- by Lawrence
- State of question closure? It's fine. We should encourage clarity in questions.
- How to welcome newcomers? Shut down ad hominem attacks, provide friendly help with site norms, and invite them to chat.
- What makes a short answer acceptable? Usefulness and support.
- Policy regarding poorly-worded, basic questions? If there is a point of interest, edit to bring it out. Otherwise, vote to close.
- How to mediate between nuke 'em vs answer everything factions regarding LQQs? Point both to the content, then refer to Q4.
- How to handle flagged answers-in-comments? Leave them be, but allow others to turn them into answers.
- How to handle prickly geniuses? Separate the prickles from the glow, then proceed as normal.
- How to handle disagreements about mod actions? With decorum.
- How to handle good (or helpful but unsubstantiated) answers to bad questions? The problem lies with the question. Close the question.
- How to handle 'borderline' behaviour? Shut down ad hominem attacks and discourage unproductive assertion chains, but otherwise allow robust content-focused discussion, even if the discussion is about the site.
- A number of site participants feel that one major problem at EL&U is that bad questions remain open too long and take too much effort to close; some of these participants have argued in favor of instituting reforms designed to make closing questions easier. But other site participants feel that some questions that might elicit interesting answers are closed too quickly and for reasons not especially relevant to their value as questions (most often, for lack of prior research). What is your view of the current state of question closure at EL&U, and what—if anything—would you do to try to change the status quo?
The Close Votes review queue contains less than 50 questions at the moment, which I think isn't a problem. The issue, though, is how we should handle bad questions.
First, we need to define bad in this context.
If we use the goal stated on our tour page, namely, "to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage", there really isn't such a thing as a bad question, provided the question is about English language and usage. Even when we look deeper, there is a case for keeping 'faulty' questions so long as they are interesting.
A 'bad' question, then, is one that doesn't communicate its point of interest. Placing the question on hold (which sounds a lot less final than voting to close) is intended to be reversible. That is, the question can be taken off hold when it has been suitably edited. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen very much, due at least in part to the impression that closure is final.
We should address this by reviewing the wording of close-vote 'banner' messages to more effectively advise editing for clarity, and to explain the reopening process. Once this is done, we can then encourage swifter voting to close questions that are unclear, along with swifter voting to reopen questions that have been sufficiently clarified.
There is, of course, no EL&U arbiter of what constitutes an interesting question, other than the execution of repeated close/reopen sequences with enforced limits on multiple sequential votes. I think this is an effective mechanism for the community to express its preferences on such issues.
The philosophy of close-voting on Stack Exchange (and consequently EL&U) is thoughtful democracy. That is, high-rep users consider the site's aims, then decide for ourselves which way to vote. Compelling people to vote one way or the other would therefore be inappropriate here. We still need to raise the status of reopening to match closing, but I think the approach outlined above would hold true to the site's goals while fostering a culture of asking (and expecting) 'good' questions.
- A perennial issue at EL&U is whether the site is unfriendly toward low-rep users and especially newcomers. Do you view clubbishness or hostility/rudeness toward recent arrivals at EL&U as a continuing problem? What can moderators do to help inexperienced users feel more comfortable and welcome here?
The regular EL&U community doesn't act with a single attitude. There is a group that considers that the database should be safeguarded by turning away those who do not meet its standards on first presentation. There is also a group which tries its hardest to bring newcomers up to speed. Newcomers get a mixture of views, though it's natural for the harsher comments to be felt more strongly. Moderators need to (and do) nip ad hominem attacks in the bud.
Looking deeper, I think the regulars mostly react when those who post questions do so with an attitude of entitlement - they've asked, therefore we must answer. This is particularly galling when one has already spent time on a question, be it in editing, research, answering, or providing guidance on site norms in good faith. Nevertheless, the mechanism for flagging already exists, and EL&U's moderators tend to react promptly to such matters. I see no reason to change this process.
Communities are built on interaction. At EL&U, questions, comments and answers don't normally provide enough recurring positive interaction to capture the enduring interest of newcomers. We can invite promising newcomers to the main chat room, where this kind of interaction does take place. One doesn't need to be a moderator to issue such invitations, of course.
- As a moderator, I often have to judge the difference between a short answer and a low quality answer. What do you believe are the criteria for a short answer to be acceptable?
It should answer the question in a way that is useful, with enough linked or logical support for the answer to be independently verifiable.
"... as simple as possible, but not simpler" - attributed to Einstein, Quote Investigator
Follow-up question: Q3 What if the low quality answer is, objectively speaking, correct, and it is highly upvoted? Would you delete it if the user was a native speaker and/or had a high rep? Would you expect lower rep users to edit the answer; e.g. provide a dictionary link and definition? – Mari-Lou A
Per Stack Exchange's Theory of Moderation, I will assume the answer was flagged for moderator attention, and further, that it was flagged for low quality.
The first thing to consider would be whether the answer was indeed of low quality. Based on the general approach I outlined above, I'll also assume that the main deficiency was a lack of independent support.
