TL;DR Let's use the EL&U blog as our repository for canonical posts.

UPDATE: the site's blog was closed some time after this post was made (it has since been archived on Meta). The blog is therefore no longer available as a repository for anything. However, the proposal isn't dependent on a blog per se. I've retained references to the blog because some of the arguments depend on ease of access and on prior content in the blog. If the elements of the former blog can be migrated to, say, somewhere on the help pages, the arguments below would still hold. They would just refer to the help pages instead of the blog. Please read this post with that substitution in mind.


In a previous question, I raised the subject of canonical posts in passing. I'd now like to raise the subject on its own merits for discussion as a good way to address the issue of low-quality questions (LQQs) as well as a generally useful way to manage the information and meta-information spread around the ever-growing ELU site (questions, answers, forums, meta).


LQQs (see here and there) are often raised because the OP:

  • hasn't looked at the site rules and norms;
  • doesn't know where to find general references; or
  • has tried searching ELU but got lost.

This list isn't exhaustive, but I think the above (the first item alone!) accounts for a large chunk of LQQs. To vote to close (VTC) the questions sometimes feels cruel as these new visitors are simply finding their way around a site filled with nooks and crannies, and think that a Q&A site ought to entertain questions and answers that appear to them to be in the right ballpark. On the other hand, writing the same explanations over and over becomes tedious for the seasoned members.

Part of the problem is that information is spread out so much that even with the ELU search facility, it can be hard to find information you know you've seen before on ELU, let alone someone coming in fresh. Why is so-called Lit Crit so despised? Why isn't it enough to describe the single-word-request I'm after without putting it in a sentence? Why does "This is what I want and the word is called ___." satisfy that requirement - or does it? I can go on, but I trust I've made my point: the answers are already there, but it takes quite some determined looking sometimes to get it. If a visitor didn't know the answers were there, they might not even think to look.

I'm going to use the term canonical post here to mean an easily found, well-researched, well-written, well-mannered post that answers a basic question, be it about English, about ELU or about ELU's culture and norms.

Suggested Solution

The existing blog provides the functionality we need for canonical posts. There's even a chat room dedicated to the blogs.

One of the entries is You Could Look It Up. Having this post on tap means that we can now (actually, since 2012) simply link to it when we VTC questions for lack of research. If the VTC boilerplate linked to this post, all the better. Those voting to close don't need to type out the same boilerplate over and over again, while the newcomer gets to see an extensive post about the topic, complete with links to banks of general reference works for their perusal. This gives the dedicated answer-seeker the tools to do much of the research on their own. The only downside is that the tools may work so well that they don't return to EL&U to report their findings.

Interested bloggers could add similar entries for the other VTC reasons to provide the affected OPs with tools to redraft their (our) questions to a higher standard. I'm not sure what the process is for submitting and vetting blogs, but it ought to be fairly tough and rigorous. I'm sure the moderators would be happy to tell us on the ELU blog's chat room.

The list of blog entries can be expanded to provide canonical answers to common questions like those on back shifting. Issues like Lit Crit, once debated in full in ELUmeta or private chat rooms etc, can have the best of their pros and cons summarised together with caveats and exceptions, all neatly packaged as a blog, ready to be linked to when a wayward question arises. It's envisaged that blog entries would be revised over time, though the revision process would need to be as thorough as the original compilation of the entries.


Canonical posts offer a good way to increase the quality of ELU by making it easy for reviewers and others to quickly provide resources and information to question posters and answerers about the parts of ELU that are at the same time repetitive, essential, and (e.g. for VTC) call for tact. The existing ELU blog looks like a good repository for canonical posts.


The blog link could be made more prominent, but it is currently available from the StackExchange menu item next to chat and logout.

