For a number of reasons the number of new users who post low quality questions or answers does not appear to be flagging by any measure. This issue had often generated stress among users who rightly insist on a more correct usage of the site and expect new users to be compliant with the site rules. I wonder if, rather than keeping on suggesting to take a tour for the site rules, we offered a short 5 to 10 minutes teach-in video in which the main features and rules of ELU can be easily visualised and , probably, more easily understood.

The video could concentrate on apparently unsolvable issues like; lack of research, proofreading and general reference for instance, which could be shown with examples from past questions and the subsequent hold or deletion of the off-topic posts could probably be more easily explained.

The short video could be made compulsory for new users to whom access to the site would not be allowed till the whole video has run out. It does not intend to replace the written rules, but just to make them easier to assimilate.

I think that watching and listening to instructions is more effective then just reading them.

Edit: what do the many donwvotes mean? An aversion to change or a poor and ineffective suggestion?

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    Great suggestion! Volunteers? Josh61, I see that you're standing out in front. Thank you so much! – Mitch Aug 1 '16 at 14:49
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    Philosophically, I like this idea. +1 for that. Pragmatically, I think the 5-10 minute video will get watched just about as often as the 2-minute tour gets read. – Dan Bron Aug 1 '16 at 14:49
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    My suggestion? Make the video as short as is humanly possible. 1min absolute losing-a-finger constraint max. – Mitch Aug 1 '16 at 14:50
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    Good idea. If we can make it interesting or entertaining in-and-of itself, it might be quite effective. – Dan Bron Aug 1 '16 at 14:51
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    You might consider making this a feature request on Meta.SE, since it would be broadly applicable. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 1 '16 at 18:09
  • Let's start with something super easy and bandwidth-non-intensive like place holder texts – curiousdannii Aug 2 '16 at 7:48
  • One alternative is to have a separate category of LQQ/LQA close process that requires fewer votes, AND the same number of votes to reopen. E.g. Closed as a low quality question for lack of context: 2 votes. Reopen: also requires only 2 votes. If the question is not reopened, it should be eligible for deletion in the usual manner. The idea is to be able to triage the questions, and pull them back easily, especially since many of the problems (e.g. missing sample sentence) are easily remedied. – Lawrence Aug 2 '16 at 12:19
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    You can force the video to play, but you can't make people watch it. I think making it compulsory will make people more resistant to its message. If you could make most people change their behavior simply by rationally explaining things, the world would be a very different place. Incentives and disincentives are the only things I've seen work on the Internet. – ColleenV Aug 2 '16 at 17:17
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    Before we force new users to watch long videos, let's improve ourselves first. For example, see this answer with 40 upvotes by an experienced user. It lacks quality. The user ignores the Mod's advice to improve it. Such LQ answers encourage others to follow suit. – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 17:31
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    @Josh61 My friend, you proposed 5-10 minutes, which I personally think is "long". – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 17:38
  • @Josh61 Video >> Text, always. :) But let's not make it mandatory. Let's just include a link to such a video in our preset comments. – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 17:59
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    @NVZ Re your comment about improving ourselves: I totally agree -- but what, if anything, is the downside to a poster of posting such an answer? In this case, the poster gained a minimum of 215 rep points, and probably more. The worst risk the poster's ran was the possibility of some downvotes and no upvotes, which he/she could negate by deleting the answer. I feel very discouraged. – ab2 Aug 2 '16 at 18:05
  • "[People] do what you let them do" - Tommy Vercetti – nothingisnecessary Aug 3 '16 at 4:31
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    Nice idea, I think a short 1-2 minute animated video may work best. I also liked the compulsory nature until I read @AndrewGrimm's answer and changed my mind. Instead of compulsory I think it should be very prominent, and perhaps a milestone achievement that doesn't go away until you dismiss it. – Gary Aug 3 '16 at 10:24
  • Coincidentally, as someone who came here looking to find the answer to whether word requests were on\off topic... the help pulldown doesn't show much evidence that it is specific to EL&U. Pull it down, and the only mention of whether it is topic specific or SE general... is About Us, which indeed is about the entire site. So I wasn't confident to click on Tour, Help Center, and Meta with the belief I'd getting something that would help me. – JeopardyTempest Aug 3 '16 at 15:53

I upvoted the question because (1) I appreciate your continuing effort to improve the quality of questions and answers around here, and (2) I think a short video presentation might work with drive-by questioners who aren't especially keen on researching the site's standards—especially if it means reading something. But I second Dan Bron’s suggestion that the video be about how not to ask a question. You could title it "VIDEO: How can I ensure that other people will downvote and close the questions I ask on EL&U?" or "VIDEO: Why do the people here hate my question?" Then present examples of five or ten types of questions that drive EL&U regulars nuts, and respond succinctly to each one.

A sample script:

Clueless question: Someone called something I said "hyperbole." What does that mean?

