I have been criticised for answering off-topic "is this correct" questions, which I accept, but others are still doing so without censure. What is going on?

  • Per the rules, proofreading questions limited to a certain phrase or other source of confusion are on-topic. So "is this correct?" doesn't necessarily dictate closure. That said, due to reasons I really can't comprehend, people on ELL don't get on the same page even on the simplest things, let alone enforcing a decided meta policy. I even shouted out this very issue once. meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/2965 , which itself is a sequel to meta.ell.stackexchange.com/q/936. TL;DR; if you care about the overall post quality here, please don't answer something you can flag for closure.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 1, 2016 at 6:32
  • It happens on ELU also, with good intentions , as was my comment. Oct 2, 2016 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


I followed up with a comment to https://ell.stackexchange.com/q/105179/ to clarify that not everything that asks "Is this correct?" is proofreading. There is a discussion about answering questions that need improvement in DO NOT FEED THE BEARS and I think that the comments were intended to "show you the ropes" so that we can be more consistent as a community and not to censure you. Let me assure you that you aren't being singled out.

There is an on-going debate about where we draw the line between making sure the folks get a useful answer to questions that are simple for fluent speakers to answer and protecting the integrity of the site as a whole to make sure that the content is high quality and useful. Our community is constantly evolving, so as frustrating as it is for the folks that have been here a while, the balance is constantly being renegotiated as we attract new members.

There are very few rules that are enforced, and they all deal with keeping the discourse civil. Everything else is a community-driven norm. Use your best judgement, be open to feedback from other community members, and be respectful when you disagree. It's difficult to not sound a bit harsh when you're writing a character limited comment, so cut folks a bit a slack and assume good intentions. If you find something that isn't civil or constructive, flag it and a moderator will handle it.

Our goal here is NOT to make sure everyone plays by the rules and to "punish" folks that don't meet quality standards. Our goal (as stated in the tour) is to build a library of detailed answers to every question about learning the English language. Sometimes questions need to be put on hold so they can be improved, and sometimes they need to be closed because they just aren't answerable in our format. We should keep in mind though that without questions to answer, we have no purpose.

As J.R. pointed out, there are a number of discussions on meta that illustrate that there is no hard and fast rule - here are a few related discussions:

Have we forgotten our mission?
Stop answering close-worthy questions!
Stop throwing "Proofreading" close reason at questions that are clearly limited to a single point of concern
Handling scant "What does this mean" questions

  • 1
    Great answer. As a footnote, while our Do Not Feed the Bears post exhorts us to be careful about providing quick answers to low-quality questions, the flip side is found at Have We Forgotten Our Mission? which cautions against being unsympathetic to the learner and too quick to close. One reason some folks may have trouble finding consistency here is that we're all trying to strike a balance between those two lofty goals.
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 1, 2016 at 12:29
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    Thanks for this answer. I'll read through the discussions. One thing that I would find useful is some kind of check-list to help me (and others) evaluate marginal questions, but maybe this would be impracticable.
    – Mick
    Oct 1, 2016 at 13:14
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    @MickSharpe It's really difficult to judge marginal questions just because of the nature of our topic, especially when folks have to ask their question in a language they aren't fluent in. Do the best you can, and if you're uncertain, defer to the rest of the community or leave a comment and ask for clarification from the author.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 1, 2016 at 13:48

This community is not policed 24/7 by a small committee; it's made up of several people who have various interests and who are on at various times. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect consistency in how feedback is handed down.

If you seem to be getting more direct feedback than others, then it might be that you're posting answers at a time when other folks who have this peeve are frequenting the site.

As a footnote, I'm not entirely convinced that the folks chiding you for answering off-topic questions are in the right. Some regulars seem more interested in policing the site than helping the learner. Judgement calls need to be made, and not everyone will regard a question the same way.

  • But why is it unreasonable to expect at least a good portion of people to hold up to meta consensus? No one in a big community will agree on small things I agree, but this is not small. Not answering proofreading is not hard to agree upon, and even easier to enforce.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 1, 2016 at 6:51
  • @Rubisco - with no links provided by the OP, I have no way to judge the magnitude of the problem. Perhaps a majority are adhering to a consensus. if anyone thinks they are being unfairly admonished by members of the community (or witness such behavior), please flag the offending comments for moderator attention.
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 1, 2016 at 10:01

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