38

A bit of background before I begin: I am a moderator on ELL, and I admit to not being entirely familiar with what is and isn't on-topic here on ELU. I am posting this discussion because I see a trend that I think needs to be addressed, and the following are just my brainstormed thoughts and opinions; they do not reflect official policy of either site. I really want to hear what you guys think, and I'm open to having my mind changed! :)

So, today a question was closed on ELU and reposted on ELL. This is great; the question is actually appropriate for ELL, I'm glad the user was willing to open an account, and I hope they get great answers to their question. The problem I have is not with what happened with the question itself, but this comment that I read on it:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is better asked on ELL.

This isn't the first time I've seen comments like this. Usually they're less specific: "We also have a sister site, ELL. You might find it useful/consider asking this there." And that's okay too; if a question is off-topic here on ELU and you think someone could get a good answer on ELL, of course it makes me happy for people to tell them that! The problem I have is this:

A question cannot be off-topic on one site for no other reason than that it fits better on another.

(Again, above is my current personal opinion, though I do base it on my current understanding of the SE system.)

There are a lot of sites with overlap, and ELL and ELU are one such pair. There have been several discussions on this already, and I don't want to get into what is and isn't on topic on each site; that's not the point. The point is this:

There are some things that are on-topic on ELU. There are some things that are on-topic on ELL. There are some things that are on-topic on both. If a question falls into the "could go either way" category, it belongs on the site it was originally posted to. So that means that the only time we will be suggesting that a user post their question on the other site instead, it is because their question is off-topic on the site they are currently posting it on. It is not off-topic because it would work better somewhere else; it must be off-topic because it is inherently off-topic on the site it was originally posted on. And once it has been determined that this is the case, then you decide "is this question super awesome, and would it work much better on the other site (ELL or ELU)?" If the answer to that question is yes, then you ask the OP to repost (or flag for migration). But the question first has to be off-topic on the site it was originally posted to, in and of itself, regardless of whether the sister site existed or not.

So basically what I'm saying is... Questions should never be custom-closed as off-topic because they are better suited elsewhere. A question is either on-topic or off-topic on a given site, completely independent of other sites in the network. The question you must ask is "If ELU was the only site in the entire network, would this question be off-topic?" If the answer is yes, close it stating the specific reason for which it is off-topic, and then decide if you think it fits on ELL or not. If the answer is no, then the question is fine where it is.

Okay, so I'd love to hear the community's thoughts. Please do keep in mind that I'm not trying to discuss what is and isn't on-topic for either site; we've done that plenty of times and I'm sure it'll come up again. I'm just saying that when something is off-topic, it's gotta be off-topic because you guys think it's off-topic, not because it would maybe work on ELL. Go forth and discuss! :)

  • 8
    I am in complete agreement. Well said. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 24 '13 at 18:45
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    This is happening because they won’t let us peons mark something for migration. So we use the only tool allowable to us. – tchrist Oct 24 '13 at 19:56
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    @tchrist I just investigated your other comment about other beta sites having migration paths, and it turns out I was misinformed; some beta sites do have them, but it's apparently a rare exception to the rule. (Not sure exactly how that comes about, but in my experience usually a highly upvoted meta post and getting SE to agree does it.) That said: I don't mean that migration is a bad thing or that people shouldn't suggest migration/reposting. Just that if you're going to do so, also explain why it's OT. Helps the OP and is a self-check that we're migrating for the right reasons :) No? – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 20:08
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is better asked on ELL. I suspect that's simply badly phrased, and not exactly what the commenter meant to say. Remember, the "This question appears to be off-topic because..." is boilerplate language that is autogenerated by the system. I suspect that the person either flagged the question or voted to close it, then typed "it is better asked on ELL" on the tail end of the prompt, and clicked submit. – J.R. Oct 24 '13 at 21:50
  • @J.R. Oh, I realize that. My main point (I guess I used too many words and overcomplicated it, huh? xD) is that when you're specifying an OT reason, that reason should be inherent to ELU, not solely because the question would work on ELL. For example on ELL we could say "This question is OT because it's about etymology. You might try asking on ELU." – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 21:54
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    If someone suggests that a question is better suited for either site, isn't it already implying that it's OT for one site but not the other? I don't think this is the issue. What users should suggest that if a question has not shown any research it will NOT be suited to ELL either. – Mari-Lou A Oct 26 '13 at 7:03
  • @Mari-LouA Sure, I just think that giving a reason it's OT is important. That's why they make you fill in the box, after all :) And yes, you're exactly right; if the question shows no research it isn't appropriate on any site! :) – WendiKidd Oct 26 '13 at 16:05
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    My understanding is that ELL got created so that ELU users would feel less bad about close-voting non-sophisticated questions. I think the wording of the close-vote boilerplate is most accurate from a historical perspective. – jlovegren Nov 12 '13 at 4:02
  • Can ELU have a migration path to a beta site? Or do both ends need to be out of beta first? – Bobson Nov 12 '13 at 19:54
  • @Bobson The beta must end first, I'm afraid. – WendiKidd Nov 12 '13 at 20:56
10

