42

Update: Time to vote on answers, or post your own.

As everyone probably knows, very few people actually follow the main rule of :

YOU MUST INCLUDE A SAMPLE SENTENCE

Thus we have many low-quality questions, many of which get closed. I think we could prevent some of this by warning people with tag warnings (also called "tag tips", originally introduced here), which show up when asking a question and adding a tag that has a warning. It won't stop it completely, but I think that it would definitely be a help, since so many people are receptive to make the change after they're told manually by someone.

You can easily see this feature on other sites, for example with [font-identification] on Graphic Design (you don't need an account there to test this either):

If we come up with a wording most of us agree on, a CM can put this in place for the tag.

It would probably be good to include some other information such as a suggestion to check a thesaurus if relevant, or a link to the tag wiki. However, it can't be too long. I'm not sure what the maximum is (do note that RPG for example has a warning with 455 characters), but there's also a limit to what people can reasonably be expected to read.

Answers & Voting

I'm not going to give a suggestion in the question so that voting is more clear:

  • Votes on this question signal whether you are for or against a tag warning in general.
  • If you have a suggestion for the wording, post an answer. Voting on answers expresses agreement/disagreement with said wording. If you have a minor change, leave a comment on that answer.

Side note:

  • I'd like to see the tag wiki reorganized so that the information people need to see is at the top instead of at the bottom after they've already run out of patience.
  • I'm pretty sure most people correctly tag their questions with (or a synonym) when they ask it. The query below tells me that as of the last update, there were 12260 questions that started out with the tag. Checking the tags page tells me that there are 15851 questions with the tag right now. This gives ~77%, but some of those original 12260 questions that originally had the tag don't have it anymore, so it's more of an upper bound. Deleted questions would also affect the numbers. Feel free to mess around with the data, but I think what's important right now is that we get a warning on ASAP.

Query:

select postid as [Post Link], userid as [User Link], text
from posthistory
where posthistorytypeid=3 /*"initial tags"*/ and text like '%single-word%'
  • 8
    Regarding your very last sentence, I'm afraid I've lost count of the questions I've retagged from [grammar] to SWR. We probably need to blacklist [grammar] as a tag, and I'm sure that's come up before. This is a good idea though: I haven't seen that feature before and it would be useful here. – Andrew Leach Nov 27 '18 at 22:25
  • 3
    Shameless plug for a related question on MSE – Andrew Leach Nov 27 '18 at 22:28
  • Any word on what we would need to do to get this feature implemented? – 1006a Jan 6 at 19:53
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach: If you want arguments for killing grammar – Wrzlprmft Jan 7 at 9:40
  • For clarification, what implementation is this expecting? Is it an elaboration of a current feature (like a tag description)? Or is it requesting a feature special for ELU that needs to be implemented by the SO devs? Or something else? That is, what can be done within the existing system vs what needs sofware changes? – Mitch Jan 12 at 21:35
  • @Mitch This is an existing feature so no dev work required. When we have a consensus on what the warning text should be, all we need is a community manager to activate it. For reference, here and here are examples of discussions that lead to tag warnings. – Laurel Jan 12 at 21:48
  • @Laurel Nice. Thanks. – Mitch Jan 12 at 21:55
  • 1
    I doubt that many people read anything about the rules. But maybe I am unfairly extrapolating from my own experience. I tried several times to read some of the rules, but became afflicted with boredom so intense it was an acute physical pain. I take my hat off to anyone who can read more than a line or two on the help pages without getting up to do something fun, like cleaning the oven. – ab2 Jan 12 at 23:55
  • 1
    For what it's worth, my experience on other sites (most specifically Computer Science) is that adding these tag warnings makes no noticeable difference to the rate at which rule-breaking questions get asked. A well-worded warning can't hurt but, alas, you probably shouldn't expect it to achieve anything. – David Richerby Jan 15 at 18:25
16

Per Laurel's request, this is one potential wording. The answer is Community Wiki so please feel free to edit for brevity, clarity, and felicity (but if you fundamentally disagree with the listed requirements it might be better to make a comment or a different answer).


Single word request questions must include:

  • A sample sentence demonstrating how the word would be used
  • What thesaurus or dictionary searches you've tried
  • Clear criteria for choosing the "best" word (e.g. register, connotations, part of speech)
  • What words you've considered, and why they don't work for you
  • Whether a compound word or phrase would be acceptable

Review our full requirements for more info.


This list is primarily taken from the tag wiki, in particular paraphrasing the "Question checklist" at the bottom. The bolded item is taken word-for-word from the main tag info.

