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My question "Are there cases where a closing quotation mark has no matching opening one?" was closed with the reason "This question is opinion-based. It is not currently accepting answers."

The one case I have found where this often happens is in wide usage and I can provide as many examples in print as anyone wishes. I don't understand how opinion enters the picture. I would like to know if my case of where you will see an unmatched closing quotation mark is the only one.

I read at Stack Overflow:

Can I answer my own question?

Yes! Stack Exchange has always explicitly encouraged users to answer their own questions. If you have a question that you already know the answer to, and you would like to document that knowledge in public so that others (including yourself) can find it later, it's perfectly okay to ask and answer your own question on a Stack Exchange site.

To encourage people to do this, there is a checkbox at the bottom of the page every time you ask a question. If you have more than 15 reputation and already know the answer, click the checkbox that says "Answer your own question" at the bottom of the Ask Question page. Type in your answer, then submit both question and answer together.

Alternatively, you may go back and add an answer to your own question at any time.

I based my question on this one, which is not closed, is obviously about punctuation usage, and has received three answers: Are guillemets used at all in English? (It turns out that they are in one case: telepathic communication in SF.)

Can my questioned be reopened, or can anyone suggest a way to rephrase it so it is acceptable? If so, I can posted that question together with my case as one answer.

Thanks

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  • 1
    It seems like a perfectly good question, with an objective answer.
    – Mitch
    Jul 24 at 18:45
  • 1
    I liked your question and your answer on the main site. Welcome to English Language & Usage!
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 26 at 6:06
  • @jsw29 If the EL&U site has a policy that differs from the general policy (above), I think it should be posted somewhere, perhaps in english.stackexchange.com/tour which is certainly more welcoming than those comments were.
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 26 at 15:18
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    @jsw29 There’s no sensible reason why someone who knows the answer to a question that is not currently addressed on the site has to wait for someone else to ask it. Answering our own questions is encouraged, not an abuse of the format: Can I answer my own questions, even if I knew the answer before asking Authors are prevented from accepting their own answers before the rest of the community gets a chance to answer though (48 hours)
    – ColleenV
    Jul 26 at 15:35
  • @ColleenV I fear a similar backlash were I to accept my own answer.
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 26 at 15:43
  • Well, in my opinion the polite thing to do would be to wait quite a while before accepting any answer. The community might have answers you like better than your own. In general I would only immediately accept my own answer if I had found a solution a long time after I had asked a question that hadn’t received a good answer. When you’re just adding an interesting question and answer to the library, you should welcome other people’s participation. (Well, you should welcome collaboration regardless but especially when self-answering)
    – ColleenV
    Jul 26 at 15:51
  • @ColleenV Yes, of course. In fact, I did not plan to post an answer soon, but was told to "hurry up" before it was closed, which it was. Damned if you do...
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 26 at 16:00
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    @DjinTonic You should not “hurry up” to answer a question before it’s closed. You should try to keep the question from being closed by editing to try to address any concerns raised, or commenting to explain why you think it should not be closed and if that fails bring it up here on Meta just as you did and get it reopened.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 26 at 16:07
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    I’m speaking in general. Anyone telling you “hurry up and get your answer in before the question gets closed” is giving you bad advice that subverts the site’s processes.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 26 at 16:13
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    Closing the question because it was opinion-based certainly didn't help.
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 26 at 16:15
  • @DjinTonic The one case I have found where this often happens is in wide usage and I can provide as many examples in print as anyone wishes. I don't think it helped that you did not provide a single example from the many. The option suggested by ColleenV on 26 July is good.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 1 at 17:22
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    There are other places to post puzzles and riddles, both on SE and elsewhere. You shouldn't waste people's time by making them go look for an answer while you sit on your hands feeling smug and keeping the answer to yourself. (In fairness, it was fairly obvious it would resolve in some kind of obscure trick, so most people would ignore it or see it for what it is.)
    – Stuart F
    Aug 4 at 16:33
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This meta question raises two very different topics that I think are worth exploring at some length: whether questions about punctuation are inescapably opinion-based and therefore off-topic at English Language & Usage; and whether it is appropriate or inappropriate to ask a question at EL&U with the intention of answering it yourself.


Punctuation questions as questions of English language and usage

If you spend any considerable length of time at EL&U, you become aware of the prevailing view here that "English language" refers to spoken English and that written English is merely a more-or-less flawed system of recording actual (spoken) language. In this view, matters of orthography and punctuation, in particular, are mere trappings of the language—not things to be understood as having "correct" or "incorrect" status in any scientific sense.

