7

The problem:

I've recently seen questions in this form:

Some title that might need polishing

< a lot of background that usually doesn't add to the question >< a question that the OP wanted to tackle with >< the answer OP had in mind, has a 80% degree of certainty and just needs a nod > Am I right? (or a similar variation of it)

I think I can safely assume most, if not all, of the passionate members of our community have noticed that "Am I right?" questions, if occasionally useful, tend to be a "VLQ answer seed". (i.e. they tend to attract "yes, you're perfect and so is your reasoning") answers that aren't really answers, not on Stack Exchange. If not, they'll get a comment saying the same, and will remain unanswered.

I recently commented on one of them 1:

Again, these kind of "amirite" questions are not really helpful for the community. Instead of posting all as a question and asking "am I right?", please consider writing a self-answer and explaining the connotation that the stressing conveys, optimally with resources and the "why"s.

The solution:

I would like to see learners competent enough to say "am I right?" write their own answers. Per the self-answer section in the help center:

Can I answer my own question?

Yes! Stack Exchange has always explicitly encouraged users to answer their own questions. If you have a question that you already know the answer to, and you would like to document that knowledge in public so that others (including yourself) can find it later, it's perfectly okay to ask and answer your own question on a Stack Exchange site.

So, the question above would ideally be:

A title that makes the question distinctive, or hopefully unique

< a little background that relates to the question >< a question the OP wanted to tackle with >< some thoughts on the question >< question mark>

Please note;

I don't want the side effect of this request to be a new generation of bad answers and guesses. If you're speculating, please include your "thoughts" in the question. If you're "answering", please do so in the answer part.

In other words, if you're typing to get a "yes, you're right." then you most probably should write an answer. If you're expecting a lot of corrections or aren't 80% sure your answer is correct, then include your thoughts in the question. Note that this doesn't have any contradiction with the "provide research and original thought" close/downvote reason.

A humble request from our querents:

Dear next user who'll ask an "am I right?" question,
As I've seen most of the questions like this end up with yes rather than a no, or with more thoughtful comments from senior users, I think you need to write a real question and a self-answer. Include what you think the answer is in the question only if you're unsure whether that's the answer or not.

If you're looking for someone to nod and say "you're right", then post your thoughts as an answer if they're complete. Alternatively, visit ELL's chatrooms.

If you're unsure about your answer, just don't post or include it. But never include it in the question, pretty please. ELL is not a platform to gather nods and claps; we want real answers to real questions. So please don't formulate your question with a possible answer and an "amirite, no?".

Best regards, MA


1: No links 'cause I despise the meta effect.

  • I do think it's good to encourage askers to post answers because it helps illustrate that the site is collaborative and show that it's OK to edit answers until they're right. I think too many posters react to discussion about their questions or answers as if folks are criticizing them instead of trying to make the question or answer better. (Some folks are criticizing instead of helping, but maybe we can model better behavior for them too!) – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 18:49
  • @Colleen after verifying, they should write their self-answers. They're typing the question, getting a "well done!" comment; and then leaving it as is, making it seem like the thread is "unsolved". – M.A.R. Aug 28 '15 at 18:52
  • 1
    I agree. Also, if the only answer to a question is "Well done!" then it's not a suitable question for the site and it should be closed or edited. I think that most of the things that cause someone to be uncertain about whether they've got the correct grammar have more that can be said about them than "Yep, you're right!". This is one example that started out as a "amiright" question and turned into a decent question after a little discussion and editing. Just because the asker gets it right doesn't mean that's all there is to be said in an answer. – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 19:07
  • OK, I ran out of characters in my last comment - in general I agree with what you're proposing, and everything after that is additional thoughts and is not paraphrasing what I think you've said. – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 19:10
  • Please do post an answer @Colleen! FWIW, being consistent is appreciated. – M.A.R. Aug 28 '15 at 19:12
  • What was the question? :) I thought this was just a discussion – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 19:14
  • It is a discussion, but having your ideas in a less scattered way is better. ;) – M.A.R. Aug 28 '15 at 19:15
  • Maybe I'll take the time later - I was just dropping by while waiting for my data to finish recording, and it's complete. Going to be working through another weekend :( – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 19:17
14

The problem is a real one; but I don't much care for the proposed solution.

  • It requires additional effort on the part of users who in many cases struggle to express themselves once.

  • It separates the user's problem from her effort to solve the problem—matters which may have a common origin.

  • It exposes the user to unnecessary risk. A question which demonstrates a clear effort, however invalid, to understand the problem will rarely be downvoted at all, and at worst it exposes the user to -5 downvotes. But if the question and effort are separated, both the now-inadequate question (-5) AND the invalid effort (-10) are likely to be downvoted, tripling the user's exposure.

What I want to know is how the questioner's mind is working: What led her to perceive a problem here? or What led her to believe that this approach/phrasing might constitute a solution? In nine cases out of ten what needs to be addressed is some underlying misunderstanding or misinformation, and addressing that will not only solve the immediate problem but provide a sound basis for addressing similar situations.

In particular I'd like to see the "research" schtick go away. I can do any necessary research far more competently and far more quickly than OP; and frankly, I'd rather not point her to Google, where the probability is very high that she will be misinformed by some bozo who thinks that having read two style manuals (only one of which is not Crank & Blight) constitutes grammatical expertise.

