Which one is higher priority goal for EL&U:

  • Being an online repository of high quality only knowledge structured as Q/A
  • Being an online utility to ask and answer questions about EL&U

They both have many overlapping area but are very different.

In my view in first case quality of questions is as important as their validity but in second case it's mainly validity of questions which is important and valid but low quality questions may remain unanswered but they are not downvoted or closed.

I know this not a new discussion but probably a new way to look at it and answers can be helpful to understand how EL&U works.

I prefer second case (as stackoverflow is) because I think it's a missing component on web, but it's only my personal view.

  • 5
    This is a good question, but any comprehensive answer to it will probably end up being a "both, actually". Obviously we have to draw the line somewhere (as does SO, and all other SE sites). And obviously a Q&A site is not useful if it's full of questions that have no answers. Closing and saying why is actually helping the OP. Not closing and not answering turns the site into a ghost town. I'd rather be on a site where I know for a fact every question gets some treatment than no treatment at all. I think our lack of Tumbleweed, Tenacious and Unsung Hero badges after 2 years is a good thing.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 15:46
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    @đ»egDwight Thanks. I think people can offer bounty where their questions remain unanswered and to do so they have to answer other questions. In other hand being downvoted and closed feels like being kicked out by community, it feels so bad. I think when there is many questions nobody cares about bad ones, but good ones will shine. Usually a positive network works better. As always it was just my idea. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


This is as much a response to another answer to this question as an answer to the question itself. The question itself is JUST FINE! The person who asked the question is JUST FINE too! Any belligerence or subtle inflections of irritability are directed, though diffusely, toward unnamed OTHERS, not toward the individual who asked the question. We are FRIENDLY and well-disposed toward those who make sincere inquiries such as this one... if I may presume to speak with authority not explicitly granted by the voice of the hive collective, which has not, in point of fact, granted any such authority to me.

There isn't any way to respond in the comments, so I'm making my entry an answer.

First, regarding Stack Exchange sites as repositories of knowledge versus active Q&A venues:

  • Do not allege that EL&U is uniquely aberrant in this regard. The same question is discussed, repeatedly, on Stack Overflow, Programming Meta SE, Math Meta SE, even Meta SO, about all the Stack Exchange sites.

Next, about the purpose of the site:

  • It is a valid concern, and goes back to the site's charter, the statement-of-purpose. The response to this has two components.

    1. Anyone who visits a website to ask questions, in any language, knows to check the site FAQ. People who ask questions here are not always native English language speakers. However, they are fluent in one or more OTHER languages. They are NOT ignorant about the use of the internet. They are usually quite clever and intelligent, and often highly educated or experienced in another field of knowledge. They know how to check whether they are on the right SE site.

    2. There are many SE sites! One could posit that it is confusing, figuring out which is for what. It would be a good idea for each SE site to have a single "purpose phrase", and a link to the site's FAQ located in the same position on the landing page of that site, be it beta or fully-fledged. I haven't checked, but that might have beeen implemented already. If so, then we are golden. Fait accompli.

There are a lot of Stack Exchange sites. There is a proposal for a new one, English Language and Learning SE, in progress on the SE "incubator" site, Area 51 SE. That may or may not work out i.e. receive enough interest move forward, or then survive public beta. Even if it is successful, there may be a middle ground between EL&U and ELL that is not covered, as someone in the comment thread mentioned. That is okay, in either case.

Why is it okay?

  • Because SE can't cover every possible use case with an active forum of users and question answer-er's. It is already quite diverse here, particularly in nuances of English language usage. There is Writers SE. There WAS Literature SE. There is Linguistics SE and Academics SE. There may be ELL SE, and of course there is EL&U SE. All are not exclusive to the English language, but all do provide some amount of coverage to aspects of it. There will be questions for which no SE site is appropriate. I think that needs to be accepted, without rancor, nor a sense of having failed any user.
  • Thanks for sharing you view. But there has never been two SE site with same topic but different levels. Probably because it doesn't work because SE gamification ecosystem is designed based on engaging different level of audience. Can you imagine splitting SO to advanced and newbie communities? Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 11:19
  • @JohnS No, it wouldn't work at all. I enjoyed imagining it just now. I extended further, and imagined what it would be like if Meta SO were split into advanced and newbie communities. I am laughing at that scenario! Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 12:25

It is a very good question.

On the front page today, there is a question asking what books would be suitable for a learner to read. This would give useful information to those who have sufficient proficiency to be considering picking up a book, but lack the cultural knowledge to know a good one from a bad one. It was closed as 'not constructive'.

On the same page at the same time is a question about the etymology of a word used only by actors in Australian theatres. A curiosity for sure, but of no practical use to anyone. This remained open.

These decisions make sense only if ELU is a site intended for academics to use to discuss finer points of grammar and language use, a repository of high level knowledge.

If that is the case, it should me made clear so that learners wanting advice know to go elsewhere. Rename it "Professional English Users" or something. Merge it with Linguistics.

If that is not the case, and ELU is a utility for learners, then the current policy of apparently random closings really needs to be sorted out.

  • 4
    Is "The English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts" not clear enough, then?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 12:42
  • 1
    As it is buried in FAQ, whose link is a tiny thing at the top of the screen no - it absolutely isn't clear enough. How many people head straight for FAQ when they find a new site? This is precisely why I suggested changing the name. Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 13:18
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    For what it's worth, I agree; it should be made clearer. This site is for serious enthusiasts, and ELL is for those who need to ask more basic grammar questions (and there is some danger of a middle ground which might need to be dealt with). But I do think that new users should read the FAQ as well.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 13:34
  • 1
    New users need to develop a certain level of commitment before they read the FAQ, when they get to that point where they think "This site is not bad". To me, it looks as though a lot of people arriving think it is a site where they can get help with learning, and then get down voted and closed when they ask a reasonable question. If they do read the FAQ, it is not that clear. What, precisely, is a serious enthusiast - someone who wants to read a novel? I agree that any site is what it is, that is not the problem, but what it is should be in the shop-window, not the T&C. Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 13:49
  • And this is part of stackexchange which has never branded itself as an expert only community. Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 16:02
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    There's a difference between an expert-only community (that would be dull!) and a community where experts can answer questions which cannot be answered by consulting standard references. Perhaps General Reference questions should actually be deleted so the "shop window" displays what we want to sell -- which I think is questions which are curious or otherwise interesting.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 17:53
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    @AndrewLeach Being "curious or otherwise interesting" is completely subjective. What is interesting for me may or may not be interesting for you and vice versa. It can not be set as a rule. Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 20:34
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    The questions that are not welcome here are far from general reference and it is not at all clear that they will be on topic on ELL. Does a non-native speaker ever count as an "enthusiast" for you?
    – Phira
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 20:35
  • 2
    Not sure why you picked a question that was closed as not constructive for a discussion of what's on topic. "Not constructive" does not reflect a decision that "makes sense only if ELU is a site intended for academics". Much rather, it means, "not a good fit for the SE engine as such, and should be closed regardless of the site's name, focus, or target audience because it's a soft bikeshedding question". Not only is that explained right there in the close-reason box, but also, in this particular case, a comment was left explaining it yet again in different words.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 22:04
  • 1
    @đ»egDwight ~ all you are doing is repeating your opinion as though it were a concrete fact. I have quoted from FAQ and asked you directly to explain how it was violated, with no response. That is largely beside the point though. If you want ELU to be aimed at academics, fine, but say so. Don't keep pretending there is no problem - this is not the first thread on this topic. Change the name. Make it obvious that it is not a site for L2 students, then the problem will go away. Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 6:44
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    @RoaringFish: you point out that a lot of people think this is a learners' site, (because they don't read the FAQ properly), ask a question that doesn't fit, see it downvoted or closed, and go away discouraged. All true, and it shows the site is working as it should. You obviously want it to be something different, and your view is as valid as anybody else's: but that does not mean it is 'broken' at present. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 11:32
  • @TimLymington Yup! Agreed. We are not 'broken'. We are not dysfunctional. We have some issues, which we are discussing here. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 12:21
  • @TimLymington How can one conclude from reading FAQ that this site is not for learners? Every English learner can consider herself "(serious) English language enthusiasts." Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 13:54
  • @TimLymington ~ I said earlier "If that is the case, it should me made clear so that learners wanting advice know to go elsewhere." That does not say I want ELU to be something else, it says that I think ELU should decide what it is and make it clear, on the first page, in big letters, at the the top of the screen. Nobody reads FAQ as soon as they arrive, and if they do... I asked earlier " What, precisely, is a serious enthusiast?" I see no reason why that can't be a learner. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 14:06

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