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Background

Discussion has been limited regarding the acceptable extent and nature of revisions for questions, by contributors other than the author, especially over any considerations that might be specific to ELL, as compared to SE generally.

Presently, much of ELL is dominated by questions having a narrow context and given in poor presentation. Answers to such questions often receive very few or no upvotes, and commonly are terse and meandering. Many questions are given by new users, who may assume that SE is essentially a discussion forum.

The structure of SE is broadly designed for eventually generating, through group effort, useful, accessible, and discoverable questions and answers. Yet questions submitted to ELL may not be held reasonably to the same standards as those submitted to many other SE communities. To preserve balanced function within ELL, another effect must compensate for the differences in quality of questions originally submitted. Policies and behavior for contributors, therefore, also may not be held reasonably to the same standards as other SE communities.

A policy that supports and encourages community-based editing of questions, toward some specific object, seems deeply warranted. Nevertheless, actual policies and behavior would not sustain this demand.

Details

I often have taken the time to create what I intended as a high-quality answer that has broad usefulness, while still being as helpful to the author as might be any other answer.

However, for any answer to have broad usefulness, it must be found and used by a breadth of community members, requiring that it be connected with a question that generally satisfies several key conditions, including a search-friendly title, sufficient breadth, and clear presentation.

In ELL, questions generally have many of the following qualities:

  1. Titles that express details of the case, rather than identifying the relevant general principle.
  2. Nonstandard grammar and usages (as expected for language learners), which often extend into parts of example text not directly related to the issue for the question.
  3. Lack of full variety of useful formatting, in many cases so substantial that example text is not distinguishable from the rest of the question except by content.
  4. Confusing ordering of overall parts, for example, opening with example text rather than a question.
  5. Inclusion of substantial anecdotal content, beyond that which offers any context relevant to resolving the language issue.

On several occasions, I sought to improve questions by submitting revisions, but most attempts have been frustrated by rejection. From the above listing, the only items for which proposed improvements generally have been accepted are (1) and (3), and even in such cases, only the most minimal changes are usually allowed, with multiple submissions often being required.

Resistance to (2) is especially surprising, though it has been previously discussed, because one presumes that those learning English benefit most from exposure to standard grammar, and might be vulnerable to confusion from examples that contain poor grammar that is never corrected, even if the reason is that such errors are not core to the question. While maintaining a welcoming feeling for authors of questions is a virtuous objective, such is not generally the overriding concern on SE broadly, and any explicit difference in policy between ELL and other communities should derive expressly from natural differences in composition and content among the communities.

Proposal

I would politely request discussion and review over policies for editing questions by contributors. Requested is not unlimited latitude, but only relaxation of current constraints. I, personally, would wish to be motivated to make thoughtful and robust contributions to ELL, by creating high-quality answers, and then revising questions such that associated questions and answers may receive support from the greatest possible breadth of contributors and may confer benefit to the greatest possible breadth of learners.

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  • 5
    Making titles more generic is not a good thing. It makes it more difficult to find particular questions, not easier. See section 3.1 The Generic title effect in How can I write a better title for my ELL question?. Titles should summarize what the question is about and be interesting enough to make someone want to read more about that question. "speech" vs "speaking" says very little about what the actual difference the author of the question is interested in and removing words from the title doesn't make it easier to search for. – ColleenV Jul 23 at 12:04
  • Thank you for composing this enjoyable read. ELL has always favored the help desk mentality (as opposed to the repository mentality), alas. I cannot totally buy the argument that a new learner is struggling more with the language than a new learner of, say, physics, with physics. Nonetheless, I've noticed the opposite in other sites: That an OP gets an answer way above their head, and it's never tailored to how much the OP understands, and it still doesn't feel optimal. – M.A.R. Jul 23 at 12:11
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    About titles, the relevant terms to describe the question, that are specific enough to help make the question distinguishable yet broad enough to cover duplicates are unfortunately often themselves the answer, or at the very least something not enough learners are aware of. Ideally, there'd be enough knowledgeable editors to edit most of them into shape, but right now it's either 300 instances of "is this grammatically correct?" or the very specific phrases as the point of inquiry. – M.A.R. Jul 23 at 12:15
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    @M.A.R. I think that we shouldn't try to make titles do the work that tags are for. Titles (in my opinion of course) are for catching the eye of someone who can answer the question. Tags are what we should use to help with discoverability through searching and through the "related" questions in the sidebar. – ColleenV Jul 23 at 13:04
  • Sadly, it appears that the "Related Questions" functionality is currently broken. Tags affect what shows up there much more effectively than massaging the title. Anyhow, here is some advice from the network Meta on writing good titles How do I write a good title? – ColleenV Jul 23 at 13:48
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    @Colleen that's not what I had in mind. Ideally titles would be less like "Did I go/did I went" and more like "should I use the past form over the bare infinitive in a question" (barring the more technical terms) but that's not how learners title their question often. Google indexes the whole thing so it wouldn't have changed much in the search results, but it'd have been much more convenient for duplicate finding and tagging. – M.A.R. Jul 23 at 18:36
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    @M.A.R. I understand - I still think that's a job for tags, and not titles. With tags we have documentation on what they mean and an easy way to search for everything with a certain set of tags. If we tagged all questions like Uses of the definite article (the) in generic noun phrases with definite-article and generic-noun-phrases it would be much easier to find duplicates and for the "related" questions (when they finally get fixed) to be relevant. – ColleenV Jul 23 at 19:55
  • All of the details above are relevant, but I emphasize that the larger issue, to my mind, may fall out of the distinction, given by @M.A.R., about ELL choosing to resemble a "help desk" (though the rest of that comment confuses me). Someone may consider a conventional discussion forum a better platform for ESL questions, but SE is a specific platform with a particular design. Behaviors and polices not strongly based on that design lead to difficulties. I become frustrated because I feel that ELL is like a square peg in a round hole, as it straddles two paradigms but champions none. – epl Jul 23 at 20:13
  • Another comment by @M.A.R. may go to the core of my lament: "Ideally, there'd be enough knowledgeable editors to edit most of them [the titles] into shape". I have tried to edit some titles using a method I considered to confer collective benefit, and have been frustrated by rejection. If the scarcity is over manpower for submitting revisions, then the solution is allowing more contributors to submit acceptable revisions. If I knew of some policy that I understood and thought helpful, I would apply it, at least for the questions I answer, even if not necessarily for some expansive backlog. – epl Jul 23 at 20:38
  • @ColleenV: I sympathize with your premise expressing the distinct functions of tags and titles. It may derive ultimately from sound principles, but I feel that the practical matter is a good deal more chaotic than such rigid characterization may concede, given both the intrinsic limits of the system and particular users' ability and willingness to operate it in some way. Exploring the topic may go many ways, but to keep it grounded, perhaps you would explain, taking the speech-speaking case study, what you might identify to be be the preferred sequence of events in that exchange. – epl Jul 24 at 0:36

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