It's vital to the health of the site to welcome new people, share with them why we do things the way we do, and what we value.

Being nice isn't just something tacked on. It's a core part of the broader Stack Exchange culture. Again, consistent with our programming roots, it's codified (you can find it in our help pages):

Whether you've come to ask questions, or to generously share what you know, remember that we’re all here to learn, together. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do. Oh, and bring your sense of humor. Just in case.

Policy existence vs policy accessibility

Jeff Atwood's flowchart is as good as it gets for pinning down an answer to when it's appropriate to answer.

When to answer - Jeff Atwood's flowchart

As with many other policy matters, it's all there. If you can find it. It helps to have an eidetic memory, but even then, it can be like trying to find jewelry dropped on the beach. You know it's there, but the sand all looks the same.

Information on Stack Exchange can be tucked away in the most unlikely places. For example, EL&U uses the asterisk convention to mark intentional instances of bad writing (used for illustration, say). It records that convention at the bottom of the page called "What topics can I ask about here?"

Many things are decided by voting, then left to the community to implement (and to remember). You can often find stuff by searching the Meta pages. If it gets overwhelming, the regulars are usually quite happy to lend a hand if you ask nicely in the chat room. If all else fails, post a new question on Meta (note that you're still expected to show your research).


What it boils down to is this: EL&U is a human community, not just a utilitarian repository. It takes time to find your way around, but people are willing to help. As with most large communities, it's almost expected that there will be differences of opinion. If you feel that things are getting out of hand, flag down a moderator. We have some really good ones here at EL&U.

Contribute answers when you think they'll be useful to later visitors, or if the question piques your interest. For look-em-up questions, a useful rule of thumb is to ask whether the value is in reading a dictionary or in knowing where to look. Recall the anecdote about knowing which screw to turn.

PS: going back to the 'be nice' policy - with respect to being "emphatical on purpose" in your Meta post, could I ask that you express your frustrations in a different way? You might not be religious, but some on this site are.

  • 2
    This was a very nicely detailed post. I like the flowchart by the way. I do feel the need to point out, still again, that I basically know the answers, though I do appreciate the various help links, flowcharts, etc... In fact, your flowchart and Tonepoet's answer with a link about Google references are the absolute best & most concrete answers on what I would consider the "main issue" (b/c like I was saying, everything is "googleable" if you are just smart enough to find it - so how do you codify what is correct vs incorrect - these were the most concrete answers on that issue).
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:43
  • +1 Great answer. This could be tagged as faq, probably.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:47
  • 1
    @Lawrence Oh and also, about your PS. I'm sorry. I absolutely didn't mean to offend you or anyone. Sincerely I did not. My phrasing was meant to show that even an atheist like myself is prone to using the word "God" to show emphasis. I just wanted it to be known that it was figurative, that's all. But now that I think on this issue I'm wondering if you mean you wish I would refrain from using the word "God" if I consider it to be a figurative thing only? I guess I can understand that. I will do so if that helps. I meant no offense whatsoever. Please accept my apology if it did offend.
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:47
  • @Kace36 It's alright. Such a thing didn't even come to my notice.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:49
  • @Kace36 You're welcome. And yes, I was referring to the invocation. :)
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 7:49
  • 4
    While the flowchart is nice in theory, I think that our ability to google things easily is because we already know the answer. There are lots of questions for which the answer is obvious if you already know what to look for, but many people don't necessarily even have the right terms. Not to mention that searching for very high frequency words like that or will etc. will lead you nowhere, yet these words are often the things that interesting questions are about here.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 21:43
  • 2
    @AlanMunn I agree so much & have a lot of sympathy for this comment. It's another reason I did this 'awareness' type exercise. This was my initial point. I really wasn't playing a word game or necessarily asking "well what is a valid question then b/c anything can be looked up". I knew the answer. But you are also right. And that was my point. This is a great point. So very many people don't know what they are looking for, or how to find it, even in today's "googleable world". +1 on your comment.
    – Kace36
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 22:23
  • @AlanMunn Thanks, I mentioned that in the conclusion. It's now highlighted in bold.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 23:31

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