I preface my question with a comment by five-year member Janus Bahs Jacquet:

No it's not. Neither version is correct, because both lack subject-auxiliary inversion. Additionally, the question shows no research effort at all and is therefore off topic here; answering questions that don't belong on the site is not the kind of signal we want to send, so it is better not to answer at all if a question is off topic like this one.

(my emphasis)

Now to the question I concern myself with:

screen cap of 'In this sentence which is correct couple or couple of

The question title is For most patients, he will monitor you once every couple months and the actual question is

In this sentence which is correct "couple" or "couple of"?

24-hours ago I asked about answering a SWR that had no research (link). Now I am asking about a question that was so poorly written that it has got(ten) 4 close votes as early as an hour after it was posted. That is the good news.

What I cannot understand is why such a poorly formed question (so that it is obviously off-topic and should not be answered nevertheless gets answered? Are members (even if they have 10K+ rep points) unaware that off-topic questions should not be answered (although as a courtesy they can be answered in the comment field)? To me this is part of Site 101. How the site works. I am glad we are stressing Nice-ness and friendliness.

It seems that we need to do a better job of informing folks when not to answer a question... How can we do that?

Added: Editing the question addresses the question-side of the issue. It does nothing to educate users on what questions to not answer.

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    One way to address the problem is by editing the question. That way, both the question and its answer(s) are more helpful to future visitors. – J.R. Aug 22 '18 at 1:22
  • Edwin Ashworth has been offline since July 8, love him or hate him, he was always doing his utmost to keep the site up to standards, which also included downvoting answers to off-topic questions. I don't think he'd object to that observation as he often accompanies his downvotes with a brief explanation. Do you know what? I kinda miss him. It must be the weather. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '18 at 7:15
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    We have a post on ELL's meta that addresses your point I think DO NOT FEED THE BEARS. I do think there is a balance that needs to be struck between not encouraging low effort questions and punishing people because their standards aren't the same as yours though. – ColleenV Aug 22 '18 at 10:56
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    The trouble with some good questions—like the one you use as an example here—is that they come from askers who do not frame them in a formally satisfactory way. And thanks to our "show research" close reason, it's easy for gatekeepers to reject such questions without considering whether they might actually be quite challenging and complicated. In the bad old days of this site, askers would post questions like this one all the time, and answerers would respond more often than not with a one- or two-paragraph answer that came off the top of their head. We now have stricter standards... – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 19:15
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    ...for both questions and answers, but one negative consequence of those standards (especially as applied to questions) is that they focus on formal acceptability at the expense of actual complexity and interest. We reject questions on formal grounds related to the trappings of the question without considering the substantive merit of the question itself. And of course, close voters are under no obligation to recuse themselves from voting on categories of questions in which they have no serious interest or knowledge. After all, anyone can see whether a question asker has shown research. – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 19:16
  • I flagged the comment by @tchrist because I put the link into my question. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:41

Help OP to improve the question, either through suggestions or edits.

People will answer, either through a genuine desire to help people, or through a desire to score points in the gaming system. People will answer the questions.

If we accept this as an inevitable truth, it seems the best approach the problem is not recrimination for those who answer, but rather assistance for those who ask.

Help OP to make the question better. Edit it yourself if you feel comfortable doing so. If OP doesn't like what you've done, she/he can restore the question easily enough.

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    This is a great suggestion. But it doesn't address the issue--of users answering questions that shouldn't be answered. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 1:32
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    Yes, it does. My answer is, "Make the question into a question worthy of being answered." If something is inevitable, asking how to stop it is not a worthwhile pursuit. By definition it is inevitable. By the nature of this site, answers are inevitable. Just my opinion, for what it's worth. – Lumberjack Aug 22 '18 at 1:34
  • Not my downvotes by the way. I think it is a worthy thing to consider. – Lumberjack Aug 22 '18 at 1:36
  • I appreciate the feedback and thoughts. So, one viewpoint is to answer all the questions we get, no matter how sh*tty they are? – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 1:40
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    @Knotell - On the contrary! If the question is sufficiently improved, then it’s no longer a “question that shouldn’t be answered.” (By the way, I’m having trouble understanding why you think the question in question is “blatantly off-topic”. It doesn’t seem to be about word meaning or synonyms, proofreading, writing advice or critiques, translation, programming variable names, discussion and analysis of English literature, or jokes that do not rely on the English language.) Even downvote-worthy questions can have good answers. – J.R. Aug 22 '18 at 1:40
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    P.S. This question isn’t the greatest, but someone thought it was worth answering. – J.R. Aug 22 '18 at 1:50
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    At least one longtime participant at this site has repeatedly expressed the view that editing a question to improve it and make it formally acceptable under the "show research" requirement amounts to engaging in a highly presumptuous form of vandalism. Encountering such hostility in comments beneath an edited question undoubtedly inhibits many site participants from making editorial changes of this sort. Would it help if the moderators issued an unequivocal, unanimous endorsement of such rehabilitative editing? – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 18:43
  • @Lumber are you saying that a question should not be answered until it is edited to make it acceptable? If so, I agree with that. I also agree that before a person answers a question, he or she should make sure it is "answer-worthy" and edit it him or herself, before--or at least in the process of--answering. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:26
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    @knotell certainly not. – Lumberjack Aug 22 '18 at 22:50