To be brief, the questions which are usually tagged as being better suited to ELL are not necessarily off-topic. I think a much more common reason for closing or suggesting that many of them be migrated to ELL is because they are considered basic English grammar questions; which until very recently were swept under the general reference rug.

Is it therefore more considerate to say that the question is off-topic and better suited to the sister-site, or as Mr Hen suggested, tell the OP his/her question is trivial (for the real language experts and enthusiasts in ELU) and should be asked at ELL? Which might make it sound more like a landfill.

I do agree however, that a poorly thought out question on ELU will still be a bad question on ELL. But there are cases where a good question is classified as being "too easy" (also read, too boring) for many veterans on ELU if only because they have seen the same type of question repeatedly asked on the site.

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    I agree. I don't believe there is any consensus here on what is "Basic grammar" and what is not. There is not even any consensus on whether punctuation and spelling are matters of "grammar'. I think it is a big mistake to look on the answers provided on ELU as being in any sense more "advanced" or "sophisticated", nor suitable only for native speakers, nor any of the other descriptions there might be. They're all over the lot, frankly. P.S. I don't think any question about English is "off-topic", frankly, though certainly many of them are incomprehensible as posed. – John Lawler Oct 25 '13 at 18:20
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    @JohnLawler It's always seemed to me that the difference between ELL and ELU lies in the sort of answer required. On ELL you cannot appeal to the questioner's knowledge of English in the same way. You can't clarify a point by analogy - This works the same way that does, or That's wrong the same way this is - because the rightness or wrongness is not apparent to your reader. And you have to be much clearer about just how far any principle you offer will apply in the next case, because your reader isn't shielded from error by already knowing how something should be said. – StoneyB Oct 26 '13 at 13:11
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    @StoneyB: You have to do that here, too. Many if not most of the posters on ELU are non-native English speakers, in speech communities where there are few if any native speakers of English. And you can't use analogies any more successfully here, either. The beliefs and "grammars" that show up here are no better informed than those on ELL; if anything, less. – John Lawler Oct 26 '13 at 17:10
9

Wow. I searched Google in search of a word and after several variations of my search, I landed on this site. Thus, I was not aware there was another site. My suggestion is that you word this phrase so that it does not make a newcomer feel as if they violated a policy. Your current statement is courteous but there is a lot to learn to take full advantage of the site but initially when just looking for a word one might not be aware that there are different sites.

Just my thoughts

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    Thank you. And welcome. This is a good place to ask questions about English grammar and idioms, if you give a lot of example sentences with context. Otherwise it's fun, but pretty useless, though you can get coached on how to ask good questions if you're interested. – John Lawler Oct 27 '13 at 0:04
  • @JohnLawler My experience, having watched for a while and just now asked one question, is that this site is far from a 'good place to ask questions' and it is very easy for non-experts to feel as if they've somehow violated a policy. – user48580 Nov 4 '13 at 16:04
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    I noticed your post in Meta. I'm sorry you're leaving, but it's probly true that this is not a great site for anyone who believes that they're a "stickler", i.e, one who believes they know the rules and who believes others should follow them. Sticklers, in my experience, sometimes tend to get irritated with facts that conflict with the rules that they believe they know. – John Lawler Nov 6 '13 at 0:15
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I don't disagree with your main point so this is mostly rambling thoughts on finding an appropriate solution to a few issues.

Are basic English usage questions on-topic?

EL&U needs to decide whether we want questions are simple, basic usage questions. Right now the community seems to be closing most of these as off-topic. I am assuming that this is because EL&U isn't terribly interested in teaching basic English and are more interested in the "fun" questions.

This behavior wasn't true during my previous bout of activity a few years ago so I am unsure of the history here.

See also:

How should we handle topical overlap?

