A question was just asked on ELL, and it needs a lot of work.

Here's a screen shot. There are two problems with this question: first, the way the initial question was asked; second, the way a follow-on question was asked in a comment.

Error Identification

enter image description here

I'll start by addressing the question added in the comments under the answer.

Had ELL received a question that looked like this:

Using "Named" – "A French woman named Jeanne"

I found this exercise in a book with practice English problems:

The (1)oldest person in the world, (2)a French woman (3)named Jeanne calment, (4)she celebrated her 120th birthday on June 1999.

The problem is designed to help us recognize errors in English. I think the answer might be (3), because I'm not sure we can use the word named in that way. Is my hunch correct?

I wouldn't have a problem with that question. The source of the quote is (somewhat) identified, as is the source of confusion. The O.P. has clearly put some thought into solving the problem, and a plea for help on ELL is justified.

As for the first question in its original format:

Error Identification
If a person (1)has more (2)than ten years old and (3)cannot read and write , that person is (4)considered illiterate.

plz anyone help me find the error in this sentence.

This is NOT the right way to ask a question on ELL; it's simply a copy-and-paste from a practice exam with no background information, and no source of confusion clearly identified. There is no way to know if the O.P. has wrestled with this problem for 3 days, 3 hours, or 3 seconds.

As for the O.P.'s plea for a "kind soul" to help understand English better, I don't mean to sound callous, but this isn't a matter of kindness, it's a matter of quality. Once anyone can paste a question here and get an answer, there's no impetus to wrestle with the problem, or to expend any effort explaining what how the O.P. tried to solve the problem themselves.

Long-term, this encourages ELL to be used as a crutch, and its regular contributors to be used as a free tutoring service (I'm pretty confident that's why the answer provided has already garnered a delete vote). Shame on the O.P. for trying to invoke sympathy by asking for some "kind" user to invest time answering questions that are not properly asked.

That said, my goal here is not to berate the O.P., but offer guidance that can be used in the future. The message is not that the questions are unwelcomed, but that the questions are welcomed after they have been improved. More guidance is available here:

Lastly, I would caution any would-be O.P.: be leery of asking too many questions from the same book over and over and over again. That will wear on the community; it's also why you should put some effort into solving the problem on your own before asking here. ELL is supposed to be a place where people can get help when they are genuinely stumped, not when they initially encounter a problem. Consult dictionaries and Google first, then ask your question here. The result will be a better question – and a warmer welcome.

  • 13
    I wish I could up vote this more than once.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 18, 2014 at 12:19
  • I don't really see much of a problem here. The question was both inherently unfocussed and badly presented. It's been closed, and neither the question nor the single answer have a net positive vote total. In short, it's been treated with the contempt it deserves - which to me implies the site is functioning perfectly well, so there's no need to raise the issue on meta. Very likely that "one-off" OP will never return even to the question - they're not likely to ever come and read this meta post to find out why it didn't go down well. We don't need rubbish here. Oct 18, 2014 at 13:59
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    @Fumble - We're talking about a new user who deserves a nudge in the right direction. I couldn't say all of this in a comment, but I could write a post here, and point to it. Maybe this is a "one-off" OP, but then again, maybe this person can eventually become a valued contributor with the right advice. It's not like the help pages are the easiest thing in the world to find.
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 18, 2014 at 14:53
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    @ J.R.: I've no doubt there will be a few new users who abjectly fail to take account of the site's intended format and modus operandi initially, but who can in principle be converted to useful contributors by careful nudging. But in practice that's a vanishingly small minority. On average they despoil the site so badly I think they probably cause many other potentially genuinely useful contributors to go elsewhere. To my mind, Don't feed the bears implies we should Shoo them away, not waste too much time persuading them to adopt better table manners. Oct 18, 2014 at 15:04
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    @Fumble - Thanks for mentioning that; perhaps I should elaborate. Signs exhorting people to not feed animals are meant to discourage food handouts, not because the sign posters want the animals to go hungry, but because they don't want the animals learning an unhealthy dependence. In this case, I meant to say, "Don't answer questions like this one," and here's why: once one "kind person" provides that helpful answer, it encourages OPs to keep asking bad questions, even when 4 or 5 others are trying to help them learn a more fitting way to ask.
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 18, 2014 at 17:37
  • 3
    An English Language version of the "SHOW ME TEH CODEZ" muppets who make up a sizable proportion of Stack Overflow posters. Rules, advice, FAQ entries etc are no use against the zombie horde; instead, accept it as an unavoidable part of a having a public forum anyone can post to.
    – bye
    Oct 23, 2014 at 11:43
  • @Poldie The questions are inevitable but we can choose to not to answer them. I've noticed that the posters of those questions are also unlikely to accept answers, so the folks that spend time answering them aren't going to be getting much reputation.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 24, 2014 at 16:13
  • I've heard bad questions attract bears. They can smell the reputation! -- Great, Ron, now you've put the whole site in jeopardy!
    – corsiKa
    Oct 24, 2014 at 20:10
  • 3
    Might be related on cross-site Meta: Help vampires
    – Andrew T.
    Oct 27, 2014 at 6:40
  • 1
    Take nothing but time, leave nothing but comments.
    – Damien H
    Oct 28, 2014 at 5:14
  • 3
    If ever was an appropriate use for the despised <blink> tag, it is: Consult dictionaries and Google first, then ask your question here. The result will be a better question – and a warmer welcome. Aug 25, 2016 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


These are the main issues with answering questions that should be put on hold until they're reworked into a better quality question.

Rewarding behavior leads to more of the same behavior. I have learned as the owner of many rescue animals over the years that the best way to prevent undesired behavior is to only acknowledge desired behavior, and ignore the rest unless it's egregious and needs immediate correction. If the asker gets their answer, what incentive is there for them to improve their question?

Poor quality questions result in poor quality answers. Yes, the correct answer is given, but without understanding why the asker couldn't find an answer that helped them, there can be no elaboration on why the answer is correct. The answer may only apply to that specific question and offer no understanding that can be extrapolated to other questions.

A question popped up that made me think twice about what I said about being able to extrapolate an answer to other questions. Some questions are about specific sentences and can have answers that are more widely applicable than just to the sentence in the question. Others, like "What do “M”, “G” and “B” buttons mean in an elevator?", have an answer that only applies to that one question, but the question itself is something that more than one person might want answered.

I think that there are high and poor quality examples of both types of questions and answers, so I wanted to clarify that an answer doesn't necessarily have to apply to more than the question at hand to be high quality in my opinion.

  • 1
    +1 If only we had a standardized response that would encourage questioners to consult references, particularize, and expand their questions, but without discouraging them in the process (see Mary's plea for kindness above.) Aug 25, 2016 at 20:28
  • 1
    @P.E.Dant One thing I've done is to start a text file with some canned responses including links to meta discussions if relevant. I've even lifted some phrasing from other community members - it's not plagiarism it's consistency! It's easier to be patient if it's a copy and paste instead of having to write something original each time.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 25, 2016 at 20:38

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