Since it was mentioned that the moderation duties on the site have grown exponentially, I have been trying to spend more time reviewing. This has led a couple of contributors to feel like I'm picking on them because I'm doing my reviews at the same time that they are posting a lot, and I'm looking at the new and active questions.

I try to keep my comments constructive, but maybe I'm using language that comes across as too critical? If I've already commented on a post by a user, should I skip over other posts by the same user and let someone else address the any issues with them?

I can see how getting a critique on everything you post would be discouraging, but I also think that if no-one points out how you can improve, it is harder to figure out how to write a good answer or question for the site.

I'm open to suggestions. I have a hard time keeping quiet when I see something I think can be improved, but I don't want to be perceived as a harpy.

  • 9
    For the record, I've noticed you making a lot of comments lately. I've always regarded them as helpful, not harpy. For as long as I've been on SE, I've seen people who inevitably confuse helpful comments with personal attacks. Starting a question here in meta might be a good first step to helping everyone better understand your spirit and your intent, and you can always link back to this in the future if you think it might be helpful.
    – J.R. Mod
    Jan 31, 2015 at 19:05
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    I just looked through several pages of your comment history and don't see anything problematic. It doesn't look like you're picking on anyone. Quite the contrary, really. But if you do ever feel like you're being too confrontational, you can use longer, less direct language or weaken your assertions to reduce any perceived face threat: "X is wrong" is short, direct and strongly worded, while "I'm not sure X is correct in this case" or "I wouldn't personally say X" are longer, less direct and deliberately weakened alternatives. (Be careful, though, as circumlocution can confuse beginners.)
    – user230
    Jan 31, 2015 at 19:53
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    From what I can see, though, you don't really need that advice―you just need someone to tell you to keep doing what you're already doing.
    – user230
    Jan 31, 2015 at 19:54
  • @snailboat Your point about being too terse is a good one. Sometimes I'll post from my mobile during a break and I don't write what I would if I was using a full keyboard.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 31, 2015 at 19:57
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    @ColleenV I merely want to thank and impart my appreciation for ColleenV's help these past months. In my personal case at least, ColleenV has been civil and helpful, so I hope that her aid can endure.
    – user8712
    Feb 3, 2015 at 0:45
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    And I forgot to mention in the answer. If you want to sound as helpful and "non-attacking" as you are, when reviewing first posts, don't forget to say: "Welcome to ELL.SE!"
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 3, 2015 at 13:40

2 Answers 2


I'm definite you're just doing what's right, so the intention of leaving an answer is to demonstrate which reviews are SE-acceptable, as far as I may have understood, and what you currently feel (the unease of being harpy as a common commentator) is just the feeling I used to have.

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

Request clarification from the author; Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post; Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

I'm not that active in here, but I'm a nitpicky (emphasis on the negative connotation) and zealous reviewer in chemistry.SE. (Haha, and I love bragging about it) I have a different point of view than that of yours.

Stack Exchange is a community where people are here to help people, which isn't only answering questions. Editing is encouraged, not to mention commenting. Reviewers are awarded with three badges. For voting, we have civic duty, electorate, suffrage and vox populi. What does that mean to me? It means that reviewing is a goal SE creators had in mind which could actually matter as much as voting. That's the sole purpose of a badge: To summarize how passionate (or cool as in asking or answering) a person is about a specific SE community. Instead, I have a couple of pointers to leave:

A review must be a review, a reviewer a reviewer:

I have no idea if what I wrote above even makes sense. But I know one thing:

I feel, guilty, when I click "no action needed" when reviewing. I just became devoted to SE in a month or so, and have been reading much about it, either in per site metas or meta.SE. When you're reviewing, do an upvote or downvote, leave a comment, flag, or close. Come on! You can do one of them. The points in reviewing are:

