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I propose the following changes to the guidelines/rules for answering questions on the ELL StackExchange site. I realize that (some of) these may run counter to accepted norms on other StackExchange sites, but, in an English-as-a-Second/Foreign-Language environment, I believe them to be absolutely crucial. I welcome comments from others, and I will continue to use these guidelines when responding to questions there.

  1. Absolutely no sarcasm or any other kind of condescending tone should be tolerated in answers. Possibly, sarcasm/condescension would be lost on some lower-level learners, but it has absolutely no place in this environment. Responders who continually answer questions in such an inappropriate manner should initially be warned, and, if such egregious behavior continues, banned from the site.

  2. Responders must grade their language down to a level appropriate for/accessible to an ESL/EFL learner. Answers which are insufficiently-graded should be edited by others.

  3. New questions which duplicate previously-asked questions should not be closed for that reason, EVER. Many lower-level ESL/EFL learners do not possess sufficient English language skills to determine this beforehand. Of course, responders can link to previous answers.

  4. If a new question is thought to be too basic for the forum because the answer could be found in a dictionary or other readily-accessible source, such a determination (for example, to close the question) should only be made by certified ESL/EFL instructors. I have seen too many great questions shut down on ELL by responders who obviously have never taught in an ESL/EFL environment. (No doubt, such a change would require an assessment or ranking of responders that would be onerous; as an alternative, I would instead simply suggest that no new question that is thought to be too basic be closed, EVER. See #3.)

  5. All responders must consider that 99% of the ESL/EFL learners who are posing questions on ELL are sincere and eager to learn. They should always, always, always be treated with respect and friendliness.

  6. Completely do away with the silly prohibition on friendly expressions such as "Hi, [X]", "Thank you for the question," and "I hope this helps." In an ESL/EFL environment (and, I would argue, in any other kind of environment, but that is an argument for another day), friendly expressions should not be edited out, EVER.

