EL&U questions are spiraling out of control, and we get so many of them every day!

People are always asking about comma placement, whether it's who-or-whom, where the apostrophe goes with a name ending in "s", if an inexplicable combination of never-before-put-together words is a commonly used idiom or saying, the definition of words they can't bother to look up in a dictionary, and complaints about badly written sentences we have absolutely no control over. Worse yet are complaints about reasonably written sentences that people think are badly written (like, "Who are you, sir, may I ask?" <- Have you ever seen this type of question?)

How can we make this site finally appear sufficiently intimidating to passers-by such that an end can be put to this kind of nonsense? Clearly our tour and help section are not intimidating enough.

Is a permanent banner threatening deletion of particular kinds of questions on contact reasonable? Should our tour and help section contain only obscure polysyllabic elements of speech? If these are not possible, what else might we do?

Edited to add: since this question appeared, these questions appeared on the main site: https://english.stackexchange.com/q/294276/58761, https://english.stackexchange.com/q/294271/58761 (Thank you, @Andrew Leach), and https://english.stackexchange.com/q/294273/58761. sigh

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    What about an "antechamber", presided over by mods, which filters, gives way or rejects questions before they are posted on main? – user66974 Dec 16 '15 at 10:02
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    @Josh61 - I like that a lot! But I like mods, too. :-( – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '15 at 10:03
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    That might work, but I think not just mods: that could be a 30k privilege. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 10:03
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    Mods ranks might be reinforced for that purpose, or based on high rep users. Any "threatening" banner might look unwelcoming and be misuderstood by new users. – user66974 Dec 16 '15 at 10:04
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    @AndrewLeach - Oooh, now I'm getting my hopes up! – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '15 at 10:04
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    That question, which you allude to in the first para, now has a total of seven downvotes. I think the message is clear enough, and frankly the OP did not come across as being arrogant or presumptuous in the slightest. Misguided perhaps; personally, I find the grammatically correct sentence to be dated and stuffy, which would have confirmed her impression that something was odd. BTW I upvoted your post, because I agree something must be done, if the site can gain a reputation for being demanding/exacting, it might improve everyone's experience, but let's not get over zealous in the process. – Mari-Lou A Dec 16 '15 at 11:40
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    1. Change the name of the site. (Maybe "Advanced EL&U?) 2. Show a pop-up message with brief description to the first-time users before asking or answering (that they can close). 3. Show a warning message to the first-time users, reminding them if they included research and clear context when they click "submit". 4. Also, I feel like we need more interaction from mods and top users but it is people factor. /// Sounds too strict? Not sure. But it might work. Maybe Stackexchange likes the traffic on this site... – 0.. Dec 16 '15 at 16:17
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    @ermanen Could you make that into an answer at some stage? I'd be interested in what more "interaction" you feel the moderators could do. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 19:13
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    @JonyAgarwal Who says ELL is "less" than ELU? It's simply not true, the users on that site do a damn fine job, answering questions on that site is not easy, because there the OP's often want/demand/need a good grammar-based answer, and writing those types of answers is never easy. – Mari-Lou A Dec 17 '15 at 10:54
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    @JonyAgarwal by "good grammar-based", that was a clumsy expression I agree—not the clearest, I mean to say that answers have to explain the grammar. I'm saying an English native speaker who has never picked up a grammar book in their life is not the best person, from a learner's point of view, to ask help/guidance from. I think EL&U is different in that respect, it shouldn't be a site that caters for basic English language questions, it should be a site where competant speakers can ask about the finer, trickier aspects of the language. The reality is, of course, quite different. – Mari-Lou A Dec 17 '15 at 12:31
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    @JonyAgarwal Makes a fine point. If ELU did change its intake filter to really be Etymology and Linguistics I, for one, would be forced to abandon ship as these are subjects I know nothing about! :) I do enjoy dipping my toe in and also answering questions that fit between that extreme on the one hand and ELL on the other hand- But I am aware those are not the primary content requirement for the site... – Marv Mills Dec 17 '15 at 16:43
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    @JonyAgarwal no, perhaps I'm not making myself clear. You suggested that users had to earn a minimum threshold on ELL before they could join EL&U. (How about we do not let people join EL&U unless they earn a threshold reputation in ELL?) I'm saying that many native speakers who speak flawless English would not be able to explain the grammar behind some rules. They instinctively know what sounds "right", and what sounds "right" is 99% of the time grammatical, but they'll probably be at a loss to explain it. – Mari-Lou A Dec 17 '15 at 17:45
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    @Jony Agarwal: Competent speakers get to that state by paying close attention to what people actually say (and the contexts in which they use certain forms), not by reading books on grammar. As our own John Lawler is constantly pointing out, much of what's written in most grammar books is wrong anyway. – FumbleFingers Dec 18 '15 at 22:45
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    I think a more effective strategy could be given if a relatively concrete downside to having those questions on the site could be identified, as well as theoretical improvements that would result if those questions were prohibited. – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 2:19
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    MathOverflow solves the exact same problem well by using close reasons and close votes liberally, and it works well. Is there a reason why it would not work here? – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 13:19