For this reason, questions framed in terms of correctness—as in "Is 'thru' an acceptable alternative spelling for 'through'?" and "Is it okay to end a series of simple declarative sentences with exclamation points (for example, 'I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread! They were out of rye, so I had to buy pumpernickel! The price was about the same, though!")?"—inevitably run afoul of review queue reviewers because they invite primarily opinion-based answers.

But if punctuation questions framed as matters of correctness are doomed to be read as solicitations for opinion-based answers, does it follow that all punctuation questions are inherently and unavoidably off-topic at this site? I think not.

It's easy to undervalue matters of orthography and punctuation as critical components of communicating a language—because it's easy to undervalue the extent to which people depend on writing in such communication. As far as I know, I've never spoken a word to anyone who regularly visits this site, and yet I've read and written many thousands of words from and to site participants. It thus seems arguable, at least, that the fundamental language by which we communicate at English Language & Usage is written English, not spoken English. And because we lack the ability to rely on vocal cues, timing cues, and visual cues to help convey our meaning, we must depend to a considerable extent on the regularity of the spelling and punctuation we use to convey our meaning clearly and accurately. Indeed, regularity in the forms of spelling and punctuation that we use may be more important to coherence than the particular forms spelling and punctuation that we adopt.

Many people who ask questions about correct spelling or correct punctuation suppose that there is a universal right and wrong about these matters, which makes it easy to dismiss their concerns as being based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of spelling and punctuation. There is no Academy of Proper Written English, we tell them, so any view of what is right in these areas is ultimately arbitrary—and then we close their questions.

Often, however, a predominant convention exists in written usage regarding a particular matter of spelling or punctuation; and even when there is strong disagreement over how to handle a particular situation, one may be able to identify a distinct and definite range of possibilities that enjoy substantial real-world support. People care about predominant conventions of spelling and punctuation for the same reason that they care about predominant conventions in word meanings: they want to express themselves clearly and avoid being misunderstood.

I think that questions that ask about predominant forms of punctuation usage, widely supported alternative forms, and ranges of established options are legitimate questions of written English usage and can be objectively answered by citing evidence drawn from multiple style and usage guides and—in cases where predominant usage is clear—from levels or degrees of real-world usage. Some people writing in English do write in all-uppercase or all-lowercase letters, for example, but it is not merely a matter of opinion that most people writing in English use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters and do so in accordance with various identifiable and consistent conventions.

With regard to how to ask a question about punctuation in a way that maximizes its chances of surviving the review queue without being closed, my advice is to frame it in a way that inquires into real-world usage (for example, "Under what circumstances do English-language writers and publishers commonly omit an open quotation mark in a phrase, sentence or block of text in which they include a close quotation mark?") or into the range of available style manual advice (for example, "In what circumstances (if any) do style guides approve of omitting the open quotation mark of a pair, despite including the close quotation mark?") Neither of these questions asks for an opinion. One asks for factual information about predominant usage in the wild, and the other asks about the (possible) range of advice that style guides—a category of widely used normative reference works—offer on the topic.


Asking a question that you want to answer yourself

Every now and then, I think of a question about English language and usage that I would like to investigate. My first step in such instances is to search the EL&U archives to see whether someone else has already asked it. If so, I check the answers to see whether they dispose of my original question. If they don't, I research the issue myself and, if I uncover something that seems worth sharing, post an answer myself.

Sometimes, however, my question is sufficiently different from one that has already been asked and answered on EL&U that it doesn't make sense to shoehorn an answer to it into the existing question. And sometimes no one at EL&U has asked anything remotely similar to my question.

In those cases, I do some preliminary research to see whether my question shows signs of leading somewhere interesting. If it does, the next decision I have to make involves determining where and when to cross over from presenting the question to composing an answer. This is not an easy matter to resolve. In the old days of EL&U, you could lay out the question in a paragraph or two and then start trying to answer it. But in order to escape the review queue in one piece under the show-research regime, you have to present some account of some amount of research that you've already done toward answering the question yourself—and there is no bright line between research that establishes the legitimacy of a question and research that helps provide a thorough and nuanced answer to it.

In some instances, I end up doing all of the research into a question that I can before posting it. Then I go back and break off my account of the research at a certain point, posting part of it in the question and the remainder as an answer. This can result in the question and the answer going up on the site within minutes of each other.

