7

We are now at the point that most questions on ELU get closed. Our 90-day closure rate (10k only) is sitting at around two in every three. Some days it’s worse than that, some days it’s better, but in the long run we’re at around 65% closed.

Other quality metrics are also telling, albeit perhaps less obviously. Beyond closure rate, the number of answers per question has gone down over time, and we no longer appear to draw the quality questions and more importantly, answers, that we once did.

Here is a random assortment of 50 closed questions from the not-too-distant past. Some of these have been deleted so you will need 10k reputation to view, but many have not.

  1. Another word/phrase for “caught in their mess” or “entangled in their mess”?
  2. A slogan choice
  3. A synonym for intimacy?
  4. A term that can be used to describe a person in this situation?
  5. Could you please help me with my IELTS task 1 essay
  6. Could you please tell me If I wrote this wrong?
  7. Crimeshifting: The act of accusing your opponent of a crime of which you yourself are guilty in order to shift the discussion to them
  8. Enjoy discount by settling full payment
  9. ESTABLISH A COMPANY
  10. Explain about the remaining 2 rupees
  11. Formal version of water down
  12. He looked at the people from on the building?
  13. How do I get rid of my feeling
  14. I am looking for a word that describes someone who always pawns off work to others and is lazy at work.
  15. I AM LOOKING FOR ONE WORD IN ENGLISH …SOMETHING TO SIGNIFY “ENHANCING VALUES ”( VALUE CAN BE ANYTHING THAT Changes life or the organisation
  16. I just wanted to confirm that the following sentence is grammatically correct or not
  17. i ma looking for a name for a character with darkness powers that means or has similiar meaning to “unwanted hate directed at oneself”
  18. I need the awnser
  19. In US Contract law, when there is a disagreement between a spelled out dollar amount and typed numeral, which prevails?
  20. Is “I am applying at the referral of…” grammatically correct?
  21. Is there any synonyms for “put in the same category as”?
  22. Is there a word for someone who does something specifically to use it against someone else?
  23. Is the sentence “The novel's language is largely prosaic” logically correct?
  24. Is this sentence complete? Correct?
  25. looking for another way to say “private room”
  26. May I know what's JAR?
  27. need help with grammar
  28. Needing a better word or phrase
  29. Negative Connotations And Positive Connotations
  30. Noun for a person that finishes work on time
  31. Please help me..I'm a bit confused
  32. Single-word request, or phrase request
  33. Synonyms for “proficiency with”?
  34. The Finch House
  35. the souls of St. vs soul/s od St. Tammany
  36. Topic writing in englsih
  37. using I am not well when physically injured?
  38. What does it mean to finally wake up to yourself
  39. What does this word mean?
  40. What do you call a guy who chooses to prioritize beautiful ladies among other customers/clients?
  41. What is a more formal but colorful word for the verb 'jam'?
  42. What is a word for someone who should not use the internet?
  43. What is one word (noun) of a person who is initiative?
  44. What is the correct order?
  45. What is the difference between phlegm, mucus, and snot?
  46. What is the difference between Speech and Writing ( with examples)?
  47. What is the formal way to ask about salary payment to my boss
  48. What is this article about?
  49. Word for someone who is multi-talented
  50. Word the describes someone who takes advantage of vulnerable people

Please look those over as you can. Then see if you can think of any possible measures that would attract more questions that would draw expert answers instead of ones like those which are doomed to closure.

  • 2
    Ask to be included in the question template test (or placeholders, but that would involve a new feature rather than just enabling one which has already been implemented)? – curiousdannii Jan 22 '18 at 12:26
  • @curiousdannii Might I please trouble you to put your fine comment into an answer? You could explain more about what that is for those unfamiliar with it. – tchrist Jan 22 '18 at 17:41
  • I could really use a "snippet" or "click to expand" feature right about now. The bazillion listed examples is killing the vibe... ;) – NVZ Jan 22 '18 at 22:10
  • As of today, only six questions have not been deleted from that list. – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 '18 at 10:34
16

I didn't have time yet to go through all the questions, but it seems like a lot of these questions are . This isn't really surprising considering most of our questions (closed or not) are tagged with this tag. In addition, we've had discussions about quality problems in this tag in the past.

Despite all the discussion, we've not really done anything about the problem that I've seen. So here's my suggestion: tag warnings.