For those who don't want to follow the links, the "thesaurus" and "dictionary" links go to the appropriate answers in our reference works Meta FAQ. The "full requirements" link is to the tag wiki (same as the link in the paragraph above).

  • I didn't do any real changes with my edits, but right now this is ~560 characters. I'm not sure if there's a limit to how many characters we can have (I should find that out), but we may be able to golf it down a little if needed by using relative links. Other than that I don't see any problems with this. – Laurel Nov 29 '18 at 3:00
  • Whoops—thanks for fixing the link, Laurel! I agree, it would be very helpful to know the character limit, if any, to give us a target for cutting. – 1006a Nov 29 '18 at 4:32
  • 1
    I still don't know what the actual limit is, but there are warnings that are longer than this one so I think it's fine. – Laurel Dec 2 '18 at 3:24
  • @Laurel: Last time I ordered a tag warning, there was on technical length limit, only the consideration that shorter instructions are more likely to be read. – Wrzlprmft Jan 7 at 9:42
  • While I support the reasoning in this, the actual wording poses several problems for me in both asking and answering. "Obvious" is subjective and undefined. How to use a thesaurus or dictionary is unstated, there are many ways that could be interpreted. The requirement for answers is too heavy since English usage is an art and writer's expectations are often different from what they/we accept in the choice of final wording. The simpler, consolidated wording in the other answer solves these for me. Agree with rationale, not the restrictive while unclear wording, IMHO. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 22:04
  • 1
    @JesseSteele I've made an edit to remove "obvious"; does that bullet make more sense to you now? The question about dictionaries and thesauruses is intentionally open-ended, since people will use those references in different ways depending on how they're coming at the problem (tip-of-the-tongue vs maybe no word exists for this fifty-word concept vs word X is almost right etc.). I'm not sure what you mean about the requirements for answers—can you say more about that? – 1006a Jan 9 at 23:26
  • @1006a That is better. I'd still consolidate thes/dict with "words considered/rejected". IMHO, I think the "search terms" compared against "top rejected results" would be more important than which thes/dict was used... BUT let mods weigh in. Mainly, I think providing information is more important than "proof of homework done". The reason for showing one's research should be to help the answerer stand on the shoulders of a giant, so to speak. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:31
  • 1
    @1006a Another thing, remotely related... If I ask how to do something a specific way on Stack Overflow, say "using sed (a program)", many high-reps often answer "don't use sed, use awk (alternate program)"—and their answers are expected to be valid on that site and I have accepted their answers at times. So, I think MAYBE (I'm new) some level of flexibility should be allowed on ELU, say an answer like, "You want a one-word, but consider this phrase or sentence to achieve the same goal." In sales and product management, it also applies... – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:39
  • @1006a ... I THINK some adaptability to a different answer than expected should be permitted and reflected, but not loudly, in these instructions. Words like "prefer" rather than "require/expect" might help—but I wouldn't want that to interfere with mods' work. That said, knowing the importance of one-word vs phrase is will be a must in providing useful answers, even if different than expected. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:39
  • @JesseSteele I was thinking that bullet (and the research requirement generally) would serve two purposes. First, as you say, to avoid repeating the OP's efforts. But also as a gentle nudge to askers to actually look in one of the resources if they haven't. I like SWRs, but I still get a little irritated when people ask for "another word for angry" and then get fifteen different answers and ultimately checkmark "mad". Would a preface like "What you've already done to look for the word, such as..." be an improvement, or just wordier? – 1006a Jan 9 at 23:40
  • @1006a I'll put on my "PM" hat here and say I get your underling concern. How's about getting people to do their homework by asking them 1. "exact words searched" and 2. "top rejected results from which source". Re-word it, please, but that idea. This achieves: A. Focus on researched results, not which search engine got them, (Google is often better than native site searches, don't tell). B. In "PM", it assumes homework was done without asking for it, a plus. C. It provides info for the answer. Clearer/helpful? – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:48
  • @1006a Maybe we should move to chat... But, the problem I'm seeing here is that requirements that are too heavy would eventually spill over into an FR for more fields in a question, and I don't have enough ibuprofen to imagine what that would look like on the official Meta. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:50
  • 3
    @JesseSteele In terms of flexibility, lack of an "example sentence" is a close reason for SWRs, and lack of research is a close reason for any kind of question, so those really are "musts". I'd say the "clear criteria" piece is meant to avoid Primarily Opinion Based questions/answers (also a close reason), so that's also not really optional, but could potentially be reworded. The bullet about words considered could probably, as you say, be combined with the research requirement...I'll work on it, or maybe someone else will have a good suggestion. – 1006a Jan 9 at 23:51
  • @JesseSteele The bullet about whether phrases are acceptable is more because answers suggesting phrases are often downvoted (or just not posted) if the only tag is SWR, even if the OP is (secretly) OK with them. – 1006a Jan 9 at 23:52
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 23:56
12