Just because a question is poorly formed does not make it off topic or unworthy of an answer.

I answered that question because I thought it was interesting (I didn't know the answer myself off the top of my head; at least not more than just an intuition) and because, poorly formed or not, it was obvious from the comments that the person asking the question was making an honest effort to clear up her confusion.

I don't always need a question to be well formed in order to understand what someone wants to know.

I honestly feel that people are too quick to pull the "badly written" or "I don't like it" card. Especially when it comes to new users to the site—which this person was.

If it's a new user, I give them more slack and do what I can. (This is not always true; some questions clearly are off topic or too confusing to be answered.)

On the other hand, if it were a user with 10k+ who had asked exactly the same question, I highly doubt I would have gone to the trouble to provide an answer—not without asking them to flesh things out in a way that they knew was appropriate from their experience here. But we can't apply exactly the same standards to new users as we do to more experienced users.

So, at a basic level, I feel that this site is about imparting useful information. I also feel, in the spirit of the updated Code of Conduct, that, everything being equal, there should be a greater effort to be inclusive and supportive rather than quickly dismissive.

If I feel like devoting time and energy into doing that, then that's my choice. I'm going to keep on doing that. Obviously, other people make different choices; I respect what they choose to do (or not do).

On a personal note, I care almost nothing about the reputation from this site. (Although the additional tools I have access to because of it is useful.) I am here only because I am learning a lot through participation and because I enjoy helping other people who feel the same.

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    I don't think the reason for closing the question was "I don't like it" or "It's badly written" but lack of detail, lack of research, lack of effort, and it being too simple a question for EL&U. I'm surprised that there may be some native speakers who would find it natural to omit "of" after "a couple". However, your answer is an example of the ideal standard that is expected on EL&U and raising standards is the name of the game today. And I'm not referring solely to posts. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '18 at 7:08
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    @Mari-LouA: Omission of "of" after "couple" is increasing in published writing. (See this Ngram graph, and click the "a couple things" link under the graph for ~250 examples.) In California, where I live, I hear "a couple [plural noun]" often; in Texas, where I grew up, people often said "couple-a [pl. n.]"; maybe the "of" got swallowed entirely at some point. – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 18:27
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    ...In any event, the question asks about an interesting emerging phenomenon in U.S. English speech/usage/writing and (I think) merits a thoughtful response—except that at EL&U we are so caught up in the formal issue of whether a particular poster deserves to have his or her question answered that we don't consider whether the question itself is interesting. (I also checked to see whether this question duplicates an earlier, more acceptably framed question and couldn't find anything close to a match. So, for the moment, it's this version of the question or none at all.) – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 18:27
  • Thank you for your response, @Jason – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:23
  • @Sven then can we expect you to edit the question so that it shows what you claim for it? – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:33
  • @Jason , I dont care about rep either. I care about how the site operates. I care about the quality of answers (and ones I have read of yours are great). I also care about quality questions. Maybe my approach (not answering questions that are poorly written and show, as Mari_Lou points out, zero research effort) is misplaced. But I agree with MetaEd who said we shouldn't be so "nice" to new users that we indulge them by answering poorly written questions. The actual purpose of ELU is to build up a library of good Q&A's, and answering substandard questions does not further that. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:37
  • If you don't agree with the actual purpose of ELU (building up a library) and mostly what you want to do is to help individuals who ask questions, no matter if they show zero research, that's your decision. And frankly I have had that mindset also. I swing between site quality and just saying f*ck it and answering questions. The way ELU is set up does not encourage me to sticking to one or the other. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 21:40
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    @Knotell: It wouldn't be hard to insert the Ngram data that I noted above (in response to Mari-Lou A's comment, "I'm surprised that there may be some native speakers who would find it natural to omit 'of' after 'a couple'") into the poster's question—and such background information would, I think, provide a legitimate basis for taking the question seriously, as asking about an observable change in U.S. English usage—in writing, if not in speech. But there is considerable hostility to that degree of question editing at EL&U—the common refrain being "Why don't you just ask your own question?" – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 21:55
  • @SvenYargs Well it seems damned if one does substantially edit and damned if one doesnt substantially edit (in order to "salvage" what one thinks a good/interesting but poorly written question. I have seen substantial edits to questions here and I haven't made up my mind on the issue. Some of theses substantial edits are not themselves well-informed. That is perhaps one reasons why substantial edits have not (always) been well received. – Arm the good guys in America Aug 22 '18 at 22:02
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    @Knotell: Yes. Once again, the problem is that we don't have anything approaching a consensus at EL&U about what makes a question worthy of answering—or for that matter about what categories of questions should be acceptable here. The questions you raise are good ones, but I doubt that site participants will ever agree on the definitions, axioms, and postulates that we would have to establish in order to have a truly rational vetting system in place. – Sven Yargs Aug 22 '18 at 22:11
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    @SvenYargs - RE: the problem is that we don't have anything approaching a consensus at EL&U about what makes a question worthy of answering. That’s true, and, personally, I view that as a strength of the community, not a weakness. At its core, this question seems to be asking, “Why can’t everyone else view a question the same way I do? Why do people answer a question when I think it should be closed as off-topic?” All it takes is five votes to close a question; if you leave a comment and cast your vote, and someone else decides they’d rather answer, who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong? – J.R. Aug 23 '18 at 9:08
  • @J.R.: An interesting perspective—and I must admit that EL&U's anarchic tendencies permit a lot of inconsistent yet fascinating things to slip through and remain open that a strictly regimented, forcefully curated system would reject out of hand. But warring standards also waste time and occasionally—but infuriatingly—blow up questions that I'm in the midst of answering. So I guess I'm guilty of the same authoritarian daydream as Knotell: if only everyone shared my opinions, what a wonderful, smooth-running, happy site it would be! – Sven Yargs Aug 23 '18 at 9:21

