Recently, a user brought up the issue of questions that could seemingly be answered by looking in a dictionary and the responses given to those questions.

Andrew Leach posted an answer that had a useful suggestion for improving this situation.

I think tinkering with the wording of the sidebar could help improve the quality of questions and also help users decide whether their question should be posted on ELL or ELU.

Currently it says this (subject to how we can lay it out in a post):

Is your question about using English?

We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed.

  • Provide details.

  • Share your research.

If your question is about learning English, ask it on ELL instead.

If your question is about this website, ask it on meta instead.

visit the help center »
asking help »

The use of "learner" in ELL is unfortunate because I'm sure there are many people who think to themselves "I've been practicing English for 5 years. My question doesn't belong on the beginner's page." ELL is not a beginner's page. It seems that users with questions aren't going there first. I'm not sure why that is.

1) Can we collect some ideas for improving the sidebar?

2) If we all agree on wording changes, what are the appropriate next steps to suggest this as a change to the "authorities."

3) This might be a post that generates heavy comments on answers. To keep this neat and orderly, could people who post answers, take the appropriate comments and incorporate them into their answers, and could we delete our comments as we go? This will help the question and also keep moderators from having to delete comments, which could anger some.

4) Once we get an answer that has the most votes we can submit it.

  • 2
    Let's pretend I am a first time visitor. I read the title English Language & Usage what does this tell me? That the website is about the English language, and how to use English words, phrases, and expressions correctly. There is nothing in its title which tells me, a person who has a rudimentary knowledge of English, that there is an alternative website. There is nothing that tells me that my question is too basic for the site, so I ask my question to native speakers because I know (or hope) they will tell me immediately if my sentence is right or wrong.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 5, 2015 at 8:18
  • 5
    The "problem" lies with the site's name, its url address, english.stackexchange.com and the "problem" is that visitors see the website is populated by a good number of native speakers who are declared "experts" , why wouldn't they answer their short simple question? What? Someone says I have to read pages of tutorial before I can type out my simple question. I haven't the time, I'm at work now. [Or] I don't understand half of what it's saying, it's all in "sophisticated" English. What the hell, I'll post my question which I know is about the English language and its usage.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 5, 2015 at 8:28
  • @Mari-LouA I wonder how difficult it would be to have a small dialogue box appear before some asks a question. The box could contain a quick checklist of some sort to help people. Of course even with that there might still be "problem" questions but maybe reduced in number. Dec 5, 2015 at 8:55
  • 2
    I suggested changing the URLs around eighteen months ago.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 5, 2015 at 9:30
  • 1
    This is one experiment, I wont be doing any more english.stackexchange.com/questions/297561/… I scared the OP off :(
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2016 at 6:38
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I saw that...maybe he got busy and can't respond...weird question anyway...I suppose there's an answer, though. Jan 4, 2016 at 6:40

2 Answers 2


What suggestions would you make for improving the wording in the Question sidebar box?

The guidelines seem pretty good to me: clear, straightforward, and easy to follow. I'm pretty confident the guidelines have helped more than one newcomer to formulate a half-decent question.

In my opinion, the guidelines on the Ask Question page do not affect the influx of low quality questions that plague EL&U today. What concrete evidence do we have that newcomers are not helped by the instructions? What evidence do we have that suggest newcomers even read the list in the first place?

A case in point is the following question:

What does the expression "way to go champ" mean?

I found this expression in the internet and I would like to know its meaning

That's it. Nothing else was added. Nothing. Not even a link to show ‘where’ the user saw this phrase on the Internet.

It received two answers. But at least those answers aren't taken from Wikipedia, or The Phrase Finder. The users who posted their answers have drawn from their personal experience and deadrat's answer tells the newcomer that the phrase can also be used ironically; there are links, citations and a good explanation on its meaning. In short, it is an exemplary answer, for a question that has ignored all the guidelines and instructions that the site kindly provides.

The problem of low-quality questions

resurfaces every few months or so on meta. It is my understanding that English Language Learners was created specifically to deal with the increasing load of off-topic, general reference questions that was flooding EL&U back in 2011. There is nothing new under the sun.