The message needs to be short and easy enough for less competent speakers to understand

To get the best answers, please include the following:

  • A sample sentence showing how the word would be used
  • Provide as much detail and context as you can
  • Tell us which words were discarded after using a thesaurus or a dictionary, and why.
  • If the word you're looking for is an adjective/noun/pejorative/slang, etc.
  • +1 for asking for part of speech in newbie-friendly terms (I suspect that some people might know what nouns, verbs and adjectives are, but might not be familiar with the hypernym).  But, while brevity is a good thing, I wonder whether the ‘‘adjective/noun / pejorative/slang’’ option list might lead people to choose only one, while part of speech and register are separate questions. – Scott Feb 9 at 2:07
  • I like this version for its short and plain English. I do wonder if there is more we can do about the sample sentence though. Often when we ask people to add one we get things that are technically sample sentences but not useful eg someone looking for the name of a wimwam for winding up the sun adds 'He had a [word] for winding up the sun up with'. Is there a snappy way to say the SS mustn't be tautological? – Spagirl Apr 10 at 10:28
8

I have a qualm with this, in that we need to consult a community moderator. That makes altering these rules harder if ever deemed necessary. I dislike that the contextual sentence requirement can summarily close a question, despite however much better it might than other single word requests be in other respects, and suspect that it actually lowers average question quality.

However, that would not be so much of a problem if we had higher compliance in the first place, so I do offer my tentative support for this plan of action. I have my doubts that it will work though: The how to ask sidebar has not really seemed to help us get people to consult dictionaries for questions.

Speaking of dictionaries, the normal sort do not really help somebody to find a word, unless you expect questioners to go through the bother of reading every word contained within one and reverse dictionaries are of questionable value, so I advise against the mention of those.

Similarly, the contextual sentence requirement exists so we can determine a word's register, part of speech and the such so I do not think we should bother the questioner with that responsibility.

Also, we have a separate tags for and to indicate which the questioner would prefer.

I would prefer to keep this restricted to common reasons a Single Word Request might actually be closed.

As for how to phrase it, I like this:


All Single Word Requests must include:

  • An illustrative fill-in-the-blank context, showing how the word might be used

  • A detailed description of the word's desired meaning and use

  • Consultation with a cited thesaurus, and why its suggestions were rejected, if requesting a synonym or antonym.


I think removing the extraneous details makes it easier to parse, and more likely to be read in full. It also helps it to fit if we have character or list item limitations.

  • Could we have both? Since I've gotten "reviewer power", I've been noticing a lot more poor asked single word requests. Since I'm limited to 11 flags per day, I usually just comment and ask for improvements. If we have the pop-up with requirements for the tag, it might help cut down on the need for revisions. – miltonaut Dec 1 '18 at 18:28
  • @miltonaut I'm not sure what you mean. I am mostly just proposing an alternative wording, albeit with some cautions. I don't think the pop-up could be written two different ways. – Tonepoet Dec 1 '18 at 22:26
  • I thought you were proposing language for closing poorly written SWRs instead of the SWR requirement dialogue. – miltonaut Dec 1 '18 at 22:30
  • @Miltonaut I wish the closure reason could be that detailed, but they all seem to be two sentences long at the most suggesting that this is the limit. I think that is why we defer to the tag info for the full list of requirements. – Tonepoet Dec 1 '18 at 23:18
  • 1
    @miltonaut and Tonepoet. Actually, the size limit for off-topic close reasons is 400 characters (source), so this isn't too long for that. – Laurel Dec 2 '18 at 3:28
  • I like this wording because it leans on being open-ended, less subjective, more clear, and remains useful. – Jesse Steele Jan 9 at 21:57
  • The only thing I would add to your phrasing would be a link to an exemplar. The only thing I would remove is “fill-in-the-blank”, simply because the highest voted SWRs don’t have that, they describe the nuances with text. I think that might actually be better than posing the question like it’s a quiz. – ColleenV Jan 10 at 14:41
  • Don't worry about "summarily close". A better way to think of it is "quickly pause answer-adding until the question has been edited to provide the missing material." That's how on hold and close work and precisely what they are for. – Kate Gregory Jan 14 at 22:09
  • Consider changing 'must' to 'should'. Rules are incontrovertible, guidelines give some leeway to judgement. For any particular SWR, your items should definitely be considered but may not be explicitly addressed in the text of the question. Of course leaving them out should be less common than not. – Mitch Mar 26 at 13:13
3

Adapt the Question Wizard from Stack Overflow. When (new) users ask a question they will be met by a Wizard who inquires about their question. When the Wizard establishes the asker has a single word request they will be met with something that looks like this (picture taken from Stack Overflow Meta): enter image description here

Option 1: summarising the problem is something that should be done here too.