Tag warnings (also called "tag tips") are already a thing on other sites, such as Stack Overflow. When you are asking a question and add certain tags to the question (e.g. [SQL]), you get a message like this:

I think that this would be a great idea to have for . We just need to decide what it will say, then have a CM put it in place. I think it should mention at least the following points:

  • Be sure to include a sample sentence and context.
  • If you know a similar word, check a thesaurus to see if any words will work. List the words that didn't work in your question and explain why they don't fit.
  • This is by far the most sensible one imho. – NVZ Jan 22 '18 at 15:51
  • This looks fine, but I doubt that most on the off-topic questions are about SWRs . In any case we already have an “How to ask” section in the question page english.stackexchange.com/questions/ask. Why does it nor work? Would adding more and more ”how to ask” advices improve the input quality? Evidence doesn’t not appear to support this so far..and we are into the 7th year as far as ELU is concerned. – user067531 Jan 22 '18 at 21:19
  • 1
    @user159691 The difference is, people do not visit the help pages. By this suggestion, at least it pops up in their face while adding a tag. – NVZ Jan 22 '18 at 22:08
  • 1
    @NVZ - I am probably too skeptical, but if a user don’t want/care about reading two lines of instructions why do you expect they would read ten lines? Pop the instructions up in their face is probably all we can get. – user067531 Jan 23 '18 at 9:42
  • Is it time for EnglishVocabulary.SE? – choster Jan 23 '18 at 16:02
9

UPDATE

I go through swings (or is it moods?), some days I feel more optimistic about EL&U's future and permanence on the Internet, other days I feel the website is just doomed. The last week or so has been simply awful.

The flood of not low – but extremely low-quality questions – is just too depressing for words. Hmm... maybe I should post that statement as a single-word-request.

Here is but one random example from the active page, the question is called: is this sentence right

Is this sentence right " this report represents our findings at the times and places of discharging and landing operation only"?

thank you

A question like that, and there are so many more, shouldn't even reach first base. Let alone have someone posting an answer, and hanging around for hours until five users close it for being off-topic. THAT is an off-topic question that cannot be saved. THAT is a question that is useful for only the person asking.

Yet, the mods close, pardon, lock the 2nd most upvoted question in EL&U's history because, and I quote

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed.

If only more newcomers were to write first questions with as much detail, context and care! But 99% of them don't give a sh*t! There's too many of "them" and too few of "us". By us I mean users (new and old) who do respond, and do post supported answers.

Original Post

My question: Are perhaps too many questions being closed unnecessarily?

Is there never the possibility of improving a low-quality question that shows at least some interesting/useful language aspect? E.g The question about "....the cockles of one's heart" was closed before it was edited. The question about the use of inversion was recently reopened.

  • I imagine I could easily enough ask you which of those fifty listed above you feel should not have been closed, but I wonder whether that might miss the point — once or twice. – tchrist Jan 21 '18 at 22:36
  • 1
    Whenever I see a LQQ that has "something" I try to help it. But I don't always see how a LQ question can be expanded or edited into shape. However, I'm positive we have missed some gems along the way. It's up to "us" to see which questions have potential, that have gems lying silently beneath the surface. – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 '18 at 22:39
  • 1
    I am not advocating to save each and every question, some do need to be immediately zapped. – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 '18 at 22:41
  • 3
    Bear in mind that my question asks for ideas on how to improve the quality of our site, not about how to artificially “improve” our close-rate statistic by lowering our standards. – tchrist Jan 21 '18 at 22:48
  • 1
    The cockles question was a real surprise. The level of answers it has attracted is really high ELU standards. – user067531 Jan 22 '18 at 15:00
  • 1
    Having just read the answers to the cockles question, I am convinced part of the problem is lack of imagination on the part of fast-on-the draw close voters. At least one of my earliest questions was closed for what I felt at the time was the same reason. If I cared more, I would go back and try to resuscitate it. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jan 22 '18 at 18:32
  • 1
    There's too much new content in your answer that I feel it should have been made a separate answer. Doesn't make sense to me being an "update". – NVZ Feb 7 '18 at 18:51
  • @NVZ think of it as an update on how I feel about LQQs, LQAs, Off-topic questions and EL&U. – Mari-Lou A Feb 7 '18 at 20:39
6

In my experience, you can't do much to change whether or not the first question someone asks is good quality; you can only change whether the second question they ask is better than the first. I have seen good results if questions are closed with the intent of helping the author bring them on topic and are quickly reopened after an author takes the first step toward improving the question.

The best way to educate someone about community standards is for someone to show them in a concrete way how to meet those standards. Everyone who asks a question is a potential new active member of the community. EL&U could just close questions and tell folks to read the help and come back when they've figured out how to meet the quality standards, or the community could invest in new users with an eye toward turning them into regular contributors of high quality questions (and possibly answers).