  • 4
    19 out of 333 questions are closed. That doesn't seem like "too many" to me. – Kit Z. Fox Feb 11 '13 at 14:34
  • It does to me, when the preponderance of those closed were because of reasons #3 or 4 in my post. – Shawn Mooney Feb 11 '13 at 15:14
  • Two down-votes with no comments? What gives? – Shawn Mooney Feb 11 '13 at 15:47
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    Stack Exchange sites are not forums; Stack Exchange sites are Q&A sites, where answers are for answering the questions, and questions are not for asking opinions. – kiamlaluno Feb 11 '13 at 16:45
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    Also, downvotes on Meta are different than downvotes on the main site in that they primarily express disagreement with the proposal overall, not that it is a poor question/badly researched/etc. I'd wager that some of your downvotes came from the answerers, who went into great detail about why they disagree with you on several points, and others from people who agree with the answerers and saw no need to add detail. – Hellion Feb 11 '13 at 18:00
  • Do you have any examples on ELL in regards to Point 1? – Deco Feb 11 '13 at 23:35
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    I don't want to add my own answer here as comments and answers to this question have already addressed your issues quite well. Despite that if you feel any issue needs more discussion feel free to join us in chat. Since you are (I assume) new here, it will be easy for us to share our thoughts and perhaps train you in using SE sites. :) – Mistu4u Feb 12 '13 at 11:11
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    Also thank you for the question by the way - just because community members here disagree with you, does not make your suggestion any less valid or worthy of discussion. – Mistu4u Feb 12 '13 at 11:18
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    My biggest disagreement here is the repeated use of words like "EVER", "never", "absolutely", and "completely." It's one thing to be sensitive to the fact that ELLers might have trouble understanding a joke or expression, or might require a steeper learning curve for learning Stack Exchange protocols. It's quite another to overreact and cry for utter prohibitions – in all cases, period. Also, even though I agree quite strongly with Point #5, I don't really see the need to put in two extra "always" words. That seems a bit emotive; I'm wondering what you saw that prompted this. – J.R. Feb 12 '13 at 11:20
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  1. I concur: not only ELL visitors but everybody should be treated with courtesy.
  2. I think we’re all sensitive to the need to be clear, to explain the technical terms we use, and to avoid confusing linguistic and discursive ellipses. But let’s not forget that a questioner’s competence as a writer is not necessarily an index to her competence as a reader: most users, native and non-native alike, understand far more than they can easily use.
  3. Closing a question as a duplicate is not, as you seem to think, an unfriendly act. On the contrary, it points questioners to an answer, or several, immediately; and it invites questioners to distinguish their own question if the existing answers are insufficient.
  4. There is no General Reference closure on this site; I see only one question which seems to have been closed on grounds approaching that, and I have voted to re-open it.
  5. Quite so.
  6. I don't much care either way. But I invite you to consider that visitors to this site will for the foreseeable future be mostly frequenters of other SE sites. It seems to me that to treat them in a manner markedly different from the way they are treated elsewhere on SE is a sort of infantilization, or may be perceived as such. The fact that many of our visitors will have the expressive competence of an average native-speaking six-year old does not mean that they should be treated like six-year-olds.
6
  1. Don't panic. And remember your towel.
    Bad answers can be downvoted. This is the voting system is for. One may use flagging as offensive, but expect some (or all) of such flags rejected.
  2. "Should be edited"? How can this be implemented? "Here's the list of your bad answers. Edit them in order to continue using this site"? Who can judge it, if not an OP and community voters? When an OP hasn't completely grasped an answer, why not use comments? And again, if an answer is too bad, why not downvote it?
  3. Being a language learner is not a sufficient excuse for inability to search.
    Otherwise we will end up with tons of identical questions, and those who really can answer questions will simply stop using this site. Is it what we want?
  4. See #3.
    If a question can be answered merely by quotation from a dictionary article, it's a bad question.
    If it's about contradiction between two sources, or a non-standard use, or something that really worth answering (but closed on ELU for being obvious for native speakers), take these questions here.
  5. Absolutely.
  6. I see no problem. I often thank and then delete my comment when I'm sure the OP has seen it.
  • 1
    1. I am not panicking. I am simply remonstrating with the StackExchange powers-that-be for a marked change in tone. Down-votes will help, but, so far as I have seen on other StackExchange forums, sarcasm/condescension tends to be upvoted, not downvoted. I am militating for the opposite trend on ELL. – Shawn Mooney Feb 11 '13 at 15:22
  • 2. It is very simple. Responders like me who agree that graded language is of the utmost important shall edit responders' posts. It would be better if everyone agreed that this was a good idea, but for my part, I shall continue to do so regardless. – Shawn Mooney Feb 11 '13 at 15:23
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    3. If most of the responders are anything like me, we comprise a group of people who have no life, and if on the off-chance we do not feel on any particular day or at any particular moment like composing a helpful answer from scratch out of our learned brains, we can either (a) ignore the question, or (b) in a matter of minutes, post a link to a previous answer. – Shawn Mooney Feb 11 '13 at 15:26
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    1. Learners are to be the majority here. They have more votes to cast. 2. Okay, if your edits make the answers better, why not? 3. No, we can't ignore bad questions as they decline the average quality of the content. It's the major reason for beta closure, directly or indirectly (via loss of prominent users). – bytebuster Feb 11 '13 at 15:58
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    That is correct: We do not want the same question asked in different forms from different users. When a question has been already asked, it needs to be closed, to avoid users waste their time answering a question that has been already answered. This is not different from other Stack Exchange sites, and the fact the site is for learners does not change this. – kiamlaluno Feb 11 '13 at 16:47
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    I agree there is no problem with being friendly in comments. But, I would remove "thanks in advance," "hope my answer is helpful, OP", etc. from a Question or Answer itself, here just as I would on any SE site. Since an answer is not just for the first person who asked the question, but for all future visitors with a similar question who find it, I like to think I am being friendly to all these future readers too by helping them get right to their answer. – aedia λ Feb 11 '13 at 20:54
5

Thanks, everyone, for the feedback. I continue to disagree with some of the conventions of StackExchange, but several of your comments have persuaded me of the wisdom, or at least acceptability, of others. I am going to step back, calm down, lurk a little, contribute where I feel I have something to offer, acclimate, and not rock the boat, at least not for a few days. ;) Thanks again. I really appreciate your comments, if not the downvotes. (grin)

I guess part of the 'juice' behind my no-doubt-obnoxious-sounding ardor on points #1 and 5 of my post last night was that I have too often encountered such student-directed sarcasm in other EFL/ESL teachers and it does make my blood boil.

But for now, I am going to take a deep breath, wish the ELL site well, and hope that I might be able to contribute constructively there.

