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Enabling selective notifications on ELU

Other busy sites like Stack Overflow have pop-up notifications that trigger on various titles and tags, but we do not. For example, this is an outright ban when trying to use a particular word in a title:

i have a problem popup

While this is a warning pop-up for guidance when trying to use a particular tag:

regex tag popup

After years of observation of trends, and some help from staff with the analysis of aggregate data, I would now like to propose some simple mechanical measures like these to help guide askers into asking better questions. The exact texts and links would be decided if and when the community at large decides we should go ahead with either or both of my concrete proposals below.

These two restrictions would only affect questions newly asked or edited.

Title Ban: “grammatically correct”, “correct grammar”

The first is that I would like to ban from titles the two strings “grammatically correct” and “correct grammar”. If someone attempts to use these in a title, they would get a pop-up notification.

The reasoning is that these are nearly always yes/no proofreading questions without any research that draw poor answers at best and which are usually closed. The notification text is something we’d work on. It needs to be short to be effective, but we can include links to longer pieces for further guidance and examples of good and bad titles.

If need be, we can use fancier regexes for the strings such as

  • gram+at+ical+y cor+ect
  • cor+ect gram+[ea]r

Tag Ban: “grammar”

Most questions that use the tag should not do so. That’s because they usually have nothing to do with grammar at all. People use the tag as a general catch-all equivalent of “language”, a tag which we already ban.

If someone tries to use the tag, we can have a pop-up notification explain that they should instead use or or if it’s really about grammar. We could also mention non-grammar tags like , , or .

This notification would also trigger on the tag, as that is a current synonym of the existing tag.

We current have ~8.5k questions tagged , which shows you just what a “garbage” tag it really is! Those existing questions wouldn’t be affected by this until and unless they should be edited, at which point the ban would force the editor to choose something more suitable.

Community Input

Is this a great idea, a good idea, a so-so idea, or a lousy idea?

To change our site rules this way requires the collective will of the community at large. I’d like you folks to please discuss these two proposals below, whether pro or con.

Plus now that you know what sorts of things are possible, you might even have your own, better ideas about such things you might put forward as suggestions.

Finally, if we don’t like how it works out, we can of course always turn it off again easily enough: we could run these on a trial basis if we cared to.

  • Are you able to share the data? I'm working on an analysis of SWR frequency and closure using the SE API, but it's a work in progress and I'm traveling presently. 'Grammar' is the most frequently closed of the popular tags, so I'm inclined to support the idea. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 23 '17 at 22:13
  • @RaceYouAnytime If you would like, I can provide SWR data that includes deleted question data, which you don't have access to: we have ~2k deleted SWR questions plus ~2.3k closed but not yet deleted ones and ~10.5k open and not deleted ones. And thanks for mentioning this, because we could certainly stand to have a yellow "guidance" pop-up for SWR tags. That’s different from a red “ban” pop-up like I was proposing. – tchrist Jul 23 '17 at 22:31
  • @RaceYouAnytime See my 2k/2.3k/10.5k figures that I edited into the comment. Feel free to make a meta post. I wouldn't think you would need JSON for this. – tchrist Jul 23 '17 at 22:41
  • @RaceYouAnytime I don't believe I have access to the sort of timeline data you'd like; I can just add deleted:1 to my own queries. The CMs can run against an employee-only version of SEDE that has the rest of the data. – tchrist Jul 23 '17 at 22:49
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    Maybe stick a pop up message for questions asking about meaning as in "Did you look in at least two online dictionaries before posting on this site? – Mari-Lou A Jul 23 '17 at 23:44
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    I've been meaning to ask this for some time now. "Do we really need a grammar tag?" I'm up for new ideas. Let's test this. – NVZ Jul 24 '17 at 3:34
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    It's a good idea. Linking from the popups to the resource faq pages would also be useful. – Lawrence Jul 24 '17 at 4:05
  • Bit late to the party here because timezones, but [grammar] is not only the most-frequently closed but also the most-frequently removed tag because it's been wrongly chosen. I have a SEDE query which finds those, where they have not already been deleted. But removing that tag seems a good idea. Not sure what happens to questions which are actually about grammar, though. – Andrew Leach Jul 24 '17 at 7:16
  • @AndrewLeach They can be tagged with syntax/morphology/semantics as appropriate, or they could be migrated to Linguistics too. Even though it's not a meaningless tag, I think it's probably more trouble than it's worth, so banning it would probably help. – curiousdannii Jul 24 '17 at 13:03
  • Yes I have a feeling that the number of questions which are actually about grammar is vanishingly small, although that is difficult to confirm. And I suppose that someone who is asking a question which is really about grammar would probably be able to ask in such a way as to avoid the word in the title, and find tags. But grammar is not semantics! – Andrew Leach Jul 24 '17 at 13:08
  • @curiousdannii I don't think the proposal is to ban such questions. I thought it was to prevent using such terms in the title. This would encourage more meaningful titles, and so also encourage more thought about the content. – Mitch Jul 24 '17 at 13:29
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    @Mari-LouA Dictionary and thesaurus. "What is a word for...?" questions are similarly common. – Mitch Jul 24 '17 at 13:30
  • @Mitch Yes I meant only banning the tag, not the questions. – curiousdannii Jul 24 '17 at 13:35
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    What actually is an exemplary grammar question, so we can see what we should be looking for? – marcellothearcane Jul 24 '17 at 22:00
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    Another phrase I would dearly love to see banned from titles is which is (the) correct (one)?, which seems to nearly always be the title of a question that asks the community to decide which of two equally ungrammatical versions of a nonsensical sentence is ‘correct’. In fact, can we just ban the word ‘correct’ from titles altogether? The ratio of legitimate vs discouraged usage seems (off the top of my head) to be somewhere around 1:100 or so. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 8 '17 at 12:44
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Yes, yes, yes: just do it already!

