Suggestions are sought for interesting questions or motivators for interesting questions to ask, both general ideas and specific.

The mechanics of the SE system (closing, voting, moderating) have been a good method for policing quality. Encouraging prior research, being specific and clear, etc.

But over the years there have always been complaints about the quality of questions. There is one kind of quality that is not addressed and that is: content, the actual subject matter of the questions.

There is a history over the years in this direction (links in this meta question).

And like the weather, no one ever seems to do anything about it.

What are some suggestions for questions, or general areas of questions from which we could generate a little more easily, ideas for questions?

Yes, this may be a little weird because why ask a question you may already know the answer to since actually asking it may come across as inauthentic. But I think asking interesting questions would be a good spur to ELU

What I am looking for is suggestion areas to help those with experience here to create questions with interesting content.

Here's a vague start:

  • Language Log topics - There's a recent LL post about how people pronounce 'sts' at the end of words. What about 'sks' and 'sps' (as in 'whisks' and 'crisps'?
  • old William Safire On Language articles for which he botched the answer (eg all of them?).
  • Things in the news. I personally feel the 'covfefe' question was idiocy (I have stronger words for all the surrounding commentary), but at least it was interesting.
  • Accents produced in media: I'm always watching TV shows that come from the UK (I'm AmE). And so I always have questions about pronunciation and local varieties.
  • Where is Yoichi? Those were always great questions even when mechanically off-topic.

Sure, we want non-closable questions - ones that aren't simply "Hey, about them funny Brits and the way they talk with their lorries and crisps and lifts and shit?" - and that are more like "Truck in the US, Lorry in the UK: what is the provenance of the different usage and shit?"

And I'm not looking for people to copy paste Grammar Girl questions and then answers. More to get inspired by a Grammar Girl question then have people try to answer it without having Grammar Girl do it.

  • "There is one kind of quality that is not addressed and that is content, the actual subject matter of the questions." What about the very low quality flag? It says: This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed. – JJJ Apr 19 at 17:11
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    @JJJ The standard for VLQ is stiff; the rare VLQ flags I have had accepted are literal gibberish (LKR!@#$testtesttest12345) or radically off-topic (Has Hyundai released a mid-engine Veloster in any market?) – choster Apr 19 at 17:37
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    @JJJ I'm talking about improving the general OK quality with questions that are more interesting. – Mitch Apr 19 at 17:44
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    @Mitch In that case, I think the last point in your list speaks volumes, you need returning users to ask more questions. You can expect those users to have some more feel what makes a good question and since they're returning you ideally get a steady stream of fun / good questions. I think (without research) new users tend to ask a lot of simple questions which aren't really good (apart from some SWRs which in my opinion can be interesting; but some here disagree with that). Tl;dr: encourage returning users to ask questions and teach them how to find interesting questions. – JJJ Apr 19 at 18:02
  • @JJJ There is one difficulty - the more experienced and more likely answerers are more likely to be able to answer (or already know) their own questions. What I think I'm trying to do is to get these more experienced users (likely to read meta) to get inspired by things they find interesting and asking those questions before they get a final answer. – Mitch Apr 19 at 18:55
  • Also, I'm always surprised after the fact that for a language 'enthusiasm' site, that no one asks some obvious topical language questions. 'covfefe' stood out alone. – Mitch Apr 19 at 18:57
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    @Mitch I agree that is difficult to ask good questions, when I have a question it's either easily answered by research (so I don't bother posting it here because the research needed in the question already answers it) or it's primarily opinion-based (e.g. broad SWRs). Looking at the highest voted questions they fall either within those two categories or they are really 'unique'. Of course those 'unique' ones makes very good questions, but it's very difficult to come up with one of those that hasn't been asked yet. Helping users conceive of such questions would be very helpful. – JJJ Apr 19 at 19:05
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    Are we running out of good questions or are we running out of enthusiasm ? – user070221 Apr 19 at 19:50
  • @user3850720 insightful question. I haven't done the datamongering but it would be nice to know the trend of # of questions (enthusiasm of one kind) and the trend of # of answers per question (enthusiasm of another) – Mitch Apr 19 at 19:54
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    It is noticeable that questions which provoke interest (and votes) are usually ones which are a) about the common usage of ordinary English b) related to some current topic of general interest c) can be answered by most users rather than the more privileged academic minority users. – Nigel J Apr 19 at 20:27
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    @NigelJ many of those questions get 'boosted' when they appear on the ['hot list'] ( this attracts members from outside ELU who can upvote because of the association bonus. If there are a few answers and some upvotes shortly (a few hours) after the question was asked, they appear on that list. Getting more upvotes from those new users causes it to stay on that list (resulting in a couple thousand or more views). This happens with many broad SWR questions (because they attract multiple answers quickly). – JJJ Apr 19 at 21:06
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    Tip: Just ask a question connected to computering and watch the view count and upvotes rise vertiginously. As for moi... I am running out of ideas. I have never been terribly keen on pronunciation Qs but I have tried a couple w/o much success. Why not pick an OKish question and suggest different ways of making it more interesting and useful? – Mari-Lou A Apr 20 at 2:35
  • Shouldn't it be "Where is our new Yoichi?" or "Where are the new Yoichis?" It's a bit awkward saying "where are our..." :P – Mari-Lou A Apr 20 at 16:43
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    I think @Mari-LouA was just talking about how for many speakers, the sequence "are our" sounds repetitive, like "ar ar" (/ɑr ɑr/), and when it comes after "where" you even have another "r" sound in the preceding word (/wer ɑr ɑr/). – sumelic Apr 20 at 21:37
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    @sumelic - I think that for a fair number of people, when we want to pronounce "are our," we feel that we should avoid saying "ar ar," and therefore we end up sounding uncomfortably stiff, with "ar our" and a big glottal stop on "our." At least, that's why I try to avoid "are our." – aparente001 Apr 21 at 0:57
up vote 14 down vote accepted

