We seem to be getting a lot of off-topic questions from new users that are quickly answered by another new user (and sometimes up-voted). Is there anything that we can (or should) do about this, apart from flagging the questions as off-topic, and down-voting both questions and answers (which tend to be brief, albeit correct)? For example:

What verb can I use to describe someone saying "aaah" in a painful way?

I've checked for duplicate questions, but I cannot find any that match this particular scenario.


I suppose that new users who answer these questions might simply be browsing the site, and when they see a question that they can answer, they do so without understanding the site rules.

  • 2
    You have already flagged and downvoted the question and possibly the answer, what else do you need?
    – user 66974
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:26
  • 2
    @user159691 Guidance, perhaps?
    – Mick
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:27
  • 9
    Probably you might give some guidance to the new users, not just downvotes.
    – user 66974
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:29
  • 3
    Maybe I need to write some boilerplate text that I can paste into a comment.
    – Mick
    Dec 18, 2017 at 17:38
  • 3
    That's a good idea @Mick - a number of our users do that and build in a link to the specific area of the site rules that pertain to the guidance. Dec 18, 2017 at 20:49
  • When a question is closed, a banner appears that contains useful links and boilerplate text. The trick is to pick an appropriate reason to close (where it's appropriate to close).
    – Lawrence
    Dec 20, 2017 at 17:02
  • Oi! I resemble that remark ... on a serious note, I'm sorry, I'll try to stop doing that. Dec 23, 2017 at 1:07

3 Answers 3


This is normal. New users normally do not know how to ask or answer.

To prevent answers to off-topic questions, we close them as quickly as possible.

To minimize new users asking or answering off-topic questions, out of many things we do, one of them is downvoting bad questions as quickly as possible. A question with -4 score drops off of the homepage (albeit, not off of the "questions" tab), so a casual visitor may not see it and feel inclined to attempt an answer thinking "this is easy!" or to ask a similarly bad one.

"Protect" hot or controversial questions to prevent new users (without 10 rep on ELU) from answering them.

In general, leave constructive comments wherever you can. Guidance is key.

  • 1
    cough downvote cheap answers to cheap questions cough
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 19, 2017 at 22:50
  • 7
    @DanBron if written by seasoned users by all means, but if the user is a newcomer, I think it's enough to refrain from upvoting. A right and/or good answer shouldn't be downvoted but that's me. A one-line answer is usually low quality but I like it when someone from outside expresses their very personal perspective in a brief para, as long as it answers the main thrust of the question. There's an honesty about them which I find refreshing
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 19, 2017 at 23:24
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    @Mari-LouA I do understand that it is tempting to be lenient towards newer users, and harsher to more experienced ones, but I feel the need to point out that this is actually is detrimental to the most important purpose of the voting system, which is to serve as an indicator of overall post quality to otherwise undecided future visitors. A bad answer remains bad, and a good answer remains good, regardless of who posted it, or how well they know our expectations, so the same standard should be applied to both new users and old users just the same.
    – Tonepoet
    Dec 20, 2017 at 8:42
  • 1
    @Tonepoet That system is bust. The system should indicate the accuracy and helpfulness of answers. Underdeveloped but accurate answers should not be receiving -4 scores and the like., it's misleading to other users. Much better to get the OP to develop the answer into a better answer. Dec 30, 2017 at 12:43
  • 1
    @Araucaria I concur that answers should be rated by their accuracy and helpfulness, but my point is that whether somebody is an experienced member or not has no direct relationship to that, and thus should not be a factor while voting. What should be a factor, in my opinion, is that an underdeveloped but accurate answer has the redeeming quality of being accurate, and that remains true regardless of if the post is made by an S.E. expert or novice. Is it not just as misleading to vote against that same accurate answer if it was made by a senior member as it would be when it is made by a tyro?
    – Tonepoet
    Dec 30, 2017 at 13:49

This is a partial answer, intended to supplement NVZ's answer.

Take time to teach

with a comment (to quote Faber and Mazlish).


Answering questions that are poorly posed is frowned upon here.

There are other ways it could be phrased. To check the tone, read it over, and imagine yourself in their shoes, as a brand new participant. Would the comment make you want to stick around, and follow the customs here? Or would it feel hurtful?

