It can take a great deal of effort and courage for a non-native speaker to get started on Stack Exchange which, despite being immensely valuable, can also be rather nit-picky in its moderation. I remember feeling like people were so cold and quick to issue a meta-rejection of how I phrased a question or where it was placed.

Therefore, I believe as an educator and human being that we should be allowed to include phrases of encouragement and, furthermore, that these promote a positive culture on the site. This is especially true in the case of moderation. Here are a few examples of lines that have been deleted from my answers:

"Great question, @user"

"Hope that helps!"

"Let us know if you have any other questions."

These short lines constitute less than 5% of the text and make it rewarding to participate. Why do we feel the need to be so rigid?

This question differs from How helpful is it to add “Hope this is helpful!” to an ELL answer? because it addresses an underlying question of moderation culture within ELL rather than discussing whether a specific phrase is preferable when users provide an answer.

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    Incidentally, Poor Pedagogy (along with Poor Community) is one of the three reasons Michael Richter stopped contributing to StackOverflow. link Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 5:05
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    Here are two related readings: one for questions and one for answers. I'm sure it's been discussed many more times.
    – Em.
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 8:08
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    @JR, I'm going to respond properly to your answer later but I think you should be abstaining from moderating a question that, while it wasn't directed specifically at you, you have now made personal. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 9:03
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    That comment is uncalled for. The answer is meant to help you understand the Stack Exchange philosophy, and explains perfectly the rationale behind deleting "thank yous" and "pleases". If you posted the same question on Stack Exchange Meta, you would be swamped by downvotes, and the Q probably closed as a duplicate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 9:31
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    Now you see how this place works @EnglishTeacherEric. My first comment to your question has been deleted, with no explanation. But this is not atypical. I will state again that no other user should be editing out such a sentence as I hope this is helpful from your answer. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:54
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    And, in fact, I had already edited back in I hope this helps to your answer hours before you posted this meta-question. This was because I found it extremely unfriendly and not nice for any user, especially one that @J.R. in his answer descibes as having 'a bit of a reputation for being a little zealous, heavy-handed, and legalistic at times' to have edited your sentence out--after J.R. had already edited your question and left it in. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:59
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    The answers on the older question explain why these words of kindness and encouragement are (often) deleted, which is why @Eric asked his question in the first place. The "moderation culture" within ELL is found in all the Stack Exchange sites, to a lesser or greater degree.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 7:33
  • I guess 'rigid' is the culture here like it or not, there are certainly many reasons behind it. I didn't take the time to know every detail but it is just easier to 'not be 'friendly'' here.
    – EXL
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


There are a few things at work here that make your question hard to answer briefly.

First, the Stack Exchange has a long tradition of wanting to keep "fluff" out of its questions and answers. (It's not a unanimous sentiment by any means, and you can read some of both sides of the debate at this meta question.) Also, the help center for every SE site also boldly proclaims:

Ask questions, get answers, no distractions

This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

So, realize that you are getting into a community that has a good number of members who feel like they are doing a service by editing out comments that some might find unhelpful or distracting.

On the other hand, SE also has a longstanding policy about being nice, and some would argue that a few welcoming comments like the ones you mention in this meta question would be in keeping with that spirit.

Now I'm a little concerned about the way you've worded your question here, which almost makes it sound like there's an epidemic going on within ELL. I've checked all 12 answers you've left on ELL so far, and I could only find one that has been edited by other users in the community. Let's break that down, starting with my edit:

First, you started off by saying, "Great question..." I let that stand. In your last line, you added, "I hope this helps." I let that remain as well. However, I did delete this comment:

Feel free to ask any follow-up questions and I'll do my best to respond.

I didn't think that should stay in the answer, mostly because it's not unusual for newer users to ask follow-on questions in an answer box, which is something that does go against the grain of the SE format. Even if you meant for the user to ask other new questions, I thought your exhortation could be misinterpreted, so I took it out.

Therefore, I take a little exception to the way you've worded this:

I believe as an educator and human being that we should be allowed to include phrases of encouragement and, furthermore, that these promote a positive culture on the site. This is especially true in the case of moderation.

As a moderator, educator, and human being, I agree with you, and I think that my edit did just that. (In fact, the main reason I edited your answer was to improve the format of the arrows, by replacing --> with .)

Now, there was another user – not a moderator, mind you – who came along later in a separate edit, and removed the "Hope this helps." No doubt this user believed he was doing his civic duty to remove fluff from answers; however, this particular user also has a bit of a reputation for being a little zealous, heavy-handed, and legalistic at times. I disagree with that edit, but it's worth adding that you'll find several long time users of the Stack Exchange that would have no qualms with it. But my point is that these were two separate edits and they should be analyzed as such.

In short:

Why are we removing kindness and encouragement?