10 Answers 10


Changing the question length as Andrew Leach suggested might help some, but there are many long, bad questions and some short, good ones.

The problem for me is that when you come to a site named english.se and see a title "English Language and Usage", then questions about comma placement and who/whom seem entirely on-topic. And asking someone who doesn't have a great command of English to go do research (in English) on grammar seems, well... unhelpful.

So personally I favor the various suggestions for renaming the site that resurface now and again. The trouble seems to be reaching a consensus about exactly what to call it. I don't much care, as I think anything would be better than what we've got.

english.se could direct to ELL, which would help the learners who stumble here via Google. If a more advanced user ended up on ELL, they would presumably be savvy enough to go: "Hmm... I'm not a learner, I wonder if there's any other site..." A banner or notice in ELL's help center might also help direct those people here.

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    Yes. I suggested just this at least eighteen months ago. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 16:33
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    @AndrewLeach Yes, it's been suggested multiple times and I've upvoted every one I've seen. Sadly, it hasn't ever gotten enough traction to become reality. – Lynn Dec 16 '15 at 16:53
  • If the site is renamed but ELL is not renamed, I claim that friction will be increased here as I believe "English is my first language, so ELL is not for me either" replies will become common. Do you feel this is an issue and if so, is this not just a slightly different form of the same original problem of having to explain something (just a different something in this case) over and over again on undesirable questions? – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 17:27
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    @JasonC - Personally I would rename them both and just have "English" and "Advanced English" (or whatever you want to call the other one.) I never liked the idea of having two sites in the first place, but I'm just trying to come up with a solution for the problem stated in this question. You can't have a site named something generic like "English L&U" and yet try to restrict it just to "linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts". – Lynn Dec 23 '15 at 20:45

In my humble opinion, the first action (and possibly least invasive and most bang for your buck) would be to change the name of the site.

It is a matter of continuous amusement to me that a site for learned discussion of the etymology and linguistics of the English language ironically failed to use that language effectively enough to describe the quintessential nature of the site.

"English Language and Usage" is virtually an explicit invitation to post exactly the kinds of question that are so discouraged here. If you changed it to reflect the actual content that is welcomed, such as "English Etymology and Linguistics" that would be sufficient to discourage most, if not all, of the simple questions.

Without taking this step then I imagine tens of contributors becoming bewildered on a daily basis why their questions about English Language and Usage are met with such negativity, and I have some sympathy for them.

  • It strikes me that the name of the site is considered, not only by you, responsible for attracting undesired, off-topic, low quality questions. ELU is not only about etymolgy and that name would probably turns away good on topic questions on common usage. – user66974 Dec 17 '15 at 13:52
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    Well, I was not intending to do the work of the entire community and research the best possible replacement name, mine is just an example of how a simple change would alter the simple understanding of the expected content from, effectively, "Everything about English" to "These specific areas of English", I have, however, altered my proposed replacement name to try and remove this area of confusion. – Marv Mills Dec 17 '15 at 13:55
  • If we want to change the name of the site, what is the procedure for doing that? Is it possible? – michael_timofeev Dec 17 '15 at 14:26
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    Changing the name of the site is extremely unlikely to be approved. It's been EL&U for 5 years. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 17 '15 at 16:06
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    A list of suggestions from different users, experienced and non, here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/5216/… and here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/4692/… (the idea is far from new!) – Mari-Lou A Dec 17 '15 at 18:03
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    Most etymology questions are bad because they don't show enough research. To focus so much on etymology we'd have to come up with very clear guidelines on which resources need to be consulted first. And how many of our users actually have more etymological expertise than the OED?? – curiousdannii Dec 18 '15 at 2:28
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    Question: If the site is renamed but ELL is not renamed, I claim that friction will be increased here as I believe "English is my first language, so ELL is not for me either" replies will become common. Do you feel this is an issue and if so, is this not just a slightly different form of the same original problem of having to explain something (just a different something in this case) over and over again on undesirable questions? – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 17:27

