After a couple days of break I revisited EL&U to find about a third of questions on the main page marked [closed].

It appears anything that can be looked up in more or less obscure source (NOT dictionary or thesaurus) becomes "general reference", (1)(2)(3) while anything that cannot be found in there (and thus requires discussion) becomes "non-constructive" or "off-topic".(4) Asking about these obscure sources becomes "off-topic" (5)(6). Nothing in the FAQ forbids asking for lists of words, especially if such lists are finite, available and linkable to, but these are either "non-constructive" or "not real questions" (7)(8) because it seems that type of answer became unacceptable.

Even questions with high score and favorite marks (that means useful and interesting to the community) are still getting closed.

I am questioning the wisdom of voting to close if you fail to see difficulty in a particular sentence that is definitely difficult for a non-native speaker (3) or decide that if more than one correct answer exists, the question is non-constructive. (8) (the argument about number of answers makes no sense: do I have to sit at the computer and hit "reload" over and over to see if someone came up with a good answer or can I leave for a few hours and then pick from answers posted? Is there any harm in having many answers?)

I'm on several other .se sites and I don't see moderators anywhere else so trigger-happy about closing questions.

So, here let me ask my questions (to avoid being closed as not-a-real...)

  • To those who choose to close these questions: By these actions you are shaping the site - its audience, its purpose. What shape of the site are you trying to create? What purpose is this site supposed to serve once you hammer it into the shape you want? Whom is it supposed to serve?
  • To others - Do you think this direction is right? If so, maybe we should get the FAQ readjusted to account for broadened senses of "non-constructive", "off-topic" and "general reference"? If not, what can we do about it (other than keep clicking "reopen" in vain hope to rescue the poor soul before it falls off the main page?)

As for my own $0.02 to what might help is: broaden allowed topic to explicitly allow questions about resources. The only "resources question" is half a year old, far too broad to be really useful and closed - so no new resources can be added.

The FAQ states:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you're asking too much.

But I would add: But if you imagine such book already exists, don't hesitate to ask for the title.

This way even very broad questions can be answered in a very concise and precise manner, giving what would be a completely satisfactory answer for a problem that might otherwise be very difficult to solve


PLEASE ANSWER. The comments everywhere in the "possible duplicates" and here keep talking about "closing the questions to make the site better" without addressing the precise question I have posted here, which probably lies at the core of the problem.

By [closing these questions] you are shaping the site - its audience, its purpose. What shape of the site are you trying to create? What purpose is this site supposed to serve once you hammer it into the shape you want? Whom is it supposed to serve?

It seems the two fronts of this long-standing battle have quite opposite views of what comprises "better". For example, in its "mission statement" the site claims it is for English enthusiasts. I consider myself an English enthusiast, but I know my English isn't very good. I ask questions(12) that are -almost- general reference: common knowledge to any native speaker, unsearchable for non-native, and they either get closed or barely survive the flurry of close-votes. So, the site is not for -all- English enthusiasts it seems.

So, let's define what this site strives to serve, its ideal of purity. So that maybe there could be a site where all these "poor quality" questions can go, keeping EL&U pure and clean while satisfying vain curiosity and laziness of idle web dwellers who don't want to shudder in fear when asking if given sentence should be written with "there" or "their".