A lot of your kindnesses and encouragements have been allowed to stand, and I think your question here perhaps mischaracterizes what is really going on. (In fact, I've found seven instances of you starting an answer with, "Great question, O.P.", and none of them have been edited out.)

SE...can also be rather nit-picky in its moderation

Yes, but don't confuse moderation with edits from members of the community who have sufficient reputation for editing privileges. Those are not the same thing.

Why do we feel the need to be so rigid?

There are a few in the community who seem to thrive on such rigidity, but I think the majority of the community doesn't get wrapped around the axle about such minor things. Please don't confuse the actions of a few pedants with the attitudes of the community at large.

One last comment: I'd ask you to keep an open mind about keeping chit-chat to a minimum. While some find that approach to be aloof or even downright hostile, many SE users enjoy the way the sites aren't cluttered by jibber-jabber in the same way so many other online forums tend to become. So, what you might initially find cold and sterile may be the very thing that keeps other active users coming back. That's worth remembering.

  • The one thing I would add to this is to mention that a lot of our encouragement and friendliness happens in chat, where we can have conversations and joke around a little bit without cluttering up the "reference" part of the site.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 12:35
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    @ColleenV - I agree with all the above, but why do I often have the impression that users are more inclined to CV and DV rather than help and support NNSs, especially with theirs first questions here?. I am not referring to mods, but the general mood here seems to be "please take a tour and come back when you've read the rules". Not a welcoming sign to my understanding, but it is probably just a personal impression.
    – user5267
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 13:26
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    @Absolute I think that everyone starts with good intentions, but after a while they get tired of putting all that effort in and not seeing much change. There was a really good blog post about folks getting frustrated by having to give the same guidance over and over, but I am having trouble finding it again.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:01
  • @Absolute I think it is the responsibility of the language learner to at least attempt to do some research before posting a question here. I would never dream of posting a question on SE: Italian without having tried to find the answer myself. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 17:02
  • @Alan Carmack - the level of research you can do depends on the knowledge of the foreign language you have. But you would certainly recieve a referenced answer.
    – user5267
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 18:03

After reviewing these comments (including negativity from those who agree and disagree with my premise), I would like to raise a few points and offer a concrete suggestion. We are all volunteers here and I respect the tenure of J.R. and others who have put in great effort and time.

The Stack Exchange has a long tradition of wanting to keep "fluff" out of its questions and answers. (...) There's no chit-chat.

Let's define "fluff." Were I to ramble about my dog, no contest. Yet showing respect to someone who disagrees with me (as above) in what became a tense conversation, or acknowledging the benefits of a questioner seeking knowledge in the context of delivering it -- I'm not sure that this constitutes "fluff." ELL is geared towards a multicultural audience and thus should take seriously the prospect that what has been tersely termed "fluff" may carry cultural importance to users and derive educational benefit. Does this truly constitutes a "distraction" or "chit-chat"?

First, you started off by saying, "Great question..." I let that stand.

Putting aside that this was not just about me for a moment, as I did review other edits (and comments about them) rather thoroughly throughout Stack Exchange, what is the appropriate role of moderation? Please forgive me if I'm mistaken, but the very verbiage of "I let that stand" implies that the moderator is somehow the owner of the content. Let's review what Stack says about moderators:

Moderators are ... there to deal with those exceptional conditions that could otherwise disrupt the community. ... The ideal moderator does as little as possible, but those little actions may be powerful, visible, and highly concentrated.

@J.R., I ask for your openmindness as to the minimalism asked of moderators, the cultural subjectivity inherent in this discussion and the fact that I never intended (or wanted) to make this about you. Here's what I would like to propose:

Let's remember to generalize this conversation so that it's not about you and me. Instead, why don't we pose this directly to the subset of ELL moderators and ask for their guidance. I feel that this issue still merits attention and that the tone of the discussion has turned negative, but that there is a great group of individuals elected by the community who can serve, as @ColleenV phrased it, as an arbiter.

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    (1) I put "fluff" in scare quotes for a reason. (2) My primary reason for editing the question was to improve the arrows, not to remove any polite remarks. (3) I made this edit as a member of the community, not as a moderator. In fact, any member of this community can edit any of your questions as they see fit, so I don't understand why this is a moderation issue. Editing is encouraged here. (4) Don't read too much into "I let that stand." All I meant was that I left it alone. I've edited questions on other SEs where I don't serve as a mod.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 18:18
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    "the moderator is somehow the owner of the content" - yes, but not in the way you think. The moderators do own the content, because every single user is a moderator and the community owns the content. I routinely substantially rephrase posts to correct serious grammar or formatting issues, and removing unnecessary text is part of that. You're welcome to do the same, though if you find your edits regularly getting rejected or rolled back, it's a sign that your style cuts against the community's grain. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:35

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