Since a prime requisite is evidence of research, an easily-implemented change would probably be to change the minimum-length restriction on questions. I don’t know what it is currently, but forcing questions to be at least 800 characters, or 200 words, or whatever, would mean that some effort has to be put into providing something meaningful.

Padding out a poor question to the right length will only exacerbate its poor quality, will probably trigger the SmokeDetector bot in Chat and will lead to closure [due to lack of research, probably] and deletion in short order.

Perhaps the notice “Your question is not long enough” could include a link to the Help on how to write a good question — which may need revising if this is thought useful — and possibly something like “If your English isn’t up to this, you might consider ELL.”

The limit (and deletion of questions which don't meet quality standards) will improve the shop window of current questions and hopefully seed a virtuous circle.

  • For example, the question Enquiry about superlatives has 87 words and 525 characters. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 10:31
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    That might help somehow, though the length of a question is not related to its quality or to being on topic. – user66974 Dec 16 '15 at 10:31
  • @Josh61 True, but this is likely to be an easily-implemented basic check which would either weed out or make more obvious the sort of question we don't really want. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 10:37
  • A question: whenever a question is posted, before it becomes visible on the site a short time elapses and it is usually posted with a couple of views. What happens in that short time? Whose views are those? – user66974 Dec 16 '15 at 11:46
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    @Josh61 The short time is probably the caching within your browser, and the views you see are from other users who saw it before you did. – Andrew Leach Dec 16 '15 at 11:47
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    Evidence of research is required on Math SE but a minimum length requirement would be a disaster. People tend not to bother reading long questions. It'd probably be different here of course. – Matt Samuel Dec 19 '15 at 15:10
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    A quick check of the top voted questions on ELU shows that 9 of the top 10 questions are under 70 words and 400 characters. (actually 11 of the top 12), and 3 of the top 10 are less than 30 words and 200 characters. – R.M. Dec 20 '15 at 19:33
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    @R.M. Votes alone is not a good measure, since the number is related to age. All of those questions are years old (and so have been around for a long time in which to garner votes), and that also means that criteria for assessing suitability may have changed in the meantime. Votes per day's existence would be a better measure, and it would probably need to be weighted inversely to age of vote in order to gauge current acceptability. – Andrew Leach Dec 20 '15 at 19:38

What can we do to make this site more intimidating work better, and be more like every other SE site?

I can only assume that the reason why the other sites, like Math, don't find this problem insurmountable, is because they have enough high-rep and invested users (who have enough close votes between them) not to run out of close votes before the work is done.

I've come across a few questions on ELU that were obvious crap, and was surprised to see no close votes on them. So then I went into chat and asked why. The answers were: not worth one of my precious close votes and I've used all of mine for today.

The user base (as it currently exists*) doesn't have a full enough tool box to combat the situation. I've never used all of mine and probably never will, but there are users here that do on a daily basis. If those people are willing to take out the trash, you'd better let 'em.

High rep users need more close votes.

Stack Exchange is intimidating enough already on the whole. You're asking how we can stop passersby from raining on the parade? You don't. You go get a bigger umbrella. Perhaps the rep required for the "close hammer" should be lowered. Or a sliding scale for what a particular user's close vote is worth. It just seems strange that all of a sudden, at whatever the rep is, you can solo close. Where's the middle ground?

Don't force it. Get a bigger hammer.

(noticeably absent in this discussion, is one of the users I quoted. They're probably of the opinion that this question will lead nowhere, your 'antechamber' as an affront to the SE model, and too busy closing crap; getting it done. IIRC this user din't really want more, though I believe they should be at their disposal.)

