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Related: What process is required to get the Help Center text changed? | Proof reading questions | Does the "proofreading" close reason cover questions that do identify specific words or phrases? | What the "proofreading" close reason is for

The Help text advising against proof-reading questions currently reads

But please, don’t ask any questions about the following topics. They are out of scope for this site.

  • Proofreading ("Is this right?", "Are there any mistakes?"), unless the source of concern is clearly specified

There have been a number of attempts to "clearly specify" the source of the concern in questions, such as

  • Explicitly asking "Does this sound right?"
  • Including "(verb)" in the question title
  • Asking "Have I used the right verb?"

But none of those are what I believe "clearly specified" was intended to achieve.

  • "Does this sound right?" is inherently opinion-based, as both "Yes" and "No" answers are possible, and even justifiable.
  • Simply including "(verb)" in the question title doesn't say anything about the answer which is actually needed in the circumstances, quite apart from being unduly abrupt and demanding.
  • We can't say whether the right verb has been used, because there is no context to describe what the sentence is attempting to say.

I believe the clear specification required is to say what the actual doubt is: to state

  • which particular word is in question;
  • what might be wrong about it and
  • why it might be wrong.

That is, not

Is the verb right in "He has run the company for five years now"?

but something like

He has run the company for five years now.

Is the verb has run correct here? If "he" is still in post, the action is still in progress, so should the verb be a continuous/progressive verb like He has been running? Does the inclusion of "now" make a difference here?

It seems to me that the Help text could be altered to make that clear. While it is unlikely to stem the tide of proofreading questions, it does mean that the "Proof-reading" close reason could be amended to point to the Help page, which it currently doesn't:

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

So, how should the Help page be amended in order to help here?

I've provided an answer which you're able to vote on; other answers about the proof-reading help we offer are welcome, too.

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I think the answer is Yes, we should expand the help text, and this is my proposal...

The "on-topic" Help page currently has three principal parts:

  • What topics can I ask about here?
  • What notation and symbols are commonly used here?
  • Where can I find answers to simple and basic questions?

I propose, first relegating the "What notation" part to the end, and then adding an explicit part about proof-reading, which could be linked from the relevant "Please don't ask" line in the first section:

  • What topics can I ask about here?
  • Where can I find answers to simple and basic questions?
  • How can I ask about correcting my text?
  • What notation and symbols are commonly used here?

How can I ask about correcting my text?

Correcting a text is proof-reading. This site does not offer a proof-reading service where the community will read a text and suggest corrections. If you would like that, there are online services available, a few of which are free.

However, this site can answer specific questions about a particular point in your text. You need to quote the passage, highlight the word you're uncertain about, and then explain why you're not sure about it.

That is, not

Is the verb right in "He has run the company for five years now"?

but something like

He has run the company for five years now.

Is the verb has run correct here? If "he" is still in post, the action is still in progress, so should the verb be a continuous/progressive verb like He has been running? Does the inclusion of "now" make a difference here?

  • The question "Is the verb has run correct here?" highlights what the question is asking about.
  • "The action is still in progress, so should it be a continuous-aspect verb?" explains the quandary.
  • "Does now make a difference?" provides additional information about the question which answers might touch upon.

Note that you should also include your own research into the query. The example indicates that a little research may have been done with "Should it be a continuous-aspect verb?", but research is needed.

  • Afterthought: Perhaps this should say "How do I ask about checking my text?" and "Checking a text is proof-reading". We're not often actually asked to correct a sample; "is this right" questions are far more common. – Andrew Leach Dec 24 '16 at 17:30
  • The most common are the Which of these is/are correct:...? questions. In most cases, I don't think answering such a question really helps anyone, beyond doing homework. – Drew Dec 26 '16 at 23:44
  • I tend to judge questions that I think are questionable wrt proofreading by whether the question or the answer is likely to bring out something useful or interesting about English. Otherwise, perhaps ELL is better suited for most such questions. – Drew Dec 26 '16 at 23:45
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    @Drew ELL does not do proofreading either. The point of identifying the real difficulty with a sentence is to make the question more widely relevant rather than restricting it to the individual user. It's also more likely to bring out something useful about English -- the has run example might be simplistic, but it does demonstrate that. It might also make it possible to find and nominate duplicates which answer the question the asker actually has. – Andrew Leach Dec 27 '16 at 9:55
  • (1) I was mainly referring to the common case of a Which of these are correct? question. Some of those probably do belong on ELL (and should not be handled by proofreading); others probably belong nowhere on SE. (2) The something useful or interesting about English should generally, I think, be different for EL&U and ELL. We are all learning about English, but there are two sites for a reason. – Drew Dec 27 '16 at 16:41
  • Can we make providing research a requirement, such as citing two resources giving (seeming, at least to the OP) conflicting answers to the question? – curiousdannii Dec 27 '16 at 23:52
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    @curiousdannii Providing research is a requirement. See the Ask Question sidebar. The box has a very limited capacity, though: that's as much as it can say. – Andrew Leach Dec 28 '16 at 16:13
  • Can we add a link to the help/on-topic within the "proofreading questions are off-topic..." banner? – NVZ Aug 14 '17 at 5:10

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