I would like to echo the sentiment of Colleen in, I assume, her answer to another question.

We don't want the site to become a free translation and/or writing service.

I heartily concur and I as much voiced that opinion to a frequent user here whose profile says he/she is a "freelance translator". Six weeks ago I engaged this person in a short convo about the ethics of a freelance translator using this site for assistance in his/her translation work, which convo I include below with the germane remarks bolded.

My question is not, per se, about this particular user's questions, though I reserve the right not to answer those of any user if I feel they originate from a translation project any user is working on, which might be manifest, for example, in a series of questions about a technical document (or even a difficult poem) that any user might be in the process of translating.

My question is about the ethics of a professional translator using ELL as a free proofreading service. Is it allowable? What should SE: ELL do when encountering this issue? What should individual users do, when they feel they might be encountering this situation?

I include the exchange below as an indication of how my brain was stimulated to eventually ask what I thought would be a good meta-question.

Re: “by a slow injection of” vs. “by slow injection of”

These questions are bordering on (or are actually) proofreading. It's similar to "which adjective is better here?" You could also use the. It seems you'll have to get exposure to skads more English for a better grasp of article usage. Telling us why you think it should be a might steer it away from being proofreading. – Alan Carmack Jun 18 at 15:36

@AlanCarmack - I was attending translation courses at a university, and teachers with 20 to 30 years of experience there make article errors now and then. It's not something you ever perfectly grasp when your native language lacks the very concept. I'll try to provide some reasoning behind the use of "a". – CowperKettle Jun 18 at 15:53

Yeah, I know. But still, imho, there's a point when asking about article usage stops being a general question and starts being proofreading. That's just the way it is. And I would say that to those folks with 20 to 30 years of experience. At that point they need to be paying a native proofreader. – Alan Carmack Jun 18 at 16:01

@AlanCarmack - when we should just wipe all the article questions. – CowperKettle Jun 18 at 16:07

Are you getting paid for the translation work you do? – Alan Carmack Jun 18 at 16:14

@AlanCarmack - Should I answer? If my question is against the rules, feel free to closevote. I'm not forcing you to answer my questions. I've answered some four hundred questions free of charge. (0: – CowperKettle Jun 18 at 16:21

If you are getting paid for translating, you might think about the ethics of using ELL for helping you provide an improved product. No I'm certainly not compelled to answer your questions especially if you are getting paid for translating and rely on people on ELL to help you in your translating service, without receiving any remuneration. I don't know if it's against the rules. Might make a great meta question. – Alan Carmack Jun 18 at 16:27

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    IMHO, questions from students or translators or any other professionals shouldn't be treated differently. We don't like the so-called "homework questions" not because they're from students, but because of the lack of detail, effort, and focus. Questions from translators, paid or not, shouldn't be automatically off-topic. This in our "tour" info: "Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do." Unfortunately (or fortunately, for us), translators find "actual" problems more often than others. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 6:04
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    @Damkerng - Similarly, the proofreading close vote reads: Proofreading questions are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified (emphasis added). In the "injection" question, that was certainly the case. A close-worthy proofreading question would have merely asked something more open-ended, such as, "Have I translated this well? If not, what do I need to fix?"
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 21:16
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    @J.R. I would dispute that it was "clearly identified".
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 21:35
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    @user3169 I would dispute that it wasn't. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 23:02
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    I regret that I got here late, but if I understood your concern correctly, are you aware than SO was built as a primary means of professionals helping professionals?
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


The injection question should be closed as "proofreading" because the only language question not specific to the quoted text is:

I believe it's better with the indefinite article because there is an "of-phrase".

If that is the real concern (article use with a prepositional phrase), other similar examples should be included to flesh out the problem.
Proofreading covers questions that appear to be translation related (specific examples where no larger issue is identified in the question), and closing such a question is appropriate. It shouldn't become a personal issue.

As I think is the usual policy on SE, users should be encouraged not to answer questions that are clearly off-topic. Actual proofreading questions would likely become repetitive, and answering such questions just encourages more of them.