Shawn

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    A verray parfit gentil conclusion. You have contributed constructively. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 12 '13 at 16:46
  • I am not interested in it. When they insult me by suspending me and closing all my topics... [deleted]. – Persian Cat Feb 12 '13 at 22:43
  • @user37324 Please stop bringing your EL&U arguments to this forum. This site is not the "other parent" you run to when you don't get your way. I'm sorry if you feel you are being mistreated on another site (that's a worthy discussion... over there), but you cannot bring these off-topic arguments to this site. I'm sorry, they simply do not belong here. – Robert Cartaino Feb 14 '13 at 20:37
4

ELL is a StackExchange site and whilst we can be a little different from other sites we are still fundamentally part of the SE network. We can still foster a positive learning culture here without the need to break all of the SE "norms" and Meta is the perfect place for us to discuss these issues.

I'll address each of your points individually:

Absolutely no sarcasm or any other kind of condescending tone should be tolerated in answers. Possibly, sarcasm/condescension would be lost on some lower-level learners, but it has absolutely no place in this environment. Responders who continually answer questions in such an inappropriate manner should initially be warned, and, if such egregious behavior continues, banned from the site.

I haven't personally seen this yet on ELL, but please feel free to link to posts where you believe this is happening on here. If you have an issue with the content of a question and/or answer, you are free to edit the content (as long as you don't change the original meaning) to what you consider an accepted standard. Stack Exchange sites are community edited, moderated and contributed to.

I would also like to point out here that these sorts of comments are not appropriate and don't help you argue your case. As I've mentioned in comments to you before, Meta is the appropriate place for these sorts of discussions.

Whilst we are in beta we're still shaping the site - and you can help us doing that by continuing to provide good answers (like you have) and raising issues on Meta for the community to discuss and ultimately resolve.

Responders must grade their language down to a level appropriate for/accessible to an ESL/EFL learner. Answers which are insufficiently-graded should be edited by others.

I agree with this and it has also been discussed here on Meta too. If you feel an answer is too technical for the target audience, feel free to post your own or edit the answer to improve it. The best answers will be upvoted to the top.

New questions which duplicate previously-asked questions should not be closed for that reason, EVER. Many lower-level ESL/EFL learners do not possess sufficient English language skills to determine this beforehand. Of course, responders can link to previous answers.

Not many questions are closed here as yet, but as @StoneyB mentioned - it isn't an unfriendly act and can help the asker find an answer to their question without the need to duplicate content that is already available. If the answer on the "duplicate" isn't what the asker is after, this will assist them to target their question further.

If a new question is thought to be too basic for the forum because the answer could be found in a dictionary or other readily-accessible source, such a determination (for example, to close the question) should only be made by certified ESL/EFL instructors. I have seen too many great questions shut down on ELL by responders who obviously have never taught in an ESL/EFL environment. (No doubt, such a change would require an assessment or ranking of responders that would be onerous; as an alternative, I would instead simply suggest that no new question that is thought to be too basic be closed, EVER. See #3.)

I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. A question closure isn't binding, and we can always reopen a question based on community discussion (which has happened with some questions already). Just because someone hasn't taught in an ESL/EFL environment before doesn't mean they also can't provide quality content to our community or assist in the moderation of it. Certification as an ESL/EFL teacher is different in every region (e.g. it's a 2 day course here) and we shouldn't police our content and community based on what their qualifications (if any) are. As I've mentioned, SE sites are moderated by the community and when a question is closed and you don't think it should be - raise it on Meta.

All responders must consider that 99% of the ESL/EFL learners who are posing questions on ELL are sincere and eager to learn. They should always, always, always be treated with respect and friendliness.

Absolutely. The other members of this community should also be treated with respect and friendliness.

Completely do away with the silly prohibition on friendly expressions such as "Hi, [X]", "Thank you for the question," and "I hope this helps." In an ESL/EFL environment (and, I would argue, in any other kind of environment, but that is an argument for another day), friendly expressions should not be edited out, EVER.

SE sites are not forums, we work a little differently here. Salutations and the like add clutter to a question/answer and the SE sites serve more than just the primary author of the question.

SE even automatically removes salutations from posts as they are entered.

When a post is edited to remove these, please do not roll it back - as we want to avoid "edit wars". After too many edits your answer will become Community Wiki automatically, which means you'll miss out on any Rep gained from Upvotes, and a much lower reputation threshold (100 rep) is needed to edit the content.

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