I have just joined this site. I smell troll activity, bullying, offensive tones and contributors setting themselves up as quasi authority figures. In addition, queries not being answered, commentators indulging themselves by being competitive and going off on tangents. Perfectly correct comments being down graded for no justifiable reason.

I suspect there are commentators who are simply on this site not to help the learners but to post as a means of getting attention.

Comments posted as explanations to the learners where the author is not using a simple enough standard of English commensurate with the learner's standard of English. Worst of all, comments that are completely wrong, and commentators who will not tolerate anyone disagreeing even if it is backed up with evidence in a pleasant, polite manner.

Why is Stackexchange not using moderators? Why are these commentators not being barred from the site or at least warned?

The learners' needs should come first and last and some of them are being failed due to these behaviours.

  • 7
    One thing that stood out to me here, other than a lack of specific examples, was that you refer to answers as comments. The SE sites are very different from discussion forums in that the discussion is limited to comments on questions or answers and comments can't be down voted. Have you taken the tour in the help center? I found that I had a lot of misconceptions when I first started using the SE sites because I assumed they were more similar to other sites than they are.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 13, 2015 at 16:00
  • 1
    @Colleen - Near as I can tell, this was largely prompted by the comment under this answer, along with an ensuing discussion – most of which has been deleted, some of which was put into a new answer (screen shot available here). Morag, you should also know that Jason Patterson's comment was not written by Jason, but by SE. Those "highly offensive, authoritarian, and imperious" tones were auto-generated.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 13, 2015 at 17:53
  • 1
    @J.R. It would be nice if the "not an answer" option in the review queue had softer language. It was the correct option to choose because that particular answer should have been a comment but it does come off as if it were a disciplinary action rather than an editing action. When closing a question, there is guidance on how to edit the question to get it re-opened, but the only way for non-moderators to cull answers that aren't answers is to recommend deletion. I think it seems harsher to new users than it is intended to be.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 13, 2015 at 19:42
  • @Colleen - I don't disagree, but that's an SE issue, not an ELL issue. As my answer suggests, I think part of the problem is how the O.P. is new to SE. Spend enough time here, and you get used to the auto-generated comments. (I'm not saying they couldn't be improved, though.)
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 14, 2015 at 1:03
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    J.R.: you appear to have zero "people skills" and should not be a moderator.
    – Morag
    Jan 14, 2015 at 1:04
  • 6
    Morag, when ELL goes out of beta, there will be a moderator election. You'll be free to vote for whoever you think would make a good moderator for the site.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 14, 2015 at 1:07
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    So Morag, is your comment an example of backing up your post with evidence in a pleasant, polite manner? It looks like the pot calling the kettle black to me.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 14, 2015 at 1:16
  • "Pot calling the kettle black" does exist in English. WOW! @ColleenV, isn't this just a universal idiom?
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 27, 2015 at 19:45
  • 2
    @MARamezani There are some aspects of human nature that cross all cultural divides :) Out of curiosity, I dug into the origins of that idiom, and learned that the original meaning may have been the pot seeing its reflection in the shiny copper kettle. I always imagined both the pot and the kettle as blackened by the cooking fire. english-for-students.com/Pot.html
    – ColleenV
    Jan 27, 2015 at 20:04

4 Answers 4


I have just joined this site.

Well, that says a lot right there. Maybe you need to become more accustomed to how this site works.

Why is Stackexchange not using moderators? Why are these commentators not being barred from the site or at least warned?

The Stack Exchange does use moderators. One of them is answering your concerns right now.

Perfectly correct comments being down graded for no justifiable reason.

Okay, now we're getting to the crux of the matter. You got downvoted, and you didn't like it. How should you react? Here are some do's and don't's:


  • Do not start an argument or fight.
  • Do not lash out at people who may have downvoted you.
  • Do not assume that a person who makes a comment is the same person who downvoted.
  • Do not assume that people who disagree with you don't know what they are talking about.
  • Do not answer someone's comment in a different answer.
  • Do not engage in protracted discussions in the comments – particularly hostile discussions.
  • Do not confuse disagreements with trolling. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a troll.
  • Do not bash the Stack Exchange site as a whole just because of one bad experience.


