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As ELL has matured over the past hundred or so days, I think we're now reaching a point where ELL is big enough, mature enough, and has enough dedicated high quality answerers that the biggest impediment to growth is the number of ELL-style questions on ELU being consistently answered on ELU rather than being migrated to ELL.

ELU has a lot of ELL-style questions posted every day, and so I am asking on meta before contacting ELU to ask them to begin a policy of migrating such questions to ELL rather than leaving them to be answered on ELU. I will also be posting on ELU meta to get community consensus over there to encourage posting suitable ELL-style questions to ELL.

But before I do, we need to agree on what questions we actually want from ELU. Unless there is a community consensus against me doing so (if you disagree with any of these points - add a meta question opposing it below), I will be asking ELU mods to migrate questions on ELU that fit the following critiera:

  • New - we don't need any old and dead questions being posted to ELL, and there's a high enough volume of new ELL-style questions on ELU, that we'll be busy enough dealing with those as they are migrated to ELL. ELU moderators should (in the first instance) migrate only new ELL-style questions to ELL.

  • Where the question is clearly about the typical 99% of English usage that is normally of interest to learners, and not about the atypical 1% of English usage that is of interest to fluent speakers of English studying English at degree-level or equivalent.

  • Where the question doesn't fall below the ELL criteria of being specific, not being a dictionary lookup, and not proof-reading, and doesn't focus on the history of English, writing advice or help with complex or old English (for which writers.SE and ELU might be more appropriate).

  • Where the question is clearly on-topic for ELL and off-topic or border-line off-topic for ELU (usually by virtue of being "general knowledge" on ELU).

  • And where the question has not already been asked and answered on ELU (in which case it should be marked as duplicate and linked to the ELU answer).

For questions that are in the gap between being possibly suitable for both, I expect ELU will want to retain such questions on ELU for the time-being, and that's fine.

I also expect this policy will change as ELL matures, so please keep your suggestions specific to what we ask ELU to do now, given where ELL is today, rather than a policy for some hypothetical future ELL. There will be plenty of opportunity to refine this policy as we go.

  • There are too many diamonds on this page! Users, chime in! :) – WendiKidd May 10 '13 at 21:23
  • I think ELL has the same problem Drupal Answers has: For some time, there was just a site where English questions could be asked, and some questions were tolerated; now there are two places where English questions can be asked, but users are still used to the old one. In the case of Drupal Answers, the older site is Stack Overflow, where some Drupal questions were (and apparently they are still) tolerated even if they were not about programming. – kiamlaluno May 13 '13 at 14:18
7

I think this is a great idea, and that we definitely should be taking off-topic questions from ELU when they are quality questions that fit our site and would have a better home here.

However: I also think this depends upon having a good idea of what is and isn't acceptable on ELL, which I don't think we've fully done yet.

We have some general rules of course; the basic requirements of what makes a question on any SE site acceptable, such as showing good-faith research effort and asking a clear question, we don't accept dictionary look-up or proofreading, etc. I think we're not doing a very good job at regulating this or fleshing these ideas out, though. There have been several questions recently that I thought should be closed, but that the community did not respond to that way; comments posted saying it should be left open, upvotes, answers, etc. If an answerer I respect answers a question, this is a sign to me that they think the question is acceptable. It is clear to me that we don't have a consensus of what is and isn't acceptable when I think those same questions should be closed.

We have a lot of great questions and answers, and we would definitely benefit from taking ELL-appropriate content from ELU and answering those questions. But I think we can't do this until we define, clearly and publicly, what ELL-appropriate means. In particular, I think we get a lot of questions that are Too Localized. They are asked in good faith, and sometimes researched, but no one is ever going to be helped by that question again. This is the type of thing we need to figure out amongst ourselves, I think, before we pull in more questions from ELU and have an even larger set of questions to sift through for these answers. (Plus if we take a certain category of questions from ELU and later decide they're off-topic, we've created a bad precedent and given the ELU mods unnecessary work).

