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Where is the right position of “Often” in this sentence? has just come up in the reopen queue. Here is the original question (the title wasn't changed):

in order to cancel other tasks execution that makes the redundant unit often be kept silent, i.e., in a hibernated mode or in low frequency and low voltage to attain a low energy consumption requirement.

And here is the revised version.

By changing the order of the tasks execution, we utilize some tasks (that is defined as postponer tasks) in order to cancel other tasks execution that often makes the redundant unit ( often) be kept silent, i.e., in a hibernated mode or in low frequency and low voltage to attain a low energy consumption requirement.

Formatting was stripped from the above

I voted to close on the first iteration, because I didn't feel as though I could give an answer without:

  • More cotext
  • Proofreading the entire sentence

However, the change has hardly made answering easier. If I were to answer this question, I would feel compelled and obliged to point out that the almost insane amount of repetition ("tasks" constitutes 4 out of 20 content words in the text prior to "i.e."), as well as the confusing manner in which the phrase other tasks execution (which I feel is probably possessive, since execution doesn't agree in number).

Do we have a general rule on questions where the author thinks they have a specific question, but in fact they have multiple issues? I completely understand and agree with the impetus to turn away proofreading requests - this isn't a proofreading service, it's a language learners' resource. However, how do we handle this?

  1. Leave it closed without commenting, so the OP gets nothing from the community, moves on, and doesn't return (and may or may not get help elsewhere)?
  2. Leave it closed, but tell him that there are multiple issues that we can't help with?
  3. Just answer the question, but don't point out style/content issues?
  4. Answer the question and fix style/content issues, potentially leading to a reputation for "just proofreading anyway"?

I'm not suggesting that these are the only possible reactions, but I feel like these are the most reasonable - and I'm using reasonable rather loosely here - actions to take.

I think the last is probably most in line with the spirit of ELL - helping English language learners - but at the same time could open a floodgate of low-quality, highly-localised questions. (I'm trying to avoid logical fallacies here, so I'll flag that slippery slope argument. But at the very least, it's not an unfounded argument.)

I didn't vote on this question, by the way.

What do you think, ELL?

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To begin my answer to this, I'd like to start by quoting a portion of an answer I wrote on another meta question (where the OP asked if Proofreading questions were on-topic):

Unfortunately questions which are strictly proofreading are Off Topic here on ELL. If you did have a specific question about the sentence [...] the question would be appropriate. But if you're just wondering, in general, if anything is wrong with the sentence, that falls under Proofreading and is not allowed.

When you have a question like this, consider: is there anything in the sentence that you specifically think might be wrong, and do you have a reason for thinking so? You don't have to be right, you just have to have a specific problem you'd like us to address. One problem is enough; if you post a question asking about one aspect of the sentence and there is an error somewhere else, answerers are going to point this out to you. So the moral of the story is: if you have a specific, constructive question to ask about the sentence, we're going to go ahead and check the rest of it for you anyway. Just make sure you have that question first!

Now, of course there is no requirement that all answerers must point out everything that is wrong with the OP's sentence when it contains other errors beyond those that they're asking about. All an answer has to do is answer the question that's posed (in your example, "is often in the right place?").

I posted the previous meta answer because that's what I'd noticed people doing; when someone put effort into a well-thought-out question and asked a specific question about a sentence, in general people were likely to point out other mistakes the OP might not have noticed. In fact, in the past I've personally completely restructured a sentence in my answer (after answering the OP's initial question) and explained why I thought it was more correct that way.

So: if someone asks a specific question that you can answer, and their sentence happens to be littered with more mistakes, you can do either of the following at your own discretion:

  1. Just answer the question they asked. That's all that's actually required. Optional but encouraged: inform the OP that their sentence has multiple other problems, and that they might want to look into that.

  2. First answer the question they actually asked, and then point out other errors to help properly compose the rest of the sentence. The OP followed the rules and put effort into asking a specific question; helping them out further doesn't hurt anything, and you might teach future readers something as well.

I think that, as a community, we're pretty good about leaning toward option #2 when the OP shows effort (which helps create more valuable content, though it is by no means required). :)

(Note that all of this only applies if the OP did in fact put reasonable effort into asking a specific question about their sentence. I'm not advocating that we do start just proofreading.)

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  • Hmm. So, in that case, do you mean to say that we do proofread, as long as the OP doesn't ask for it, and asks something specific, and puts some effort into it? I realise that there's probably no way to read that without it sounding a little passive-agressive; I apologise. I'm really looking for a litmus test on VTCs and reopens, if such a thing exists – jimsug Jun 6 '14 at 18:07
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    @jimsug I'm saying that you can proofread the rest of the sentence, if the OP puts effort in and you want to. We're not going to go through entire paragraphs or essays, but if it's just a sentence or two and the OP puts effort into asking a specific question, I like to let them know if they've made another glaring error or two. If the entire sentence is completely unsalvageable without a massive rewrite, simply telling them so should be enough. Basically it all depends on how much effort you want to put into it, which is your call :) – WendiKidd Jun 6 '14 at 18:38
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    But for example, if the OP asked "Is smarts the correct word here? John say Mary have a lot of smarts." I wouldn't mind correcting say to says and have to has as well as answering the actual question. Does that maybe make it more clear? – WendiKidd Jun 6 '14 at 18:40
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My own practice is not consistent, and in fact I generally avoid questions of this sort unless the specific matter asked about is itself "interesting" - which to me means that it prompts an answer which rests on some more general principle which will be of use beyond the specific context. In this case that might be a brief discussion of where adverbials of different sorts can legitimately be placed, and what semantic difference is effected by different placement.

Unhappily (for me, at least—I hope that the quaerent profits), I can rarely leave the discussion there. A sentence, after all, is an organism, not a jigsaw puzzle; the pieces interact in weird and wonderful ways; and usually ‘fixing’ one part throws a spotlight on brokenness elsewhere. I suppose I could just tacitly rewrite the entire sentence, but what the hell good does that do anybody? —it's just as useless as writing AWK! in the margin. It's giving the quaerent a fish instead of teaching her to fish. So any time you rewrite for a learner you have to explain exactly what required the rewrite and how you made the choices of what to do about it.

And that very often leads very far afield, beyond ordinary matters of lexicon (DIC!) and syntax (DNGLMOD!) into fundamental semantic issues where it is obvious that the writer is just throwing undigested chunks of English together without thinking about how they interact -- and almost certainly does exactly the same thing in her own language. So every once in a while I have to undertake a full deconstruction, and teach the quaerent that the proper use of writing is to carry on a critical dialogue with yourself. Language has to be a tool for thinking before it can become a tool for communicating.

Does that violate the SE guidelines? Maybe. I don't care. I'm not here to follow SE guidelines, I'm here to call these guys to glory and bring them into ecstatic (I use the term in its full etymological sense) communion with Great Mother English - who is after all just a local avatar of Great Mother Language.

And I don't think I'm alone in this. Whatever baby rules we lay down in our FAQ/Help/Guidelines/Closerules and the rest of the mechanics, what just about everybody who lives here does is the jobs our visitors bring us. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.

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  • The OP has now deleted the particular question jimsug referred to above, so I can't look at it properly or see what if any comment I made when I closevoted. My gut feeling is it was obviously proofreading because if the OP had really wanted to ask about positioning of often, he could have given a much more cut-down example context. But if you were to decide it wasn't proofreading, and you wanted to answer it, I think the best course would be to create your own "minimal example" and deconstruct that. And let the OP figure out how to apply the general principles to his specific case. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 9 '14 at 18:36

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