In other instances, I find a natural stopping point for the question part of the research and post the question before proceeding with research into an answer. In those cases, I may not post an answer for several days—or ever—even though I had intended to do so. And of course sometimes another EL&U participant will offer an answer that is better than the one I've been working on, at which point I'll either abandon the answer or post parts of it as supplements to the better answer.

One thing I have never been tempted to do is to give my own answer a green check mark. In the first place, practically all of my answers—and certainly all of my answers to my own questions—rest on publicly available information, rather than personal expertise of some kind. Consequently, my answers aren't definitive; they merely present the results of the research I've done and are limited by the shortcomings of that research (e.g., limited access to various archives; failures to look in the right places; errors in interpreting the material I do find). And as with editing your own writing, assessing the comprehensiveness and value of your own research is a minefield in which the bombs are buried precisely where you are least likely to detect them yourself.

Also, the green check mark is essentially a thank-you to a poster who has taken the time to provide a strong answer to a question you've asked. I still regret not having accepted a good answer to one of my questions, which, I suspect, led the poster to withdraw the answer at some point. In any case, there is an element of absurdity in thanking yourself for answering your own question well. If you feel strongly that your answer is the best of the ones your question has elicited, my advice is to refrain from accepting any answer—just leave it to the community of upvoters and downvoters to rate them.

One goal of EL&U is to provide well-informed answers to good questions asked by people who don't know where to find those answers themselves. Another goal is simply to provide well-informed answers to good questions. In the latter case, it doesn't matter who asks the question; it only matters that the question and the answer(s) are worthwhile. It follows that you should not avoid asking good questions and trying to answer them yourself at this site.

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  • "My first step in such instances is to search the EL&U archives to see whether someone else has already asked it." This is a helpful, constructive point in research and for the purposes of this site, and I thank you for sharing it as a part of your process.
    – livresque
    Jul 30 at 21:43
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TL;DR: Let's be clear that there are valid reasons for considering this question opinion-based. It's also ok to argue that these reasons don't apply to this question. EL&U is (or at least strives to be) a democracy, which is why we vote on these matters. If it turns out that mine is a minority view and I'm outvoted on closure vs opening, then this is simply EL&U working as it was designed to do.

I have no problem with someone asking an on-topic question that hasn't been asked before, even when their intention is to post an answer to that question. They are simply fulfilling the Stack Exchange objective of creating a library of useful and on-topic questions matched by detailed and authoritative answers.

My issue with the question I voted to close is that it doesn't suit our library, because the nature of the question invites subjective opinion rather than authoritative answers. I made this clear when I posted a comment explaining my vote:

Punctuation is a matter of style. If you want to, you can reverse the usual style, although this may limit you to self-publication, since 99% of publishing houses, newspapers etc will correct your orthography. Running counter to convention will also make the reader's task more difficult, which most writers try to avoid. In any case, my view is that most questions about punctuation on this site are off-topic as they can only be answered as opinion (there being no "right" answer on style). For further guidance, see How to Ask. :-)

As there was some further lively discussion by other users in comments, I added the following, to explain in more detail the position I'd taken:

@DjinTonic you say "I'm new here", so you'd be unfamiliar with the usual process of users voting to close a question without offering any explanation via a comment. I remember what it was like starting here 5 years ago, so I make the effort to add a comment. I recommend you spend some time on our site to get a feel for what's accepted here. Questions about punctuation invite opinion, rather than objective fact supported by authoritative reference. The only "correct" answer would be based on a specific style manual (eg CMS, APA, MLA), but that would suggest lack of research by the OP.

The OP's answer lists examples where the opening quotation mark has been omitted at the start of a chapter. This is simply the publisher's style: there is no correct approach to such opening quotation marks. How is this useful and on-topic on our site? Would it be on-topic to ask whether there are examples of authors' names being entirely in lower case? Perhaps we should entertain a question on which countries prefer the em dash to the en dash? Or, whether there are examples of borrow-words like soupçon being published without the cedilla?

I would be interested to know whether we support such questions.

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    I did think the information in the answer was interesting, but I agree that it’s not really in scope for ELU. Disagreements about typesetting and conflicts among style manuals don’t seem like they have answers that can be ranked.
    – ColleenV
    Jul 30 at 11:04
  • Looking at the questions about title case, there was discussion about opinions and differences in "rules" and policies. Is my question/answer so far removed from those?
    – DjinTonic
    Jul 31 at 4:18

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