That might involve cutting new users a little more slack if they are making an effort to improve. It will definitely involve some effort on the part of EL&U veterans to help the author figure out exactly what they could do to get their question off of hold. Only about 1 in 7 of the users I've seen get significant guidance from the ELL community end up adjusting the way they post, but the ones that do "convert" tend to actively help other new users improve their question quality. That leads to a positive feedback loop that eventually results in a better balance of quality questions.

There will always be questions from the folks that just want their homework done and no amount of education or help text will make them put effort into writing a decent quality question. But there are also some folks that jump in without really figuring out how things work that could either be encouraged to become valuable contributors or discouraged from ever posting again because they're not sure how to post a question that would be well-received.

  • 2
    I wonder whether Stack Overflow’s Help and Improvement queue might be relevant here. – tchrist Jan 22 '18 at 2:24
  • I had no idea such a thing existed - it sounds pretty awesome for both EL&U and ELL. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 22 '18 at 2:33
  • 2
    I like this approach. Practically, I suggest quickly placing the question on hold and simultaneously making it obvious to the OP that we're working with them to bring the question up to standard. If the OP isn't interested, the question moves from 'on hold' to 'closed' in the usual manner, but for those that are, we've introduced positive community involvement (a key element of user retention here, I'd expect) and helped raise awareness of community expectations. They're then in a good position to ask more high-quality questions. – Lawrence Jan 22 '18 at 13:02
5

I like EL&U and would like to see it survive.

I think ColeenV has it right, that it's not the low-quality questions that are the problem, but attracting and developing new users (and keeping the interest of the many people who have already made so many great contributions).

Stack Exchange (and its Q&A model) are relatively new and operate in a changing environment--not necessarily entirely suited to the defined scope of EL&U. So the first suggestion is to be, within the constraints of the model, as flexible as possible within the diverse and changing environment of the use of English in the modern world, and let the site evolve. If it overlaps a bit with writers or linguistics or language learning, so be it. Downvote or ignore the bad questions and forget about them.

  • People seeking to improve their English through reading (e.g., fiction without too much dialog) or listening are asking an out-of-scope question, but they're potential contributors to the site--and EL&U might allow itself to provide some guidance on the English language that goes beyond the rules of the books the learners seem to be using for their exams.

  • Speculation, partial answers, and discussion in Comments are interesting and useful, and perhaps should be less discouraged. (In truth, not much about "what not to do" seems to have been useful in the time I've been here.)

  • Although one goal of the site is to be a repository of English-language questions and answers useful to others in the future, it is much more likely to be an evolving response to current interests. It needs to be of interest to current users if it is to maintain its vitality. (The uncommon interest in how a children's English-alphabet ball came to have one letter with a Swedish picture is actually a fascinating story, whether it will be of interest five years from now or not.)

Other matters:

  • The "help" section is close to useless--and mostly disciplinary (what not to do).

  • The "search" section is poor, and is now (I haven't been around much since mid-October 2017) close to blacked-out.

  • I don't pay much attention to tags, but it seems to me that a tag like "pejorative" only invites the kinds of questions we are not trying to encourage.

I haven't said much of this very well; my apologies.

P.S. I think the diversity (backgrounds, geographical) of frequent contributors and what they know and observe about the language is an amazing resource. How do you use that?

  • by “diversity” you mean non-native speakers or native speakers of English dialects (Australia, New Zealand etc.) ? – user067531 Jan 22 '18 at 14:51
  • @user159691 I mean both and more--diversity of educational and professional background (teaching, doing research, writing, editing, programming) and diversity as both native and non-native speakers who live or have lived various places; and by their participation here they indicate an interest in and awareness of the English language. Thus--they have not just opinions but informed and reasoned judgments. So being a little less rigorous in closing questions because they are based on "opinion" is another way to open things up. – Xanne Jan 22 '18 at 20:27
  • I'd rather not see the website become so censorious that we can't even accept questions regarding a certain category of word, e.g. pejoratives, offensive language, so I'm voting against this answer... – Tonepoet Jan 23 '18 at 1:49
4

Just a few thoughts:

Improving the site is both a question of quality and quantity.

A few good questions among a plethora of off-topic LQQs is a quantity problem that affects the quality of the site.