*: ELU is likely one of the sites, where the community is disproportionately uninterested in the back end of things. Where as the users of STEM sites might be much more into the 'meta'.

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    +1 for work better and bigger hammer. – user140086 Jan 10 '16 at 18:47
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    Glad someone crossed out "more intimidating". I haven't spent much time here the past year or so because it seems that every time I come back I find myself on the receiving end of a linguistic version of Professor Dolores Umbridge explaining to me how I could have been technically more correct than I already was and that's why I was downvoted. I think the site is doing a fine job of running off the peasants already; once they get through the gates and ask or answer their first question that is. Myself included. – KnightHawk Aug 15 '16 at 21:01

People are always asking about comma placement, whether it's who-or-whom, where the apostrophe goes with a name ending in "s"...

People do that because they need them and want this site to provide a quick/simple solution to their problems free of charge. How can we stop them from posting those questions? No way.

Now, let's take a look at the reality. While we are complaining about the fact that there are so many off-topic and sometimes ridiculous questions like this one without any context, What does "I want you to do me" mean?, how many active users are making their efforts to write quality answers and questions to prove that the site's quality is superior enough to be intimidating? Many of them are quite busy finding faults with other users' answers and commenting this and that.

If you have a better idea and explanation and if you think the posted answer is somehow wrong, just post your own answers. That's the way you could show new users to find that this site could be better than so many sites on the internet.

Most of new users don't even know what this site is all about. And I think about 90% of them don't even come back after posting their first question. They don't care and they would never be intimidated no matter what we do. What do they have to lose? Nothing!!! They don't even care to respond to a comment that is meant to guide them to write a better question.

They might feel they are mistreated with some arrogant comments by a few users and they might think, "It is not fair and it is not the only English site available in the world."

Some off-topic questions could be guided/made into good questions and have we made enough efforts to take it from the OP's point of view?

Also, I don't think it is a good idea to make it more intimidating. You can't stop people all over the world from posting an off-topic question with any intimidating comments or pop-ups. They will just come and go. If they like it, they will stay here.

With around 64 thousand questions already asked and those strict off-topic rules, I don't think there is much room for any excellent on-topic questions, especially grammar and idiom-related ones.

Conclusion: We should figure out the way we can show new users what type of questions is on-topic and welcome here with your own examples. I want to see some high-rep users lead new users by example.

Edit: No matter what we do, we can't stop this kind of question, “Did you were at home ? ” or “Were you at home?”

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    See this meta post for some of the issues with expecting high-rep users to "lead by example" by asking questions that are (a) not already answered here, (b) on-topic, and (c) not immediately answerable by doing research. As for answering questions, it's increasingly hard to find ones that are well-formed and on-topic enough to warrant an answer instead of a close-vote. – Lynn Dec 18 '15 at 19:21
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    Plus one for, No way. – Mazura Jan 10 '16 at 16:26
  • Oh, pleaze. We were talking on a different page, on a different "thread" and I wanted this to be a private discussion among two adults, so I moved the conversation here. Fewer prying eyes, et al. Oh, I can't wait for you to tell me that the next comment will be your last :) You really can't resist having the last word, can you? – Mari-Lou A Mar 17 '16 at 12:38
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    In case anyone (or mod) stumbles on this monologue, I suggested (not told) the user to delete his comments because we were discussing whether old questions, which are off topic today, should be deleted from the EL&U archives. A topic which is totally unrelated to this answer and the question poised by the OP. My suggestion was ignored, and taken for being Miss bossy boots. – Mari-Lou A Mar 18 '16 at 21:39

To put a crazy idea out there: all questions could start out closed and need to gather votes to be opened before they can be answered.

On most sites familiarity with the topic is enough to merit the right to answer a question. Occasionally you get incredibly basic questions (What is maths?) but usually people know a little, and that little is enough to ask a somewhat informed question. But unlike other topics, everyone on this site will be familiar with the topic, but most people's knowledge of it will be tacit rather than explicit.

Those who want their questions to be opened and then answered will have to show us they're not just using the site as an alternative to practising English with a friend or taking English classes, that they're not using this site as an alternative to a dictionary, or a thesaurus, etc.