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    First, most questions are closed not by our elected moderators but by the community at large. But secondly and more importantly, I think you are wrong about “other SE sites” not being “trigger-happy”. Check out recent closed but not yet deleted questions on StackOverflow proper to see what I mean. – tchrist Dec 6 '12 at 5:02
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    @tchrist: Moderators significantly contribute to the closed pool, but of course they aren't the only "guilty". StackOverflow has a way higher volume, so closes will be more frequent. Meanwhile, out of 90 questions on its main page NONE was [closed] at the time of me writing this. Out of 48 ELU questions 15 were closed at the time of posting this question (plus at least 2 reopened!), 10 currently. – SF. Dec 6 '12 at 5:46
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    The solution is not to stop closing bad questions. That will only make the site worse. The solution is for them not to be asked in the first place. Meanwhile, I will go try to delete what I can so that you can have a prettier front page. – tchrist Dec 6 '12 at 5:53
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    @tchrist: I don't know about your definition of "pretty" but for me usefulness of this site diminishes month by month, and I really wonder where to turn with questions about English where the cadre would be competent enough to answer correctly and not arrogant enough to keep idiots like me away from soiling their beautiful site with their stupid questions. By the way, nice technique of fighting reopens. – SF. Dec 6 '12 at 6:06
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    @SF we should be extra careful about comparisons to SO. The 90 questions on SO represent five minutes. The 50 questions on ELU represent two days. Look at the last five minutes worth of questions on ELU, and you are more than likely to see them all open as well; look at the last two days worth of questions on SO and you'd be surprised how many have close votes or have been deleted. I have helped close 2000+ questions on Stack Overflow in the last two months alone. And I only visit it for about twenty minutes a day. And I could have closed five times as many if I had the votes. – RegDwigнt Dec 6 '12 at 11:01
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    [continued] There are 51200 questions pending closure on SO right now. As a side note, there is no such thing as SO main page; it is different for everyone. What you're looking at is not what I am seeing. Lastly, any number is sort of dishonest if it includes dupes — which is our close reason number one, while Stack Overflow is not anywhere as efficient at hunting down duplicates, due to the sheer volume of questions. Oh, and last I checked, 3% of all our questions were closed as gen-ref. That's right, for every question that gets closed as gen-ref thirty do not. – RegDwigнt Dec 6 '12 at 11:04
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    SF., yes, I would have said the same things you said, but I do not have command of English to do that. I completely agree with you and the reasons you have presented. We should encourage people to utilize this site to help other people gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced by non-constructive questions in our community and also to look at the wonderful contributions that high-rep users could made to make EL&U better. But, as the few upvotes to this wonderful question tell us, we are a minority. I hope ELL will be different. – user19148 Dec 7 '12 at 19:14
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    @Carlo_R. Your command of English seems quite adequate! I review questions on StackOverflow (and here), and I can tell you with certainty that you do not need to be self-deprecating. That being said, I think that we ARE using this site, Meta English SE, effectively. But a beta ELL main site will be useful to some, thus a good idea to have "in the works". – Ellie Kesselman Dec 9 '12 at 6:33
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    I'd like to add that I am yet to see a harsher community than this one. RPG.SE closes a bunch of questions too, but without any of the attitude I see here. – Carlos Vieira Dec 11 '12 at 16:08
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    "The solution is for [bad questions] not to be asked in the first place" = "The solution for [{wars/crimes/rapes/robberies/murders} is that they] not [occur] in the first place". I love this kind of logic. Yep, it's true, if nobody did anything wrong, then, by god, nothing bad would ever happen, would it? Isn't this an example of swatting at flies and mosquitoes with aeriform hands? Seems to me to have that character. – user21497 Dec 12 '12 at 1:06
  • "What shape of the site are you trying to create?" So long as someone is "trying to" do something, the site will have no life of its own -- only when member-moderation in its true sense prevails will votes make any organic sense. I am not a mod, I vote regularly as a sacred duty and do it carefully. – Kris Dec 12 '12 at 8:59
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    @Kris: I must agree, but what I see is something that really bustles with potential of blooming into a tree being patiently trimmed into a bonsai. – SF. Dec 12 '12 at 10:19
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    My experience on EL&U is that there are some who would like this to be an open place for anyone to ask anything about the English Language. There are others that would like this to be a closed place for English professionals (Teachers, Professors, Linguists...) to ask each other questions that only other English professionals can answer. When the site was created, I don't know what the creator(s) had in mind. Perhaps that is the core of the issue. How does one define an English Language Enthusiast? I am opposed to ELL because it would be a bastard site, ignored by those best able to help. – TecBrat Dec 18 '12 at 10:15
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    I for one would probably be an avid user of this site if it weren't for the way questions are treated. It is extremely off-putting and in my opinion just silly. This is one of the least welcoming places I have visited on the internet (bear in mind that I choose places to visit carefully) and definitely the least welcoming SE site I have visited. – user18036 Dec 20 '12 at 20:34

I've been here, done this, and bought this T-shirt. It's even been through the laundry a few times.

First, we get a spate of bad questions – that leads to a lot of closed questions. And that leads to a question on meta, asking, "Are we closing questions too indiscrimantly?" or, "Are we too getting too snobby?" or, "Are we the rudest community on the Stack Exchange?"

Here's my advice: go hang out at Yahoo! Answers for a few days, and read some of their questions:

What type of hair style should I get?

I drove 424 mi. using 18 gal. of gas at this rate how many gallons of gas what I need to drive 318 mi.?

Should I shave my pubic hair?

Do you support Bra Burning?

Is Lucifer a good name for the royal couples new baby? or Lucy if it's a girl?

Then, ask yourself, "Is that the kind of community I'd like ELU to become?"

Near as I can tell, Stack Exchange was designed to ward off inane, vague, or pointless questions by using mechanisms such as peer editing, detailed FAQs, and voting systems.

Sure, I understand that a page chock full o' closed questions can make it look like we're getting trigger happy. And every once in a while, perhaps we do get a little trigger happy, and close a relatively decent question. Sometimes, though, I get even more concerned when I notice some really bad questions getting upvoted!

I've said it before: if someone doesn't want their question closed, make sure it's a good question. I don't see any reason to sacrifice quality.

I looked through most of the eight questions that you linked to, and, for the most part, I saw a list of hastily-asked questions that showed no basic research, and didn't seem to be based on practical, real-world problems. By in large, I don't think they were very good fits for this site, even in retrospect.

I've found that, in general, the more work an O.P. puts into a question, the more patient and helpful the responses will be. Similarly, questions that provide very little background information (about the context of the question, or why it is being asked) can get handled rather gruffly. But that's not always a bad thing, I don't think – not if it prompts others to more carefully craft their questions. Personally, I think this place is hungering for a smattering of thoughtful and interesting questions.

My caveats:

1) Please don't say that we're not welcoming to the non-native speaker. We entertain several questions from non-natives on a daily basis, many of which get patient and helpful responses. Not only that, several folks here have put a lot of work into creating a sister site – not because we want the non-natives to go away, but because we want to be even more helpful than we're already being.

2) Even though my language here may have been a bit blunt, I think my record speaks for itself. I have more than 1,000 more upvotes than downvotes. Out of 1863 votes cast, only 122 of them have been for closure, or 6.5%.


(Answering Jay's comment below)

By [closing these questions] you are shaping the site - its audience, its purpose. What shape of the site are you trying to create? What purpose is this site supposed to serve once you hammer it into the shape you want? Whom is it supposed to serve?

I would like ELU to be a site for serious language enthusiasts, not a place where people ask trivial questions. I don't want this to become like Yahoo! Answers, where people feel like they can ask whatever they want on a whim, without any fear of negative consequences should their question prove to be vague, incomplete, off-topic, and poorly presented.

That said, what is trivial is subjective - what I find "trivial" others may consider profound; what I think is obvious might unlock an enigma that has perplexed someone else for years.

The best way to differentiate between the two, then, is in how the question in framed. This is how I would recommend asking a question:

1) Do your own research first. If you've only spent five minutes trying to find an answer, then you're taking a risk by asking the question. I don't call a cab when my destination is just a three-minute walk down the street, and I don't call the fire department to put out a candle. Similarly, if you've haven't put forth some earnest effort into answering your own question first, then you have a higher chance of being greeted by an unsympathetic community should your question turn out to be trivial. Furthermore, doing research includes checking this site's FAQ, to be sure your question is on-topic, and also checking to see if this question has already been asked and answered. Moreover, users who have been with this community for some time should learn how to use some of the more advanced tools during their own research, such as Google Books, Ngrams, etymonline.com, etc.

2) Share your research with the community when you ask your question. Don't merely say, "I tried to find an answer, but I couldn't." That's weak. This is much better: "I tried to find an answer looking at A, B, C, but the closest I could come up with was X. Yet X doesn't quite fit (or doesn't answer my question, or didn't help me understand), because..." Spend some time summarizing what you did, and how you tried to find it. Not, "Google was no help" but, "When I Googled X, Y, and Z, I couldn't find any answers." Why not help us help you by telling us about your dead ends, so that we don't repeat the same wild goose chases?