Option 2: inquiring about prior research is something that should be done here too.

Option 3: the show some code question should be removed and in case of a single word request it should be replaced by asking users to provide an example sentence.

  • Yeah, I've been following this on SO. The problem is that there are no plans to bring it to other sites. – Laurel Mar 30 at 16:47
  • @Laurel I suggest that we treat it as a possibility regardless keeping in mind that it's unlikely to be realised. If we discard it as an option we won't get it for sure, if it turns out people do want it then it might eventually be up for consideration. Also, if the problem gets out of hand (I actually started doing close votes again a few days ago, not many people seem to do so anymore because it's really a stream of low-quality dribble) then the powers that be might see it's worth the effort. – JJJ Mar 30 at 16:55
  • @Laurel No plans at all? I was sure they were going to make it available to other sites eventually. If that's not the case it's atrocious. – curiousdannii Apr 2 at 12:08
-3

I think an available option should be no action. I don't perceive any sort of problem with the current flow of SWR questions.

  • I agree with the first part (as one reasonable option) but not necessarily the second. The current close labels and the ability to comment asking for clarification may well be sufficient. – Mitch Jan 12 at 21:30
  • "No action" is an available option, and it can be upvoted if people want it, or downvoted if people think it's unconscionable and action must be taken. – Andrew Leach Jan 13 at 8:48
  • @AndrewLeach it can be upvoted if people find it noble, and just, and wise, and it can be downvoted if people feel that their baser instincts should prevail! – jlovegren Jan 13 at 16:42
  • Would you answer the following questio: english.stackexchange.com/questions/481909/…? Not even a sample sentence could save this post, the user wants a word that begins with an "s" sound which means "handmade". – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 at 15:22
  • @Mari-LouA (you just walked into this respone) I tried, but it's too hard! I wish someone more skilled than me would take a stab at it. I had to up-vote it since it was so challenging ;-) – jlovegren Jan 19 at 18:41
  • And I have just downvoted it, there is nothing about that question that is useful to someone who wants to have a deeper understanding of the English language. I used a thesaurus and discovered there are no synonyms beginning with a soft C or S, unless the answer is.... self-made. – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 at 18:46
  • @Mari-LouA I seem to recall you taking less of a hard-line on this issue when you were starting out on this site. Do you think the real issue is that these questions are tedious for moderators and other high-rep users that shoulder a lot of the site management tasks? For more casual users like myself, it's a struggle to see what the problem is. – jlovegren Jan 19 at 18:49
  • What's remotely "good" about it? Please, explain. I have done more than many by trying to save potentially interesting questions, and voting to reopen them. But this is, objectively speaking, a terrible question! And you should have the intellectual honesty to admit it. – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 at 18:53
  • @Mari-LouA the thesaurus is a compilation of common synonyms. It's of questionable use in improving someone's English because lexical semantics is a notoriously hard classification problem. If the OP can't answer their question with a thesaurus, that makes it a hard question. Hard questions are "good" because you have to go outside the box to think about them, and you have to use non-conventional resources to answer them. – jlovegren Jan 19 at 18:58
  • Update english.stackexchange.com/questions/481909/… Still think the question is about the English language or about finding a type of tagline? Taglines are off-topic because there cannot be a "best" answer, only suggested solutions which users either like or dislike. Kelly has to tell me why that word must begin with an "s", for alliterative purposes is not a valid enough reason IMO – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 10:36
  • @Mari-LouA see my perspective on a related meta – jlovegren Jan 21 at 23:45
  • @Mari-LouA see my perspective on a related meta post. I don't mind questions from language users who are writing a radio jingle, etc. Users can raise points of interest to scholars, even if the user doesn't care about the scholarly issue. But I think the main argument you have for banning this kind of question is that it's not the kind of question a true language enthusiast would ask, not that the answers will be subjective. It comes down to the type of user base you want to have. – jlovegren Jan 21 at 23:55
  • If you think I am interested in banning this type of question, you know nothing about me. I have written scores of answers and comments defending SWRs. I never said a single word about banning anything. It's a bad question. It shows no effort, it shows no research. It is useful to no one but her. Reopen it if you will, I doubt anyone else will agree. – Mari-Lou A Jan 22 at 0:04
-3

(1) Description of a circumstance that could benefit by taking

(2)"an exact string of words" and reducing it to a single one. Then provide

(3) an example sentence containing either a [blank] or "that exact string of words" to be replaced.