  • 1
    The research-request thing is an established norm in Stack Exchange to stop crap flooding the sites and make them just like any other conventional forum. I have to study the ELL's case further and see if this is also a necessity here; and that'll require another meta post. I agree that this policy's usefulness in another SE doesn't necessarily indicate its usefulness for ELL. – M.A.R. Aug 29 '15 at 13:42
  • 1
    @inɒzɘmɒЯ.A.M I understand the problem it's intended to address--Did you bother to consult {the standard authorities / the documentation / a dictionary}?. But "research" is not only an off-the-top-of-the head approximation to what is meant, it suggests that SE should only be approached as a venue of last resort and not, as it should be, a venue of first resort after the authorities leave you puzzled. – StoneyB Aug 29 '15 at 13:57
  • 1
    In fact, in sites like Stack Overflow "using as a last resort" has become the only acceptable notion. I wonder, though, if we could refine this with borrowing something from the science SEs: What if we have a homework-like close-reason or change the current ones to show that? On Chemistry, you're supposed to provide your thoughts when the question is "calculate X". There's no need to link elsewhere. I guess educated guesses from learners should be encouraged. – M.A.R. Aug 29 '15 at 14:04
  • @inɒzɘmɒЯ.A.M I have the same objection to the "homework" rubric: it's local jargon whose meaning we understand but visitors are likely to misunderstand (see this). "Homework" and "research" and "unclear" and "too broad" and "more context" are all basically the same thing: Define the problem with sufficient precision and accuracy to elicit a relevant answer. – StoneyB Aug 29 '15 at 14:19
  • Ahh, I understand. Correct English grammar isn't as easy-to-find as correct chemistry is. (While there's still room for discussion at that; chemistry is overrun by oversimplifications) People on chem have some special comments to explain what we call homework. Due to the nature of querents on ELL (people who we assume have a particular problem in understanding the communication medium) I think I need to change my perspective: Homework closure reason can't work here. – M.A.R. Aug 29 '15 at 14:27
  • @inɒzɘmɒЯ.A.M Just to be clear: I agree that what we call "homework" questions need to go away. But it's not because they're homework, it's because we don't know what the real question is. Same thing with multiple-choice questions and phrases-in-isolation and "Please explain the difference between in/into/to". – StoneyB Aug 29 '15 at 14:36
  • IIRC the very reason for the existence of different closure reasons is to make this easier for askers to digest that they need to ask "a real" question. – M.A.R. Aug 29 '15 at 14:48
  • 1
    @ina not really. The research thing is a newfangled thing. It could be good but it's abused by lazy reviewers. – Araucaria Aug 29 '15 at 16:49
8

Are they suitable for the site? Yeah. But here's the thing.

Firstly, I've always been a little bit hesitant to suggest that questions are a poor fit based solely on the answers that they would receive. Why? Because the asker often doesn't know what kind of response they'll get, and it's likely to turn people off using the site. Are these those kinds of questions? Eh, maybe. We encourage prior research, and so really, asking and suggesting an answer is just a form of that, as Araucaria suggests.

There's another problem, though. The problem with posting answers as comments is that you lose the very important downvote signal that you would get on an actual answer. I suspect that this is offset, in part, by people who would not normally have commented pointing out incorrect comments, but even then, it's more difficult to see, at-a-glance, what the community thinks.

There's a huge opportunity here to prevent further questions like these, though. How? What it really comes down to is the fact that, well, there are very few unique problems. Sure, more general problems may take the form of specific questions. But, you can abstract the specific problem that the question asks, and write a slightly more general answer to it.

This is a question about a thing

Introductory text:

A bit of example text

I think it should be:

What the OP thinks the answer should be

Am I right?

Suppose the answer is no. There's room to expand. If the answer is yes? Well then:

  1. Edit the title and question to make it a little more general
  2. Write an answer that answers that slightly more general question, with guidance for other language learners, ideally with reasons why the OP's proposed answer is correct
  3. Close all future questions that are answered by your answer as duplicates
  4. Enjoy the long tail of reputation

Is this possible on all questions? No. But you could probably do it for the examples provided in the OP here, and I'd say that this is a more productive way to help future learners.

And I'm not saying that we need to, or should, do this for every question. But not every question will lend itself to this kind of answering. But there's a reason why anyone can suggest an edit, and I don't believe that making a specific question a bit more general would be too radical of an edit. As long as the question still asks, and the answer still answers, the OP's original question, then making it a bit broader will only be good for the site in the long run.

Just remember to respect the original author, and actually help them.

  • +billion. This was the answer I was looking for by opening this meta thread. – M.A.R. Aug 29 '15 at 6:08
4

I think one of the problems here is SE guidance itself, especially some of the comments given in reasons for closing. Very often users are asked to say what they think a language item might mean, or what they feel the correct answer might be. In addition the lacks research reason for closing is over-used. It means that people who ask questions may feel compelled to give an entire theory before asking their questions. My feeling is that lacks research should be used more judiciously. Sometimes it is eminently clear why a question poses a problem and no further research is necessarily needed. Lastly I wonder if this question is partially motivated by some other factors, for example particular users flooding the question list with numerous questions, or if the phrasing of the questions happens to irk this particular OP. Personally, I don't particularly like am I right questions, but I don't think that they're necessarily intrinsically problematic or need policing. I think perhaps more of a tolerant approach to other members would be more productive with regard to this particular type of problem.

  • I think there are two categories of questions that might end with "Am I right?" (or variations). One is the "I wrote this sentence, is it correct?" flavor and the other is "I think I know, but I'm unsure and would like confirmation or correction." I don't mind the latter at all, because even if they arrived at a correct construction, there might be something helpful to be said about how they got there (maybe a rule doesn't apply in all situations). – ColleenV Aug 28 '15 at 16:58
  • 2
    @Colleen I'm referring to the latter group. They're not bad. They just need to be a question and an answer, not just a question. Because the asker often times is right and the real answer to that thread would be a bare yes. The answerer has to try hard to add some stuff to their answer and post one that doesn't get deleted. – M.A.R. Aug 28 '15 at 17:58

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