I've asked a bunch of questions in chat about the goals for both ELL and Writers.SE in order to understand which place is most appropriate for specific questions. But the underlying question is when we should move questions between the sites:

  1. Never
  2. When a question is "more suited" for a sister site
  3. When a question is unsuited for EL&U but is suited for a sister site

I've been operating under the impression that (3) is our goal but since I personally tend to be very aggressive about what constitutes off-topic I do drift into (2) when I think it would benefit the overall relationship between EL&U, Writers and ELL and, therefore, the entire StackExchange network.

But this is mostly emergent behavior based on feedback from the community and watching how the other contributors react to questions. It wasn't really a conscious decision looking to achieve an explicit goal.

See also:

If basic English questions are off-topic at EL&U but are on-topic at ELL what should we do?

It seems correct to close a question as off-topic but how should we signal that we also think the question would be a good fit for ELL? The current close options don't leave a lot of wiggle room and I think this is where the "because it is better asked on ELL" phrase is coming from. We aren't actually trying to say it is off-topic because it is on-topic on ELL. We are just trying to give the user a path forward.

So... is the solution to just pick a better phrasing?

This question appears to be off-topic because it is trivial. If you need help with simple English questions, ask at ELL.

See also:


Minor edit: I have started adding links to other relevant meta posts. If you find one, feel free to add it to this post.

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    To answer your final point, you're right that there isn't currently a "migrate to ELL" option when closing. (That's because ELL is still in beta, and beta sites don't get migration paths.) But if you really think a question is truly excellent and should be migrated, you can flag it for migration. As for your suggested wording change, I think the idea behind it is good but that basic and trivial are too vague. (Also ELL isn't just about basic questions, but that's another discussion :)). I don't know exactly what is and isn't off-topic here, but I think something more specific than – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 19:43
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    basic is important to establish. For starters the OP would probably appreciate knowing why their question is off topic (how are basic and trivial defined? How could they improve?). But that's a discussion for you guys to have about your scope! :) I just also throw out a warning about suggesting ELL simply because a question is "easy" or "basic"; because we actually get some really hard questions, just from a learner's POV. At any rate, I appreciate your thought process here and the time you put into your response! :) – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 19:45
  • @WendiKidd I can list plenty of beta sites with migration paths. This is something else. – tchrist Oct 24 '13 at 19:57
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    @tchrist Outside of a path to their own meta, the only beta site that has outgoing migration paths is Writers. No sites have a migration path leading to a beta site. – Adam Lear Oct 24 '13 at 20:21
  • @WendiKidd: Yes, I agree. I deliberately left things vague because I didn't feel like opening that can of worms. – MrHen Oct 24 '13 at 20:33
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    Your suggested phrasing is perfect- from the point of view of an experienced ELU user. A newcomer who is in the process of learning English and is also uncertain about what is expected here (to whom, after all, the comment is addressed) is likely to find 'trivial' insulting and the second sentence patronising. It's not easy; how about "off-topic because the answer can be found in textbooks. If you find the standard explanation confusing, you could try our sister site ELL"? – TimLymington Oct 24 '13 at 21:08
  • @TimLymington: Yeah, it was a bit tongue-in-cheek and not a serious suggestion. – MrHen Oct 24 '13 at 21:14
  • Also, +1 for "how do we signal that we also think the question would fit at ELL?" Unless/until the system provides a way of signalling the two things separately, using the closevote comment for the 'wrong' purpose is the least bad option. – TimLymington Oct 24 '13 at 21:15
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    @TimLymington Perhaps I misunderstand, but if the question fits on ELU but could also work on ELL, why is there a reason to say anything? (And if the reason is "just so they know ELL exists for the future" then doesn't just a regular comment work for that?) – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 21:25
  • @WendiKidd: I think the real problem is when we both (a) think it is off-topic on EL&U and (b) think it is on-topic for ELL. – MrHen Oct 24 '13 at 21:27
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    @MrHen Yeah, that makes sense. So I think your suggested comment works, replacing trivial with a specific reason why the Q is off topic. I'm not saying you shouldn't also suggest ELL in the comment, just that it should have a clear OT reason also :) – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 21:29
  • @Wendi: I meant (and took MrHen to mean) "I think this is off-topic because you could look it up. I think, however, it might fit nicely on ELL." Anyone who does feel that way currently has no good way to indicate as much - except by filling in the blank because it would fit better on ELL, which is where we came in. – TimLymington Oct 24 '13 at 21:31
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    @TimLymington Hmm, and here's where I think the misunderstanding might lie. This is a different issue, so I wasn't going to bring it up here, but there are also sometimes questions where people suggest the OP try ELL where I wouldn't want them to. If they could just look it up, it doesn't belong on ELL either (we have a specific close reason for that.) We require some research effort too! OP can still be confused after the research, but we do want them to demonstrate it. So if the only reason is lack of research, a comment probably isn't necessary at all. Not sure if I'm making sense though! – WendiKidd Oct 24 '13 at 21:34
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    @WendiKidd: No, you are making sense. We close most of the dictionary style questions as General Reference and most of the basic grammar questions with a comment about ELL but this is just how it happened to evolve. I don't think it was explicitly suggested anywhere. – MrHen Oct 24 '13 at 21:49
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I think your question is just another symptom of the problem that nobody seems to be able to pinpoint the precise difference between ELL and ELU in user-friendly, readily-understandable terms.