Response: Let me look that up for you in a dictionary. Or on second thought, why don't you look it up in a dictionary?

Clueless question: Please correct this sentence: "Happy with the strong performance in the test, it was decided that Ram give himself a five day rest."

Response: EL&U isn't a proofreading service. No one but you cares or will ever care about the particular sentence you just brought up. So it makes no sense for us to clog our archives with one-off questions like this one.

Clueless question: Is it "What are you inferring?" or "What are you implying?" I hear both words being used to mean the same thing.

Response: You see that white box—the one with the magnifying glass and the words "Search Q&A" in faint gray letters—near the top of the page on the far right-hand side? Type infer imply into it and click Enter (or Return), and you'll find that someone else has asked a very similar question about the difference between the two words. Conveniently, the answers are already there for you to consult and consider. English Language & Usage search: Use it before you ask.

Clueless question: What is a single word that means "marauding sea elf"?

Response: Have you ever stopped to consider that "marauding sea elf" might be a better choice than, say, "aggroaquasprite"? Sometimes there isn't a single word for some complicated phrase or multifaceted idea—and there shouldn’t be.

Clueless question: In English the word is "I have going" or "I was went"?

Response: If you are new to English and have basic questions about how to speak it, you might find a more welcoming environment at English Language Learners, a site created to help beginning and intermediate students of the language improve their grasp of it.

Clueless question: My company is about to release a new product, and we need a slogan that tells buyers this is the best thing on the market, a must-have item, and well worth the price. Suggestions?

Response: Your question isn't about English language and usage; it's about marketing. This site is not a free crowd-sourcing mechanism for composing commercial slogans.

Clueless question: What does Blake mean by "symmetry"?

Response: That's a tough question to answer—and not just because you've provided almost zero context for it. If you're asking about William Blake’s use of "fearful symmetry" in his "Tyger" poem, you're asking for literary interpretation—and we don't do that here, largely because it falls into the realm of opinion rather than fact.

Clueless question: I am so sick of seeing people use propinquity when they mean propensity. Making such a dumb, easily avoidable mistake simply defies reason. And don't tell me that if enough people say propinquity when they mean propensity, that will make it okay and we'll all just sit around in close propinquity (or is it propensity?) singing kumbaya. Am I right?

Response: You're ranting. Don't come to EL&U and rant.

This script may look harsh, but I suspect that it would sound less so in a video. In any case it covers some of the more common categories of bad or misdirected questions we get at EL&U, and newcomers might be tempted to watch just because (1) it's a video, and (2) the title is intriguing.

  • I think instead of a video, we could do this as a comic strip. Who wouldn't pause to read a comic strip to see if the punchline is funny? – ColleenV Aug 4 '16 at 22:35

In my opinion a video wouldn't help. I think the real problem is there is no indication on the way to posting a low quality question that indicates exactly that fact to a new user.

I agree with P. Obertelli, no one reads tours watches intro videos. The neglible amount of people who do don't post bad questions afterwards.

To put it bluntly, the starting page asks for those kind of questions and nothing is stopping anyone on the way to ask the question.

There following steps create lead to a low quality question:

  • Someone has a problem that is ELU off-topic
  • That someone googles and finds ELU.SE
  • Starting page looks promising
  • Ask question is available without login, perfect
  • No indication before posting question about off-topic-ness (totally a word) or research requirements

Let's have a quick look at how the site looks to those users.

I assume most low quality questions come from users that found the site via google. Thus they are not logged in when the visit for the first time and they have their low quality question of utter annoyance already in mind ;)

There is nothing on the start page that indicates that research is a prerequisite for a question, proofreading is off-topic or anything the like.

This is how it looks like on a first visit.

Start page without login

The ask question dialog, still not logged in, is no further help either. It doesn't hint at any research either.

enter image description here

There is a "how to ask" (yeah my question is not complicated enough for details or research) and a "how to format" (woohoo, big letters for my important question) section.

What is missing? A "what to ask" section.

Something like that:

enter image description here

(obviously I am no web designer ;))

  • Plus one! Except I'd strongly prefer a what not to ask section. – Dan Bron Aug 2 '16 at 21:42
  • That's on the right in the box, but yeah the complete box could be named "What not to ask". It might be more effective. – Helmar Aug 2 '16 at 21:46
  • Sorry, missed that, details are hard to see as I'm on a phone. – Dan Bron Aug 2 '16 at 22:08
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    +1 because it was so funny. But you are assuming that the new user actually reads -- and thinks about -- each item on the starter page. Who reads instructions? Seriously, isn't it the norm to ignore instructions until everything else has failed? – ab2 Aug 3 '16 at 0:23
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    @ab2 No, I don't think they read it. The point is, even if they did read everything on the pages, there is no indication that the question is off-topic. – Helmar Aug 3 '16 at 7:54
  • +1 This is so true. :) – NVZ Aug 3 '16 at 12:39
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    Maybe also add some context in the question box like "Write your question here. Don't forget to include your research, like which dictionaries and other sources you have checked first." or something. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 3 '16 at 13:00
  • "I think the real problem is there is no indication on the way to posting a low quality question that indicates exactly that fact to a new user" - I was going to edit this sentence to make it easier to grasp your idea quickly, but then I realized I'm not really sure what you're saying. To the extent that I can't even write an "Is this what you're saying"? comment. Would you mind cleaning up that sentence, please, to make it easier to understand? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 4:07