  • Regard ALL comments and votes as helpful feedback.
  • Consider how you might improve your post, perhaps by making it more clear.
  • Consider how you might strengthen your post by adding references that support your assertions.
  • Accept that other people find this site useful as it is right now.
  • Keep your comments constructive and civil. Refrain from name-calling.
  • Keep the words in your comments in lower case. There is no need for yelling.
  • Be ready to learn, and accept that sometimes you may have to "agree to disagree" with someone.
  • Flag comments if you believe they are overly negative and should be removed.

People downvote for different reasons. Sometimes an answer might get downvoted – not because it is incorrect, but because it is hastily written and weakly supported.

That should be enough guidance to get you started. Welcome to ELL.

  • 1
    "Do not engage in protracted discussions in the comments" The English language is not an exact science. It is inevitable that a question and its answers often involve discussions. Reading those discussions can be useful for the users. Jan 23, 2015 at 16:18
  • 4
    @Makoto - Of course! Comments are a vital part of ELL. That said, they can be overdone, such as when someone responds to a comment with: "You have just posted charmless injunctions yet again! You have also crashingly missed the point! Try to read my statement again if you don't understand." I hope you'll agree that such emotional sentiments ought to be tempered in favor of more level-headed discussions that focus on the English at hand.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 23, 2015 at 19:36
  • 2
    @j.r. Yes, I've gotten into some debatable debates in comments. Sometimes when you post a comment, and someone else posts a comment disagreeing, at that point you have each expressed your opinion and there is nothing more to be said. But it's so tempting to want to get in the last word! I don't think I've ever posted a "Your comment is stupid you obviously didn't read what I said" sort of comment, but I know I've had times when I've just restated what I said before. Sometimes it takes a little self-discipline to just say, "ok, it's all been said, no need to add more".
    – Jay
    Feb 4, 2015 at 14:45

Errors beget improvements

Morag, this is a collaborative site. It’s not perfect. But it often produces excellent results, and the errors are part of how it works. When you see a flaw in another user’s answer, that might give you an idea for a better answer. So write a new answer and post it! If the best answer posted so far is technically correct but poorly written, or written at a level beyond that of the questioner, post a better-written answer! When you see flaws in a question, you can edit the question. In comments, you can point out flaws in other people’s answers and suggest improvements. Your answer might trigger someone else to think of an even better answer, and on the cycle goes.

Those are constructive responses to errors. It’s often much easier to get an idea for improvement from seeing someone else’s error than starting from scratch, and this cycle of improvement often leads to some extraordinarily well-informed and helpful writing for people learning English as a foreign language (and indeed all throughout stackexchange.com). The cycle of errors begetting improvements is also how Wikipedia works.

Living with imperfection

The process is not perfect. Sometimes, a questioner accepts a very wrong answer. Sometimes a questioner accepts a merely okay answer when someone else had written a truly excellent answer. Sometimes a good answer gets downvoted. Imperfection is the price we pay for amateur, volunteer participation and the cycle of improvement.

When a good answer doesn’t receive the public recognition it’s due, or gets downvoted or criticized, it can be a little infuriating, especially if you’re the one who wrote it. When that happens, the best thing to do is remember that the system is imperfect and move on.

It doesn’t help to insist that you’re right or post fulminations about the motives or level of knowledge of the other contributors. Sour remarks only distract from the relevant content of your answer, making it less useful for learners who might come across the page later. Posts containing personal disparagement will get deleted, because they degrade the tone of the conversation for everyone.

If you really want to air a grievance, come over to meta.ell.stackexchange.com and point out the problem as specifically and factually as you can, and either ask for advice on how to handle it yourself or, as specifically as you can, ask for someone else to take action. Folks here disagree a lot, but they’re friendly and—of course—they’re very good at responding constructively.

If you can’t tolerate disagreement or imperfection, stackexchange.com might not be for you. If you can, it’s a great place to learn, contribute, and be part of something greater than yourself.