@Lumberjack provides a solution for non-duplicate questions. If the question is (also) a duplicate of another question, it is best to close the lower-quality one as a duplicate of the other. That way, users are directed to the best question and the answers are located in one place, rather than spread across different questions.


This looks like the flip-side of your meta question last November. I think my answer to that question is still relevant here, and I'd encourage you to review it.

Stack Exchange relies on two things to thrive: a well-curated database in each community, and a healthy community of subject-matter experts that 'buys in' to the SE goal.

Sometimes, this means that someone will find a point of interest in an otherwise poor question. I do this occasionally; others (notably Sven Yargs), a lot more often. This is part of the SE philosophy, too, as I noted in my linked answer.

To answer your question about how to discourage answers to poor questions:

  1. Consider the answer. If it identifies a nugget in the question, it can redeem the question. In this case, leave it be, and even up-vote the answer. Edit the question if you wish, even extensively, but maintain the original intent of the question.

  2. If the answer itself is trivial and the question is poor, and you decide that the answer is therefore "not helpful", you can down-vote the answer and leave a comment pointing to the "Answer well-asked questions" section of the FAQ on Answering.

Stack Exchange is set up as a democracy of sorts. Vote and comment. The comment is important. If others agree, they might add their weight to the action. If not, they might even go so far as to up-vote the answer. That is part of SE's style of self-moderation.

One more thing: if we want EL&U to succeed (good database + good community), it's the community part we need to work on. When you leave mod-like comments, point out the relevance of Stack Exchange goals and philosophy. I think the founders did a good job with the way they set things up, and sharing these underlying 'whys' can motivate others to change the way they interact here.


It seems to me that the only way of achieving SE’s goal of only having “high quality” questions and answers is to put all questions in a moderation queue so they can be QAed, and only allow certified / qualified members to answer.

Expecting people to “magically” meet your exacting standards is probably pointless.

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    The whole site can be considered under continuous QA, given the vote/close/delete functionality. An interesting thought experiment, though, is to require some threshold vote (even just +1) on the question before opening its answer section. Kind of like the opposite to non-review answer-deletion requiring a negative answer score before the delete link is presented. – Lawrence Aug 23 '18 at 23:30
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    Is this a genuine suggestion? Or are you just saying that the standards are too high? I can't see how this suggestion would work without killing the site by having too many hoops for potential new answerers to jump through. The goal is to kill bad answers or answers to off-topic questions, not all answers. – Laurel Aug 24 '18 at 2:45
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    @Lawrence But judgeing by all the complaints the current process isn’t working well enough. Your suggestion could improve things. – user184130 Aug 24 '18 at 18:18

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