I'm opposed to it being a compulsory video. Some people may lack the bandwidth or technology to play a video, or may have difficulties being verified as watching the video. Also, some users may have disabilities meaning they can't watch or hear a video, or may wish to translate some parts of the content into their native language using machine translation.

Instead, provide them with a web page that contains in textual information all the information they need, with pictures or video as an optional resource.

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    I agree, 'compulsory' is weird. The FAQ/help is optional, so should such a video. Also note, the video should probably contain pretty much the same bullet points as the FAQ, but strangely for a site about language, people seem not to like to read. – Mitch Aug 2 '16 at 14:13

There'S a far simpler way to weed out low quality Q&A by indicating clearly what this site is about: chose the right title.

Most people ( I don't remember the exact figures but we're talking 95% + for anything concerning stuff online) –including me– don't read disclaimers, guidelines, tours or users' agreements etc. normal people just jump in and expect to learn as they use a site or app.

You could make a video, actually, you should make it, why not?– but I guarantee that you'll be talking in tens of views not even hundreds.

English Language and Usage is too broad and does not indicate well enough what level is this site about, particularly for English learners.

Something like "Advanced English Language and Usage, "English language and Usage, advanced", "Expert; English Language and usage" etc. or even a subtitle (if ELU wants to keep its title intact) that indicates this notion clearly would go a long way and be the best return on value.


A quick video guide is ten times better than reading through dozens of instructions, for me, at least. But I propose such a video should be optional, not mandatory. It would be good to have a link to this video in ELU's preset comments.

  • the "mandatory" issue is just a possibility, I realise it may sound unwelcoming, but the idea was to give clear indications before posting, so as to avoid possible unwelcoming comments and reactions from the site. – user66974 Aug 2 '16 at 18:11
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    @Josh61 Then, I think, if you remove the "mandatory" part from the question, more people would upvote/agree to it. Later on, you could propose this on MSE, too. :) – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 18:15
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    @Josh61 I think they are too. I wish we had more active 10K+ users or more active mods, so we can shut down bad questions before they attract bad answers. I also wish we could put up higher barriers to entry, but all such proposals seem to fall on deaf ears (to your earlier question about whether "meta has any actual concrete effect on site policy"). – Dan Bron Aug 2 '16 at 18:27
  • @Josh61 Are we talking about new LQQs or old? I usually cast all my "delete" votes to closed LQQs everyday. I see tchrist do that mercilessly, too. Rathony, sumelic, Hellion, etc. also do their part. If we use our "delete" votes well, we can help reduce the no. of LQQs that "stay" on ELU. If there's junk left around, new visitors will add more junk to it; that's the idea. – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 18:29
  • @Josh61 Consider this rather poor analogy. To ensure good quality in new drivers on the road, we need to ensure they get good training in driving schools. Most new visitors think english.se is the driving school. They are unaware of ell.se. I think that's the main problem. And as long as we don't modify our URLs (to make the distinction between the two sites clearer and to better adapt for SEO, etc.), we will continue seeing new LQQs. – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 18:46
  • @Josh61 No, I encourage us all to come up with fresh and novel ideas to at least try to stem the tide. The problem is no one seems to be listening. Tchrist had a great idea about prohibiting questions with specific stopwords in titles ("gramma" being the key one). Others have suggested English quizzes, or forcing users to use question-templates, or staging all new Qs in an antechamber of sorts where reputable users must vote to "accept" them onto the front page. But here we are still. We must fight on. – Dan Bron Aug 2 '16 at 19:02
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    @Josh61 My 1st question was in 2013, a "request for resources" but stayed open and has upvotes. I didn't care about any guidelines then. I came for an answer and left happily with it. I returned to ELU only 2 years later and I have stayed active since then. I learned the ELU culture, not from Tour, but from kind comments from Rathony, Dan Bron, Josh61(you) etc.. :) – NVZ Aug 2 '16 at 19:04
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    "A quick video is ten times better..." I would say this is dependent on the learning style of the individual. Some individuals assimilate written content better than video, some assimilate video better than written. – Gary Aug 3 '16 at 10:23
  • @Gary Of course. This is meta and my answer is purely my opinions. – NVZ Aug 3 '16 at 10:48

A video might be very helpful. Hence the following modest proposal for instructing new users:

enter image description here

  • +1 from me. I still have a sense of humour :D – Araucaria Sep 20 '16 at 10:09

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