The TL;DR; version is more or less the last section. I recommend that you don't skip and read all I have to say, though it's your own choice.


Just like how life gets interesting when you get opposing views, and just like how the US (or any) election would be very boring with only one dominant side, per site metas in Stack Exchange experience a contrast in opinions — which is healthy, and makes room for improvements.

Since I started contributing to meta.ELL, I noticed there are two major ideologies here:

  • Sympathy for the OP
  • Quality control

I sometimes adhered to the first, sometimes to the second. The main concern of this post is that they're at times contradicting each other and leading us to a dead-end. The labels are inaccurate and incomplete, as usual; let's diagnose each view separately.

Sympathy for The OP

What are we here for? Isn't it ultimately helping people? We of course do that by building a library of questions and answers to them. I'm not a fluent speaker of Arabic, and communicating in Arabic is very cumbersome for me, so I do understand the frustration of watching a screen but not being able to do anything with it.

The main concept at play here is sympathizing with the OP. It sometimes gets out of hand: Some people consider OP's unable to do anything a regular Stack Exchange OP can do, and that's where the problem arises.

Some examples demonstrating this point of view are:

Quality Control

Let's be honest; I find myself more on this side and I'll try to explain why. This side is what makes SE different from a regular forum.

We shift from being solely pro-person to pro-content along with pro-person. For the first time, content is being considered significant. We have janitors and a police department now. "Don't make noise, don't clutter." Ideally, applying this scheme, no noise should be tolerated: Just questions, answers, and the most useful piece of info in the comments.

Of course, it never has been that extreme anywhere. ELL and its meta community are no exceptions. We are kind and tender yet strict.

Some examples demonstrating this POV are:

Clash of Clans

Just like many of the political ideologies, extremism leads to unhealthy decisions in these two approaches. I dare say all of us, depending on the situation and context, use some reasoning and choose one of them; we never have been purely on one side.

There is, however, a place these two contradict. Bluntly put, this has happened in quite of the few of the recent controversial decisions in meta posts:

A: Let's require X.
B: But how is a learner supposed to be able to do that?!

And that has been one of the reasons the discussions here don't usually lead to a consensus on a matter. A good instance of this is where I chose to be on the second side and @Jim chose to be on the first in this question.

Please do some searching before asking a question. This(a link) is the second result of the Google search of "to be blamed or to blame". – IͶΔ Dec 11 '15 at 13:25

@IͶΔ Many ELLs would not necessarily recognize the similarity between ["were to blame vs. were to be blamed"] and ["be to blame vs. be to be blamed"]. Second, not every ELL can be expected to conduct a web search using those exact keywords on the same search engine you used, which would be configured to yield the same results. Third, not every ELL would recognize that the result you mentioned might likely answer the question. Fourth, that result does not currently answer the question. Fifth, in my opinion, your language, though certainly not rude, is likely to be interpreted as inhospitable. – Jim Reynolds Feb 17 at 16:40

@Jim any SE user is expected to do some research. I haven't voted to close this but my first comment is the reason for my downvote. And well, on the Net everyone misinterprets everything. Sometimes politeness is taken as sarcasm, and sometimes serious business is taken as inhospitality. We're stretching this ELL cuddling1 too far. The same issue should exist more or less in other SEs, but it surprisingly doesn't. I don't let sympathy get in the way of moderating the site. (Disclaimer: I'm an ELL) – IͶΔ Feb 17 at 18:10

@IͶΔ Maybe we can agree that there will always be a tension between having no standards/expectations on one extreme, and on the other "allowing in" only "learners" who are already quite learned. Hopefully we can tolerate our differences and focus at times on the fact that we all somehow get something sometimes from the enterprise. I think we are especially challenged trying to maintain standards and values that thinking people will sometimes see as being in conflict with each other. – Jim Reynolds Feb 18 at 3:29

I don't think like that @Jim. Any learner can put some effort into learning how to ask and what to ask. I don't want to isolate learners and I'm not a treasure hunter. I want to separate content, not people. – IͶΔ Feb 18 at 13:11

The Wrinkles

I named this section "the wrinkles" because if either ideology has an upside to it, it implies that it does have a downside just beside that, as if the disadvantage would've never existed if the advantage wasn't there.

