11

I noticed that this question, like so many on EL&U, garnered several answers that were fairly short, written in conversational tone, and had no supporting citations. Such answers are considered low quality according to official site guidelines, regardless of whether they are accurate, helpful, or upvoted.

Some of those answers got the following canned warning:

We appreciate the desire to help, but please consider either expanding your answer or deleting it. Questions should be answered as an expert would answer them: comprehensively, with explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Unsupported answers may be removed.

Now, I don't believe the verbiage is meant to be harsh, but it was only placed on the answers from new or low-rep users (I haven't verified, but it seems like the cutoff is 100 rep). Several other answers were of similar quality but didn't get the warning.

This seems discriminatory and unwelcoming to new users. (Yes, I know that's a recurring theme.) It gives the impression that the rules are not the same for everyone; that if you can somehow make it "into the club" then you don't have to adhere to the same standards. It's also confusing to receive both upvotes from the community and a suggestion to delete your answer from a moderator.

Ideally, we should be able to keep the helpful "you can improve your answer, and here's how" while losing the ominous "improve your answer... or else".

I think it would also come across better if we disclose the reason their answers are triggering the message while other same-quality answers are not. This might be a bit involved to explain in a comment, so we could certainly include a link. Speaking of which, the links that are already included in the warning (namely this and this) don't strike me as very helpful.

The first one explains notices that are not comments. Maybe the newbie warning comment "annotates an exceptional situation" and is thus somehow not a "normal" comment, but that's as clear as mud, especially to the target audience: users who don't yet know the ins and outs of the site.

The second one points to a lot of discussion about well-intentioned but not useful answers. It actually seems to be focused on how those affect the visibility of the question (via being answered or not answered). But the answers that are getting these newbie warning comments actually are useful (as corroborated by the upvotes). They just don't meet official guidelines.

So yeah, I understand the motivation for the newbie warnings, but their execution leaves a lot to be desired. (You might say these are well-intentioned but not useful warnings. :P)

  • 1
    The most obvious reason the canned answers hit new users are the review queues. The answers of established users don't show up there - except the auto-low-quality maybe. But mostly there's just enough to avoid that. – Helmar Sep 3 '16 at 10:51
  • That question should be closed. It overtly solicits opinions, not 'right' answers. If questions that should be closed, were, it would help somewhat with the other problems you rightly point out. – JEL Sep 3 '16 at 20:50
  • This seems discriminatory and unwelcoming to new users. Feature, not bug. – deadrat Sep 4 '16 at 7:23
2

Here's the "template" I've been using recently for writing comments to answers like this. Anyone else who finds it useful is free to use it.

First sentence:

  • Welcome to the site and thanks for your contribution! (use on first posts)
  • Thank you for your contribution! (use if the user has already posted here)

Including this is probably debatable. It doesn't really give any useful information, but I feel like it's a good way to start positively.

Next section depends on the type of answer/question. I've bolded these just for my own convenience, so I can easily see the differences: normally I copy-paste so the bold formatting does not appear in the comment left to the user.

If the question is requesting a word:

Please provide an explanation of why this is the right answer, preferably by quoting a [reference](https://english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/59/77227) such as a dictionary. This makes your post more convincing and helps explain the meaning of the suggested word or phrase. The goal of Stack Exchange is to "build a library of detailed answers" to questions. One-line answers are not as useful because without a source or explanation, it's hard to tell if the answer is really correct.

If the question is about a grammatical structure:

Please provide an explanation of why this is the right answer, preferably by quoting a [reference](https://english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/59/77227) such as a grammar or style guide. This makes your post more convincing and helps explain the relevant grammatical constructions. The goal of Stack Exchange is to "build a library of detailed answers" to questions. One-line answers are not as useful because without a source or explanation, it's hard to tell if the answer is really correct.