3) Make sure you provide enough context to answer the question. If you're puzzled about something that you read, then, please, tell us where you found it. Certain information is essential to interpreting language such as: Did the sentence come from a work of fiction, or non-fiction? Is it from a published work, or an amateur blogger? Was it written by a comedian, a reporter, a poet, or a scientist? (The statement, "The moon is made of blue cheese" could mean something completely different based on who wrote it).

The best questions provide excerpts from the original passage - usually an entire paragraph - along with a link to the entire source, when that's available. If your question doesn't come from a specific context, then share additional details about why it puzzles you. For example, don't ask, "Is this considered impolite?" (almost anything could be considered impolite - even, "Have a nice day!" - if it's uttered with enough dripping sarcasm). Instead, explain the context of how the language would be used, and then ask if it might be considered polite or rude.

4) When possible, look for ways your can turn your specific question into a more general question. For example, say you're having trouble figuring out how to pronounce a word that isn't found in a dictionary, such as the name of a music group. Instead of asking,

How do you pronounce X?

try asking,

How would I go about figuring out how to pronounce the name of a music group, such as X? After all, that won't be listed in a dictionary, or another source with a pronunication guide. (Most music groups aren't as accomodating as Lynyrd Skynyrd in this matter.)

This makes your question more useful to future visitors, and therefore a better overall fit for our site.

Some questions have seemed very silly to me at first, but then become much more interesting after some additional information was provided (usually in a comment; for example: "My native language doesn't use this part of speech," or, "In my culture, this would be considered insulting.") Don't assume we'll know that - whether or not the community as a whole will find questions interesting or silly often hinges on such details, so include them. Moreover, if they are added late, add them to the question, not in a comment left as a reply to another comment. If one person asked you for clarification, chances are several more people will wonder the same thing.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is! Then again, that's what I'd like to see this community become, a "varsity team," so to speak. Is that because my compatriots and I are a bunch of high-minded snobs? Arrogant and disrespectful? Unsympathetic to the non-native speaker? Anyone who jumps to that conclusion should pay closer attention to what happens on ELU. Questions that follow these three general principles - do your homework, share your findings, provide sufficient context - are usually greeted quite favorably. Comments that could be construed as being terse, curt, or accusatory (e.g., "What did the dictionary tell you?") are usually reserved for questions that show little prior research and provide woefully inadequate context. In the past, I've seen ELU get overrun with such questions (and, make no mistake about it, a rash of such questions does diminish this site's usefulness, overall quality, and appeal), as a spate of new users seemingly find the board and think, "Now I can ask questions about English! Hooray!" Well, you're more than welcome to ask your questions, but please exercise due diligence as you get underway. If that's too much to ask, well, there are other online communities that won't require or expect you to work so hard, or call you out when you fail to do so.

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    I agree with everything except the buying of the t-shirt (truly loyal ELU users would wait for another freebie swag issue! :) – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '12 at 4:20
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    I spent some time on Yahoo! Answers over the past two weeks, out of curiosity. Also, the Yamster, their hamster-ish mascot, was running a contest, somewhat analogous to the Microsoft Windows 8 contests on other parts of SE. It is a mess over on Yahoo! Answers, a hodge-podge of excellent questions and answers about some advanced topics in math, mechanical engineering and accounting, tumbled around with awfulness as cited by J.R. We are trying to do our best here on ELU, but we can't be all things to everyone. This isn't a beta site any longer, and if there is a need, ELL will address it. – Ellie Kesselman Dec 9 '12 at 6:43
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    Well, saying that questions only get closed when they're bad questions rather begs the question. To say, "I only label questions as bad when they are bad questions" is rather a tautology. The issue is whether the criteria for labelling them as bad and closing them are too broad. This question is not answered by simply repeating the assertion that you believe a question should have been closed. – Jay Dec 10 '12 at 15:13
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    I think Yahoo!Answers is a straw man, and this answer is presenting a false slippery slope. Just because we don't allow questions on how to shave your pubic hair doesn't mean we should close every question that a native speaker mistakenly thinks ought to be obvious to everyone. – Marthaª Dec 10 '12 at 20:24
  • @Jay: That's a fair criticism. I've taken some time to try to answer the question more directly. – J.R. Dec 10 '12 at 21:11
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    @Marthaª: Hopefully, my edit (written in response to Jay) also makes it clear that I, too, welcome questions that may be obvious to me, but not to everyone. It's not the subject of the questions on Yahoo! Answers that bothers me, but the haphazard and shallow way those questions are often asked, without any rhyme or reason. There's a certain vapidity there that isn't usually found here, which I appreciate. I think the FAQ addresses this by asking for "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." – J.R. Dec 10 '12 at 21:18
  • @J.R.: I'm not sure the edit added all that much. It seems to be mostly addressing the "What does this mean?" type of question, which I personally tend to find inherently tedious. After all, somebody wrote/said whatever we're being asked about, so obviously they expected it to be understood. Nine times out of ten, the net effect is that ELU gets used as a sort of "smart dictionary", that actually offers little of interest to people with good command of English (once they've gotten over the thrill of earning Brownie points! :) – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '12 at 1:50
  • @Fumble: What shape of the site are you trying to create? One where people don't ask "bad" questions. Well, then, what's a "bad" question? For a long time, I've thought that's determined less by what the question is about, and it's more based on how the question is asked. Space won't permit me to give explicit examples here (maybe I should write a blog post?), but I'm convinced that most bad questions here could be turned into good ones, and many good ones could be turned into bad ones, just by the way they're presented. I'd rather not see this become Yahoo! Answers w/ an English bent. – J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 10:40
  • @J.R.: I was happy to see you throw your hat in the ring on the mod elections a while back. And I'd have been perfectly happy if you'd got in, because so far as I know there's no significant difference between our general attitudes on issues such as this (we often end up closevoting the same questions). I was just making the point that since most speakers/writers quite rightly expect to be understood, it stands to reason that most "What does this mean?" questions will effectively be "trivial" to competent native speakers. – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '12 at 16:21
  • ...apropos which, for me at least, the more interesting questions are more likely to be "Why do we say it like this?", rather than "What does it mean?". I know that's probably not the sole purpose of ELU for anybody, but it might be a specific area where our views are slightly different. – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '12 at 16:25
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    @FumbleFingers: I've thought some more about what you said (about "more interesting" questions), and decided to add a fourth hint to my list of recommendations. – J.R. Dec 13 '12 at 9:33

I disagree with your opinions of what should be closed. Everything that has been closed on your list is closed within our existing guidelines.

This is the shape I want for EL&U (from my election thing):

I want EL&U to be a great academic resource and enlightening place for serious English language enthusiasts.

We are still awaiting enough people to commit to English Language Learners so that the basic question can be asked somewhere.

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    This is a reasonable and viable aim, providing that the newly-created ELL becomes a complement of the set you describe here. – SF. Dec 6 '12 at 22:54
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    Language Log is such a site. EL&U will never get to that level of seriousness, but that's not necessarily a negative or pessimistic prognostication. Language Log is too specialized for me despite my MA in theoretical linguistics. I'd prefer to be able to hang out on ELL & leave all the high-level English language enthusiasm to the knowledgeable on EL&U. Language learners with interesting questions (ie, Qs that interest me), be they EFL students or unsure-about-the-beast (English) native speakers of English, want & need help. I like helping them. – user21497 Dec 12 '12 at 1:49
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    I've noticed recently that the quality of the questions has declined. That means I either ignore them or recommend some corrective action to the questioners. It pisses me off to see a Q that I or someone else has answered get closed & then deleted. Somebody thought the Q was worthwhile answering, & some of those deleted answers are worth keeping. But a few members of the community (not always the same ones) pull rank & consider the answers useless because they consider the Qs bad. Subjectivity has then morphed into high-handedness or authoritarianism, it seems to me. Let's beta ELL now! – user21497 Dec 12 '12 at 1:50
  • -1 With three down votes, it is hoped there will be some soul searching. – Kris Dec 12 '12 at 8:55
  • @Kris — you've voted 3 times on my post? – Matt E. Эллен Dec 13 '12 at 11:32
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    @MattЭллен Could I? I said a total of three down votes, including mine. What makes you think I defied gravity? :) – Kris Dec 13 '12 at 14:48