First, as noted, new users just ask, no matter the rules, and to reduce the unavoidable quantity of off-topic LQQs, the only thing that might work, in my opinion, is a barrier to entry for new user and very low rep users. Questions posted by new, low rep users shouldn’t be automatically posted on the main page, but rather enter an “acceptance” line where they are “validated” by higher rep users. That is what already happens with the VTC, LQQs, First Post etc. lines we already take care of, only that it would be ex-ante , rather than ex-post. In other words, we still do the “dirty” job, but before a question is posted rather than after. (Btw, what’s a low rep user? 200, 500 or 1.000? To be decided)

The benefit would be much less ex-post close votes, a cleaner and a higher quality main page and a chance that in the meantime new, low rep users will familiarize with the site rules.

Second, higher quality in a more general sense can only be attained, in my opinion, with a more active contribution by higher rep, experienced users. It takes time for new users who love the site to give a significant contribution in terms of Q&A, but experienced, veteran users who are already familiar with all the workings of the site should probably make an effort in answering, but mainly in asking.

  • 2
    One problem I see with a queue is that only veterans and the new users whose questions are in the queue will see the sausage getting made. If the process to improve the question is where everyone can see it, you might also educate some of the lurkers instead of just the one person whose question you're working on. I think barriers to entry when you're trying build a volunteer community are counterproductive. It's better to "grow your own" than potentially scare people off because it's too difficult to engage with the community. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 22 '18 at 13:33
  • 2
    @ColleenV - I don’t see the “scare”. The process would be roughly the same as it is now only that it is carried out “behind the scenes” with new users in contact with experienced user who help them improve the questions to meet the standards required. I don’t think that “educating” works here, only those who care will take the pain to learn the ropes, the others, most of the new users, just ask once or twice then leave. – user067531 Jan 22 '18 at 13:38
  • 3
    Well the problem is "care enough". You want to welcome people who care about being part of the community and discourage those that don't, but where you set the threshold of pain matters. There is a big difference between allowing someone to place their question on the site, but putting it on hold while the community helps fix it up, and forcing the question through a queue where only a small fraction of the community will interact with it. Just because someone has been here a long time and accumulated rep doesn't mean they are necessarily the best representative of the community. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 22 '18 at 17:24
  • @ColleenV - I think you misunderstood. There is no disparity in treatment between those who make on topic questions vs those who don’t. That’s more likely to happen now where there is total visibility for everything that is posted. As for higher rep users, they may still post off topic questions but hopefully to a lesser extent and in any case they are more apt to conform to the rules. In any case the huge amount of low quality posts are from new, low rep users. Probably on ELL it is another story given the different target of the general audience. – user067531 Jan 22 '18 at 17:43
  • 1
    I understand what you’re suggesting. I don’t think you understand my issue with it. So maybe in addition, all new users’ answers should go through the same queue. Maybe we should set a threshold for whether posts need to be reviewed based on the median score of someone’s contributions instead of by absolute reputation. That seems like it would be more fair than presuming that every low rep user’s questions need to be reviewed (by folks whose posts have never undergone that scrutiny) before they can be presented to the community at large. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 22 '18 at 21:49
3

I agree with @Mari-Lou A that there may be a tendency to close too many questions.

Having only been here for just under four months and having only reviewed just under 2,000 questions, nevertheless I find it too easy (especially when tired) to vote closure rather than make a definite attempt to rescue a potentially interesting and informative question, especially if the questioner is clearly struggling to express themselves in their second language, not their first.

It needs a positive outlook and a patient attitude, I am finding.

0

It may be helpful for all involved to be specific about what constitutes a high quality question. Certainly, duplicate questions, questions unrelated to any facet of the English language, or inflammatory questions--fall into the "low quality" (the undesirables) category.

Of course no one wants this place to be treated like a translation service--so I can see questions like "what does such and such mean" get down voted.

On the other hand, if a question leads to a discussion of (say) the nuance of a word, a phrase, or an idiom, doesn't that help enrich this site? Does the "quality" of the question really matter?

So many times I have seen demands that a user must "demonstrate research"--Well, if one can find an answer by googling (or by scouring dictionaries), why would anyone come here? You know, it is easier to google for an answer than posting a question here (after creating an account) and then waiting for a response. Is it the goal of this site to become the repository of "tidbits not found anywhere else"? Is it the goal of this site to be the next Oxford (or whatever) English Dictionary?

We all have encountered situations where we search for the right word, but ESL speakers often simply don't have enough knowledge of the knowledge to find it. Behind a question seemingly lacking in research may be a ESL learning working hard to perfect his/her English skills. Is it going to bring down the reputation of this site for someone to offer an answer?

