Please advise me if it's offensive to quote comments like this, but a comment under my OP says that 'This question, in its current form, is more about politics than English.' While this may be, I know almost nothing about politics or philosophy or some other subject. I've asked these questions because my English is primitive and because these questions involve only English:

Don’t ever rely on what you know from other sources in answering the multiple-choice questions. They are always questions about the passage itself. If it contains falsehoods, never mind – treat them as true for the purpose of the test. (Source)

Thus, what questions can be asked here? Where on Stack Exchange would welcome them?

None of the passages are written by Mark Shepherd; they're quotes from various sources, like the BBC.

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    There is a certain point where concerns become "localized" - specific to yourself and your situation. Your (numerous) questions can be boring to those who don't want to know who Mark Shepherd is and feel that dissecting his writing is tedious and not the kind of volunteer effort they want to spend their time on. Unfortunately that may mean you're on your own with this hill you have to climb, somewhat, unless you pay someone? I know it's callous to say...but speaking for myself...I'd rather answer questions for a wider audience. A country of learners... not one person cramming for a law test. Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 10:11
  • (more pointedly: "help me understand Mark Shepherd" may be too localized for any StackExchange network. You can propose it at area 51 but I don't think it would get a lot of support. If you don't have good peer study group connections you might seek them... but just because ELL people want to help people understand language and are thus probably nicer than average doesn't make them your captive audience for every question.) Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 10:16
  • @HostileFork I've updated my OP; the quotes are actually from various sources, and not Mark Shepherd's. Yet I don't want to monopolise anyone's time, and can definitely relate to the difficulty of these questions, so I accept your concern.
    – user8712
    Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 13:19

4 Answers 4


I think many of your recent "Mark Shepherd" questions border on unreasonableness. In almost all these cases, to even address your fundamental question, one must negotiate the test question from the prep book first. Therefore, you are asking someone to spend time trying to figure out what the test question is asking, and then even more time figuring out what you are asking. To compose a reply would take even more time than that. You are asking the community to do an inordinate amount of work for something that is unlikely to be of benefit to anyone but you.

I think the main lesson here is to avoid regarding ELL as a mother lode for assistance when one is working through a voluminous work. It gets tiresome. I won't say a Mark Shepherd test prep question is off-topic, because it's not. But 10 questions relating to any single work can get monotonous, and 30 questions will almost assuredly grow irksome to many.

Part of being successful in any community is being able to gauge when you dominating the discourse too much. I get the feeling you've decided to come to ELL for help any time you were foiled by a Mark Shepherd question, irrespective of whether or not the root of your question was related to your level of English, or something else, and that's where you ran into your disfavor. Even now, you're essentially asking:

Where on SE can I get tutoring for my Mark Shepherd questions?

As for this remark:

None of the passages are written by Mark Shepherd; they're quotes from various sources, like the BBC.

That's irrelevant. You have asked nearly thirty question from Shepherd's book in a mere two weeks. It doesn't matter if the questions themselves quote outside news articles or not, the issue is the same: you are expecting people to invest their valuable time and energy into explaining these questions one by one, and we are not a free tutoring service.

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    I think it's telling that there were essentially zero negative comments early on, and that there've been more and more comments as the questions have piled up.
    – user230
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 7:26
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    I do think however, if they questions could be put more succinctly, many of them would be OK. Quoting one sentence or phrase and asking why it doesn't mean the same thing as another sentence or phrase might not be strictly on-topic, but it is something that the community might be willing to answer. I think part of the problem with the questions is the amount of effort required to simply understand the question well enough to answer it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 14:10

The community is against this series of questions:

This question is off-topic because it is not about understanding English, it's about understanding and applying the logical difference between inference and statement. – Codeswitcher

I don't see this kind of question as being pertinent to this site. You are asking about the content of a particular English-language excerpt. AFAICT there is no question here about the language used in that excerpt (or elsewhere). IOW, this is about logic, not language. — Drew

This question appears to be off-topic because there is no clear question about English. — 200_success

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about Comprehension of a specific text, not learning the English Language as stated in the FAQ. — user3169

Again, you seem to have no trouble understanding the English of the cited text. Your question seems to be about how what is said relates to the question posed in the test: it is about the content behind the text and not about understanding what the text says. Should be off-topic, IMO. This is like asking about the content of a piece of physics text, where you understand the text but do not understand the ideas conveyed by it. — Drew

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about reading comprehension, not specifically an issue with language. — ColleenV

I don't believe any of those questions are about English: they're about reading, in any language. — StoneyB

I'll admit I'm mentally filtering out every question with "Mark Shepherd" in the title — snailboat

Are legal texts fitting for "English Language Learners"? :-/ — HostileFork

This question appears to be off-topic because ELL is not Law School Prep. Please stop. – 200_success

It's not just a matter of rephrasing, it's also a matter of pace. Your first question from this book was a little interesting; the next, maybe a little bit, too. After a while, though, any time I saw Mark Shepherd's name on the question list, I simply rolled my eyes and sighed. If we got one or two of these a week they might garner more interest than if we saw one or two a day. We're up to 29 questions in the past 10 days; the reaction seems to be lukewarm at best – I see very few upvotes in those 29 questions. – J.R.

