I thought it would be nice if we had a community maintained guide to ELL written in easy to understand language and arranged to make the most important things to know easy to find. The help center has a lot of information and we should definitely refer to it, but often the language is difficult to understand and where to find certain types of information isn't always obvious.

Table of Contents

  1. Asking questions
  2. Answering questions
  3. Tips for Searching
  4. Giving your question a title
  5. Formatting your posts
  6. Commenting and chatting
  7. Editing, reviewing, flagging, and other community moderation activities
  8. Using site features
  9. Posts with helpful information

Some proposed guidelines:

  1. Answers to this post should be community wikis and linked in the table of contents with their topic.
  2. Guidance should be written in easy to understand language. Use short sentences and avoid non-standard English.
  3. Avoid duplicating content. Edit existing content instead.
  4. Everyone is welcome to contribute but should expect that their contributions could be edited by other people.
  5. This guide is not intended to reproduce or replace existing Stack Exchange documentation or policies. Be sure to think about how the guidance you're contributing is specific to ELL.
  • Wow nice! I am totally not going to add a dozen extra answers and edit the existing dozen when I get the time. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jan 8 at 1:11

13 Answers 13


How to start a new line on the Stack Exchange

You type this into your computer:

enter image description here

Yet when you submit your question, it looks like this!

enter image description here

There is an easy to fix this: simply add two blank spaces with the space bar to the end of a line. For clarity, the character will represent one blank space from the space bar in this example (= 1 space). If you do that, then each new line will really start on a new line, and your question will look the way that you want:

"What is this strange smell?"  "The food _________"␣␣
a) has burnt␣␣
b) burnt␣␣
c) was burning␣␣
d) had burnt

"What is this strange smell?" "The food _________"
a) has burnt
b) burnt
c) was burning
d) had burnt


Titles are for titles, and questions belong in your question.

Please, don't ask a question like this one:

enter image description here There are three things wrong with this question – two are formatting issues, and one is a "details" issue.

  1. There is no question in the question! The question itself is just a block of text. The question you are asking shouldn't be in the title only (after the question is opened, many users pay little notice to the title, and start reading below the grey line instead).

  2. Quoted material should always be put in a quote box to offset it from the rest of the question. This is easily done by adding a > symbol as the first character on a line.

  3. There are no details in the question. We have no idea what rules (if any) the person posting the question has already found during prior research. And we don't know if they are already considering using some other punctuation (say, dashes or parentheses) in lieu of commas.

The first two problems are easily remedied with a few quick formatting improvements:

enter image description here However, the third improvement can only be made by the person who originally posted the question, because only that person can explain what they already know, and why their question can't be easily answered by a website like this one.


Posts with helpful information

  • Can I accept my own answer? – Lambie Sep 4 '18 at 17:16
  • @Lambie That is answered over here meta.stackexchange.com/q/5234 It would be great if some pulled it the relevant bits out of that and added them to this guide to make it easier to find. If you accept your own answer: There is no reputation awarded and the answer does not float to the top of the list. This can be done no earlier than 48 hours after the question is asked. – ColleenV Sep 4 '18 at 17:21
  • fyi, I glanced at the Markdown Help and, frankly, it tells you what keys etc,to use but it does not show things like bolding or italicizing. At least, I can't see it. – Lambie Sep 20 '18 at 20:14
  • @Lambie It doesn't show you how the formatting looks, just how to achieve it. You probably want to check out the Formatting Sandbox linked above instead. You can experiment with formatting there, and it has some posts that show what different formatting looks like. – ColleenV Sep 20 '18 at 21:22
  • ColleenV I understand that.This site was created by developers who did not have us common mortals in mind. That's all. :) – Lambie Sep 20 '18 at 22:38

Proper spacing around punctuation and the first-person pronoun

Because this site helps learners improve their English, we appreciate when people format their questions properly. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • The first-person pronoun I should always be spelled using an upper-case "I", and never spelled as i.

  • A space comes after a period and comma, but not before.

  • Quotation marks and parentheses have a space before their opening and after their closing, but no space should be used in the middle. For example:

"This spacing is correct" (and this spacing is correct, too).

This spacing is wrong , because there should be no space before the comma or period .

" This spacing is wrong "and what I've done here( with parentheses) is wrong, too.


Answering questions

Remember your audience when writing your answer. Use standard English, write in complete sentences, and punctuate and capitalize correctly so that learners will be able to more easily understand what you've written. Try to avoid using idioms and figurative language. If you find it necessary to use such language, consider including the plain language meaning in parenthesis, as a footnote, or including a link to a dictionary entry in the phrase.

Posts should be your own original work. If a great answer already exists somewhere else, including a small part of it can be a great way to support your answer if you follow these guidelines:

  1. You must make it clear which parts of your answer are written by someone else (using "blockquote" formatting is a good way).
  2. You must also include information about who wrote it and where it was published (a link to the original content is best if possible ).
  3. You must make sure you are not copying content without permission.

Asking questions

Composing the question

When you ask a question, don't skimp on the words! Take your time and write your question as thoroughly and as detailed as you can. In this case, less is not more. Short questions tend to be vague or too broad and will generally attract short answers. Remember to include:

  • why you are asking your question
  • what you already know

then it's easier for someone to write a helpful answer, and the community will appreciate your efforts. Here are some examples of different types of questions with good detail.


Please include the question and main example in the body of the post, not just the title. Your title should be specific and informative. See Titles are for titles, and questions belong in your question and How can I write a better title for my ELL question?.


We typically use the > character with examples and quotations. We often emphasize our text to highlight something important or different. We also use lists to provide alternative sentences, for example. See Formatting your posts for links and examples. See How to start a new line for an explanation on line breaks. See How to properly make a list for common mistakes when making a list.


You can include an image if it helps provide context. However, we ask that you also transcribe the text from the image to the post.

enter image description here
This text is relevant context.

For details, see:

"Thank you", "hi", and other salutations and taglines

Often, users include "thank you", "hi", and other salutations and taglines in their posts. Other users will occasionally remove them from the post while making other meaningful edits. Don't be offended by this. The general policy is that these details are unnecessary and distracting. See the following posts for discussions on the matter:

Accepting an answer

Once your question has been answered to your satisfaction, you should accept the answer that was most helpful to you. Accepting an answer signals that you're happy with the answers that your question received, and awards some reputation to the author of the answer you accepted. However, it's generally best to wait about a day or so before accepting an answer.


Using site features

If you add a link to another ELL question in a comment, that question will appear in the "Linked" section of the right sidebar on the full site. The "Linked" and "Related" questions are a good place to look for more information if a question you've found isn't exactly what you were looking for.

Tags can help you find topics you're interested in. You can "watch" a tag so that questions with that tag are highlighted, and you can "ignore" tags that aren't interesting to you. Because tags can be used to filter and search, it is very important to tag questions with appropriate tags. Don't just tag them if you can think of more specific tags.

You may know that you can add questions to the favorites list in your profile by clicking the star by the voting buttons, but did you know you can search your favorites (or even someone else's)? All you have to do is add infavorites:mine or infavorites:userid to your search. For example "infavorites:9161 perfect"


Commenting and chatting

Once you have 20 reputation, you can participate in chat. ELL's main chat room is Language Overflow.

You can see all of the messages people in a chat room thought were interesting enough to "star" using a link on the right sidebar or by adding ?tab=stars to the chat room URL.


Editing, reviewing, flagging, and other community moderation activities

If you see a comment that you believe violates our Code of Conduct, flag it. Other users can't see that you have flagged a comment.

You can retract your close vote by clicking on "close" again if someone has improved their question.

If you edit a question, be careful to avoid invalidating existing answers if possible. You may want to leave a comment for the author of an answer to let them know that the question has changed.


Avoid using a slash when asking about two versions

For example, instead of asking, “Which is correct?":

There was a zebra at/on the mouth of the river.

It would be better to ask, “Which is correct?”:

There was a zebra at the banks of the river.
There was a zebra on the banks of the river.

Listing both versions separately makes them easier to compare, contrast, and analyze. Using bold to highlight the difference is helpful as well.

If you want to compare and contrast the two words in a title

some ways of doing this is to write:

“a zebra at…” vs. “a zebra on the mouth of the river”

Which preposition should I use with a “river bank”: “at” or “on”?

Do you sit “on” or “at” the bank of a river?

If there are more than two options then slashes can be used in titles

Do I sit {in/on/at/near} a river bank?

It helps to group the options with braces, bolding, or similar formatting so we can tell which words are part of the options. Without the braces in the example above, for example, we might think the last option was “near a” instead of just “near”.


Formatting your posts

These are some basic features to get you started. Note that this is intended to be a summary. Click the links for more details and features.

  • Simple Blockquotes

    You can use the > character to create a blockquote:

    >This is my super awesome sentence!

    This is my super awesome sentence!

    We typically use blockquotes for examples and quotations.

    Please note that we typically do not use preformatted text (four leading spaces and backticks `) for quotations and examples. They should be used with code.

  • Italics and Bold

    You can use asterisks * or underscores _ to emphasize your text:

    • *italics*italics
    • **bold**bold
    • ***bold and italics***bold and italics

    We typically use some kind of emphasis to highlight differences in examples:

    • This is my example.
    • This is my other example.
  • Basic Links

    Click the link for a tutorial on basic links [basic links](https://ell.stackexchange.com/editing-help#links).

  • Linebreaks

    Add two spaces at the end of a line to add a line break. If your line break is not working, see How to start a new line.

  • Simple Lists

    Click the link for a tutorial on lists. For common mistakes, see How to properly make a list.

Here are links on formatting your posts:


How to properly make a list

This post illustrates common mistakes and provides a proper example. For more information on basic lists, see Simple lists. For nesting, see Advanced lists: Nesting. In order to display a blockquote ("frame" your example), start the line with >. For more tips, see Formatting Sandbox – Please test stuff here.

Common mistakes

These are a few common mistakes when making an unordered list (• Item) or a numbered list (1. Item):

  1. ✘ You are missing a space between - and Item (or . and Item in a numbered list):

    -Item 1
    -Item 2
    -Item 3

    -Item 1 -Item 2 -Item 3

  2. ✘ You are missing an empty line between the list and the previous text:

    The following is my list:
    - Item 1
    - Item 2
    - Item 3

    The following is my list: - Item 1 - Item 2 - Item 3

  3. ✘ You are missing an empty line between the list and the following text:

    The following is my list:
    - Item 1
    - Item 2
    - Item 3
    Isn't my list nice?

    The following is my list:

    • Item 1
    • Item 2
    • Item 3 Isn't my list nice?

Proper lists

In order to get the right display, make sure to add a space between - and Item (or . and Item in a numbered list) and include an empty line before and after the list:

    The following is my list:

    - Item 1
    - Item 2
    - Item 3

    Isn't my list nice?

The following is my list:

  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • Item 3

Isn't my list nice?


Tips for Searching

The help center has more detail on the How do I search? page.

  1. Limit your search to just questions by added is:q to your search terms. You can use is:a to limit your search to answers.

    is are is:q

  2. Add a group of tags to limit your search to a set of concepts.

    is are is:q [subject-verb-agreement]

  3. Limit your search terms to the title of the question by using title:

    title:is title:are is:q [subject-verb-agreement]

  4. If you find a question that's close, but not quite what you're looking for, check the "Related Questions" on the right side of the page (you may not be able to see it on a mobile device without selecting the "full site" link at the bottom of the page).

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