  • 1
    Nice summary. About the best answer that may (or may not) "win" – there are two ways to "win": be selected by the O.P., or amass the highest vote total. So even if the O.P. picks what many regard as the inferior answer, there is still a mechanism in place for the community to recognize what they believe to be the best answer. (That all said, I like to upvote all excellent answers, not just the one answer that I think is "best".)
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 16, 2015 at 18:43
  • @J.R. Indeed our ways of publicly recognizing good contributions are somewhat complex. Rather than explain in detail, I just edited the answer to avoid the word “win”. I assume that Morag is displeased largely because Morag’s thinking that good answers were publicly criticized. (I also upvote any excellent answer even if it’s not the best, and I hope everyone does. I figure that helps the most to make all the various numbers genuinely informative in the long run.)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jan 19, 2015 at 10:24
  • RE: "Indeed our ways of publicly recognizing good contributions are somewhat complex." Very true! And our ways of recognizing weak contributions are perhaps even more complex, which is why my initial answer began by focusing on the O.P.'s recent membership (two or three days old at the time of this posting). Sometimes it takes awhile to become accustomed to the SE culture; what is meant as helpful guidance or an exhortation to improve are often mistaken for harsh criticism or a personal attack – at least initially.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 22, 2015 at 9:20

ELL is a collaborative effort where the community collectively edits and rates the content to make it better, with a few elected moderators with additional powers to keep things from getting out of hand. We all work together to try to make the content useful and high quality, and even if we don't always agree on everything, I haven't run into anyone that was malicious. Some are strongly opinionated maybe, but still focused on doing what they believe is right for the site.

I think that it is not constructive to slander the character of members of community. A better approach would be to ask what the thinking was behind whatever event it was that upset you and explain why you think it was wrong. If you look at the question Why ONLY some questions asking lyrics meaning are off topic and not all? Maulik was upset, but I think the way that he expressed his issue led to a very useful discussion.


JR: 1. I quote: "Well that says a lot right there".

Your reply is an excellent example of poor people skills. It is defensive and offensive. Immediately, in your view, you are shifting the blame on to the fact that I am new here.

  1. I quote: " Okay, now we're getting to the crux of the matter. You just got downgraded and you didn't like it".

Wrong. It is arrogant, offensive and patronising to tell people what they are thinking. I cannot imagine what your working life experience has been to think that it is appropriate. It is not the crux of the matter at all. The down grade was made against an answer of mine that was 100% correct about the meaning of an English word.

In fact my motivations to be on this site are two-fold. 1. To try to help native speakers. 2. To increase my own learning, as I am well aware that there will be commentators whose answers will enhance my knowledge. In fact I am open to be corrected on an answer of mine if an explanation is provided. I am more than happy to learn from those more knowledgable than myself on the English language. I am very happy to read a quote from science, history, references to other languages etc, etc, that are in an answer if I had not previously been familiar with them.

This leaves me in a minority. There are obviously contributors on here who have a competitive and insecure mind set, and others who do not have enough knowledge to post useful contributions.

  1. If you are a moderator I would have expected you to have a basic grasp of the use of apostrophes. It is not DO's but DOs. It is not DONT'S but DON'TS.

  2. You express yourself in rough, charmless injunctions. I am not referring to the auto-generated comments of the bot which I mistook to be human; I am referring to your own comments.

  3. In particular, you, as a moderator, failed spectactularly over another contributor's comment. They completely misunderstood my reply to the learner. You supported that misunderstanding. Neither of you, in addition, helped the learner with an answer. As a moderator, I would have expected you to understand the other commentator's misunderstanding and to have that level of intelligence. Again, the learner was short-changed. In fact, the learner, since I last checked, has not responded at all to any of the answers. Could this be because they do not understand what the comments on my answer were about?

This site is for learners. Some of the answers are not being written in a standard of English that the learner could follow. This could be ascertained by the very standard of English of the learner's question. The moderators have time and again not picked up on that.

Perhaps you might have considered a contributor's IT and physical ability first before suggesting that contributors are yelling when they use capitals. This would take imagination. The use of capitals is not necessarily because they are yelling but because they do not have either an embolden or italicisation facility or the physical attributes to use them. Not because they are a child who does not know that the use of capitals is usually interpreted as yelling.

  1. I quote: "People downvote for different reasons. Sometimes an answer might get downvoted - not because it is incorrect, but because it is hastily written and weakly supported".

  2. You have actually edited out the last line of my answer which was "I hope this helps". Other answers by other contributors have much the same comment at the end and have not been edited out by moderators.

As I said JR: your people skills are simply not up to the mark.

Indeed. This of course, is a very selective and incomplete statement. Incomplete because obviously some comments are down voted because the person down voting does not know they are factually wrong. It is not a question of a difference of opinion, it is a question of lack of knowledge. This leaves the learner, if they have noticed, short-changed. This is a fault in the system that allows people to do this without any back up whatsoever.