Problem > Overly wordy idea > Box your solution has to fit in.


Provide a description of a circumstance that could benefit by taking "an exact string of words" and reducing it to a single one. Then provide an example sentence containing either a [blank] or "that exact string of words" to be replaced.

Your question has to meet those three criteria. A description, "a reverse definition", and a place to put the imaginary word.


A fill-in-the-blank context can't just be a blank. "allowed to be missing” is just a blank. Where's the rest of the sentence?

  • 2
    I can't help but find this confusing/bizarre. It's not worded like a warning (part of it's a sentence fragment) and I can't figure out the significance of the numbers. – Laurel Jan 15 at 5:43
  • @Laurel - SWRs fail when they only have either a sentence with a blank, or "a reverse definition". A sample sentence demonstrating how the word would be used can be either of those. We need both. – Mazura Jan 15 at 7:15
  • You must provide a sample sentence with a blank, and provide your most concise overly wordy idea within a set of quotation marks. Ideally within a sentence with surrounding context. – Mazura Jan 15 at 7:19
  • This question almost gets it right, but it wasn't specific enough (rather it was too specific) and now its answers are fail. – Mazura Jan 15 at 8:02
  • The last paragraph is confusing unless one visits the question cited, which seems to follow your suggested advice an exact string of words" and reducing it to a single one. to a "t". But you then say that is a bad example. Why? If your advice initially tells users to do exactly that. Only later do you clarify and say users should provide a sample sentence. That should be the first and foremost instruction. – Mari-Lou A Jan 21 at 10:28
  • @Mari-LouA - You must provide a contextual example sentence with a blank that has surrounding context, as well as a phrase which would fit the blank that you want a single word for. - I'm not trying to nail down the exact wording here; just the requirements. What IS an example sentence? – Mazura Jan 21 at 13:31
  • It probably needs an example itself but idk how you'd fit that in the tool tip of a tag. – Mazura Jan 21 at 13:34
-7

A sample sentence should be sufficient. The questions you're closing often aren't of low quality.

The foreclosure of discussion based on the form of a question reduces the utility of this forum.

A comment to this and similar answers has been the mantra "this is not a discussion forum, it's a question and answer site." But asking questions and receiving answers is a type of discussion. Does anyone doubt that James Lipton's or Oprah Winfrey's interviews are discussions?

Here's a restatement of the concept without key words that appear to illicit a stock response:

The foreclosure of discourse based on the form of a question reduces the utility of this website.

  • 7
    This isn’t a discussion forum, it’s a question and answer site. If the form of the question leads to many widely varying answers because it isn’t well-constrained, the question needs to be refined. The goal is to have the community select the “best” answer through voting, so leaving too much of the question open to interpretation is a problem. There shouldn’t be 20 viable answers to a good SE question. – ColleenV Jan 17 at 17:58
  • Close questions that are answerable and you don't get answers. Then there is nothing from which to choose "the best". Moreover, there are no answers for the reader with the same or similar inquiry to find and select as "the best" for their own purposes. Yes, a question and answer site is a forum for a type of discussion. This rule tends toward creating an Unanswered Question site. – Trevor Reid Jan 18 at 22:22
  • 2
    This isn't low-quality? english.stackexchange.com/questions/481909/… Not even a sample sentence would save this, the user wants a word that begins with an "s" sound and means "handmade". – Mari-Lou A Jan 19 at 15:20
  • A don't know @Mari-Lou A. I can't see your example because it's been removed. In other words the question and answer discussion between us has been foreclosed. – Trevor Reid Mar 26 at 9:11
  • And there's a reason why it was deleted ten days later, maybe you did see it but forgot about it later. It was very low quality, it was written well but it was not going to be useful to anyone in the future. No one will miss it. – Mari-Lou A Mar 26 at 9:15
  • I never did see it. Once upon a time I didn't miss it. But now I do, because it leaves your assertion "it was very low quality" nary bald. I can, at best, accept it on authority, but cannot examine the evidence for myself. – Trevor Reid Mar 26 at 10:01
  • Trying to equate a question on this site with a 1:1 interview is not an improvement IMO. Questions on SE sites are not supposed to be discussions. “Ask questions, get answers, no distractions” is how the tour describes it, not “Have a discussion about topics that interest you.” – ColleenV Mar 26 at 14:22
  • There's no need to draw an equality. It simply refutes the notion that SE's are neither discussions nor forums. They are clearly both. "Ask questions, get answers (not if said question is closed), no distractions (useful questions, though they may be imperfect, are not distractors) @ColleenV – Trevor Reid Mar 26 at 14:37

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