I found some background questions about this, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus.

  • What exactly are the "specific concerns" that are acceptable in the Proofreading closure? Phenry's answer, score of 7, says (regarding questions asking if a single sentence is grammatically correct):

    If the questioner is clearly more interested in getting an answer than in understanding the answer (i.e., if it smells suspiciously like a "do my homework for me" question), I usually vote to close as Proofreading. If the question shows a good faith effort to understand what the problem might be, I usually let it slide.

  • Does this sort of question qualify as proofreading? Cerberus's answer, which has the highest score of 4, says

    I feel that "proofreading" should normally apply only to longer texts, at the very least a paragraph.

    The next-highest scoring answer (at 2) by Eldroß says

    I would say that the question would need to be expanded to give some context. ... [If the assumption that there is something wrong with the sentence were] wrong, then it would be definitely off-topic.

  • What the "proofreading" close reason is for MrHen's answer here, with a score of 2, says

    The fundamental question around closing posts like these is whether answering the question will help anyone other than the person asking the question. [... questions of the form 'Is [example A] better than [example B]?' are not] inherently interesting and, by their nature, limit answers to content that is very unlikely to help anyone other than the asker. Therefore, I think most questions of this type should be closed. [...] it is better to close a bad question with a slightly incorrect close reason than it is to leave it open and encourage more bad questions like it.

Two recent events that made me think about this issue are the closing of the following question by MetaEd (https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/352905) as "proofreading" and the recent discussion in chat starting with this post by tchrist about the "proofreading" close reason.

How should this close reason be used? Does it matter? And if it does, should the description of the close reason ("Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified") be edited?


There is only a limited amount of space, character-count, whatever, allowed in the custom close reasons, so they tend to be either terse or densely-packed like the current General Reference reason.

  • A question which asks "Is this grammatical?" is definitely proof-reading.

  • A question which asks "Have I used flonk correctly in this sentence?" is proof-reading.

    Yes, there is "source of concern" specified, but it's not specified clearly enough. What do you think the sentence should mean? Presumably you have looked up flonk and found a meaning and maybe an example sentence: those should be in the question too.

    Even then, "Have I used flonk correctly?" is a question which will benefit only its asker. A better question title would be "How do I use flonk to mean gribble?" That question, appearing in the question list or search results, is likely to be found by others with a similar problem. The question text will indicate research that flonk can be used to mean gribble, but perhaps it's conjugated irregularly or it has an unusual plural form; but that is the "specific concern" which the current close reason means.

    It may be possible to edit a question into shape, perhaps using material supplied in comments. If so, great! That question can be brought off-hold.

  • Other questions about specific words or punctuation need similar detail. Why have you used a semi-colon instead of some other mark? Why are you asking your question?

I suppose the underlying philosophy is that, as the Tour states right at the outset,

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

The question needs to be aimed at that community.

The close reason currently says

Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified.

...but a level of detail as given in this answer* won't fit. However, that text also appears in the on‑topic list, and it would be possible to expand that page with details of how to avoid closure as "proof-reading", and link to it in the close reason text.

The bottom line: Any question which asks "Is something correct; have I used something correctly?" is proof-reading. There needs to be a lot more detail about what your concern is in order to save the question from closure.

* Of course, the definitive answer is determined by votes. This is simply a quantitative assessment.

  • Thanks for the answer! What about questions where the choice is just between two (or a few more) options, like "Is it grammatically correct to use flonk or flonks in this sentence"? – sumelic Oct 12 '16 at 10:20
  • That question probably has no research! If it has research (which is not just a comparative count on Google), it's probably answerable; it might belong on ELL. – Andrew Leach Oct 12 '16 at 10:23
  • @AndrewLeach - I'd say it belongs on ELL if it's the kind of question that a non native speaker might understandably struggle with, even after consulting a dictionary or other fundamental resources. If it's simply a matter of laziness on the part of the O.P., it doesn't belong on either site. – J.R. Oct 13 '16 at 10:00

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