Some time ago, I questioned an answer given by a well-respected user. The answer wasn't short, but it had no external substantiation. The reply I received was that the user was considered an expert in the matter, so there wasn't any need for independent substantiation. After all, if we accept (for example) a dictionary's authority, then the opinions of its editors or compilers should carry some weight.
Although it's different in quantitative disciplines, I think there is a place for appeal to authority and appeal to experience in the study of the English language generically, and EL&U in particular. Questions such as normative use or the idiomatic interpretation of phrases could otherwise require disproportionate research to answer. On the other hand, we need to recognise that simply floating an opinion doesn't automatically make it valid.
There is therefore a judgement call to be made in such matters. Ideally, the person's expertise, scholarly reputation and prior answers would be taken into account, but I hasten to add that they may tend to be compressed into a moderator's familiarity with, or impression of, the user. I imagine this would be the case in the cut and thrust of wading through heavy flag queues, but possibly more generally as well. Balancing this, it's good that even deletion isn't final on Stack Exchange. Other moderators and high-rep users are free to voice alternative opinions, to be resolved in the usual manner on meta and chat.
As for whether I expect lower-rep users to edit their answers to add dictionary links and definitions - yes. I think it would be commendable to even do it for them on occasion to give them a template or good example that they can use for similar answers, accompanied by a friendly comment about site norms. I consider this a constructive action that benefits the user, the EL&U community, as well as the repository.
Follow-up question: Thanks for the effort you've put into your answers. #3 in particular was very cogently argued. More broadly, you and others make the valid point that inadequate (rather than bad) posts can be community-edited to improve them - but there's little incentive other than knowing you're being helpful and improving the site. Do the site rewards for editing need review? What change (if any) would you recommend? – Chappo
Oded explains that rep is granted for approved edits, not merely for suggested edits.
- By the time you have 2,000 rep, we see you as someone who understands what makes a good edit and not a learner anymore. The community doesn't need to approve your edits anymore. - Oded
I support this policy. It's hard to algorithmically determine what makes a good edit, and awarding points for arbitrary edits encourages trivial editing and possibly even the vandalism of posts. When the reason for editing is to improve the content, the user engages in the conversation for its own sake. That's community participation. And it promotes good editing, to boot.
Incidentally, badges are still awarded for editing.
- A new user to the Stack Exchange (member of ELU for 2 days, rep of 1, not a member of any other SE site) posts a rather basic question on ELU. Based on how the question is worded, it seems evident that this question is coming from a non-native speaker. Chances are, this user has not read this meta post, and is probably not even aware of the existence of English Language Learners. Should something be done? If so, what?
Yes, something should be done.
If the question contains (or even appears to contain) a point of genuine interest with respect to the English language, then either direct the user to edit the question to bring out the point of interest, or edit it on their behalf. Interaction with the user can help establish whether the question is a good fit for EL&U. Otherwise, vote to close, selecting the option to migrate to ELL if the question looks like a good fit for that site, or some other (appropriate) close reason if it doesn't.
The fact that the person asking is a non-native speaker is irrelevant.
- There is a fairly substantial division in the ELU community over what we should do with medium-to-low quality questions. One group says that any question which can be understood can and should be answered. Another group says that it is better for the long term health of the site and its community for unresearched questions to be closed and not answered. (There are surely others who think something else, but these are the two big groups.) As a mod, how would you mediate between these two groups?
I'll assume from the phrasing of this question that the questions in question are on-topic for EL&U and otherwise interesting, but lack research.
For moderators, the basis for mediation between the two groups must rest on the site's principles. Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange, expressed a tolerance for 'incomplete' questions so long as there was a point of interest, but also acknowledged the controversy. I agree with his conclusion, and think it is a good guide for mediating between "these two groups":
- The key distinction to make here, in my mind, is that all questions are ultimately in service of the people answering them. That is the audience you need to satisfy if you want to have any hope of creating and sustaining a community of peers learning from each other. The minimum bar for a question is not "is this on-topic?", but rather "is this somewhat interesting and on-topic?". I'm not saying every question needs to be utterly fascinating, but please endeavor to make your questions more than a constant stream of no-duh underhanded softballs requiring nothing more than a quick cut and paste from Wikipedia, IMDB, or some other standard internet reference site. - Jeff Atwood
- One of the things that seems to divide this community are (usually partial) answers posted as comments. Some are annoyed by it, others post them on a regular basis. As a moderator you will be responsible for handling comment flags – how will you approach this issue?
There is a minimum standard expected for answers, and EL&U doesn't have a well-established culture of helping to complete partial answers. If someone has something to contribute, but feels that their answer falls short of the minimum standard or is otherwise incomplete, I would welcome their contribution in the form of comments. To do otherwise would be to either lose the contribution altogether, or face greater issues with low-quality answers.
The main substantive argument against this is that there is no down-vote button on comments, so comment-answers that aren't particularly good cannot be voted down. An appropriate reply to this argument is that people are free to leave dissenting comments, so long as the dissent is aimed at the content, rather than the person. If this is done in a spirit of cooperation, it can help lead to the construction of a good answer, as iron sharpens iron.