I was originally going to suggest that this apply only to those below X rep, but you know what? This site is filled with users with thousands of rep with seemingly no understanding of the site's conventions and expectations of what makes a good question. Many top users routinely answer blatantly off-topic questions. Many refuse to vote on anything. Apply the standards to everyone. If this site is to improve then it needs to make hard choices.

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    I wouldn't say top users "refuse" to vote, I'd say that "some" choose not to, for whatever reason that might be. Casting votes is but one expression, they may contribute in other meaningful ways: posting consistently good questions on EL&U is contributing, answering questions which appeal to only their speciality is one, making suggestions in meta is another :) – Mari-Lou A Dec 18 '15 at 5:59
  • You are always so good at giving advice, but I still don't see you active on the ELU Q&A section, that's where real things happen. – user66974 Dec 18 '15 at 10:51
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    @Josh61 I have written 84 answers, which isn't nothing, and I'm number six for votes this year. I could write more answers maybe, but 99% of questions aren't worth answering, and half the ones that are get answered before I see them. And when I do write a detailed answer a short and arguably wrong (a verb with a prepositional phrase argument is intransitive??) answer from a basically non-editor/flagger/voter gets more votes than mine. So I don't exactly feel very encouraged to answer more... – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 1:37
  • You could contribute with questions, we need good, interesting questions that require research and experience. – user66974 Dec 19 '15 at 7:29
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  • Ok I understand, so few answers and no questions, but a lot of illuminating suggestions for this site. That's good! – user66974 Dec 19 '15 at 12:40
  • @Josh61 I wouldn't say I really have many good suggestions. I think the site is probably just too big to change in any really major way. So I'll keep going as I am now, reviewing, editing and voting on posts as they come my way, with the occasional answer if I think I can fill a void. – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 12:41


What every other site does about off-topic questions, for which mechanics for handling exist:

  • Update the help center for clarity.
  • Add an appropriate close reason.
  • Get community consensus, prepare a clear meta post or FAQ entry to link closees to if need be.
  • Use said close reason judiciously.
  • Recommend other appropriate sites, perhaps even in the close reason text itself. Use migration tools as needed.

Note that MathOverflow solves the exact same problem well enough by using close reasons and votes liberally.


  • Arbitrarily "make the site more intimidating".
  • Add "warning banners". No other SE site has these, because other strategies exist. If you can't keep those questions off the site using the same tried-and-true strategies and mechanics that every other site uses to stay healthy, you're doing it wrong. A link to a meta post describing the ELU vs. ELL difference, posted in a comment or displayed to a new user, is one reasonable approach.
  • Be negative, snarky, and angry right out of the gate. It's as easy to type "Sorry, this question is off topic here, you might want to check out ELL" as it is to type anything else then participate in the ensuing non-constructive argument.

This kind of stuff feels good but hurts a site in the long run.

As a bonus: Who knows? Maybe some of those ELL askers who found this to be a welcoming place despite asking inappropriate questions may one day master the language enough to come back here and contribute.


I will add here as I discover things:

