I recently asked a question here that seemed to fit the site, so I was surprised when I saw that it was quickly downvoted.

  • Questions relating to spelling and punctuation are clearly encouraged in the FAQ
  • The question doesn't fall into one of the disallowed categories in the FAQ
  • A similar question has 4 upvotes, so I don't believe it's a problem with the format of the question.

I've typically stayed on Stack Overflow rather than other Stack Exchange sites. Is there a unique aspect of English.SE that I'm missing, or ways to improve the question I asked?

  • I didn't vote on the question or answers, but looking at it now, I'm tempted to downvote simply because I think it's a stylistic preference issue of orthography. Not a question I particularly want to see on ELU, regardless of what the FAQ says, or what other users think. Aug 18, 2012 at 0:07
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    @FumbleFingers - Isn't that the kind of thing that belongs in a comment or an answer to the question? This is the first I've even heard of orthography, but if it's applicable to what I asked, I'd love to know. This was the kind of expertise I was hoping to find here when I asked this question, but am disappointed that the result is "we don't want your kind here," rather than "let me teach you about something interesting." Aug 18, 2012 at 2:22
  • It's only my own opinion, so don't take it too much to heart. By orthography I just mean the written form (spelling, punctuation, etc). I'm primarily interested in English as it is spoken; I'd rather not see much of what looks like "school homework" questions about correct/preferred writing. To me, such issues are primarily prescriptive, boring, or contentious (I'm not a fan of arguments over writing style supported by style guides). Aug 18, 2012 at 11:17
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    unfortunately many users only allow users with a particular amount of knowledge or proficiency level in english to nurture here or rather get answered to their questions, almost rest all of the others's questions are either down voted or closed , and that too with an amazing speed.
    – 168335
    Aug 23, 2012 at 3:36

3 Answers 3


It may be that your question was too specific or not specific enough. That is, you provided the exact problem you were having trouble with, without generalizing it ('too localized'), and you didn't describe why you thought one or the other should go there ('not a real question' because you haven't fully specified what's confusing you).

I'm not sure that the preposition question you linked to is really a good example of something similar. This question is a pretty good example of how to ask a punctuation question (e.g., "usually I'd put a comma, but in this case it seems like a comma is wrong because..." or "My favorite grammar guide seems to hate semi-colons, but is it actually wrong to use one here?").

In all, ideally the downvoters would have commented about why they downvoted. Unfortunately, that didn't happen in this case. I hope it doesn't discourage you from asking questions in the future.

Also, you should feel free to come to the chat room for help with phrasing and improving questions.

  • Just to clarify, by "similar," I was comparing the questions based on their specificity, little background information, and the overall request for "what is correct?" rather than the subject of the question. Aug 17, 2012 at 17:19
  • Oh, I see. Thank you; I did find that confusing.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Aug 17, 2012 at 17:25

Like the other SE sites, English.SE “is dedicated to serving experts in a specific field”.¹ You are likely to see very basic questions downvoted and closed.

For example, if your question can be answered by consulting a general reference, it's a basic question.

General references are inadequate to answer basic questions from time to time. If this is your situation, you should cite the references you consulted and explain why you were still not satisfied with what you found.

  • I understand the "that's not what we do here" justification. However, I think there is still a question of how to handle off-topic posts. Closing a question with a comment "closed as general reference" is nonconstructive and mildly rude. A much friendlier and more helpful comment would be something like "Please consult [link to a relevant general reference]. We don't handle this kind of question here. For clarification on the purpose of this site, see [link to explanation of ELU's scope and purpose].".
    – Rachel
    Aug 24, 2012 at 22:19
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    @Rachel I agree in principle. In practice, it may be unrealistic to expect us to do this consistently under the circumstances. We are overrun by GR and ESL questions. There is a tool which automatically sends an explanatory comment when we mark a post “recommend deletion”. It would be nice to have that extended to closevotes. Please support the proposed site English Language Learners. If it is successful, it will help this site, and it will help the many people who have questions that are too basic for this site.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 24, 2012 at 22:27
  • Thanks for bringing ELL to my attention. I'll see if anyone has already proposed automatically posting an explanation on closed questions.
    – Rachel
    Aug 24, 2012 at 22:32

Attempting to explain downvotes can be a tricky thing (unless you happen to be one of the downvoters).

Just to be clear, I didn't downvote your question, so everything that follows is only speculation.

I found nothing wrong with the format of your question, and I think you provided sufficient context.

Sometimes people will downvote questions that seem too basic. Maybe someone thought your question was too basic, or maybe someone thought you were asking two basics questions that didn't seem connected. Specifically, I did wonder about your last question, which muddied the waters some:

Is "No" being used as an interjection here?

You started by asking about punctuation (should I use of a comma or a semi-colon?), but then you concluded by asking about parts of speech. This made the question more complicated, which might have prompted a downvote.

How does your last question complicate matters? Well, either "No" is being used as an interjection, or it isn't. If it is, how does that answer your punctuation question? If it isn't, what's the answer?

Had you explicitly tied the "is it an interjection" question with the "how should I punctuate this" question, you might have fended off some downvotes (assuming my theory has any validity, but, again, I'm only conjecturing). So, you might have added:

If "No" is being used as an interjection, then I assume you use a comma. But if it's not an interjection, then it stands on its own as a sentence – maybe a semi-colon would be correct?

As a side note, if "No" was in fact an interjection, I would punctuate it differently altogether:

No! The new software can still open the old files.

However, I don't think it's an interjection (but that's not a matter for meta).

In short, this jumbling of these seemingly basic matters may have made it harder to answer the question, which may have prompted a downvote. I didn't downvote it, but I opted to supply an answer instead. I hope you find that answer helpful.

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