Members who care and wish to keep the site healthy and strong have offered a multitude of proposals and fixes over the years:

  1. How should we handle users who generate consistently low-quality and off-topic questions? Feb 20 '11 (566 views)

  2. Basic questions are not so basic Jul 13 '11 (526 views)

  3. A look at question quality Jul 18 '11 (474 views)

  4. Single word requests, crosswords, and the fight against mediocrity Nov 15 '11 (1176 views)

  5. Do we need to write the better questions ourselves? Oct 20 '12 (345 views)

  6. Waning gap of acceptable questions Dec 6 '12 (677 views)

  7. Can we reverse the trend on low quality questions? Dec 27 '12 (114 views)

English Language Learners (Beta) is born on January 23, 2013

  1. Allow Questions to be Closed as Off-Topic and Migrated to ELL Feb 17 '13 (164 views)

  2. Excessive number of fundamental questions May 9 '13 (461 views)

  3. Bad questions can lead to good answers Feb 18 '14 (185 views)

  4. Has anyone thought about changing the name of this site? Apr 18 '14 (533 views)

  5. Is EL&U getting boring? I thought it was, but then . . May 7 '14 (306 views)

  6. Word for disrespecting eldest half-sister by referring to her husband as girly-girl-manly-boy though he's amused but the rest of the family isn't? May 8 '14 (1,689 views)

  7. A simple proposal towards improving question quality Jun 30 '14 (325 views)

  8. Declutter EL&U's "Newest" Page Sep 14 '14 (280 views)

  9. What kind of questions ARE we looking for here? Dec 29 '14 (515 views)

  10. "Are these sentences correct?"—Is a title like this enough reason to close a question?
    Mar 15 '15 (460 views)

  11. Is there anything we can do to get fewer off-topic questions? May 1 '15 (297 views)

September 10, 2015 ELL graduates

  1. Should we have a migration path to ELL? Sep 10 '15 (538 views)

  2. Could more questions from senior/experienced users benefit ELU? Oct 6 '15 (461 views)

  3. Rewriting the Question Box Sidebar Dec 5 '15 (120 views)

  4. What can we do to make this site more "intimidating"? Dec 19 '15 (579 views)

  5. How to save EL&U Dec 19 '15 (331 views)

  6. Proposal to protect old questions from LQA by low-rep users Dec 28 '15 (158 views)

  7. Does ELU Have Worse Questions Than Other Sites? Jan 02 '16

Has anyone discovered a way to encourage users to do some preliminary research before asking their questions?

If the more experienced among us cannot come up with good questions, because let’s face it, writing a good question on purpose is really really hard. Why would a newcomer be any different?

Furthermore, the emphasis on SE has always been on answers.

While we value good questions (and asking a great question is absolutely an art), we want to explicitly encourage people to provide the best possible answers. Without people interested in providing good answers, the questions are moot. We know that answers have more intrinsic value than questions, and the reputation balance should reflect that.

A new user posting an answer will be rewarded with 10 rep for every upvote, whereas a question will earn only 5 rep, and yet a downvote carries the same weight for answers and questions. This does not encourage nor help regular users to post “good” questions.

For convenience's sake, I'll repost my comment which seems to have drawn some consensus:

The "problem" lies with the site's name, its url address, english.stackexchange.com and the "problem" is that visitors see the website is populated by a good number of native speakers who are declared "experts", why wouldn't they answer their short simple question?

Newcomer: ‘What? Someone says I have to read pages of tutorial before I can type out my simple question. I haven't the time, I'm at work now.’ [Or] ‘I don't understand half of what it's saying, it's all in "sophisticated" English. I only need to know if this sentence is grammatically correct, what's wrong with that? Hell, I'll post my question which I know is about the English language and its usage.’

  • So is this answer saying "don't make any changes"?
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 7, 2015 at 10:54
  • No, I'm saying that users have come up with several suggestions and ideas over the years, and the one biggest hoped for solution, i.e the creation of ELL has not succeeded very well in lifting the quality of questions on EL&U. Users can read the different suggestions, nicely grouped together, on this post and see if any are worth taking further. I really don't think the guidelines on the Ask Question page can be further improved. Which coincidently was one of the suggestions made back in 2011 or 2012 (I forget), the original wording was indeed very spartan.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2015 at 10:59
  • Found it: meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/2193/44619
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2015 at 11:11
  • A list of names for the site here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/5216/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 17, 2015 at 18:01
  • What do you think of curiousdanii's idea? Jan 4, 2016 at 1:45
  • Do we know if newcomers see the box, or not? Do we know how many read it or not? Do we know if they understand the guidelines or not? If they read the sidebar box, does it help them? I think the only way to really know is to do some type of survey. Maybe moving the guidelines from the side box to the actual question body will make a difference, or maybe not. What happens once they begin typing in the body, will the guidelines move down or disappear?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2016 at 4:41
  • I believe @ermanem suggested this idea once, but nobody really supported it at the time.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4, 2016 at 4:44

Many people probably don't look at the side bar. Would it be possible to have some of the guidelines as a placeholder text in the question body box?

Here's a quick mockup of what I mean, but we'd want to have a thorough discussion of what it should say.

Image showing the new question page with a placeholder text in the question body


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