The suggested title ban would definitely be a good thing: it places a hurdle on blindly asking proof-reading questions, and might cause posters to think about which part of their text they are actually asking about.

My SEDE query shows 3341 questions (at present) where the tag has been removed, and that does not include questions which have been deleted. That's a strike rate of around 4% of all non-deleted questions, and that's only those where someone has been bothered to edit the tags. Currently there are 8500 questions which have the tag, and I really doubt whether any of them are actually about grammar: that's around 10% of questions which is probably wrongly tagged with a tag their askers don't actually know the meaning of.

If the tag description is accurate:

This tag is for questions about morphology and syntax, the two elements of grammar.

...then is superfluous, as questions can be grouped into those dealing with or , or both. If someone asking a question does not know whether they are asking about morphology or syntax, or is aware that they are not, then the tag is inappropriate. The tag description goes on to define its use further, and still it is misused:

DO NOT USE THIS TAG IF YOUR QUESTION IS ABOUT WHETHER SOMETHING SPECIFIC IS GRAMMATICAL. For such cases use the 'grammaticality' tag. Also do not use this for punctuation or spelling (orthography); those are not about grammar, and they have their own tags.

So, YES: prevent the tag being used, and prevent poor question titles being used too.

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    +1 Thank you. giphy.com/gifs/1Z02vuppxP1Pa/html5 – NVZ Jul 25 '17 at 16:19
  • I agree, let's try it. I would suggest adding prescriptive-grammar to the list of alternate tags, along with adding a lot more info to that tag. – 1006a Jul 25 '17 at 16:19
  • As I commented on the question, we have [descriptive-grammar] too. I'm not convinced about the questions which would fit either of those tags. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '17 at 16:21
  • I think questions asking, for example, "where did the so-called rule not to ever split an infinitive come from?" would fall under prescriptive-grammar. And maybe very specific questions about the application of such rules. – 1006a Jul 25 '17 at 18:23
  • @1006a Yes, I see. But I think you meant "the rule never to split an infinitive." – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '17 at 18:28
  • Yes, "Whence come the rules never to split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition?" (^ᴗ-)—☆ – 1006a Jul 25 '17 at 19:01
  • Here's a SEDE query to pull out all open questions that have only the grammar tag: 1554 of them. Those will be a lot to clean up if they get changed to "untagged", but I don't see any that should keep it. – tchrist Jul 25 '17 at 19:54
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    It may not be the SE way of doing things, but I'd be quite happy to keep the obsolete tag in existing questions until editing was possible or necessary. Preventing new questions with the tag is more important, in my opinion. But the title change can happen without it, anyway. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '17 at 20:03
  • Could you not add in block capital letters immediately next to Grammar NOT PROOFREADING, and provide a link as to the meaning of proofreading? english.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic – Mari-Lou A Aug 19 '17 at 6:01
8

Disallowing “grammatically correct” and such would only make it harder to spot the questions that are off topic; they'd just put an even crappier title consisting of gibberish if necessary. I'm all for pop-ups (can't believe I just said that...) but I don't like the words blacklist and ban. This is too much in one basket; should be like three separate metas. Several metas should decide what is to be 'banned', and another should ask for feature requests to facilitate that, if necessary.

Also, if you get rid of the grammar tag, how am I supposed to ignore it still?

Pop-ups +1.

Arbitrarily banning the most succinct word this site could ever have, -1.