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    I definetely agree with this answer (and definetely disagree with the question). In addition, provide complete canonical answers to the frequently asked grammatical questions. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 23 '15 at 16:54
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    While I generally agree with your "Do Not" list, I don't think the comparison to MathOverflow is entirely valid. MathOverflow is inherently more intimidating due to its name being clearly differentiated from the basic Math site (as many of us suggest making ELU). Also, MO does not appear to suffer from the same crushing tide of inappropriate questions. A glance at ELU's front page shows a depressing assortment of junk questions, most downvoted or teetering on the edge of closure. MO's, in contrast, looks useful! The community has done the things in your DO list, and it is not enough. – Lynn Dec 25 '15 at 9:22
  • @lynn Well, MO doesn't suffer from that same crushing tide because they have been able to solve the issue. Another thing is Google searches for math stack exchange yield Mathematics. This site will always be cursed to be the results of "English Stack Exchange", even if you change the name, unless the host name is changed. So that's a problem that is here but not on MO. Still, everybody wants to think their favorite site has unique problems but usually it doesn't. – Jason C Dec 25 '15 at 15:04
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    @Lynn Think about this: You say a quick glance at the front page shows junk questions teetering on the edge of closure. Why aren't they closed? Why are they teetering? That's the real problem you need to identify and solve. No proposed solutions in this thread will solve those issues. – Jason C Dec 25 '15 at 15:11
  • If every site on the SE network has this same problem, to this same degree, that's kind of depressing. I can't speak for everyone, but for me? I come here to read and answer interesting questions about English. I also try to be a good citizen and vote to close the junk ones. But when I have to spend 20 minutes sifting through nothing but junk, I get frustrated and go do something else. Perhaps you're right that none of the solutions here will help, but we have to try something and the things you've suggested have (IMHO) already been tried and failed. – Lynn Dec 25 '15 at 20:35
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    @Lynn Not exactly. Many sites on SE have faced similar problems and solved them, never by making the site more "intimidating", but instead by using the tools we have been given appropriately. That is the point here. And it's not the kind of thing you can fix and forget either. You have to persist and keep your guard up. If the community can't do that, if attempts fizzle out, that is a deeper social issue which should be the topic instead, and the community has a bigger problem than annoying questions. Be sure to bark up the right trees! Start talking to other site leaders for advice. – Jason C Dec 25 '15 at 21:15
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    I've tried to address Why aren't they closed in my answer; what I believe the real problem is: not enough close votes for the people willing to use them. – Mazura Jan 10 '16 at 16:10

I don't know how this site is governed, and who has the power to make changes. I'm guessing that the site (who on the site ?) can make minor changes, but can only recommend major changes to whoever owns (administers ?) the site.

The first step (TFS) in making any change is to find out if anyone is willing to spend time on it -- potentially serious time.

As a first task for that volunteer, I recommend writing up and presenting via Meta a brief history of changes that have already been made, and what the effect was.

For example, see phenry's comment under Tim Lymington's answer to Bad questions can lead to good answers. I followed phenry's links.

From those links, it seems like in late '12/early '13, the issue was that too many questions were being closed - 40%. What happened? Did the high rep users become more tolerant, and if so, why -- did they follow a consensus among the users that they should, or did they just, inexplicably, become more tolerant?

Did this lead to the influx of elementary and bad (two different things) questions the site now gets, or is there no connection? Where does the founding of ELL fit in? Are there other changes in attitude or policy that produced noticeable (measurable may be too much to hope for) changes in the nature of Qs and As.

I find it difficult to think seriously about making the site more intimidating without background information of the sort I just sketched and without knowing if any volunteers are going to step forward to do the work that an effective change in the site will require.

  • While some of those meta links show people asking "are we closing too many questions", I think the general tone of the answers was "no, we're getting too many crappy questions". While some disagree with this point, and various things have been suggested to alleviate the problem, it has never really stopped being an issue. Creating ELL was one attempt at providing a happy home to good questions that didn't belong here, but IMHO the results have been mixed. – Lynn Dec 19 '15 at 22:56
  • (split because the links were too long for 1 comment) It is interesting to contrast this meta post and this one to see how the wheel just keeps on turning. – Lynn Dec 19 '15 at 22:57

Let's change the name to

Word Suggestions and Grammaticality Judgements

After all, that's what 95% of the questions people ask here are for. Most people want to have some words suggested to them, and to know if their sentences are grammatical. Let's just make that perfectly clear for everyone else!

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    I think those are some of the kinds of questions that @medica wishes we could avoid. – Mitch Dec 18 '15 at 4:08
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    @Mitch Oh I know, this is more of a if-you-can't-beat-'em suggestion ;) – curiousdannii Dec 18 '15 at 5:14
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    I think your downvoters had a sense of humour failure ... :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 18 '15 at 14:02
  • @Araucaria - Au contraire , she may get a mask out of it. I thought it was hilarious. :) – anongoodnurse Dec 18 '15 at 20:02
  • @medica The ironic posts are twisting me into vaguely bemused knots. Are you one of CD's 3 downvoters? :D (that ultra smiley is because I don't know what anyone's doing :D - which is all ok, it's the festive season after all but I don't know what anyone means :D) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 18 '15 at 20:16
  • @Araucaria - Absolutely, I was one of her down voters, though I thought the answer quite amusing. I was trying to reward her with a hat! Bad things happen during Winterbash. ;) – anongoodnurse Dec 18 '15 at 21:26
  • @medica I'm a guy ;) And I don't like hats! >:( – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 1:44
  • @curiousdannii - My apologies! One more DV and you'll be "punished" with a hat, them. :( – anongoodnurse Dec 19 '15 at 3:06
  • @medica I don't actually mind them really, I just don't 'wear' them on my display pic. – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 3:11

It's puzzled me for a while that none of the SE sites have any sort of grading system for questions such as beginner/intermediate/expert or even easy/medium/difficult. I searched various meta sites and could not find a similar proposal, please correct me if I'm wrong.