This question is off-topic because it's too basic/trivial/(your term here). Try ELL instead.

This question is off-topic because this site is only for really advanced/academic/esoteric/(your term here) users of English. Try ELL instead.

Sure you could spruce up the language a bit, but in essence I think that's what people are getting at. And as an uninformed reader, potentially new to ELU or SE as a whole, it would be hard not to take offense and/or feel like a dummy.

I can only speak for myself, but that's not the impression I want to leave people with. So while "this question is off-topic because it belongs on ELL" is not technically correct, I see it as a reasonable compromise until the more fundamental problem of site definitions is addressed.

  • But if ELL didn't exist, what would you say when you closed the question? – WendiKidd Oct 28 '13 at 1:01
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    @WendiKidd - Prior to ELL existing, those sorts of questions would've been closed as "General Reference", which was really just a different way of saying the same "too basic/not academic enough/etc." reasons I mentioned. ELL was created in large part to give those sorts of questions a happy home. – Lynn Oct 28 '13 at 1:10
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    "Ell was created in large part to give those sorts of questions a happy home." And therein lies the rub. This is just my impression, but while active on ELU a while back, I felt that some (by no means all) people were looking for an excuse to close some, shall we say, "simpler" questions that, given a relatively low volume of questions, others were happy to answer. Some of the former were vocal in favour of ELL, because it provided that excuse. I can see the point of those simple questions "polluting" a site with high standards, but I can also see the side that considers this to be elitist. – Amos M. Carpenter Oct 30 '13 at 10:44
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    @aaamos - Yeah, I was trying to avoid the whole ELL vs ELU debate, because it's been covered thoroughly in other threads. But as long as the debate continues, and the distinction is not clearly communicated, I think it's difficult to pinpoint a close reason beyond: "This is closed because it is the sort of question that the community decided should be on this other site over here." – Lynn Oct 31 '13 at 1:52
  • @aaamos - RE: "a relatively low volume of questions [that] others were happy to answer..." And therein lies the rub. It wasn't a low volume of questions; on some days, it seemed more than half. (ELL has been "open" for less than a year and it already has over 3500 questions). I haven't figured out how the best way to word it, either, but the gist is that if it's only a question because you don't understand English very well – yet for most native speakers, it would be obvious and intuitive – it's probably better to ask on ELL. – J.R. Nov 1 '13 at 18:55
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    (cont.) I’ve enjoyed helping users who were curious about a good way to say that a light bulb burned out, when to say ‘pee’ vs ‘piss’, and whether one could say, "I took a picture of cow." These are legitimate questions asked by intelligent people pointing out interesting nuances of English. But I can see how ELUers would not want to see ELU inundated with such trivial questions, and I don’t think that makes them “elitist” – not in a negative sense. – J.R. Nov 1 '13 at 18:57
  • @J.R.: You're misquoting/misunderstanding me there. The "relatively low volume" was ELU, compared with, say, stackoverflow or superuser. Also, please take my disclaimers (e.g. "some (by no means all) people", "just my impression") into account instead of feeling like you need to give a counterexample :-). I'm not disagreeing that there were trivial questions, but that sometimes, questions of "intermediate difficulty" to which a majority of native speakers would likely not have known the answer were snubbed as not being of ELU standard (though the content could/should have been salvaged). – Amos M. Carpenter Nov 4 '13 at 5:40
  • @aaamos - Fair enough; thanks for the clarification. – J.R. Nov 4 '13 at 9:04
3

I can happen though. For instance, this question about the TOEFL is off-topic on ELU, but probably not on ELL. It has nothing whatsoever to do with using English, but rather a lot to do with learning English.

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    I disagree. It has no more to do with learning or using English than a question about the AP Calculus exam has to do with mathematics, which I wouldn't expect Math.SE to entertain. – choster Nov 7 '13 at 15:38
  • This sort of question gets closed on ELL too. – snailcar Apr 22 '14 at 14:09
1

You are exactly right. Questions should be judged as on-topic or not depending on whether it is on topic on the site in question. If - and only if - it already isn't on topic, then it can be considered whether it would be on topic elsewhere.