If I think the suggested word is a good fit, and the post can easily be salvaged by adding a dictionary entry, I may just edit it in myself:

In general, it's encouraged to [back up your posts](https://english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/59/77227) with references such as quotations from dictionaries. This makes your post more convincing and helps explain the meaning of the suggested word or phrase. I edited your post to add a quotation from [insert dictionary name]; if you don't like the changes I made, you can always edit your own post to replace this with another quotation you like better.

2

A comment on that comment:

  • "We appreciate the desire to help" = "I am being condescending, what follows is going to suck"

  • "Please either do X or delete it" = "holy crap, your answer sucks. Get rid of it.".

  • The use of 'expert' sounds offputting. It might as well say "be an expert" or "try to be an expert (you obviously have not)". "Questions should be answered as an expert would answer them" could almost be removed.

  • Also, the last sentence Unsupported answers may be removed." = "If you don't do what we say, and you don't fall on your own sword, we'll do it for you, you bad answerer!"

So there's some content left that isn't hurtful.

I suggest the following edit:

Your answer was automatically marked as 'low quality'. Consider expanding your answer. Try to answer with explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Even if people can recognize that your answer is right, some readers (especially younger or non-native speakers) may not be able to see that.

'automatically' may be a lie but it tells them that a person isn't being mean on purpose.

What I find annoying is such comments at all, they mar the site. I read a question that is a little simple, maybe badly formatted, but interesting, and then I see a hand swatted. I don't know how to get around that, but it doesn't look good to see all this hand swatting (and I feel like blaming the swattee all the time doesn't look good).

  • I like your suggested edit. – Lawrence Sep 7 '16 at 12:56
  • @Lawrence The improvement could continue – Mitch Sep 7 '16 at 13:10
  • I've copied your suggested edit to Sandy Lines. Feel free to contribute improvements. If you prefer that it be removed from there altogether, let me know and I'll delete it. – Lawrence Sep 7 '16 at 13:17
1

Having looked at the page in question, I can see what you mean. The low-rep answers attracting the advice aren't particularly worse than some of the higher-rep answers that don't. (This isn't a criticism of the advice, by the way.) On the other hand, the answers do answer the question, even if they are short on length and substantiation.

I think the issue isn't with the answers. The issue lies with the question:

It seems it's rude and impolite to say directly to someone "none of your business". So, what's the more gentle alternative(s) for situations in which we should say "hey, this is none of your business!"?

At the time I prepared this answer, there was just one close-vote, voting to migrate the question to Learners. I don't think that's the best way to tackle this particular question.

This is an interesting question, evidenced by the number of votes it has received (+24 -1 at the time of preparing this answer).

It is also an open-ended, eliciting list-style answers. Robert Cartaino♦ explains the mismatch between such questions and Stack Exchange:

Asking everyone to contribute to a large bucket of answers means that it stops being a question of specific expertise and becomes a "poll" of the community. For right or for wrong, answer start accumulating and people start voting on what they recognize as familiar, rather than vetting the relative merits of each answer. Often there are too many entries to even know what anyone is contributing anymore. It doesn't even matter; There's usually no expectation that any one answer will be better than any other.

I support the comment made to that answer:

Which is why I was thinking having just one editable answer and adding all other responses to that answer would be the way to go.

I'd go further: making that single answer a wiki would strike a balance between keeping interesting list-style questions and furthering Stack Exchange's aims. This would require that the question be closed (but not migrated; Primarily Opinion-Based would be an appropriate reason to close this question), and all answers merged into a single wiki answer.

  • Merging all answers into a single wiki answer goes against the whole gamification aspect which makes people (including myself) visit the site. – AndyT Sep 7 '16 at 11:37
  • @AndyT It's not done routinely. But where the objectives of the site and the standards of the community aren't being met, and if there is no way of sufficiently raising the quality of the question, the alternative is to close and perhaps delete the question. If it gets that far, the points are reversed anyway. Although losing points isn't pleasant, I think the only valid defence is to show that the question should remain open on its own merits. I also hope that the motivating factor for visiting the site transitions at some stage from points to community and content. – Lawrence Sep 7 '16 at 12:53

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .