It is a long standing annoyance that SWRs (single word requests), though unusually highly trafficked, the source for rep for many people, and having a few catchy interesting questions, are poorly written and even moreso tend to attract poor quality answers which are often not to the expected standard of ELU. Just witness the many similar questions on the sideboard here that disparage SWRs.

We all complain about the weather but does anybody ever really do anything about it?

There are certainly lots of other sites that one could ask on. I'm wondering if, for the poorer expressed SWRs, we could suggest going to one of these sites.

There's ask.com, answers.yahoo.com, quora.com, but I think what would be more successful is https://www.reddit.com/r/whatstheword.

Is this an appropriate solution, vote to close (most, or rather the poor) SWRs with the redirect to the helpful link or just downvote/flag/VtC/comment to edit/clarify hope the stupid question will go away? I'm easy either way.

  • I just tested out recommending that site in a comment on the following question: Is there a word for a deep conversation with a formal friend? – herisson Jun 22 '16 at 20:59
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    I think ELU is a more attractive site for SWRs requests compared to the others you mention. And how do we classify poor vs good SWRs requests? As long as we officially have a dedicated SWR tag, on what grounds do we refuse to answer and suggest to turn to other sites? Are the alternative sites the "dustbins" of ELU? – meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/7784/… – user66974 Jun 22 '16 at 21:57
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    @Josh61: I didn't think ELU was a particularly good place for SWRs; what makes you describe it as an attractive site? As for your second point: we do have a tag for SWRs; that tag also has a tag wiki entry that describes many requirements for single-word-request questions here. Most new questions do not meet these requirements. (It makes sense that they wouldn't; it's not like people are forced to read the tag wiki before posting these questions, and they may not even find the tag. Maybe we should have a section on SWRs in the Help Center.) – herisson Jun 22 '16 at 22:06
  • @sumelic - ELU is attractive for SWR requests as for many other questions (linguistic ones included) :). – user66974 Jun 22 '16 at 22:08
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    I think that the SWR category should be eliminated, or at least provide a "stupid SWR" closing code of some sort. To many of the requests are for "a word that means the red dot inside the Target logo". – Hot Licks Jun 22 '16 at 23:29
  • It might be more to the point to have our own dustbin, er, subforum. SWR questions could be promoted to the main if they met current standards. There would be the option to have rep/privileges operate on a different scale. – Phil Sweet Jun 22 '16 at 23:32
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    @HotLicks I don't think it should be eliminated because saying it is not on topic would upend all logic. SWRs aren't bad; bad SWRs are bad (and a high proportion of SWRs are bad). I'm not suggesting to reroute or remove all SWRs, just to not send people away with nothing. – Mitch Jun 23 '16 at 0:04
  • ELU will be another ELL without SWR. I think questions about basic grammar are bigger annoyance. Still I don't understand what the expected standard is for ELU. Is there any? ELU with higher standard has never existed in reality. It has been ELL from the beginning and will continue to be ELL with a little stricter close reasons. – user140086 Jun 23 '16 at 1:15
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    @Mitch - I wouldn't eliminate "phrase request", but the requester would have no right do demand a single word. Asking for "a word that means X" is OK so long as one doesn't take "word" literally to mean a single word. That just gets silly. – Hot Licks Jun 23 '16 at 3:35
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    @Rathony That's been a criticism of ELU since the beginning. If I had an EL&U genie, my first wish would be to make the site invisible to anyone who is not a native speaker or fluent to the point of being indistinguishable from a native speaker (like you, NVZ, MariLou, Josh, Yochi, RegDwight etc are); any ESL students would be magically redirected to ELL. For my second wish, I'd make it impossible to ask a question without having put significant effort in yourself first. And my third wish would be for more people to be English language enthusiasts, to ask enough interesting questions. – Dan Bron Jun 23 '16 at 11:26
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    @DanBron If I had the same genie, (1) I would go back and prevent the birth of ELL. It was a mistake. ELU should have been created, not ELL (2) I would ask those people who don't think ELU is ELL to set up another forum for themselves (linguist, etymologist, and English enthusiasts), (3) Merge ELL to ELU and let users answer any question they want. (4) Eliminate all close-reasons except for dictionary service, proof-reading and resource requests. Out of 72,000 questions, I think less than 5% qualify as ELU standard questions, if there is any. It's a sad fact, but we have to face the reality. – user140086 Jun 23 '16 at 13:45
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    @DanBron If you look at the first 100 or 200 questions, you won't doubt ELU started as a general reference Q&A site. If you read 100 recent questions, it is still ELL. Despite the fact that there is ELL, we are swamped with learners' questions. Is closing or migrating it to ELL the only option available to us? I don't think so. Even if they might read depressing, there are methods that we can employ to make it less depressing. But first of all, we ALL have to admit that we have been mistaken and we have been dreaming about Utopia that can never be realized. ELU would not survive private beta. – user140086 Jun 23 '16 at 15:45
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    @Rathony - I'm not sure that ELU would be a better place if all your interesting suggestions were implemented. My impression is that, after all, it all comes down to good questions which would generate good and productive answers. But good questions are hard to come by and require intellective efforts, something that the more experienced users could/should do, as hoped for here : meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/7205/… – user66974 Jun 23 '16 at 18:10
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    Interesting discussino of old problems. Mostly I'm just suggesting a very particular way of dealing with poorly presented SWRs right now, namely say 'thank you but you might be better served at these other sites'. Is that reasonable or should we just treat the SWRs as usual (ask for clarification/edit or VtC as stupid)? – Mitch Jun 23 '16 at 23:55
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    @sumelic - I whole heartily agree that SWRs should be required to, "include information on how it will be used in order to be answered." Which seems to be going well (better than it was, right?). (at)OP - Anyone at anytime can "suggest going to one of these sites" in a comment. Not that I'd be on board with that. Where on SE does it ever tell you to go elsewhere? (before having exhausted all avenues available to them?) – Mazura Jun 27 '16 at 6:36

It is no secret that I hate SWRs. If we had one or two really good ones every week, I wouldn't mind so much, but we have bunches of crappy ones all the time. I like the idea of directing them to another place -- we generally try to help in comments even when a question is off-topic -- but I'm not sure if that will actually help or just make us feel better.

My suggestion is to keep aggressively closing the ones that don't meet the standard.

Also, if there are interesting ones that don't really fit here, don't forget that Puzzling.SE is a good site for some of these. They will take questions along the lines of "what's a single word with all five vowels in order" and things like that.

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    Is the fact that you, Cerberus and other users "hate" SWR questions relevant? That is a nice piece of personal information but how does it relate to how to deal with them? It appears that you and other users are prejudiced against SWR questions. I think they should be dealt with like any other kind of on-topic question here, and if they are off-topic for any reason they are no better and no worse that any other question. – user66974 Jun 24 '16 at 14:20
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    @Josh61 My suggested course of action is predicated on my prejudice against SWRs and community members should know that I'm biased before they decide whether or not they agree with me. – Kit Z. Fox Mod Jun 24 '16 at 14:38
  • Either we aren't being aggressive enough or we need better standards. Or both. – tchrist Mod Jul 29 '17 at 21:49

I hate SWRs, but many people like them. They don't really bother us, do they? How do we suffer by letting them be?

The only disadvantage I see is that people who mainly answer SWRs will become our highest-repped users, so that we will be represented by those specialised in what we consider to be outside the core of our side.

  • I'm one of those people who like SWRs. They're fun. Like a puzzle. You have to find the piece that fits juuuuust right. I don't get why they bug people. +1. – Dan Bron Jun 23 '16 at 21:03
  • So you're suggesting not just don't redirect them but don't discourage them, no change in behavior in treating SWRs? – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 1:19
  • Hmm... 1. What is the core of our side? An etymology question that can be readily answerable by just looking up EtymoOnline and OED or a grammar question that seems a little more complicated than questions on ELL? 2. When you write a full page answer for a grammar or etymology question, chances are you will end up with a few upvotes while if you write a one-liner with an easy link, 50 upvotes. Do we blame those who want to get 50 upvotes? Who is upvoting those questions and answers. 3. It was far easier for old users to get reputation points than new users. System is rigged, no more no less. – user140086 Jun 24 '16 at 5:32
  • 'Rigged'? Just because it is easier? As though it were explicitly constructed to 'benefit' the first users at the expense of the later ones? I don't think you're wrong that it may be easier for earlier users, but that doesn't make it rigged. Josh61 is doing OK for himself. Barrie England came, conquered, and went, and he was a late comer. Anyway, this is another discussion entirely, possibly for meta, possibly at the very core of design of SE. I wonder if its been discussed on meta. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 13:07
  • @Mitch Look at the number of upvotes in the linked question and answers. english.stackexchange.com/questions/152/… Will I ever have this kind of opportunity to get such a big number of votes? Look at this. english.stackexchange.com/questions/1016/…. They are all general reference questions. We don't have many questions to ask and answer now because ELU is closing it as general reference or duplicate. Even if we do, we don't get as many upvotes as before. Isn't it rigged? – user140086 Jun 24 '16 at 13:41
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    So this is all about you wanting a home run answer but 'the man' is holding you back? 'Rigged' means someone is intentionally keeping you down. No one is doing that. Don't blame the sun for not having anything new under it. Answer an SWR well (or quickly! that's the best strategy). – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 16:35
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    @Mitch No, it is all about a user like you who thinks he knows something about ELU, but doesn't. What the hell is reputation point for? Old users answered a lot of general reference questions. You have to admit that. New users don't have general reference questions to answer. If they answer them, they will receive a downvote instead of upvote. It is really absurd talking about reputation points on ELU. Mitch. Unless you insist users should respect you because you have XX reputation points, shall we stop talking about useless and meaningless numbers? Nobody is free from criticism on ELU. – user140086 Jun 24 '16 at 18:29

I say it as shouldn't, but I'm not convinced the noisiness of SWRs is worth keeping around. (On ELL or here.) It's difficult to make them anything more than passing entertainment, because getting useful patterns out is tricky when you have something so specific, and getting anyone who really needs those patterns is even harder given the nature of the questions. It's almost like wordsmithing ad copy.

