Good afternoon friends,

First let me place this into some context


I am relatively new to ELU and have been enjoying the atmosphere here, the satisfaction that comes from helping someone that has a question and is seeking an answer, and also enjoying learning something new almost daily thanks to the wealth of knowledge and experience that surrounds these boards.

One of the aspects that attracted me to ELU was the non hierarchical nature of the setup. You answer questions, you either help people, in which case you gain recognition, or you do not in which case you stagnate. Seems like a fair exchange to me.

I am of a mind that likes to help. That is one of the reasons I am here. Frequently throughout the day you will see a question that looks a little something like this:

Question title: Can I use 'versatility' when referring to the trait of something that is versatile?

Can I use 'versatility' when referring to the trait of something that is versatile? Or is it versatile ability ?

Now this is a reasonably basic question granted. However it does pertain to how you use the English language. Does it show research effort? No.

I have a number of options when confronted with a question like this.

1) Ignore the question.
2) Give the person advice how they might improve their question.
3) Answer the question.
4) Answer the question and give the person advice about how they might improve the question.
5) Downvote the question.
6) Downvote the question and give the questioner advice as to how they might improve their question.

I have been inclined to simply answer the question. Why? Because I do not see the lack of research effort particularly as a sign of tardiness on the part of the questioner. For someone that is asking such a basic question, I find myself pondering just how capable they are to actually research the question they are asking. After all if they possessed that particular skillset, chances are they would have already solved their own question.

Do they really know how to use a dictionary properly? I very much doubt so. Sure they could recount a paragraph about 'what they have done' before they got to ELU to ask the question, but when we are dealing with a question as basic as this, does this really make all that much difference to their question?

There are of course other questions, on the spectrum from demonstrating absolutely no effort, and being barely comprehensible, to those that are perfectly written but lack some research. I have used the above example merely to illustrate the point.

I hope I have at least given you pause for thought, in terms of how a lack of research initiative might not necessarily be a reflection of a lack of effort on the part of the questioner.


From time to time, someone with more reputation than me decides they should educate me on the do's and don'ts of their vision for the site, and posts something along the lines of.. 'please do not answer this question. it lacks research effort' etc.

My initial reaction to this was it was rather ludicrous that someone should think that I would adjust my answering habits merely based on their own vision of how they would like the site to be run. Given I am educated well in the English language I was of the idea that I am essentially the same as everyone else as far my status here goes, and then there are moderators, who I view higher for obvious reasons in the scheme of things.

While I look with admiration at users with very high reputation scores, I do not correlate this with a superiority when it comes to the value of their own judgements about the site and mine. For instance if a moderator asked me to do something or told me they did not like the way I was behaving, I would instantly take that on board - out of respect for the station. When it comes to everybody else however, I see us all as one mass looking to help others, share wisdom amongst ourselves and generally enjoy the site.

I have however been thinking about this a bit more lately...

My question to the community is two fold, but they are linked questions, so I hope you allow me the liberty of asking them both here at the same time.

1) Do you think that we should refrain from answering people that post showing a lack of research effort when and I would say this is the crucial aspect their questions are exceedingly simplistic in nature? (implying I would say that they lack the capacity to properly research their own question).

2) Do you think you should change your posting behaviour based on what other members are writing on your posts?

I am putting this question to the community, because I am genuinely interested in what the community as a whole feels. I am under the impression that I keep bumping into a couple of 'die hard' crusaders in my answers that receive this type of attention, and the rest of the otherwise silent majority are of a like mind to myself. They just want to help people.

I am genuinely interested here, however, because it is the community aspect that obviously makes ELU what it is, and that has been integral to my experience here in the short time I have been here, so I would like to reflect the wishes of the saner consensus as much as I am able to in my activities on the site.

Thanks for your answers to these questions,

I am sure they will prove enlightening.

Edit: (lest my question should fall foul of the exact defects I am seeking to discuss)

I have made use of the 'what's meta' pages which was useful in deciding to post this question.

"Meta English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is the part of the site where users discuss the workings and policies of English Language"

and 'how do I ask a good question' here

I also explored the 'answering' section of help to check if there were any questions I should specifically not answer, but none are listed.


1 Answer 1


It is true that there is no explicit listing of questions which should not be answered. But there is an implicit list: questions that should be closed.

Questions are closed for a number of reasons, but the common theme is that they are not welcome here in their current form: they don't show any research; they are simply proof-reading requests which don't highlight a particular, identified, problem; they don't contain enough information with which to formulate an answer, and so on.

Ideally, closable questions should not be answered: you waste your time (because when the question is closed it may be deleted), and you provide a bad example by showing that such questions are worthy of answering. If they are closable, they are not worthy of answering.

It is this point which the comments are attempting to draw your attention to.

If a question is closable, it should not be answered.

If a question can be edited so it's no longer a closure candidate, do that! You can even provide an answer. If there isn't enough information in the question to guess at how it should be edited, vote to close (or flag to close, which places the question in a review queue for others to vote on).

None of this should be taken as excusing (let alone encouraging) comments which hector users and attempt to beat them into submission. That's not on. But if you have been receiving a number of similar comments on different answers, that may be enough to give you a feel of how members of the community feel about humouring questions which shouldn't be humoured.

Equally, none of this prevents a user being helpful and providing an answer in a comment, as well as voting/flagging to close. But that's not the same as posting an answer, which can give quite the wrong impression about the quality of the question.

Again, it's fine to provide an erudite lengthier answer to a simple question, but in that case the question should be phrased in such a way as to invite it. It can be difficult to edit the question and write the answer before the question is closed, and if that happens, save your answer somewhere, edit the question and vote/flag to re-open it. In extremis, post a Meta question summarising the reasons to re-open it (which may include a précis of your intended answer).

For what it's worth, this isn't a new phenomenon: an early similar question (2011) actually led to the creation of the "general reference" close reason, which has now become "show your research": Should we require some reasonable research being done? (aka Questions that can be answered by opening an online dictionary)

  • Thanks for that answer Andrew, it's a great help clarifying the status quo here.
    – Gary
    Aug 1, 2016 at 12:58
  • Is "that's not on" a common BrE expression? Does it mean, roughly "that's not ok" or "that's not cool"? I'm gonna steal it.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 1, 2016 at 14:35
  • 2
    @DanBron Yes: I didn't realise it was a Britishism. "Not OK" rather than "Not cool", I think; but then cool has a variety of meanings too.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Aug 1, 2016 at 14:46
  • @deadrat If you find a hectoring comment, feel free to flag it. It will only take one (I think it's one) other user to flag it with you and it will disappear.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Aug 3, 2016 at 7:41
  • @AndrewLeach One man's hectoring is another man's urgent and warranted advice. I've changed my mind about such comments directed at me. It's good to practice forbearance, and I need the practice. Other fluent speakers can take care of themselves. I prefer a gentle objection in the case of non-native speakers so put upon.
    – deadrat
    Aug 3, 2016 at 16:32
  • Actually, I think it is worth note that there is an explicit list of questions that should not be answered in the help center, presently found on the How do I write a good answer? webpage in the Answer well-asked questions subsection, but with that having been said, it's basically stating the same thing as Andrew Leach wrote, because all of the reasons provided correspond with an applicable close reason.
    – Tonepoet
    Apr 1, 2017 at 21:55

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