Here are a couple of pros and cons I could think of for each scheme:

Sympathy for the OP:

  • Pros: We lower the expectations we have from the OP's. They won't have much of a hard time coming up with something that gets upvoted and answered. Everyone sleeps happily at night.
  • Cons: We lower the expectations we have from the OP's. They aren't obliged to write quality content anymore. Question quality on ELL will drop; and subsequently the answers might experience a quality fall too. Furthermore, we don't have as many active avid editors as it would take to cover the stuff already.

Quality control:

  • Pros: We expect the OP to do some minimal research, tag their question at least responsibly, if not correctly, and try to maintain some coherent formatting throughout the post. Quality will be maintained, good content will be separated from bad content more effectively.
  • Cons: We expect the OP to do some minimal research, tag their question at least responsibly, if not correctly, and try to maintain some coherent formatting throughout the post. Some ELLers would inevitably interpret moderation as hostility, and there would occasionally be some sad faces in the end of the day. It would be like annoying a minority of people around you because you're holding something precious in your hands and ignore them when they pat on your back.

The Point of This Discussion

The thing we need to discuss right now is which side we choose to be on when there's one to choose, among being purely on the OP's side and enforcing quality. Please look at the section "The Wrinkles" if you want to review the ups and downs of the two approaches, or comment on them.

The biggest SE sites – ELU being one of them 2– have decided they want the second option. As they tend to get questions of very poor quality, they've found that strict moderation is the way to go if they don't want their favorite Q/A to turn into yet another forum. That's also the reason I'm pro-moderation, and I do think, that right now our OP's, especially the more advanced ones, can come up with a very neat high quality post if we ask them to.

But I am just a nonsignificant member of this community, never representative of a whole. ELL is a standalone community and it should/would take some lessons from other SE sites, not necessarily imitate them. If everyone prefers to continue (over-)sympathizing with the OP, no one can tell us what to do.

What I'm asking from you, right now, is that whether we should take the first or the second scheme of things into account next time we're deciding on a policy. That would make life way easier next time someone has a new proposal about something. Also, please, I'd like everyone to participate, either in comments, or answers. Each and every one of your ideas matter.

1: I misspelled "coddling". Runs away in shame
2: In fact, ELU folks have taken a step further: https://english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7429/what-can-we-do-to-make-this-site-more-intimidating

  • 3
    I'll write up a proper answer later, but for now I'll summarize my position: the purpose of ELL, like every other SE site, is to create a repository of good questions and excellent answers to those questions, to help countless future users (not just the OP). Now, to do that, we need to have askers and answerers, so alienating the community entirely isn't going to serve that purpose. But if we become a repository of meaningless questions and answers, we defeated the purpose of our existence. So there's a middle-ground, leaning further toward quality-control; w/o quality we lose purpose.
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 27, 2016 at 21:38
  • 2
    I think we also need to consider how quality standards affect the folks answering the questions as well. Not only have I made learners cry because I voted to close their question, apparently I've pissed off a lot of native speakers answering questions too. What it really comes down to is that users of ELL need to understand that closures aren't permanent, and that feedback in comments should help make the post better. "Easy" decisions are usually not the best decisions. I can't tell you where I stand on a proposal without hearing the proposal, so we can't all agree to agree yet.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 27, 2016 at 23:17
  • Not answering the question at all, but your exchange with Jim Reynolds is based on a mistake on your part: you found something right there on the first page of search results and think that that's somehow relevant. It's not. Google is not general reference. Now, if you looked in the dictionary and found the answer to the question in 5 seconds flat, that's relevant. But search results? Totally beside the point.
    – Martha
    Mar 4, 2016 at 2:21
  • @Martha nope; the OP didn't do research. The dictionary is just part of the research which has become more important in language sites. I downvoted; I didn't close vote. So my action was the standard SE thing to do.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 4, 2016 at 10:29


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