Should be off-topic, IMO. This is like asking about the content of a piece of physics text, where you understand the text but do not understand the ideas conveyed by it. – Drew

I don't think these questions would be welcomed on any Stack Exchange site, but I'm afraid that's not a valid reason to ask them on ELL.


I think that ELL has something of a bias against questions that appear to have been taken from an exercise book; whether this is just or not isn't the point of this question.

However, if you're continually asking for help on a series of questions, and they're all in the same style, it's likely to grate on some nerves, especially when you don't appear to put effort into understanding some of them:

I answered (d), but why's it wrong? Doesn't the quoted part prove (d)? Did I misread something? - Which's suggested in the article? - Test 3, Q22, by Mark Shepherd

I think one of the issues is that, fundamentally, these questions amount to logical proofreading. That is, I could probably summarise your questions as "I thought this, but it's apparently wrong. Why?" Sometimes, you provide reasons as to why you thought what you thought; sometimes you don't.

As much as I would like to help you, these questions definitely require more attention than those that are concerned with language learning, which are at times already very time-consuming.

Like snailboat, I think that any Stack Exchange site would very quickly catch on to a pattern of question-asking like this, and personally, I doubt the reception would be warm. This comes down to the fact that, in general, SE sites aren't free homework-help sites, whether you're doing this for study or out of personal interest.

  • I don't see much of a problem with the fact that the questions form a series coming from the same source. It's the fact that they are all off-topic that makes them objectionable. Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 6:34
  • @200_success, I'm with Jimsug on this; multiple questions from the same source in a short period of time smacks of "do my homework for me", which SE, culturally, spurns, even if each individual question is legitimate. From a community-management perspective, there's a good reason for resisting such series of questions, as J.R. so effectively described: we don't want to encourage the endless sea of students on the internet to use SE as a free tutoring service.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 13:13
  • @DanBron OK, I'm convinced! Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:08
  • @200 yeah, that's pretty much it. Problem is that homework help is something that people charge for. Of course, it's unrealistic to ask that all English learners do it for the love of knowledge, but that's probably our "ideal" asker. And to the point about free tutoring, that's one of the points that the OP raises in another meta question somewhere. Certainly, a series of questions such as these are not unlike those that I would usually actually charge for.
    – jimsug
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:56
  • @dan We definitely want to avoid the sea of students. As I say in my other comment, our 'ideal' learner is someone who is doing it because they love the language, no matter how impractical this ideal is. I think individually, they might all be legitimate, but considering the pattern of questions being asked, they're collectively either off-topic, or ought to be. But then, I'm not sure whether the SE model accommodates longitudinal criteria like that, and whether it should.
    – jimsug
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 15:59

After giving it some thought, I came up with a few things you can do that I think will improve how the community perceives your questions.

  • Narrow the focus of your question to a specific sentence or phrase that is confusing to you. If your question requires reading the full passage to answer it, it is likely off-topic here. If there is one particular sentence that you don't understand and it only needs another sentence to put it in context, it may be something we can help you with.
  • Give the people who take the time to respond to your questions some feedback on whether they've helped you. You've asked a lot of questions, and seem to have abandoned many of them. If you don't feel like an answer can be accepted, at least comment on it and mention why.
  • Include some insight on what you are thinking or the steps you've taken to try to answer the question for yourself. This can help us identify what may be the source of your confusion.
  • Wait for a question about a particular passage to be answered before asking another about the same passage. Often having your first question answered may cause your subsequent questions to be unnecessary.
  • Include some insight on what you are thinking... This, more than anything, turns a question from a simple demand for help (yes, it's a demand) into a question that's been pondered, then asked after thought. Right now, the questions read like "I don't understand, help!" which would be general reference if it were about a particular word of phrase; I see no reason why something that is outside the scope of ELL should be treated differently.
    – jimsug
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 16:15
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    This is constructive advice. I'll add that the O.P. could try the following. First, ask yourself: Can this question be reconstructed such that it is about English – not about the test question – and written in a way that might interest the English learner? If not, STOP; don't ask it on ELL. If so, then rephrase the question so that it reads more like a question about English and less like the intepretation of a question on a practice exam. The O.P. may have to accept that only a small minority of the stumpers in the Shepherd book will be good candidates for ELL questions.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 19:59

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