I agree. The criteria seem to be: If there is any ambiguity in the question, then it is 'not a real question' and should be closed. If the question asks for the best word or phrasing for a specific context, the question is 'too localized' and should be closed. If the question asks for a general principle, then it is 'too general' and should be closed. If the person asking does not demonstrate perfect grasp of the English language, then it is a bad question and should be closed. If a question has a single answer which can be found in an authoritative source, then it is 'too basic' or 'general reference' and should be closed. If a question does not have a single answer which can be found in an authoritative source, than it is 'not constructive' and should be closed. If you don't understand a question, then it is 'not a real question' and should be closed. (Even if ten other people apparently did understand the question because they posted answers.) If you had coffee this morning, then it is a bad question and should be closed.

Yes, yes, I'm sure we all agree that if someone posted a question on this site like "How do I find the derivative of a trigonometric function?" or "Is American football better than European football?", these should be closed as clearly off-topic. And I suppose when someone does ask a question that really can be answered by looking the word up in a dictionary, like "Is 'canary' a noun?" or some such, that should be closed as general reference.

But what's the point of the enthusiasm to close "bad questions"? What's the harm in letting questions of debateable value get through? Questions are often closed after several people have answered them, so apparently there are people on the site who saw value in the question. Suppose the site did lose some of its "purity". So what? If you don't like a question, what's the harm in just ignoring it, and letting others answer if they choose?

  • Your first paragraph is remarkably comprehensive and at the same time concise! (Except “had” in its last sentence should be “didn't have”.) I wonder if we could get it added to the FAQ? – James Waldby - jwpat7 Dec 10 '12 at 20:36
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    @jwpat7: Clearly, caffeine makes people wired and irritable, and thus it's having coffee that makes questions be bad. (Which is what Jay is saying.) But caffeine is addictive, so not having coffee makes people irritable and headachy, so it's not having coffee that makes questions be bad. (Which is what you're saying.) The only way to reconcile the two is obviously to conclude that all questions are bad, should be closed and deleted, and we should just close this site and go home. It's the logical thing to do... :) – Marthaª Dec 10 '12 at 23:19
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    That's all well and good, but I'm having trouble understanding the what's so bad about closing a "debatable" question. It only takes five votes to reverse it, but most closed questions (and I just looked at about 10 recently-closed ones) don't seem to have much else to say. (How do you pronounce Chevrolet? We really need to leave that open?) Plus, someone can still leave a comment if they want to be helpful. I was told early on that closure was partly a tool so that those who log on and find 20 new questions might spend more time focusing on the better ones; i.e., it's a filter of sorts. – J.R. Dec 10 '12 at 23:25
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    Put another way, I see this debate as a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full thing. Some people see a closed question with answers and think, "Wow! What a bunch of snobs! They closed this question, even though it was getting answers!" I see the same thing and think, "Even though this question was close-worthy, some folks still invested some time to answer the question. What a caring community!" (By the way, there have been times where I've answered a question, and then voted to close it, figuring the question probably should be closed, but there's no reason we can't answer the O.P. first.) – J.R. Dec 11 '12 at 10:17
  • What J.R. said. Closing a question doesn't necessarily mean the question is "bad" in any absolute sense. It just means that at least 5 of us think there's nothing to be gained by having more people provide more answers. I'm often quite happy to provide an answer in a comment when I closevote, but I've only voted to delete 12 questions in total (that's against 358 closevotes, and 3562/949 Up/Downvotes, if you're interested). – FumbleFingers Dec 12 '12 at 2:00

Nothing in the FAQ forbids asking for lists of words, especially if such lists are finite, available and linkable to.

Questions that are asking for lists are generally not welcome on any Stack Exchange site, especially if the list is for resources.
If a question is asking for a list of words, it probably means the user is looking for a word, but s/he is not able to define exactly which word s/he is looking for. I am excluding the user is asking a list of words just for the mere exercise of building such list. In both the cases, the question is not constructive, as every user can write her/his own list of words, each answer would be equally valid, and everybody would vote the list they like better.