My suggestion for EL&U would be for want of a better phrase 'A self-service triage system'. Upon asking a question the OP would have to choose one of the following options:

  • Beginner/Novice/Learner/Basic
  • Intermediate
  • Expert
  • Professional

Choosing the Beginner/Novice/Learner/Basic option would automatically migrate the question to ELL (The user would become a member of ELL if they are not already)
Leaving the more serious questions to EL&U, which is what most users seem to want?
To encourage the correct level selection an OP would lose a point if they select a higher category than their question actually is. No points if their question is upgraded. There will be 'grey' areas, so guidelines will have to written.

As a bolt-on 'Intermediate' questions would receive 4 points and answers 8 points; offset by 'Professional' questions receiving 6 points and answers 12 points. This could encourage a higher standard of question.

To implement a system such as this would take a lot of effort, including code changes, no radical change will ever be easy, it will depend on how much we want that change.
This meta is literary peppered with questions, answers and comments from users who want some sort of change, will this suggestion resolve everything? No. Is it in the right direction? Yes.

A similar system could be implemented immediately by using the 'Tag' system.

It's not exactly 'intimidating', just a suggestion.

Edit. Comparing EL&U with SO, EL&U seems to have a low ratio of regular users to questions asked. A badly written or researched question on SO receives the necessary corrective comments within minutes of being asked, followed by the requisite number of close votes, I know this from bitter experience! So for me to ask another question on SO is a little intimidating, unless of course I do the necessary research, word my question correctly, etc.
To improve this ratio we have to either increase the number of regular users (Lots of effort has been made in the past, 'Summer of Love' etc.) or reduce the number of questions.(Automate them out)
I suspect that some prospective new users are put off by the level of questions, so we are in effect giving ourselves a 'double kicking'.

  • Sounds reasonable to me. – michael_timofeev Dec 17 '15 at 12:20
  • What would be the difference between expert and professional? – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 1:46
  • @curiousdannii The category names and grading would be up to the community to decide, I used these names just as an example; but expert would probably include enthusiasts/detailed knowledge/advanced level and professionals speaks for itself. – 7caifyi Dec 19 '15 at 2:46
  • @Christopher I just don't see the value of so many grades. There seems to be three main grades at the moment: unresearched questions which get closed, word/phrase requests, which are uniformly worthless but remain on-topic, and the rare good questions which show research effort and are actually on-topic. There's no need to split those up into intermediate, expert and professional. If a question is really difficult then reward it with a bounty. – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 2:49
  • @curiousdannii as stated it was just an example, it would be up to the community to decide. – 7caifyi Dec 19 '15 at 2:51
  • @Christopher Sure, but unless you give us something to start with this proposal is just too vague. Give the community a first draft which they can then define. It's your proposal after all ;) – curiousdannii Dec 19 '15 at 2:54
  • I fear two potential issues with this: 1) If the asker is responsible for grading I can't see this being effective ("intermediate" / "expert" to a learner could very well be "basic" by the standards being discussed here), and 2) If the asker just wants their question answered, especially if they are new to the site, I can't see them being motivated to make a correct selection by just a few reputation points (a system which they probably wouldn't even understand to begin with if they don't know enough to know that their question isn't wanted here). – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 17:12
  • I.e. this relies on askers of these questions to understand and appreciate both this rating system and reputation despite not understanding that their question is more appropriate elsewhere. This does not seem feasible. – Jason C Dec 23 '15 at 17:13
  • FWIW: Somebody suggested a similar scheme on Unix & Linux, about six months after you posted this one. – Scott Jul 9 '18 at 4:54

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