So, yes I think we should do this, but I think there's another discussion we have to have first. We need to decide what is and isn't an acceptable question, and start dealing with those that don't fit into those guidelines. One of the hurdles of ELL is that the nature of the site sometimes leans toward questions that are Too Localized. We need to figure out how we want to handle that, as well as other question categories that may or may not be appropriate here. I think that needs to be done first, and then we should begin migrating ELU questions once we've found our footing.

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    +1, agree. Furthermore, further doubts arise considering that the elite users of EL&U, or some of them, want to migrate here only low-quality questions, as is demonstrated in a list already posted. – user114 May 11 '13 at 21:20
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  1. I’m not convinced that right now we need to be actively pursuing more questions. We already have, by a wide margin, the highest proportion of questions/day-to-visits/day on the entire SE network (about one question per 36 visits; two other new sites have q/v in the 50-70 range; the average for sites a year old or less is 229, and for the whole network 871). I am more worried about our capacity for answering; we have dropped over the last month or six weeks from 2.5 or better A/Q to about 2.0. A significant influx of new questions and questioners without a corresponding influx of new answerers is going to strain our resources.
     And I don’t agree that “the biggest impediment to growth is the number of ELL-style questions on ELU being consistently answered on ELU rather than being migrated to ELL.” To the extent that this really is a ‘market share’ issue, I think growth will come—is coming—organically, as long as we stick to our last and provide superior answers, with superior understanding of and courtesy toward our questioners. But I don’t think it’s a market share issue at bottom—the challenge is to enlarge the pool, build awareness of what we offer, not to poach from ELU.

  2. Otherwise, I agree with the criteria set forth, but with some reservations concerning this: “help with complex or old English”. a) “Complex” is a very vague criterion, and I'm not at all sure that it's appropriate. Our "Learners", after all, are not all first- or second-year students; many are veteran professionals or candidates for advanced degrees, who will routinely encounter fairly complex syntactical constructions in their daily reading. Moreover, it is not always high-level writing which is syntactically complex: ellipsis and anaphora in conversational English can often be much more challenging to the non-native speaker than complicated academic subordinations, which they will be familiar with in their own languages. b) “Old”, too, is vague, but I think can be fairly precisely defined. Modern English is generally held to have emerged from Early Modern English between 1750 and 1800; and although the intervening two centuries have seen many innovations, many additions to the syntactical repertory, there is practically nothing in the orthography, syntax or grammar of, say, Scott or Wordsworth that is not in common use today. (There are, to be sure, some remarkable lexical shifts; but this is equally true of even the last 20 or even 10 years.) I nominate 1800 as the dividing line.

  3. I think, in any case, that we miss the point by looking too closely at the content and form of questions. What really distinguishes us from ELU is not the questions, but the kind of answer we provide. Questioners on ELU are for the most part seeking resolution of subtle technical points and piquant historical curiosities; questioners here are looking for rules, answers which may be generalized across future encounters with the language.
     By the same token, I’m not particularly concerned about the ‘quality’ of questions. Many of our questioners must make an heroic effort to get any English at all into the box, and I’m reluctant to discourage them at the top. Perhaps more aggressive editing would help, on both ends (although I think there is some advantage to a visitor’s seeing that we take a question seriously even if it’s poorly expressed). As for too many Too Localized questions—I’ve always felt this was a pretty silly reason for closing, except in cases of obvious typos. All questioning, like all politics, is Local: people only ask when they face a specific, narrow problem. The real matter for consideration is whether the question gives rise to an answer which is of general interest.


I started writing this two days ago. Since then ELL traffic has climbed from 394 to 462, so the v/q ratio now (May 12, noon) is 39. No doubt some of that is weekend effect; but it goes to the point in the next paragraph.