Rationale: it's not reasonable to expect new participants to figure this out on their own. At least we should give them the benefit of the doubt.


I don't really think we need to be doing anything more than what we are already doing.

There is question protection which prevents members with less than 10 rep. from answering a question that attracts low-quality answers from people who do not understand the standards. There is also question closure which prevents anybody from answering it if it is so bad that we suppose nobody should even be trying to answer it yet. If answers were written to such an especially bad question, that has a negative as this once did, deletion votes on the question can be cast by trusted users and any reputation gains or losses will be reversed, which more or less makes it a waste of time to have bothered answering. Finally, as a last resort, people who answer a question before it is established that the question meets our standards are taking a slight risk, because if it is edited to meet our standards their answer may very well be invalidated. In that case, voting against the answer may also a valid option, although you would need to reserve your vote because strictly speaking, we only have a few minutes to change our mind about a vote once it has been cast, unless the answer is edited.

Some of these mechanisms may need a little tweaking to work optimally, but I do not think we can control that at the local level, so I do not think we need to be doing anything more than what we are already doing, and I fear that it may be harmful to the website. Although we do insist upon having good questions, this is a secondary concern that is mostly just a means to an end for us, and that end is having good answers. You can read more about the general philosophy in Jeff Atwood's Optimizing for Pearls, Not Sand.

However, if we can skip a step and get a high-quality answer, even to a bad question, that is at least of some value. I want you to pay special mind to our original research standard: The general reference standard described in Are Some Questions Too Simple? and how the chart therein affords us every opportunity to answer a question if the answer can be of any use or interest: There are three forks with "Answer the Question" ending in a mostly subjective test, and it is only when all three forks fail that are we recommended to close it as "General Referenece" and even if it should be closed, it is generally left to community discretion to decide if it actually will be.

My fear is that we already have adequate means to prevent bad answers to questions if we should so choose to use them, so all that remains to be done is to preempt good answers to bad questions, which is actually counterproductive to our ultimate goal:

With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage.—Our Tour

Aside from that, which questions are up to our standards is actually a highly debatable matter. We may actually disagree on which topics are so bad as to which merit a closure reason. Although I agree this question is not up to our current standards, I could not disagree more regarding the reason for that:

You have suggested that the questioner should a thesaurus, which is often a reasonable request. Yes, I understand: We don't just want people copying and pasting the options out of Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus as shown on thesaurus.com with no further explanation regarding why a word is a good option. "Foox and fooy are synonyms, so you can use foox instead of fooy" is an utterly useless and error-prone answer that could have been more easily found without the need for human intervention.

However, the thesaurus is a somewhat peculiar tool in regards to , because people can only use it if they already know an applicable word. If a person does not propose a synonym, then the question can not be answered by a thesaurus, as the applicability of either suggestion has to be proven in the first place, which leads to a somewhat higher quality answer than the aforementioned use foox instead of fooy example I just now gave.

What is moreover is that it does not constitute an adequate proof to suggest two words are synonyms when the questioner does not even know if either of the words is applicable. The request you are making is not only effectively impossible, but would fail to improve the answers to the question in my opinion, so there are only two options as far as I am concerned:

  1. The question should never have been closed as off-topic in the first place because it can not be answered by "a commonly available reference" and so such closure serves no purpose.

  2. The question is bad because it is otherwise off-topic, so even if a thesaurus is checked, it should remain closed.

I would like to emphasize that I am not casting judgement upon whether the question should be open or closed here. I am merely stating that I disagree with your rationale regarding why it is noncompliant with our standards, and what can be done to make it standards compliant to make a point: There is no safe method to certainly determine if a question is standards compliant or not other than through community consensus, as established by the question's closure status, so we probably should not be penalizing answerers for making that discretionary call by answering still open questions, which are the only sort of questions that they even can (or at least should be able to) answer.

  • I think this answer says essentially the same thing as the other two. I wonder what the downvotes disagree with.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jan 5, 2018 at 6:50
  • @NVZ maybe because this answer is overly meticulous for a question that's not really worth that amount of effort. P.S No DV from me but that's my best guess
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 5, 2018 at 11:02
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I think so too. It's a 4 min read. Perhaps that's it.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jan 5, 2018 at 11:03

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