In particular, out of the top 50 tags, it has one of the lowest percentages of late upvotes (1 week+) (namely, 15%), so it's not giving us nearly as much long-term benefit as, say, (at 41%), only cheap, quick amusement. (Several of the others at the bottom are the other [*-request] tags. They are even worse.)

That's leaving out the unfortunate effect of allowing low-quality answers that don't actually try to explain anything to get 10 or 20 or 50 upvotes, just because their terse recommendations seem to fit well. Not only does this promote noise directly, it also has an effect on morale on answerers that try to do a better job. (Whether it also encourages more bad questions I don't know.)

So I'd say we should just point them somewhere else that's dedicated to less-profitable endeavors, such as helping individuals or sharing funny things.

  • I'd forgotten that SEDE is messing up its links these days, so the first revision went to SO for no good reason. – Nathan Tuggy Jun 24 '16 at 0:43
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    'LIke wordsmithing ad copy' - yes, they often have the annoying feel that ELU is being used as lazy-thesaurus for writing. But that's not a good reason for dumping them altogether. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 1:16
  • This reasoning is exactly why I wouldn't want SWRs shunted to ELL. They're trying to actually learn stuff in there; leave them alone. – Mazura Jun 27 '16 at 1:13
  • @Mazura: ... well, yeah? Neither the question nor this answer at all recommend pointing them to ELL. That would be stupid. So I appreciate your violent agreement! – Nathan Tuggy Jun 27 '16 at 3:32

Redirecting doesn't always work as well as we expect. They don't care

The most active redirecting service we are providing is for our sister site, English Language Learners (ELL). If it's possible, I'd like to see some statistics that show how many questioners go to ELL when redirected with a comment, "you sound like you are a learner. You belong on ELL, not here". I believe the figure would be dismal because if they had visited ELL thanks to the comment and migration, ELL would be swamped with new learners' questions. It is not.

Then, why would vast majority of learners not go to ELL to post a question when redirected? It is just a guess, but probably they don't like Stack Exchange format. They want just a quick fix and they don't care which question belongs to which site. They just need an immediate answer and there are other sites which can give them what they want.

I don't think we need to make an effort to redirect SWRs to other sites. They are capable of searching other sites. They don't care whether we close their questions or downvote them. All they care about is a quick reply and practicing English by interacting with native English speakers.

We have to ask questioners of poorer expressed SWRs to include research efforts, example sentences and context. If they don't respond, we just close it. They will never come back and we know that.

There is no other solution to poor questions than (1) commenting to encourage editing them to be on-topic and (2) closing them as soon as possible so that it won't attract poor-quality answers from new users.

Question like A single word for “someone who readily takes responsibility/new tasks” and What's a good word for a lack of concentration? should be closed immediately. They are just low-quality questions without an example sentence or context.

  • OK, I see your point that redirecting doesn't seem to work. I just thought the suggestion of more sites would be one extra tool for them. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 13:00
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    Why bother? You seem to want to get rid of those people entirely. I'd like to help them. We can win-win by sending somewhere else that will help them. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 13:09
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    I think you do care (look at all the energy you're expending on this). It just looks bad to always be telling newcomers 'you suck' (even if they actually do). – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 13:12
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    Accusing? Every? No, I was saying that's how it feels when you come to a new place and the existing users downvote and close vote immediately because the new person didn't follow the club's rules; the newcomer feels like the people already there just said 'you suck. go away'. Anyway, I'm offering a possible (possibly poor) lo energy solution and you seem to be spending a lot of time arguing that we shouldn't spend time on it at all. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 13:38
  • Learning is like dying a little, just having multiple little thoughts die instead of killing off the whole hog. I just want to fatten up the hog a little more. Trigger warning/spoiler alert: non-halal/kosher remark. – Mitch Jun 24 '16 at 16:39
  • If they don't like SE's format, I don't understand why redirecting them away from SE entirely — which this question suggests — would not work at least somewhat better than redirecting them to ELL. – Nathan Tuggy Jun 27 '16 at 3:36
  • @NathanTuggy I am not saying it won't work entirely. I am suggesting we just close them and forget about them. – user140086 Jun 27 '16 at 4:42

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