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Even though every once in a while it comes up on meta that people are closing questions as proofreading while they're not proofreading I still often see proofreading close votes on questions which are clearly "limited to an area of concern", hence per definition, on-topic in that regard.

This, off the top of my head, can have a couple of reasons:

  • People want a policy change, and that's subtly indicated by them not complying with the old policy.
  • People non-deliberately or deliberately ignore the clause mentioned in the close reason, which would mean it needs a different wording that emphasizes questions limited to an area of concern are not proofreading.
  • The close reason is interpreted wrongly, and there's need for some education.
  • People desperately like to close some questions for whatever reason, perhaps a habit that has leaked from ELU.

So, what's going on here and how can we stop it? Or am I the one in the wrong thinking that the question I linked in the footnote below isn't proofreading?


I meant to write this for quite a while now, and this question was the final spark. That whether it merits closure or not is not of concern here, but the proofreading close vote is.

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I think that the discrepancy is caused by different understandings of what "identifying a specific source of concern" looks like. Some folks would like to see an explicit statement of "I'm not sure about the tense." Other folks feel that if you show two sentences that only have a couple of words different, that's enough to show a specific concern.

I think we have similar understanding issues with the "primarily opinion based" and "answerable by a dictionary" close reasons. While I think the wording of some of the close reasons might be improved, I don't think that rewording alone will solve the issue.

The most effective way to get a group to correlate when there is a lot of gray area in the judgements that need to be made is to show examples. Image analysts aren't expected to know what a "6" noise rating means by a verbal description. We trained them by showing them reference images that had already been rated, and we didn't just show them one "6"; we showed them twenty "6" rated images so they could see the qualities that made them a "6". I don't think we need to go that far with close reasons, but I think examples similar to what we did in the How can I write a better title for my ELL question? discussion would help.

It's really hard for new members to figure out where the community wants the line drawn just by looking at what goes through the review queues (I suspect a lack of reference also causes some "coat-tail" votes where reviewers go along with the votes that have already been cast). We get new community members joining every day, and we should have these discussions every so often.

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Here's an example: "Would have" or "would had" - use of tenses in a sentence

The question asks which of two sentences is correct, without any explanation why the grammar is confusing. There's no explicit context, and so it's hard to objectively see this as anything other than proofreading.

Yes, of course I understand it's about whether to use "would have" or "would had", and SovereignSun had no trouble interpreting the implicit question enough to provide a fine answer. But is that the precedent we want, to allow poorly-formed questions with the expectation that native speakers will figure out what is really being asked? Or do we immediately close all questions that violate a set of draconian rules?

I prefer a middle ground. On Reddit, where I help moderate one of the larger subs with millions of subscribers, I've learned to ban users for infractions that would be fine in other groups, but which my sub doesn't tolerate. There are three responses: 1) the banned users respond to apologize, and we reverse the ban, 2) they respond with abuse, justifying the ban, and 3) they don't respond, meaning they don't much care one way or the other.

In the same way here, when a question is flagged for a violation, the person asking the question can always modify. If they don't care enough to edit their question, or ask how the question can be improved, then why should it matter to us?

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  • Sure, but this is explicitly what the policy doesn't state. The policy says that if it's ''limited to an area of concern'', it's not closable as proofreading. You're proposing to change the policy, and thus you should write up a meta post. – M.A.R. Mar 27 '17 at 16:20
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    That's sort of the point of my comment, Andrew... And if you read my answer to the question linked in @M.A.R.'s question here, you'll see... you're much better off using the "details, please" close reason as that's the actual reason you're closing, not because it's proofreading. No one is saying not to close them. We are saying, "use the correct close reason". – Catija Mar 27 '17 at 16:35
  • Ok I can see that. But then doesn't it seem the "proofreading" option is vague and redundant? Perhaps it's best to remove it entirely since "more details needed" covers the same ground? – Andrew Mar 27 '17 at 17:00
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    The more details reason won't work if someone posts a block of text and tells us to fix it for them. That is what the proofreading close reason is for. :) – Catija Mar 27 '17 at 17:07
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    It is important to choose the correct close reason. Questions aren't closed immediately - they are put on hold so that the author can take action to bring them on-topic. If you choose the wrong reason, the author doesn't know the appropriate steps to take. It would be like banning someone for plagiarism when the real reason they were banned was for sock puppetry. How could someone fix their behavior if they don't know the real reason? We must always keep the language barrier in mind here and not assume that it's clear to the author what they need to do to improve their question. – ColleenV Mar 27 '17 at 17:22
  • I was just re-reading this and I want to point out that closing a question is not the same thing as "flagging for a violation". Most of the closures should be done to prevent answers until we (not just the author) can salvage the question. Asking a question on ELL can be really difficult because we expect folks to ask in a language they're still learning and to follow rules written in a language they're still learning. Helping someone bring a question on topic shows them how to do it and may improve the next question. – ColleenV Mar 28 '17 at 12:33
  • I disagree with your enumeration of the possibilities on the reaction to closure/ban. There's a fourth option: 4) They don't respond, as they conclude (rightly or not) that you're a petty tyrant banning people for trivial reasons and write off the forum as a loss, as attempting to navigate your capricious whims is more effort than it's worth. As moderator you have all the power, and by closing/banning for arbitrary reasons (e.g. a non-proofreading question for proofreading) you establish that you're not above using that power in an arbitrary fashion. As a user, why subject yourself to that? – R.M. Mar 28 '17 at 17:12
  • @R.M. Sure, that's a risk, which is why you try to be as nice about it as possible, including an explanation of what they did wrong and how they can remediate their error. SE has few tools to do this, so it's hard to do as effectively. – Andrew Mar 28 '17 at 17:35
  • @ColleenV are we then supposed to edit questions that break the rules so that they're answerable, assuming there's enough information to figure out the context? – Andrew Mar 28 '17 at 17:38
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    Most of "The Rules" are guidelines the community uses to ensure that the site's content is useful to learners and engaging for the community answering them. If a question can be brought on topic, we should do what we can to salvage it. It's preferable that the author makes the changes with our help, but it's OK to edit if you think you can bring a question on-topic without changing the author's intent and you think the question is interesting. Be careful that you aren't just making a dupe of a question we've already answered though. (Not that I've ever done that! :P) – ColleenV Mar 28 '17 at 19:43
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    @Andrew: Yes we should edit questions to make them stop breaking the rules if we can do so correctly (i.e., without violating the author's original intention). There's even a meta post with examples of such editing done right. – Nathan Tuggy Mar 28 '17 at 21:05
  • I've edited my answer. I hope now it is to be clearly understood. – SovereignSun Mar 29 '17 at 9:20
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    @SovereignSun your initial answer is fine, but you were answering a question that should have been closed. Now that question has been edited, and nominated for reopening, so I changed my vote on your answer. However, this seems a clumsy solution, although one that's a SE-wide problem and not something ELL should have to solve. – Andrew Mar 29 '17 at 15:57
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    @SovereignSun Putting a question on hold is intended to give authors time to edit their questions before people start answering it. We should be closing truly off-topic questions as quickly as possible to prevent people from spending time on answers that may be invalidated by the edit. We can always reopen the question if we made a mistake. – ColleenV Mar 29 '17 at 20:14
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    Nah, I think most of the downvotes in disagreement here are for choosing the wrong close reason, not much else. And different SE communities have different cultures, so you would find ELL is overly lenient and ELU is overly harsh. – M.A.R. Mar 30 '17 at 9:46

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