  • +1, excellent answer. It entirely reflects what I thought on this matter. – user114 May 12 '13 at 17:29
  • I worry that we are going to lose our good answerers if we cannot ensure that there is a steady stream of "good quality" questions that arrive on the site. So my worry is in fact, the opposite. I think that if we don't start getting ELU to send their ELL questions here, we'll suffer the reverse: our good answerers will get bored of answering poorly thought through questions and go back to ELU or elsewhere where questions are more plentiful and more interesting for the answerers. – Matt May 13 '13 at 9:46
  • Also ELL is relatively unknown on ELU. As we start migrating questions from ELU, people on ELU who routinely answer ELL-style questions but who don't like the more ELU-style questions over there will hopefully join ELL as full time answerers. And as is evident by the fact that many of our best answerers are also questioners, when questioners start migrating here we'll also see the number of answerers increase here also. – Matt May 13 '13 at 9:48
  • I also think it's worth remembering that to 99.99% of the English speaking population, and arguably a slightly higher percentage of learners, the English that matters is the English that can be used in modern letters, emails, speech and at a push, perhaps journalism and novels. As soon as the English deviates into being something that isn't in common usage, my opinion is that it stops being an ELL question and starts being an ELU one. Most learners want English they can use, not something that falls under an definition of "Modern" that includes words learners can't use in normal life. – Matt May 13 '13 at 9:52
  • @Matt The English of Pierce Egan is perhaps no longer the English of Ludacris; but the English of Jeremy Bentham is the English of Milton Friedman, the English of Walter Scott is the English of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R.Martin, and the English of William Cobbett is the English you and I employ in answering questions here. – StoneyB May 13 '13 at 22:44
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    @StoneyB: Nay! 'tis not the case, Syr, and n'er shall I stand to see it claiméd. Blithe words today are dissimilar to the words of yore, 'cos, I mean, like, O.M.G - we's ain't like even speakin dems words n stuff like dat no more. – Matt May 13 '13 at 23:40
  • The core structure of English may not have changed in three hundred years or so, and it may still be recognisably the same language. But throwing out some 1790s style prose in the middle of an e-mail is going to get you very odd looks from your colleagues. A hundred years ago you would have written "to-morrow" instead of "tomorrow", and a valid use of an apostrophe was to indicate removed letters from the middle of a word such as "ne'er" and "'tis", which are not valid anymore. To a learner, the rules of English which matter most are the rules of 2013. And they are not the same rules as 1790. – Matt May 13 '13 at 23:42
  • @StoneyB: What I'm really trying to say, is that there is a big difference between the professional "Englicians" reading dusty tomes of classic literature and poems and musing upon how clever Ben Jonson was for introducing the semi-colon into common usage, versus the many learners of English who mainly just want to get the ideas out of their head and onto paper or into sound in order to communicate their point effectively. And I want to be careful that ELL takes on a role as a place where effective learning of English as a second language takes place, and doesn't just become a shadow of ELU. – Matt May 14 '13 at 0:11
  • @Matt Well, I've specifically excluded Jonson :) But I do confess that 1) I believe grammar is the foundation: once you know the grammar you can read or write anything. 2) My own experience with French and German suggests that chronological differences are much less apparent to readers who come to a language from the outside than it is to native speakers: it's all equally foreign. And 3) a large proportion of our questioners are relatively highly educated and are concerned to use English at an advanced professional level, not just Hey, want to do lunch? – StoneyB May 14 '13 at 0:21
  • @StoneyB: I just worry that we need to make sure there is a clear distinction between ELU and ELL. By making our scope too broad, we damage our ability to define ourselves or progress beyond beta. We need a distinction, and to my mind the distinction is that ELL is likely to focus on people learning modern English for business or leisure in the 21st Century, whilst ELU focuses on topics that are more of intellectual interest to folks studying English out of interest, as part of a degree-level English course or above, or for the sake of learning itself. – Matt May 14 '13 at 0:31
  • @Matt 1) Business and leisure, yes; but the "business" our learners are pursuing includes technical studies of economics and IT and law as well as email etiquette and resumés, and their "leisure" embraces Tolkien and LeCarré and even Nabokov as well as the sports page and hanging at the bar. 2) It is insufficiently appreciated by Americans that in most countries formal grammar and linguistics are integral to the secondary and even primary curricula at a much higher level than here. Look at Carlo's questions, or kiam's, or Mistu4u's (to say nothing of that ferocious autodidact Listenever) ... – StoneyB May 14 '13 at 1:17
  • @Matt These folks and others are looking for "intellectual" instruction which would baffle and annoy the average US college business major. "Just tell me what to say, don't give me any of that grammar crap" is what my wife heard repeatedly as a French and German tutor at her community college; but OUR guys are hungry for it. And they WON'T GET IT AT ELU, because their questions are too "basic" and too poorly expressed. ELU's in the middle of their quarterly bitch-and-moan right now, take a look. – StoneyB May 14 '13 at 1:24
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    @Matt What sets us apart is that we are teachers. We are eager to help. Your answers, Wendi's, Bill's, J.R.'s, kiam's, Carlo's, mine are perhaps not so deeply informed as those provided by the stars at ELU, but they are provided. We take our visitors' questions seriously - and we take our visitors seriously, too. We do not infantilize them, we don't hunt the Snark. We have built it, and they will come. – StoneyB May 14 '13 at 1:35
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First, I think you want to be very careful about this. When two sites have as much overlap as do EL&U and ELL, it's very tempting for folks on the older site to look at the newer one as a handy ghetto for everything they don't like. Until the newer site has grown enough to handle such an influx (and, as WendiKidd notes, thoroughly defined their own scope) this can threaten to overwhelm and sidetrack the budding community.