When I become disappointed with the inflow of current questions on EL&U, I resort to one of two strategies—neither of which involves worrying about how to improve the quality of new questions. Either (1) I plunge into the unanswered questions queue to see whether there may not be an overlooked, answer-worthy question lurking in there, or (2) I look into old questions—especially from the 2010–2012 era, when answers tended to be considerably more off-the-cuff than they are today—in search of one that has not drawn a thoroughly researched answer.

Questions languishing in the unanswered questions queue for more than a week or two tend not to be especially fascinating, but they have escaped closure—and that automatically makes them a better bet for answering than any arbitrarily selected question in the new questions lineup. You never have to worry about a question disappearing on you midway through your answer, and it is fairly rare for such questions to be closed after you answer them.

Very old questions, meanwhile, are often very good and quite interesting, despite (in many cases) not meeting the "show research" requirement that has emerged in the past three or four years and now dominates close voting. Because many of these old questions were originally disposed of in answers of one or two short paragraphs with no supporting references, answering them more rigorously can improve the long-term value of EL&U to future site visitors.

As for the dwindling proportion of good incoming questions, I observe that every good question that appears on English Language & Usage reduces the universe of nonduplicate good questions by one. After eight years of at least occasional good questions, it is hardly surprising that new good questions seem to be coming in at a diminishing rate.

Beyond that, I think that imposing the "show research" requirement has made it harder for questioners to ask questions of the type that Yoichi Oishi has asked for many years here, without being gadded by demands to show what they've already found out elsewhere in trying to answer their own question. As a matter of fact, Yoichi Oishi himself has had to deal multiple times in recent years with such demands. Many of his questions take this form: "I have encountered [some expression] in [some publication]. Here is the paragraph in which it occurred, for context. I would have thought that the expression meant [something] because [some reason], but it seems to have some other meaning here. Can someone explain what is going on?"

I think that these are great questions, and often they require considerable effort to answer well. But by imposing "show research" as a central requirement of all new questions, we make asking such questions unduly burdensome and we represent ourselves as fundamentally hostile to them.

For several years now, we've tried to upgrade the quality of posted questions by slapping the "show research" requirement on everything in sight, but it seems to me that doing this has not improved the quality of the questions we receive. So maybe the time has come to get rid of that close reason and to bring back "too localized"—a close reason that actually goes to the merits (or demerits) of a question, rather than throwing out questions without even reaching the question of whether they are useful, difficult, or otherwise interesting.

For an example of a recent Yoichi-like question that is on the verge of being closed for lack of research, see What is the difference between "justice served" and "justice given"? If you think that the answer is obvious, you haven't looked at dictionary definitions of justice and tried to work out which ones apply to which of the two expressions asked about.

In my experience, EL&U gets lots of harder-than-they-look questions, but our reflexive inclination to throw them out if they don't show adequate research discourages people from coming back and asking additional questions—and I suspect that many close voters consider that a good thing.

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    Food for thought. Could you sum up your position in a Bottom Line at the end, to help me decide whether I want to upvote your answer? – aparente001 Apr 22 at 17:01
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    @aparente001: My answer addresses three points: how I, as a frequent answerer, deal with the low proportion of good new questions at EL&U; possible reasons why good new questions are infrequent at EL&U; and an example of a legitimate question that is in danger of being closed for lack of research. My one-sentence answer to Mitch's posted question is this: If we want more questions of the type that Yoichi Oishi is known for, we should abandon "show research" as a close reason and replace it with "too localized," which addresses the long-term usefulness of the questions themselves. – Sven Yargs Apr 22 at 17:22
  • It's hard to say that the insufficient research rule hasn't resulted in better questions when it's been so poorly applied. Even some of the mods of this site evidently disagree with the principle of it saying "Never stand in the way of useful answers." If the community actually agreed to consistently uphold the site standards, whatever they were, by promptly closing questions (I'd think there's enough high rep users most should be closed within 15 minutes) and not answering those that don't meet them, then we'd know if they truly work. – curiousdannii Apr 29 at 13:07

Here is a lovely question with lots of potential that just got closed: How did Trump supporters construe his bugaboo term, "corruption"?

Could people interested in Mitch's question, and Mitch too of course, please take this sad orphan of a question as a guinea pig and try to rescue it for me?

By the way, I would like to see an answer here that describes how someone learned to write a well-posed ELU question, similar to the answer I wrote recently (which has a whopping net vote of 4, double that of its nearest neighbor), where I described how I learned to write a well-posed ELU answer. (I'm not the one to write a full answer here, since I clearly haven't yet learned how to write a well-posed ELU question.)

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