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    RE: If the real concern is article use with a prepositional phrase, other examples should be included to flesh out the problem. I agree – a less technical example could improve the question. (A four-line quote about "accidental vascular injections" is not exactly the easiest of texts to follow, especially a learner.) However, I don't agree that "proofreading covers questions that appear to be translation related." Lastly, while I agree that, "users should be encouraged not to answer questions that are clearly off-topic," I don't think this particular question is off-topic – just improvable.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 21:29

I think each question should be taken on its own merits regardless of the source of the question or what the asker intends to do with the answers. Our goal is to create a comprehensive reference for people learning English as a second language. I think a lot of questions that arise from translating are useful in general (although not in particular the "injection" one you linked). CowperKettle usually writes very high quality questions that are useful to other learners, so I have no problem at all answering the ones that interest me.

The types of translation and proofreading questions that bother me are similar to the one I listed in my answer that you linked. They have no context and/or no specific question. They are folks trying to write a letter or understand some difficult writing. I completely sympathize with them, and hope they find someone to help them, but because the answer to their question isn't likely to be something other learners can find and refer to, I don't want to invest my time in it.

ELL can't accomplish its goal without people contributing quality questions. Asking a great question, and staying engaged with it to refine it as it's discussed takes just as much effort and time as writing a great answer. Why should I care if someone uses free resources to do something that they eventually get paid for if they are contributing value to the site? I get paid a lot of money for a job that partly involves writing software. Am I unethical because I use Stack Overflow to help me with some of the tricky bits? I'm even more of a free-loader because I don't ask or answer many questions on Stack Overflow - I just benefit from everyone else's work.


Stack Exchange originated as a site to help professional programmers help each other. The idea of helping people get advice from other experts so that they can do a better job is actually what Stack Exchange is all about. This Meta question is entirely inimical in both in spirit and demeanour to the whole Stack Exchange enterprise, whose very aim is to freely and widely disseminate shared knowledge to as many people as possible.

It is best practice in any field, whether you are a doctor, an architect, a writer, a translator or a teacher to seek the advice of your peers and to freely share your knowledge with other people who need it. Only the very worst teachers guardedly protect their knowledge and refuse to share it with colleagues. The best openly share and discuss methods of teaching, methods of presentation and so on and so forth. People who are good at their jobs seek and share the best knowledge and opinions of others. If you want to be good at your job, it is your moral duty to do so. It is ethically irresponsible not to.

CowperKettle is a member whose contributions to the site and whose helpfulness to other members is nothing short of exemplary. We would die without members such as the venerable CowperKettle.

Questions should be closed or kept open on the basis of the merits of the individual question and its usefulness to other users in the future. It is not our job to investigate the reasons a user has for posting their question. If you find yourself doing this, please take a break from the site.

  • I think you have read far more into my question,which I waited six weeks to ask after the exchange I had with CK. I don't know why you did. I also think that it is your answer that is full or preaching, and not at all my question, sir or madam. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 17:48
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    I agree with some of your points (most of them, actually), but not this part: In my opinion this question here... is off topic and should be closed. If you find the question inimical, by all means downvote it. Better yet, leave an answer explaining why you disagree (which you did). But I think the overall question (about the ethics of a professional translator using ELL as a free proofreading service) is a fair question, insofar as meta questions go.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 21:07
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    @J.R. , (ColleenV) You don't agree that that's my opinion? That is my opinion! I think if the question had asked, "Do we want to be helping translators with their work on this site?", that would have been a different issue. But asking if a user is behaving 'unethically' by using this site and naming them in the process, and then copying their comments into the question is tantamount to an open, public accusation of dishonesty against the user. I do not believe that this is either fair or warranted. I take it to be aggressive behaviour. That's how I feel. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 22:53
  • @J.R. I feel like it's shooting the user first and then asking the questions afterwards. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 22:56
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    Lol - of course your opinion is your opinion! I'm just saying that I don't think the essence of the question is off-topic. That said, if you want to say "public accusation of dishonesty against the user is neither fair or warranted," that's fine, too. The question is a bit heavy-handed. But "too accusatory" and "off-topic" aren't the same thing. (You don't need to remove anything, I don't think, so long as the discussion remains civil and constructive, as it has to this point.)
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 23:03
  • This answer states "It is not our job to investigate the reasons a user has for posting their question" and then jettisons any idea of "investigation" in the process of ascribing ulterior motives to the reason I posted the question ("whether one should should post a question encouraging people to prevent the sharing of knowledge"). I am hard pressed to see a finer example of flaming hypocrisy at work in a post that is basically character assassination. @J.R. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 14:25
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    @AlanCarmack If you feel that's a character assassination, then I'm sorry. What's not in dispute is that in your comments, which you have republished in your answer, you call into question another user's professional integrity. Poor show. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 16:36

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