Rather than asking for a list of words, it would be better to ask for a word, specifying the requirements the word should meet. If anyone who answers knows more than one suitable word, the answer will contain more than one word. In any case, questioners should not request a list of words.


I think that moderators are appearing overconfident in their ability to discern what kinds of questions are "inane, vague, or pointless." A good and experienced contributor may be able to discern actual, substantive, general issues in a naive-sounding question, and provide a general answer which would inform beyond the question's original scope, helping to answer similar questions which have yet to be asked. Someone who asks a question that seems too narrow usually wouldn't know how to phrase the question in a general way, but probably would appreciate the pointer towards the general issue. Rather than closing a question before people have a chance to read it and think about it, I think in many cases a skilled moderator could edit the question so that the underlying general issue is made explicit.

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    I've noticed another disturbing syndrome: if the power user doesn't know the answer to given question, that means it's Not A Real Question and needs to be closed. Then a correct answer is posted when the question has already gathered 4 NARQ votes. My natural reaction to a question to which I don't know the answer is an upvote: it's a question that will teach me something new. But it seems some feel... I don't know - slighted by someone pointing out their shortcomings? – SF. Dec 12 '12 at 8:05
  • You quoted from my post, so I'll reply. (1) I'm not a moderator. The most I can do is cast 1 vote to close; four must concur with me for a question to be closed. I rarely lobby for a question to be closed, but I often leave feedback telling how a question might be improved. (2) Moderators and "power users" can (and do) try to make questions more presentable. For the record, I have 112 close votes, and 522 revisions, meaning I'm much more likely to make an edit or comment than cast a close vote. But sooner or later the onus rests on the O.P. to write a good question, not on a mod to salvage it. – J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 19:00
  • @SF.: I won't tell you I've never voted too hastily, because it has happened on a few occasions, when I didn't catch and appreciate something more profound in a question than I initial perceived. That said, I've never come close to using voting as retribution for stumping me. Slighted? C'mon now. Most of us, like you, like learning new things here, which is why we want to see high standards maintained. Each time I revisit this thread I go back to the home page, but the questions I find closed are simply not very good questions, so I don't think the problem is overzealous closures. – J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 19:11
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    @SF.: Exhibit A: Not exactly a model question. Still, shortly after it was asked, I asked for elaboration. Kris suggested an interpretation. Bill Franke asked a lot of pertinent questions. No response from the O.P. All told, it stayed open about 4 hours before it was closed. Moreover, if the O.P. comes back and sees all that feedback, that question could simply be deleted, and an improved one posted. Do you really think the users who voted to close felt slighted because this O.P. stumped them? Maybe, it simply wasn't a good question... – J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 19:17
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    @J.R.: My personal feeling is the site concentrates a whole lot of effort on becoming a Wikipedia-like resource, while utterly forfeiting the mission of answering "current need" ad-hoc questions. Lots of effort is put in keeping the site pure and the archive to be of top quality, and meanwhile bunch of people with actual problems are turned away from the door because they don't phrase their problems in archive-friendly manner. To me, intent of A and B is clear, the questions are valid and answers are simple enough. Their only fault is the answers are not useful for building the knowledge base. – SF. Dec 13 '12 at 8:56
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    @J.R. I might add that many experts on SE rise to the occasion and produce excellent, archive-quality answers on apparently low-quality questions. these are the kinds of answers people can learn from even if they know the answer to the original question. shutting down a question within 4 hours (many contributors probably don't visit the site during work hours) might drive away high-value contributors as much as silly questions do. a problem is that the users constantly checking the site throughout the day can shut down a question w/o less intensive users getting to consider it first. – user31341 Dec 13 '12 at 23:46
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    @jlovegren: I'm well aware of that, and I'd like to number myself among those who will gladly answer even marginal questions on occasion in the spirit of helpfulness. I have 113 close votes vs 714 answers; plus, I lobbied hard to reopen ELL when it was nearly shut down. Still, I see some very inferior questions get posted daily. I get tired of people seeing such questions get closed, and concluding we're a bunch of trigger-happy geeks w/ an attitude who need to get a life. If you see a closed question worth salvaging, rewrite & reask it. – J.R. Dec 14 '12 at 1:06