  • 4
    I understand the desire for canonical posts, but it just seems weird to suggest the blog for that. The blog (forgetting content entirely) has an entirely different mechanism for editing than the Q&A site; blog entries are very different functionally than a Q/A. Wouldn't a link in the FAQ to individual Qs on the main site serve to mark them as canonical and they would maintain their ease in editing and voting like regular Q/A's? Doing as you suggest would be like at the grocery store putting fresh vegetables in the soda and beer aisle.
    – Mitch
    Feb 10, 2016 at 16:27
  • 1
    Hi, Lawrence, a blog could be any grammar book (there are many free sites on the internet to look up for anything) or style guide which will help those Original Posters get their answers. However, under the circumstances where there are thousands of questions that are not related with English Language and Usage because they are so lazy and they don't bother to look up anythihg, I don't think this will solve our problem. We need to close them and ask them to look up anything available to them before they ask any question here.
    – user140086
    Feb 10, 2016 at 16:48
  • @Mitch Yes, FAQ is a great term for a canonical post repository. Is our called "help"? The blog has a chat room; is there an equivalent for the FAQ? I'm not insisting we use the blog. I saw some pickles there and thought we could do with more fresh veg :) . Canonical posts are different from regular Q&As - they're not requests for answers. Putting them into the regular Q&As would also be mixing categories. As considered opinion, they fit in nicely with our in-depth and thoughtful blog posts, but to have them at all is what I'm raising.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 1:45
  • Hi @Rathony, I recently pointed an OP politely to Puzzling.SE but their reply showed genuine ELU interest. I was composing an answer when they just deleted the question. I suspect we lost a potentially thoughtful ELU member that day. We have good posts strewn around that we can dig up (kudos to your efforts on that count, by the way), but it's too time consuming to deal with thoughtless questions properly. At the same time, building the ELU community can't happen by just closing posts - we also need the welcoming side. I'm suggesting that a canonical post repository can help with both.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:01
  • @Mitch typo on my part: Is ours called "help"?
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:03
  • @Lawrence I can't agree with you more on the point that we need the welcoming side. But most of the questions that need canonical posts for reference are basic questions with many references available on the internet. We have 66,093 questions asked up to now and I am not sure how your idea would work for those who belong on English Language Learners in the first place. I believe you read the recent discussions about the quality of questions on Meta and I don't think it is a good idea to answer low quality questions. Some members do answer those questions and we can't stop them. (cont...)
    – user140086
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:11
  • @Lawrence There were times when those answers were downvoted, but I don't see as many downvotes as before. The community seems to be changing and if English Language and Usage becomes Ellized (no difference from English Language Learners), whey do we need to keep the two different English sites? It is not an easy question and the community seems to be geared towards more leniency and tolerance for low-quality questions. I think canonical posts would be more suitable on English Language Learners than here.
    – user140086
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:13
  • @Rathony I think we will always see homework-style and ELL questions on ELU. But some of those visitors may have more to contribute (even if just on the question side) if they knew where to look. It's the difference between saying, "Your question's no good. Go look it up. End of story." and being able to quickly say, "Here's a bunch of places to look. Write back when you found something." We can't expect to get through to every LQQ poster, but if we get even a small percentage to use the material, we have a good chance of raising the standard of questions here. ...
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:26
  • @Rathony Regarding down-votes, the rep penalty on the down-voter could be a factor. It's like a slap on the wrist to down-vote a question, even if the people keep saying to down-vote LQQs. For ELL, I've voiced the opinion previously that it may be healthy to recombine them. I'm not pushing for it in this post, but giving people the tools to find out for themselves is one way to deal with simple / recurring Qs. Once they find out, they may have an incentive to share that with others in the position they once found themselves. Teach them to fish ... (Also, ELL already has canonical posts.)
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:34
  • @Rathony As for people answering LQQ, someone suggested it's a way to earn rep for newcomers. Dictionary / standard reference look-ups are supposedly off-topic, but many ELU questions can be answered by little more than that. The other extreme is Lit Crit. But there's a huge area in the middle that I think we can encourage if we are able to push the LQQ askers up a rung in quality with an easily-found repository of links to reference material, thoughtful articles, templates for how to ask single-word-requests, etc.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 11, 2016 at 8:45
  • 2
    @NVZ Yes, they've been discontinued, but blogs were still around when this question was posted.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 17, 2017 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Lawrence We do have the list at least, but it could be more visible. Jun 18, 2017 at 0:17
  • 2
    @NVZ This is why old questions should be checked before being bumped because someone goes on a tagging spree. Sad to see that someone sees fit to downvote this post when the OP posted a relevant question at the time.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 18, 2017 at 7:58
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question because blogs no longer exist. I do support everything else mentioned in it. It is a great idea.
    – NVZ Mod
    Jun 18, 2017 at 8:05
  • 2
    Your question about blog as repository has --sad but true-- reminded me of the now-infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository, which is yet another example of the curious, pesky word-associations that populate the overgrown fields of language and memory! Your points regarding the need for a repository of canonical questions and answers are, of course, relevant and deserving of more discussion here at meta. Jun 19, 2017 at 18:53


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .