I'm involved in a few StackExchange sites and moderate one not on the StackExchange platform.

I find the moderation on this particular site to be over-eager.

I know each SE community has its own norms and culture but of the four questions I've asked on here, three have been closed. One or two had reasonable cases for being closed, perhaps, but ...

... my most recent question:

Are British English conventions in decline? [on hold]

... has been put on hold as being opinion-based, despite the question having (always) had this on the second line:

In particular, I'm looking for the results of systematic studies on the topic or of strong evidence for a decline/lack of decline of British English usage (for example, the decline of a few key conventions over the past 5, 10 or 20 years).

This in contrast to the reason for closing:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

(EDIT: To clarify, the question was closed by means of closed votes, not by moderators. When I talk about "overeager moderation", I refer not only to the actions of moderators, but to the use of any powers of moderation.)

Maybe my questions have not been suitable for the site or something, but with the current moderation:

  1. I'm less inclined to ask further questions because they'll probably be closed.
  2. I'm not precisely sure why my questions aren't suitable, meaning I cannot improve for next time.

As a result, I'm discouraged from using the site and I assume I'm not alone in this.

I understand very well the reason why certain questions need to be closed, and I understand the various entailments of the broken windows theory, but in my view, the moderation of this site is overeager.

Specifically: could someone justify why my question above was put on hold as "primarily opinion-based".

More generally (and subjectively): is the current "level" of moderation healthy for the site?

EDIT: This is closely related to this meta-question.

  • 3
    One: I agree that your question should be taken as not opinion based (though the title certainly leads in that direction and 'decline' is pretty tendentious (did you mean just plain change?)). Two: I find the question very interesting though I think 20 years is a bit too short to separate the signal from the noise if there is any. Three: the question is a bit broad; are you thinking vocab? phonology? You know I have lots of ideas about your question but they all tend to opinion. In the end, it's not that it's a bad question, just sadly not a good fit for the SE way (QA with justifiable answer) – Mitch Jan 27 '14 at 16:39
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    I've reopened the question, since I don't see how we could construct it as primarily opinion-based (although it is possible to answer the question with opinion rather than meaningful evidence, that is true for practically any question). That said, of your other two closed questions, I think the closures are justified. – waiwai933 Jan 27 '14 at 19:52
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    Was the question closed by a moderator, or by five close votes? If the latter, it seems a bit unfair to deem the site "overmoderated" based on such a small sample size of questions. Also, it's worth remembering that the reasons for closure are typically selected from a menu where people often choose whichever prewritten answer seems to fit best. Therefore, the reason specified in the close message isn't always an exact description of why the closevoters thought the question wasn't a good fit for this site. Just a thought. – J.R. Jan 27 '14 at 20:47
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    Mitch, I agree with most of what you say but I disagree that its not a good fit for SE. It requires some level of interpretation, sure, but I think it's a clear question with clear criteria for a good answer. waiwai933, thanks for reopening the question! J.R., I believe the closure was by votes and you raise a fair point. Perhaps it is the close-voters that were (imo) over-eager in this case. But if the reason for closing isn't in the list of criteria ... if none of the criteria fit ... then surely that's a good sign that the question shouldn't be closed. – badroit Jan 27 '14 at 21:00
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    It has seemed clear to me for a while that there are some people with voting privileges at ELU who rarely if ever look beyond the title when voting to close a question. "'Are British English conventions in decline?' Opinion! Away with you, knave!" Either questioners should learn to write questions better or voters should ease off on the trigger finger a bit, and unfortunately I don't see either one happening any time soon. – phenry Jan 27 '14 at 23:30
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    I've just given the matter some though (having not seen the question until a few minutes ago), and cast my own closevote. I totally endorse Mitch's point that change over 20 years (or even twice that) is far too short to mean much. And what kind of shifts are we talking about? Spelling? Vocabulary? Semantics? Punctuation? Accent? Grammatical constructions? What about shifts in the opposite direction? Towards other languages? Surely it's a job for professional linguists. – FumbleFingers Jan 28 '14 at 0:57
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    See my comment on the question. But really, you are using the word 'decline' in the title and the substance of your question and that makes it opinion mongering. Change it to something unbiased and clearly state your hypothesis (to make it less prescriptive and broad). By the way, I didn't vote up or down, or vote to close; I hope there are reasonable answers. – Mitch Jan 28 '14 at 2:20
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    @FumbleFingers Isn't this a site we want to encourage professional linguists to come to? – Matt E. Эллен Jan 28 '14 at 14:35
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    @Matt: Obviously we need the likes of John Lawler, Nohat, Kosmonaut, etc. here. We also need people like Robusto and Barrie England (who aren't exactly professional linguists, but who certainly know their way around the English language). But although there's a certain amount of overlap between ELU and ELL / Linguistics, I just think that this particular question would be better addressed on the latter. – FumbleFingers Jan 28 '14 at 16:20
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    +1 Just for the over-eager moderators. Would +10 if I could. – Josh Jan 28 '14 at 18:07
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    I agree that the moderation here is somewhat zealous. I don't like the way perfectly reasonable but poorly-posed questions are slapped down. Moderators could often edit the questions to make them acceptable but closure seems the default behaviour. – user24964 Jan 29 '14 at 11:31
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    If questions can be edited to make them acceptable, then do that -- or suggest an edit. That might stave off closure, or prompt re-opening [which might need a request on Meta explaining things]. – Andrew Leach Jan 29 '14 at 16:28
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    @Mitch - I fail to see how the presence of the word "decline" makes the question any more opinion-based than asking whether global temperatures are on the rise. There are spellings and usage patterns that can be identified as being peculiar to British or Commonwealth English, and the prevalence of those shibboleths can be measured and quantified, and badroit is asking whether anyone has done exactly that. While it might be possible to quibble with some of the choices or methodologies employed by researchers, that's not what the "primarily opinion-based" close reason is for. – phenry Jan 29 '14 at 23:40
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    Moderation on Stack Exchange refers to very specific people, moderators. No moderator was involved in the closing of that question (which is now open anyway). Please do not use moderation to refer to regular 3k users, it is extremely confusing. @TheMathemagician: you are welcome to edit any question to make it acceptable. Then it will automatically enter the Reopen queue. – RegDwigнt Feb 1 '14 at 1:09
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    @RegDwigнt, your statement is ridiculous. All sites on StackExchange claim they are moderated by community, and now you say, no, please don't use the word "moderation"?? – VividD Feb 2 '14 at 22:10