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    @J.R. if i'm making a criticism about the way the superusers control over the site, it's that i'd like to become more involved with the site but am discouraged by certain aspects about it, not that i have any feelings about the superusers themselves. it's natural to feel attacked personally when someone criticizes some aspect of an activity that you are involved in, but please try to see the reason in the objections. to illustrate my basic point of query, and argue that deficiency in questions is not a wholly objective matter, i've lightly edited and then responded to the linked question. – user31341 Dec 14 '12 at 1:54
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    @J.R. Of course they do and usually for the right reasons, but this place is run as a monopolistic cartel by a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals. The Writers stack is far more pleasant and interesting than this one and people aren't so up themselves there. – spiceyokooko Dec 14 '12 at 16:34
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    @J.R. Few months? Your profile says 10. Who said anything about rude pseudo-intellectuals? I said it was being run as a monopolistic cartel by.... For someone on an English usage site, you don't appear to have particularly good reading or comprehension skills. The people here with the high rep are running it the way they want it run (and deleting and downvoting posts to maintain their high rep) and no-one else is getting a look in. That's my point. – spiceyokooko Dec 14 '12 at 17:03
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    Funny how, when users are downvoted and questions are closed on the SE forums you visit, that's "usually for the right reasons," but, when the same thing happens on ELU, that's because – let's make sure I don't misquote you this time, lest I not "appear to have particularly good reading or comprehension skills" – ELU "is run as a monopolistic cartel by a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals" who "are running it the way they want it run." [emphasis in the original] – J.R. Dec 14 '12 at 18:29
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    Thankfully you now appear to have 'got it', but it's taken us full circle to get there. There's a good reason for why this SE has an extremely high percentage of closed and down voted answers. Far more than any other SE I've seen and it has a disproportionally lower number of users. It's not a coincidence. Nevertheless, I shall leave your happy down arrow clicking clique in peace and go elsewhere. Au revoir! – spiceyokooko Dec 14 '12 at 18:37
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    @spicey: Judging by the tone of your remarks, I think you may have meant adieu, not au revoir, but I'm not entirely sure about that (after all, I don't have very strong reading comprehension skills). ;^) – J.R. Dec 14 '12 at 18:50
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    @spiceyokooko if you are looking for linguistics professor wannabees, consider joining the linguistics SE, where questions very rarely get closed or downvoted. to be fair to ELU, I think that the unique environment here is due to the fact that a lot of learners come to this site looking for help when doing homework or drafting memos. – user31341 Dec 14 '12 at 23:43
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    @spicey: at the risk of repeating myself, the only bit you added was an antonym, which the question never asked for, and which could have worked as a comment or an edit on either answer. Things like that get downvoted everywhere. Anyway, now you're saying that you don't like the site because you actively delete information from it that you deem useful. That bears repeating. You blame us for your vandalizing the site. Does not compute. Will likely get reverted, too. – RegDwigнt Dec 18 '12 at 14:23

There is another perspective on your question, @SF.: What shape do the owners of StackExchange wish this site to take?

The SE “about” page states:

Stack Exchange is a growing network of individual communities, each dedicated to serving experts in a specific field. We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community's area of expertise.

… and the English.SE FAQ states:

The English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts.

These and other statements made by SE management¹ to clarify the English.SE charter are clear and consistent. They boil down to this. English.SE exists to serve English experts – professionals and serious amateurs. Questions and answers should be held to academic standards and be well thought out, well researched, comprehensive, and clear. Contributions from enthusiastic learners are welcomed, and should be held to the same high standards.

From this perspective, the site is serving its purpose to the extent to which English experts regard it as a resource and contribute to it.

This is the touchstone that I return to when I make editorial choices.


  1. One such statement went so far as to describe English.SE as a failed site, explaining that it is so cluttered with poor Q&A that it cannot effectively serve the experts it was created to serve and is actually driving away its intended audience.
  • I don't know what goes on on the SE management forum, but today I loaded meta.english.SE and took a broader look at the list of subjects. I don't think I've seen such a monothematic meta in the whole SE. – SF. Dec 18 '12 at 9:13

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