And let's be honest: ELL is doing quite well so far, traffic-wise... But EL&U is still a much bigger site. The users on EL&U may not want their questions shuffled off to another site (and the reputation that goes with it).

Finally, from Respect the community – your own, and others’:

  • Do leave comments on questions that might get better answers somewhere else. The good folks on English Language and Usage might well be able to give the history of some bit of technical jargon, but if you think that question would get a better answer on the site dedicated to the field where that jargon is used – suggest that! If the asker is unhappy with the answers he got, he’ll have a ready source of better ones. Ditto for unanswered questions gathering cobwebs.

  • Along the same lines, don’t attempt to scavenge on-topic questions from other sites by asking the moderators there to migrate them to yours. Again, there’s no harm in leaving a comment suggesting that a question would be a better fit somewhere else. But focus on the questions that aren’t on-topic, or aren’t getting answered – snatching someone’s question (or answer) away without any forewarning is a slap in their face.

What will make ELL a success

Your goal should be to gain new and enthusiastic members for the community, not just inflate the numbers by siphoning off another community's questions.

Rather than looking at this as some sort of systematic campaign to annex part of another site, look at individual questions and askers, see where your site might be able to help someone with a problem. If a question is asked on EL&U that does poorly there but would be reasonable here, suggest that to the author - if it's a duplicate, point him to the original.

3

I frequent both sites; I can't tell you how many times I've written a comment on ELU that directs a new user to ELL.

It seems apparent that, on a weekly basis, ELU receives many questions that fall into this category:

  • a user is a non-native speaker who has a question about basic English
  • that user finds the ELU Stack Exchange site, and assumes that's the best place to ask the question

Usually, such questions are sharply downvoted and/or closed, like this one or this one.

I think migration is the right solution. Without migration, that user ends up with a downvoted question on one site, along with a comment to check out ELL. What's the point of leaving that question on ELU? Moreover, ELU gets a bad reputation for being "unwelcoming" and "closing too many questions." So why not just migrate the question to ELL, where it probably should have been asked in the first place?

I realize there has been a lot of hand-wringing over the fact that the Stack Exchange now has two sites dedicated to the same topic – i.e., English. Some have wondered, "Won't this be confusing?" Sure, every now and then I've seen a question that probably could be asked at either site. However, far more often, it's pretty apparent which would be the better home.

I think migration will be a win-win – for both sites, and particularly for non-natives who are new to the Stack Exchange.

  • +1. Although I just want to clarify that just because a question is poor on ELU (and gets lots of downvotes) doesn't automatically make it a good fit for ELL either. But I agree. It's usually obvious what the ELL-style questions on ELU are (and less frequently, vice-versa). – Matt May 13 '13 at 10:13
  • @Matt: I concur wholeheartedly. Some questions get downvoted on ELU because they are, quite simply, bad questions (too vague, no research, etc.). Others, though, get downvoted only because they are not good questions for the ELU community. My comments concern the latter. – J.R. May 14 '13 at 2:46

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