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    Succinct and meaningless. – tchrist Jul 27 '17 at 0:50
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    Means plenty to me; that I don't want to touch it with a stick. – Mazura Jul 27 '17 at 0:51
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    But you only don't want to touch it because it's meaningless. Perhaps we should just allow [grammar], take it as an indicator that the OP doesn't know what they're asking and send all such questions into oblivion. Now that might work! [This is of course a tongue-in-cheek comment; we should be encouraging correct tagging, which the proposal actually does, by making incorrect tagging difficult.] – Andrew Leach Jul 27 '17 at 8:19
3

By all means. But I doubt whether it will have much effect.

I personally think we need AI to detect a subset of off-topic questions, and will be proposing that.

2

I agree with Andrew Leach's post for the most-part, and would like to add that I believe the word is much more polysemous than most of us give it credit for being so it is confusing as a tag. You will be hard pressed to find a dictionary which includes only the syntax and morphology definition, and even if we were to insist upon it, since it is marked for linguistics, Oxford Living Dictionaries and Collins both admit phonology and semantics into the list as well. This is to say nothing of the other older definitions of the word still in use. As a tag, it is confusing and does not serve its purpose of limiting search results to what people want to find.

However personally speaking, I think we should allow it in titles. Why do I think this? For one thing, it serves us little to no benefit to remove it. I genuinely doubt it causes much confusion in any given context. If we really must do it in some cases, it is easy for us to edit it out of titles. There are even more people who have the privilege to edit answers unilaterally than those who have the privilege to give a vote towards closure. Moreover, if the word truly is superfluous, it does not change the meaning of the post to remove it.

However, we lose several benefits from excluding the word from titles. One is that we are making it harder for people to name their questions, and I fear that perhaps somebody will drop their question entirely on the sole basis that they are frustrated with being unable to figure out an even better name for it, which is something we, as a collective whole, can often do with ease. If one of these questions happens to be any good, I think that is one too many questions to lose for such a minor reason. Whatever benefit we get, if any, is infinitesimally small in my opinion.

More importantly though, much like duplicate questions, this word functions as a search term, and can serve as an entry point for new users to find English Language & Usage through search engines like Google. Now it is granted that we do not have too much difficulty with this already, but a little extra help never hurts.

These might not be such great reasons to keep the word in the title either, but I deign them to be greater reasons than whatever reasons we may have for banning the title, unless there is something I am missing.

  • What you're missing is that "dropping a question entirely based on the sole basis of frustration" is entirely the purpose. If someone does not know what grammar is then they should not be here. If they should be here, they will be able to select more appropriate tags. – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '17 at 19:57
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    @AndrewLeach There are so many thoughts this response elicits that I scarcely know how to respond, but for now I think i'd be wise to point out that I agreed with you on the subject matter of tags, just not titles, which are entirely different aspect of this proposal and something you did not elaborate upon so much. Would you please reconsider what I have written if that was not just a slip of the finger? – Tonepoet Aug 5 '17 at 20:17
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    The point of disallowing "grammatically correct" or variants thereof in titles is that these are almost invariably proof-reading. And if they are not, then a different, more generic, title can surely be devised. – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '17 at 20:22
  • Ah yes, I forgot to mention that matter. Proofreading questions are closed so quickly though, often without so much as an answer as far as I am aware. Preempting these is a benefit, but I don't know if it is such a great one. Almost invariably and invariably are quite different n my opinion, esp. when silly matters such as this can stump even the best of us. I agree it can surely be done, sometimes cloud our better judgement is clouded by quite silly things such as that. Have you read the preface to Don Quixote? Cervantes jests that he almost ditched the whole book for lack of a preface... – Tonepoet Aug 5 '17 at 20:54
  • "Almost invariably" and "invariably" are different; but the authors of those cases which are not proof-reading (that is, the "almost") can surely provide a better title instead of the lazy one. – Andrew Leach Aug 5 '17 at 20:58
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    @AndrewLeach If someone does not know what grammar is they shouldn't be here? That sounds elitist and narrowminded. There is no simple vocabulary test someone can pass to prove they are capable of adding value to the community, because it doesn't account for people who may linger long enough to learn the basics and then go on to be very productive. – whitneyland Aug 15 '17 at 3:53
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    @Lee "English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts." Those people will know what grammar is. I believe a lot would be accomplished if english.stackexchange.com directed to ELL (along with ell.) and ELU got elu.. – Andrew Leach Aug 15 '17 at 13:24
  • @AndrewLeach Just because I know what "grammar" is, that doesn't mean I automatically know if a particular construction is "grammatically correct" in English - though of course I might know that "grammatically correct" is not a well-defined concept in English compared with some other languages. – alephzero Aug 22 '17 at 6:28
  • @AndrewLeach "Serious enthusiasts" may well include "total crackpots" - it certainly does in many fields of science, so why should linguistics be immune from the same disease? – alephzero Aug 22 '17 at 6:31

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