I love this stack. I'm grateful for the answers people provide here, and I enjoy the culture. Personally, the claim that the moderation is 'overeager' is too vague for me to comment on it. But, I do wonder whether users would enjoy the stack more if the moderators closed duplicate questions less frequently than they currently do. I think one could make the argument that either, most answers on this stack involve repeating someone else's answer, or most answers on this stack are purely a matter of opinion. Most questions asked here are not answered with original research, so most answers here involve duplicating information. What does it matter if that information is on some old page of this stack or in an English usage book somewhere else? Taken to an extreme, one could argue we ought to close this stack and post a list of links to English usage texts.


I was one of the original closers. I can provide a small explanation of why I voted to close.

  • "Decline" was a problem word because there really isn't any way definitively measure this aside from measuring the population of countries that speak BrE -- and I highly doubt that was the intended question.
  • The primarly "opinion" I was reacting to is what actually constitutes "British English"; not whether it rose or declined. You offered two meager examples at the end of your post but aside from simply describing specific changes over the period this seems like a hopeless Question.
  • "Looking for studies" is also subjective in nature and, at its core, a request for resources. I personally find this kind of completely off-topic as Too Broad and Primarily Opinion Based.
  • The "looking for studies or strong evidence" clarification is actually unnecessary because a question of this nature would need to have that as part of the answer or it wouldn't be a good answer. The need to add such a clarification is a huge red flag and further evidence that this question is inappropriate for EL&U.
  • Your third paragraph extended the question even further which easily pushed this into Too Broad territory.

So I voted to close and the debate was between "Too Broad" or "Primarily Opinion Based" and I don't remember which I chose. The majority chose "Primarily Opinion Based", as we can see in the post history.

Furthermore, even after all the edits and suggestions the question has received no useful answers and is unlikely to ever get answered on this site in a satisfactory manner. I feel justified in the closure and would vote to close again. I do not think the question is reasonably answerable in its current state.

That being said, I completely sympathize that you did not receive any meaningful feedback on why the question was voted. You did all you could to protect yourself from getting closed as Primarily Opinion Based which is why I think the best course of action is now close it as Too Broad.

My opinion on how to avoid that is to pick a specific phrase or habit and ask about its usage. This avoids all of the problems I, personally, had with the post.

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