Seriously: Do people have specific expectations for the kind of questions that enhances this site--maybe questions asked by English majors? How about graduate students majoring in English? If every question must fall within prescribed range, then this place will be nothing but an echo chamber -- and be better off taken over by an English Department.

  • 1
    I think people should certainly (re)consider their definitions of question "quality" (which is why I upvoted Mari-Lou A's answer) but I don't particularly like the part of this answer where you suggest that people's current standards are for this to be "the next Oxford (or whatever) English Dictionary" or that we are on track to only accepting questions asked by "English majors" or "graduate students majoring in English". You don't need any kind of educational credentials to use onelook.com, thesaurus.com, or... – herisson Jan 23 '18 at 0:43
  • 1
    ...any of the many English-to-another-language or another-language-to-English dictionaries that are available for free online (e.g. WordReference dictionaries or dict.leo.org/german-english). Even people who have only been learning English for a week should be able to find some resources aside from this site that they can use. And people on this site tend to be much gentler with users who show some of their work in their question posts, even if the users haven't been able to find much on their own. – herisson Jan 23 '18 at 0:44
  • Take a look at these two questions, and tell me that they are both on topic, and they are both suited to EL&U (not ELL). One question shows a depth of understanding and research. The other is just using EL&U as a dictionary service 1) What's the difference between “opponent” and “rival”? and 2) Skilled vs Skilful – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 10:53
  • Mari-Lou: I get your point--#1 gives no context and seems to expect a quick answer. To me, that calls for additional information (which I see you did). However, that question IS about subtleties and nuance of the English language. Granted, it's only about two words, but suppose there was an answer that gave examples of (say) historical usage--wouldn't that make the Q&A a valuable "package", despite the one-dimensional nature of the question? – YLearn Jan 23 '18 at 16:58
  • Mari-Lou: #2 is indeed a good question because the user followed up with extensive explanations as to why he/she was asking the question. To me, though, that showed the user's extensive knowledge of the language already. Many people may not be able to fully articulate their confusion--though, since they ask, 1. they must be interested in sorting out some confusing point(s), and 2. perhaps there is something about the words/phrases that can be explored that can help elucidate the ambiguity and benefit all users and learners of English. – YLearn Jan 23 '18 at 17:08
  • I just happened to see this question A slogan choice. It's downvotes 4 times and closed. The question is about the usage of the subjunctive--which often confuses native speakers as well as non-native speakers. Is it beneath the lofty goals of this site to accept this type of questions and allow answers? – YLearn Jan 23 '18 at 17:19
  • 1
    This answer’s thrust seems to be a call for empathy and assistance of non-native speakers who don’t have the intuitive grasp of English that many of us here are privileged to enjoy. That is a commendable goal. But it is not the goal of ELU, and in fact it is the explicit goal of ELL, and its very raison d’etre. ELU caters to questions which would of interest to native speakers or academic or professional linguists. It would be a service both sites and both audiences to maintain this focus, and will directly improve the experience for all. – Dan Bron Jan 23 '18 at 23:32
  • Because you are the author of this post, every time someone posts a comment you will receive an inbox notification. But in order to notify a user that you are responding to them you need to place @ immediately before their username otherwise they will never know unless they come back to visit. – Mari-Lou A Jan 24 '18 at 8:24
  • I'm glad you agree that #2 is suitable for EL&U, and even though the user shows a good control of English, and did some research, he or she isn't sure if the word "skilled" can replace "skilful". That is someone who EL&U is meant for. Real beginners should ask questions on ELL, which I nominated earlier. – Mari-Lou A Jan 24 '18 at 8:28
  • @DanBron Your point on focus is well taken. My point, though, wasn't just about empathy (a healthy dose of which wouldn't hurt this site, TBH). If a question is about the usage of the English language--and if it results in discussions that elucidate such usage, is it even relevant whether the question belongs to ELL or ELU? ESL speakers aren't the only ones guilty of misusing the English language--or having the need for clarification from time to time. – YLearn Jan 25 '18 at 15:42
  • @DanBron What makes the difference is in the answers and discussions that result from the question, not just the question itself. Careful shepherding of the questions is important, but over zealous policing--such as suggestions on discouraging new users from responding to ("low quality") questions--is really not in the best interest of this site. – YLearn Jan 25 '18 at 15:42
  • @Mari-LouA Beginner ESL questions absolutely belongs to a different place. But there is a grey area where a question could belong to both. Those who have seen how native speakers write in college--or grad school--surely know that that grey area can be fairly large. (A side note: Thanks for the "@" reminder.) – YLearn Jan 25 '18 at 15:49

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