We have a handy close reason for questions that are basically just "find any problems in this chunk of text". That's fine, because those are terrible questions. They haven't actually gotten to the point of figuring out what they want to ask.

But questions like Shall I use 'pursue my passion for' or 'in'? are not so. They are tightly scoped to a single particular part of the sentence and have an easily-identifiable purpose, one that can probably be searched for and applied in other situations. So why does the CV queue get half a dozen mistaken votes to close questions like that every day? I really hope it's not because we're trying to super-downvote questions we dislike.

https://ell.stackexchange.com/revisions/74222/9 just got a close-vote with this reason. It's trying to figure out how a particular structure works and how to modify a given sentence to say the same thing in a different way. If that's "proofreading", everything on the site is.

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    Well said! I also got upset in chat when I saw this in the queue.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 18:37
  • Please describe the "tight scope". We know the issue is a choice of prepositions, but was there any research (checking definitions or why one preposition is correct or better)? To me I read the question as "Which one sounds better?"
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 1:10
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    @user3169: It's asking "which one sounds better for this context and purpose?" I'm not sure how much more on-topic that gets: questions about which of two or three particular words to use in a particular sentence for a particular meaning are pretty tightly scoped! Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 1:18
  • @user3169: You could perhaps argue that there's not really enough context; I think there is, but even if it should be closed, proofreading is certainly not the right reason to use. You could argue instead that it's a simple dictionary question, but there's enough subtlety I don't think that's the case. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 1:22
  • @NathanTuggy But there is no "learning" in that, other than phrase memorization. Anyway I can't go back and change my reason but I still say it is off-topic. This kind of situation is the reason 5 votes are needed to close a question. But let's wait to see how it is answered.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 4:50
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    @user3169 - Proper preposition usage is one of the most vexing challenges for an English learner. I don't think it's right to say that a preposition question has "no learning" and is therefore nothing more than "phrase memorization". Moreover, I think the question is a difficult one to answer fully – most natives will tell you that for is the better choice, but many will be at a loss to explain why.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 9:38
  • @J.R. Of course not. But I am referring to this specific question, and what the OP is trying to learn from it. At best it needs more details, but as I said I can't go back and change my vote. In any case, I am entitled to my opinion; that is why 5 votes are needed to take action. If anyone doesn't agree, just ignore such votes.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 18:19
  • The handling of this question might be insightful - Which sentence is correct among those two. Can't see much difference, and it even has an answer.
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 18:51
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    @user3169 I personally would have closed that example as "needing more detail". The question is bad because it's "tell me the correct answer" with out context, and not necessarily because it's proofreading. I think if it were edited to explicitly ask about the word order, it would be on-topic.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 21:50
  • @ColleenV I agree. That's why I made the comment I did. I'm not sure why it was closed as proofreading... that's clearly not proofreading.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 20:52
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    Here's a new one today ell.stackexchange.com/questions/62947/…
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 17:44
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    I guess the mafia from ELU has started coming here more often, and don't realize the difference between the two sites.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 4:32
  • @MaskedMan: It's possible, although I dislike throwing words like "mafia" around, especially when it's likely little more than a misconception a number of users share. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 4:45
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    @NathanTuggy I don't like using it either, but it accurately describes the way they chased the newcomers out of town when they asked a question which didn't match their "high standards".
    – Masked Man
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 6:05
  • As far as the question you just added, I did vote to close it as proof-reading. Just because you can see a difference between two sentences and imagine an interesting question as a fluent speaker doesn't mean that question is useful to another learner. It's still just a "which one sounds better/is grammatical question" without more explanation from the asker.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 13:48

2 Answers 2


A native English speaker understands the language on an innate level that can be hard to articulate. I think this can cause someone to consider something to be obvious, when it could never be obvious to a non-native until they learn it.

I'm understanding the proofreading rule to discourage questions where a user submits a paragraph or two riddled with problems and wants us to point out and go through all the mistakes. Similar to the "too broad" rule for Superuser. But in this case, the question was limited to a choice/meaning of a single preposition. So I don't see how the proofreading rule applies. It did not seem "homeworky."

Question askers should of course provide as much context as possible but in some cases a non-native may not know what is relevant. A good answer could say which possible contexts might apply if there aren't too many.

Research on prepositions can be difficult. If you Google "definition of on" and expand what Google provides, there are many definitions, and some would overlap with other basic English prepositions.

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    I agree with you that the example in the question had enough context to be answerable. However, even questions that are difficult to search for an answer can include some additional detail, like what the asker is doubtful about, what they think the sentence does or should say, etc. I personally don't expect a dissertation, but I would like to see something other than "which one is correct?"
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 21:38
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    @ColleenV +1 "I would like to see something other than "which one is correct?""
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 23:28

The problem with this usage of "Proofreading" is that the close text pretty much tells people "go away, your question is bad and doesn't belong here".

Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified. See: Alternative websites for proofreading

Proofreading is someone posting an entire sentence or paragraph (or more) of text and asking us to tell them what, if anything, is wrong with it.

A question in the form:

Of the two options X and Y which is correct?

This is not proofreading.

For example:

"Do you know what time does the film begin?" vs "Do you know what time the film begins?"

  • Do you know what time does the film begin?
  • Do you know what time the film begins?

Which one is correct?

The "specific source of concern" is pretty darn obvious here... there's only one difference between the two sentences. One uses "does" and the other does not.

This certainly could benefit from some more detail... but we have a close reason for that. In fact, we have two.

The SE generic "Unclear what you're asking text":

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

The ELL-specific text with an extremely helpful "how to improve your question link":

This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question, or provide more context. See: Details, Please.

Either of these two close options are opening a dialogue and inviting the OP to edit his question and, particularly in the case of the latter, providing some resources that explain how to improve the question. They are both infinitely better than the proofreading close reason which should only be used rarely and in very obvious cases of proofreading.


I'm honestly tired enough of seeing this happen that I'm about to recommend ditching the "Proofreading" reason. Yes, it is a useful reason and there certainly are questions that deserve it. The overuse is really driving me batty, though.

Short of that, here are some options:

  • Perhaps we can rearrange the Close reasons so that the "Unclear" option is first and the "proofreading" option is last. Perhaps it will make it more obvious that it's a favored reason for closing.

  • Rewrite the close reason for proofreading so that it's more obvious what we mean by "proofreading" and it will be less likely to be misused. The current wording is clearly somewhat ambiguous.

  • Rewrite the close reason for the "this needs more details" to emphasize the purpose... start with bold text to make it more visible.

  • In the meantime, when you see something with CVs for "Proofreading" that aren't proofreading, please comment on them and consider posting the "Details, Please" link so that, even if it does get closed, the OP has a resource to go to so that he can improve the question and get it reopened.

I think that at least part of the problem is that users who CV will often hop on the bandwagon of "Oh, this already has CV for this reason, so I'll do that one, too"... If they see a comment saying "this is not Proofreading", they may opt for a different close reason.

  • +1. I'd suggest you write up a separate proposal for fixing the proofreading reason so we can hash out the new wording or whatever. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 1:05

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