I am not interested in anyone who communicates by rough injunction. Meantime, perhaps you could look into the use of the apostrophe, stop contributors indulging in going off on tangents, and try to understand answers better rather than using your position to support the misunderstandings of contributors.

  • 7
    1) Spelling DO's with an apostrophe has been standard US publishing practice since the phrase Do's and Don'ts arose in the early years of the 20th century. It was not until the late sixties that the spelling without an apostrophe became common, and according to Google Ngrams it still trails the old use by about 4:3. 2) As a matter of fact, your answer at the Piaget question is wrong, though it is a plausible guess and you could not know it was wrong without consulting the source from which the quotation was drawn. Jan 14, 2015 at 2:58
  • Whether it was standard US publishing practice or not it is wrong. Do you not understand? It is plural, not the possessive. This is very basic English grammar. The apostrophe is used with don'ts (again plural) to indicate the missing letter 'o'. Regarding your comment about Piaget: you are now the third person who has failed to understand my first snswer to the learner. Even although I followed it up with an explanation.
    – Morag
    Jan 14, 2015 at 3:17
  • 12
    It is not wrong; it is merely different from the way you use apostrophes. Forty years ago academic standards called for the plurals of letters and numbers and short words to be spelled with 's, just as acronyms, initializations and abbreviations were pointed with . (N.A.T.O., Ph.D.) -- both practices widely but not universally abandoned now. On a site dedicated in large part to the international use of English you have to acknowledge that there is not One English, there are Many Englishes, and they are all in constant change. Jan 14, 2015 at 3:28
  • It actuallywrong, because it is not the possessive and you are confusing stylistic evolutions and cultural practices with logic. It is taught in UK schools as wrong. It is wrong, it is just a fact.
    – Morag
    Jan 14, 2015 at 3:35
  • 13
    Oh, well, if you're going to appeal to what you learned in secondary school there's nothing more to be said. That is, coincidentally, exactly what Piaget was talking about in his discussion of children playing marbles: thoroughgoing "egocentricity" combined with a "mystic respect for rules" which derives not from rational cooperation but from constraint by authoritarian adults Jan 14, 2015 at 3:57
  • RE: The use of capitals is not necessarily because they are yelling but because they do not have an embolden or italicisation facility... Ah, but there is! You can use italics and bold in comments. RE: Some of the answers are not being written in a standard of English that the learner could follow .. moderators have time and again not picked up on that. Not necessarily so. Moderators aren't supposed to fix everything they notice, but to intervene as little as possible.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 14, 2015 at 9:01
  • 3
    I rather doubt that any answer ever posted on ELL, especially mine, has ever been "100% correct about the meaning of an English word."
    – user6951
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:00
  • 1
    @CarSmack I don't think I've posted a single thing here that wasn't made better by someone commenting on it (or graciously cleaning up my typos). My philosophical view of the world prevents me from accepting anything as 100% correct. Nothing is absolute as long as our perception of reality is temporal :)
    – ColleenV
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:30
  • 6
    Morag: what is your goal in this discussion? You are discussing a lot of topics at once: bullying, trolling, helping learners, helping native speakers specially, the way you think that ought to be done, dislike of long comment threads, dislike of others believing your answers to be incorrect (as well as your belief that many of our other users are incorrect), dislike that not every post is edited in exactly the same way by exactly the same user... You brought up many more topics, but these are the ones I remember most offhand. (Cont'd)
    – WendiKidd
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:53
  • 8
    What is your goal? What do you most want to discuss and expect to achieve? Maybe then we can provide you with assistance. (Also, please do unto others as you would have them do to you: if you want politeness in return, please give it. I know this is meta, and grievances are aired here. But we're pushing the line between honest grievances (which you have the right to express) and flat-out rudeness, particularly toward @J.R.). If you can answer my questions, I will do my utmost to understand your central concern and resolve it for you.
    – WendiKidd
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:54
  • 1
    It's too bad the apostrophe placement received so much attention; the real crux of my answer was in the 16 bullets beneath those two headers. In a nutshell: be gracious rather than argumentative, and be open to the idea of improving contributions.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 3, 2015 at 10:23
  • To avoid confusion, we may occasionally need to use apostrophes to indicate the plural forms of certain letters and expressions that aren't commonly found in the plural--for example, "Mind your p's and q's." (Source: Point #6 at this website).
    – J.R. Mod
    Jun 21, 2017 at 22:07

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