I tried to find a general StackExchange reference for this but I couldn't.

However, the Area 51 FAQ does say:

When voting, focus on your site
Don't worry about whether a question might be asked on another site. Your goal is to make the best possible site for this community.

If that's what we're encouraged to do when creating example questions for proposed future sites, I can't see why it wouldn't still apply to a graduated site.

It seems to me there are two situations covered by your case.

1. Questions which would technically be on-topic at ELU but would fit better on ELL.

They should be left on ELU if they're on-topic at ELU. Possibly if they would fit better on ELL then a comment could be added along the lines of:

Hi, this is a great question and thanks for asking it! Just so you're aware, we do have a specialist site for English Language Learners that you might find more suitable for explaining basic grammatical differences like these. Your question is fine here, though, I'm just letting you know about the other site in case it helps you in future :)

(Tailor at will.)

2. Questions which are indeed off-topic but "fits better at ELL" is being used as a close reason

It's entirely possible that some of the questions are off-topic but the ELL excuse is being used as a filler reason.

If it's actually off-topic, there will by definition be a reason for it being off-topic and that is the reason that should be given instead of "it would be a better fit at ELL".

-5
  1. This is an internet site. It is not possible to 'fill' it or 'use up all the space' (unless a serious spam problem develops). So I cannot see the necessity of deleting any questions (or moving them). The site is fully searchable, by both its internal tools and Google. A 'dumb question' might be exactly the same question someone else wants answered, and they can find it with Google. If people don't like a particular question, they can ignore it. There is no territory on the internet. Unfortunately, many internet users feel compelled to battle over 'territory' regardless.

  2. A textbook--even an online one--does have limited space. A short textbook will attempt to give a simple answer to a particular question. A longer one will acknowledge more complexity. And an academic paper--in linguistics, say--will tackle the difficult details of an issue in a way a textbook never could. There is probably no such thing as a complete answer to any question about language. There are always twists, exceptions, differences in usage--even if we restrict ourselves to so-called 'standard' English. Hence the usefulness of a site like this. That usefulness is severely impacted (if people will accept that as a verb) by people appointing themselves as 'editors' and 'guardians' of the site. I think the mere fact that people plainly feel uncomfortable and intimidated by the behaviour of others here is indicative of that.

This site is not the private territory of a few people with a Dirty-Harry-like compulsion to 'clean up the streets'. And as far as 'doing research' is concerned, almost any statement you find in textbooks or online is incomplete or challengeable, and many are simply wrong. I have been told off several times on this site for relying upon Part Of Speech listings in dictionaries (I think one statement was on the lines of 'never use dictionaries for POS. That's not what they're for').

Certain people are approaching this site as though it was a civic centre or something. It's not--it's a rapidly-widening puddle, nice and warm and muddy, slippery at the edges and deep and a little frightening in the middle. Like language. Attempts to drain and clarify the puddle--or divert it to another site--are doomed. And also completely unnecessary, egotistical, and aggravating for other users.

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    It won't matter if this site has answers to every possible language question if no-one can find the answer to a specific question they have because it is obscured by noise and answers are spread across different instances of the same question phrased slightly differently. Some clean-up is absolutely necessary to keep SE sites useful. I do think some in the EL&U community are far too focused on getting rid of questions instead of salvaging them, but I don't think that wagging your finger in their general direction is particularly constructive. – ColleenV Jul 18 '16 at 12:04
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    I agree with ColleenV. The reason for closure is not to get rid of questions that people "don't like." Rather, a question should be closed if it is unclear, or a duplicate, or if it is fully answered by a respectable dictionary. Regarding that last point: if you think the answer you've found in a dictionary is incomplete or wrong, by all means ask about it here! But please cite the dictionary entry and explain why you're skeptical of what it says. That's courteous to the people trying to answer your post because it lets them know where you're coming from and what kind of answer you want. – sumelic Jul 18 '16 at 15:13
  • The site is completely searchable, as I said, by Google or other means. There are already thousands of posts on here, are people really going to browse randomly? The far bigger issue is of whether people can trust the answers they find, or if they are inaccurate or misleading. That's where the 'crowd wisdom' concept comes in. At the very least, if an argument develops, people know there are grounds for contention. But for people to 'police' a site has the effect of imposing their ideas on everyone else. That's totally contrary to the concept of sites like this. – Dunsanist Jul 20 '16 at 12:47

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