As the discussions in chat show, many of us, especially who have been here from remote time, have become increasingly concerned at the prevalence of low quality questions. At first we stood by - hoping that we could get the low quality basic questions out of the way and grow into expert, high quality questions. Unfortunately this hoped for direction is not materializing and we have realized that EL&U is not improving. Instead, it seems that as we gain new users, the number of low quality questions seems to increase while the number of high quality questions diminish: rarely questions gain more than three upvotes.

Do you agree that something needs to be done? Or do you think things are fine the way they are?

  • 4
    What you say may well be true but I would like to see the facts. Also I think something is being done: the ELL proposal.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 27, 2012 at 22:14
  • 2
    another point that might be addressed in getting to the root of the issue is showing that the community is equipped to consistently give high-quality answers to high-quality questions, when they appear.
    – user31341
    Dec 28, 2012 at 0:41
  • 1
    @jlovegreen, yes, we have John Lawler, Barry England, Peter Shor, Cerberus, FumbleFinger, StoneyB, Andrew Leach; but, alas, we, at least currently, do not have high quality questions.
    – user19148
    Dec 28, 2012 at 0:50

3 Answers 3


To an extent, it's an inevitable result of the site's success. When ELU was struggling to get known, anybody who made the effort to find it was likely to be prepared to ask a thoughtful question, and to put in the time to create a thoughtful answer. Now that it pops up in a Google search for anybody who wants to know something about English (which was one of the objectives to begin with), the average quality of both questions and answers seems to be declining; the law of diminishing returns. At this point, the future of the site will be determined not by those who talk and vote, but by those who put in the hard work of editing, reviewing and (pace Martha) closing when needed.


We should not be surprised that we get complaints from new users. English.SE does a poor job of warning the first-timer up front what the expectations are for question quality. Indeed, the site sets a trap for the first-timer! The first-timer, lacking adequate guidance, is more or less guaranteed to ask a question which attracts a lot of criticism. And next thing you know, there’s another complaint in meta.

People generally want to do the right thing. When people are not doing the right thing or not doing it in the right way, that is usually the fault of management, as W. Edwards Deming would say. Management should engineer the system so that it is easy to do the right thing and hard to do it wrong. In other words, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

Defining question quality is not where the problem lies. Question quality has been well defined, especially as it applies to simple, basic questions:

Questions should be “interesting, unique, and thought-provoking”.
 —Shog9, StackExchange staff

OP must put “effort and research into the question”.
 —Robert Cartaino, StackExchange staff

OP can “ask simple questions as long as they are thoughtful, intriguing questions posed as you would ask them of an expert. Overly simple questions without research or forethought should be closed. … There’s no lowering of the bar for a so-called learners’ status”.
 —Robert Cartaino, StackExchange staff

“[A]ll questions are ultimately in service of the people answering them. That is the audience you need to satisfy if you want to have any hope of creating and sustaining a community of peers learning from each other. … There’s nothing useful any expert can learn from ultra-basic questions. Allow your Q&A community to fill itself with enough ‘General Reference’ type questions and you’ll soon find no experts there at all.”
 —Jeff Atwood, StackExchange co-founder

But when you click New Question, you get only five words of guidance on question quality:

Provide details. Share your research.

This is where the problem lies. The guidance for first-timers is not only inadequate – it’s also buried in a right sidebar, which guarantees that many first-timers will overlook it.


I would suggest that you define the "low quality" in the first place. Are you referring to questions asked by users who research little? Or the questions deemed too entry-level by the "high quality users"?

After all, most of the users, especially the new ones, are not specialists in Linguistics or English experts.

You are way past needing answers in EL&U I guess. But please be patient. No one grows up in one day. It takes time for the new users to improve and learn to ask questions in "high-quality" way.

Nevertheless, as for drift-by users, those who ask basic questions just for fun and never respond, I do agree they are ruining this forum.

  • I have addressed the definition of question quality in my answer.
    – MetaEd
    Dec 28, 2012 at 7:15

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