Incidentally, if someone posts a partial or even full answer in comments, and someone else later uses that as the basis for an answer, there should be no recourse for the comment-answerer unless they made it clear in their comment that they were seeking further information from the OP as they prepared their answer.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
If the answers and the arguments/flags relate to different posts, each should be handled on its own merits. Prickly people can produce good answers, and valuable contributors can be prickly.
As noted in EL&U chat and as supported by the guidelines for reviewing,
- The only real difference between SE and anywhere else is that it focused mainly on content, not the person who posts it. - DEAD
This holds even if the person who posted the valuable answer is disagreeable.
As for the disagreeable user, the usual sanctions and processes are applicable, regardless of the value of their contributions. See also my answer to Question 10.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
Mod-wars are unhealthy for the community and for the site. Further, since both mods have single-click powers, there is little to be gained in unilateral action.
If the action is not an abuse of moderator powers, then the fact that both are mods is irrelevant. Set that aside for the time-being, and relate as regular users. Find out the rationale behind their actions. It's often the case that there is value at both ends of a spectrum, so communication in good faith can go a long way.
If this doesn't help, bring in other moderators to provide perspective. From here, much depends on the details of the specific case. It might end with a vote, or it may end with agreeing to disagree, or something else altogether.
Finally, if there is an abuse of mod powers, there is an established process to follow as a last resort.
Follow-up question: I like that you have concrete ideas of some changes you would like to see implemented. I am interested to know what your thoughts are for handling #8 in the case that the recipient of a particular behavior (closure/deletion or what have you) has posted on Meta accusing the mods (because they don't know which) of systematic abuse. – Kit Z. Fox♦
In a nutshell, find out what's wrong so that it can be addressed. Moderators have strong reserve powers, but a meeting of minds would be much preferred. Besides, if the problem is a perception of the abuse of power, the immediate application of power might not be a good solution.
It's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the accusations, and I don't claim exception to this, so a documented (even if informal) process would be very helpful. The process linked above doesn't address the grievances of a single user against 'all mods' or against 'the system', and I am not aware of one at SE / EL&U that mods can use as a guide. I'll also note that the following thoughts are only preliminary, and can do with further development via the usual community process.
The starting point should be one of framing. Wild accusations are unpleasant, but the user's attempt at communication should be appreciated.
Ideally, we would move the discussion from emotional outbursts to a fact-based discussion. Under the circumstances, wider latitude should be given to ad hominem attacks, but there will still be a limit. Having said that, I recognise that sometimes it's a perception that the user has, and they can't easily point to specific insults or inappropriate conduct. Even then, it would be helpful to determine when they started feeling aggrieved, or perhaps what triggered the reaction, so that the discussion can turn to something constructive.
Mod actions are said to be heavily logged, so it should be possible to dig up the relevant interactions. Depending on the level of trust remaining, responses may include discussions to determine the actual nature of the grievance, explanations of site norms, personal explanations and apologies by either or both sides, follow-up actions if appropriate, etc, or if communication has broken down, escalation to CMs.
Escalation has its own process, but for the rest, depending on specifics, the participants in the discussions may include the whole community, or a private chat room where both the complainant and the accused moderator can invite a few others. In the latter case, the roles of the additional people are to provide moral support or to furnish facts and personal impressions. The goal of the exercise would be to articulate the pressure point with a view to addressing it in a way consistent with the aims of the site and with common decency.
- What's your stand on obvious, often unsubstantiated, but correct and helpful answers to trivial questions? "It's an easy reputation grab that encourages more such questions which are not wanted on ELU"? "Welcome introduction to answering that encourages both the one who asked and the one who answered to come back"? Something else entirely? I am referring to questions that have obvious answers because they should have been posted on ELL in the first place or are even too trivial for that site.
From the context here and my answers to previous questions, I will assume that after conducting due diligence, it has been determined that the question has no point of interest for EL&U.
My position on good answers to trivial questions is that the answerer should not be penalised for the failings of the asker. Per Jeff Atwood's quote in my answer to Question 5, if the answer is correct and helpful, I'd let it stand. I don't mind if someone else edits to improve the answer, but the problem lies with the question, not the answer. The question should be closed.
- One of the most difficult roles for a moderator is to "moderate" users' behaviour. Users can get pretty indignant about being asked to improve their post or having their precious question declared off-topic. And of course some users simply have difficulty managing their personality disorder, with any well-meaning comment an invitation to a duel. What's your own tolerance for problematic behaviour - in particular, the "borderline" kind that some would interpret as acceptably robust debate, while others might feel are unacceptable shows of anger that breach the spirit of "keep it nice"? Would you aim to remove nasty, disparaging comments about our site as quickly as possible, or do you see this as freedom of expression that you would be loathe to censor?
The litmus test should always be whether the user is targeting the content or whether they are targeting another user. The former should be allowed considerable leeway; the latter should be nipped in the bud.
Yes/no/yes/no chains can be unproductive and should be stopped if the participants don't advance their arguments (or if they escalate them instead).
As for disparaging comments about EL&U, I consider them to be freedom of expression so long as they aren't ad hominem.