  1. Review carefully. "Not reviewing at all is better than a rash and reckless review." (Paraphrased from here.)
  2. Don't overreact. There is a boundary between being a caring and sympathetic yet disciplined and serious reviewer and being a pessimistic one who closes anything in touch because in the furthest sense of the question lies proofreading assistance or dictionary look up.
  3. Consider excessive "politeness". It's better to say "you probably should provide your research into solving the problem yourself." Instead of for example "you must show what you've done or we'll close this." I figure out the latter isn't impolite, but gives a "shouting" connotation as the OP sees the comment. And I also figure out auxiliary verbs of speculation do the job the best way. :D

What you're currently doing isn't discouraged at all. This is the disciplined way of reviewing. If you feel (And I'm saying feel, not be certain) a post can be improved or the OP has to be notified, just do it. The problem is when you don't do these. I'm telling you to comment more and often, as long as comments are intended improvement requests.

Don't get bothered with attacks:

It's crystal-clear that no two people are the same. To make matters worse, people are of different moods when visiting here. It's morally feasible for a user to visit here after s\he has just found out to have blown up their geometry final exam. To make matters even worse, when new users are unfamiliar with the rules they should abide here, and see such comment when looking for an answer eagerly (maybe looking for someone to do their homework, at times) they could feel hurt. To make matters even worse, non-native speakers are a lot to come by. They may misinterpret what you mean pretty easily, or they might use words that have implications they aren't fully aware of.

So you see, the case of ELL attacks can be more serious and more common.

There are but a few points to this answer as well:

  • I'm fully aware that you already knew these. But I wanted to say that "don't hesitate when you're on the right path".
  • I wanted to repeat that "being perceived as picking on people" is never the case with any who are familiar with SE rules and are in good temper at the moment.
  • There aren't any problems with clicking "no action needed"; as much as I never had any intentions to offend anyone. If you feel offended, be kind to accept my apologies and care to comment.
  • 3
    I believe that everyone has a natural talent, and mine is nitpicking ;) I hesitate to bring the full force of my talent to bear outside of work, but you do make a good point that I'll summarize as "Do it to the best of your ability, or not at all." I do skip reviews of some things in the queue when I feel that I don't have the time to provide the level of feedback that's warranted. I could be better about avoiding the "no action needed" option however.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 2, 2015 at 21:58

I think it's important for one to understand why they are contributing and what their limits are in their ability to cope with their actions. Let me explain with an analogy...

People have the ability to exert more force onto their body than their body can handle. My son was in crew, and he once sprained his calf. He was able to command his body past it's "breaking point". In order to avoid that, one needs to know their limits and also listen to their body.

We often override warning signals in this hustle-bustle world, but our ability to do all manner of intellectual and interpersonal work has limits that we cannot sustain. This is true at multiple levels of time: how much work we can do and a pace we can sustain in one day, in a week, in a month, in several months, in a year. We might be able to do a sprint of 24 hours, but that's not sustainable past a day or two - certainly a week without sleep would be detrimental.

But there's even more subtle signs of stress and fatigue that we learn to ignore. And I submit to you that feeling you have... that you feel like you might be nitpicking... might be an indication that you're pushing past a certain ability to cope with the amount/time/intensity of work that you're performing.

You have several options.

  1. Continue at your pace; you might be able to sustain it forever.
  2. Continue at your pace; you might burn out.
  3. Learn how to cope better at your pace. That would include some cognitive change. This type of cognitive change can sometimes occur quickly, but often it takes time and effort.
  4. Lower or vary your pace to levels that don't create these feelings.

I would similarly submit to you that these feelings you have are exactly the signal you might want to watch for to help you gauge what level of work is good for you.

FYI, It can be addicting to contribute. I regularly exceed my ability to cope with the work I produce here, and land in burnout zone a lot. But I guess that's part of the fun, too. (The high intensity contributing, not the burnout.) :)

  • 1
    I appreciate your perspective - I have had to institute some self enforced rules about contributing to forums to keep things sane. However, this particular question came about because I had a couple users ask me directly why I was picking on them. I'm fairly introspective, and whenever there's a communication problem, I try to take a look at what I might be doing to contribute to it. I was probably terser than I should have been with newer users because of work demands. You'd have thought I'd have learned by now to step back from "optional" tasks when I'm overloaded.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 7, 2015 at 22:56

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