I think we need to start talking about what level of research effort we actually require to keep questions open. We say that sharing your research is requisite, and when questions are straight dictionary-lookup we enforce it, but there are a lot of questions that could be answered (or at least attempted to be answered) by research first, and yet are posted sans-research. A recent example: this question and the first link that pops up on a google search for wrong vs wrongly.

It's entirely possible the OP could still be confused after finding that link, but they could have tried to find the answer, encountered that link, shared it, and explained what they still didn't understand. I'm seeing a disparity between (my interpretation of) what we've said we require as a level of research, and what we actually enforce when it comes to closing questions. So my question is: are we being too forgiving with leaving questions open? Or is our policy as stated too harsh and we're doing the right thing? Or is it something in between?

The moderator team has recently added a new off-topic close reason, as some of you may have noticed, that relates directly to this issue (shown below). How strict we are about when we use it should be determined by this meta post, so let's get talking!

This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question, or provide more context. See: Details, Please.

  • Okay, I'm convinced! I'd have closevoted the wrong/wrongly question on ELU as General Reference back when we still had that option, and until now I would have let it pass in ELL. But bearing in mind Google Books has 1,680 hits for wrote it wrong, and only 24 for wrote it wrongly, I now think OP should have explained why he felt the need to ask which was correct. So I've just used the new closevote option. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


This formula wraps up two very different close reasons under the artificial rubric of "insufficient detail".

  1. I am in complete sympathy with the desire for more context. Many of the most difficult questions that have appeared here, especially those dealing with idiom and syntax and verb forms, have far too little context to be answered straightforwardly. Single sentences isolated from the discourse in which they appear are in many cases ambiguous.

    But that doesn't make these questions Off Topic; it makes them Unclear or Too Broad, and those reasons are covered elsewhere:

    unclear what you’re asking - Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it’s currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re asking.

    too broad — There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

  2. I have almost no sympathy for the desire for more research, meaning basically "look it up". I understand the larger SE community (particularly the programming community) needing a rubric for excluding questions which can be resolved by familiarity with a formal specification or user manual. It's really the programmer version of the old General Reference. But even SO has recently redefined its gimme teh codez exclusion without reference to 'research':

    Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved ...

    I invite you to consider Shog9's observation on this matter (the entire Answer is worth reading):

    To be clear: it's always better when a question implies that the asker knows enough about the subject matter to understand a reasonable answer. However, there are a fair number of questions where this is implied merely by the fact that the author knew enough to ask them.

    And what 'research' do we really want people to do? Dictionary lookups, sure; I have a stock Comment I paste in: "I think you will find that questions of this sort are readily answered with a good dictionary, such as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary; if that leaves you in any doubt, you may click on the edit link above to revise your question, citing what you find in the dictionary and addressing more specific issues." But beyond that? Much of what is readily available is rubbish; and unless you're already a very sophisticated user of English you have no way of telling good answers from bad ones. I'm happy to do the research, and I know how to do it. They don't.

    Do we really want to spend our time explaining over and over that E.B.White was a pretentious old fart, that Grammar Girl is a gee-whiz Laodicean, that their own teachers are superannuated incompetents whose knowledge of English is restricted to third-rate grammars published in the 1940s, or that the testing Authorities are academic profiteers whose goal is to reduce English to a couple of hundred unconsidered multiple-choice questions? Do we really want to tell our visitors "Hey, guy, go to Google and find two or three bad answers and we'll tell you what's wrong with them?"

    I think not. I think what we want to do is give learners a reason to come here first: solid, reliable answers that eliminate confusion instead of creating it.

  • 6
    Though I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about this issue, I think your last sentence is the strongest point that has been brought up in this discussion; in the interests of Making the Internet a Better Place, becoming a repository of answers to even the most basic questions is certainly a huge step in the right direction. So perhaps whether or not the OP tried to solve the problem first is irrelevant, and what matters more is that the next time someone tries to answer the same question they will find our answer, which will hopefully be the best. A fair point, which I applaud. +1.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 23:31
  • 5
    It depends on the nature of the question, I think. If the question asks about the meaning of a word, I think it's a courtesy to at least provide a definition from the dictionary. But I agree with StoneyB – I don't want everyone to do an hour's worth of research before they dare venture on the ELL board to ask a question.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 23:54

Showing effort is one important aspect, but if it is absent questions shouldn't be immediately closed both because it is always possible to ask the OP before answering and becuse other aspects, like general interest, well-posed, clear, unsuggestive, should be evaluated before.

Also, in our case I think it is more important providing more context than showing research efforts. In fact, since the topic of our site is the English language seen from the perspective of not native speakers, I think researching to the same level as some of the hard science stacks is really neither necessary nor always possible for this stack: a lot of times people don't even know where it is too look online to find what they are looking for and, over all, generally they are not able to write what the results of their research are.

Perhaps, to most of people here it already is a great effort to ask a question!

  • I can appreciate that asking a question could take a lot of effort for an inexperienced non-native speaker. But I think we also have to balance the fact that the goal of SE is to Make the Internet a Better Place. I'm not asking for an essay's worth of research, here, but if the OP was able to type the question into the Ask box then they could have typed it into google first as well (which would have answered my example question). Hmm. I appreciate the middle ground here, but I think at least a dictionary check isn't too much to ask, either. I guess we'll have to wait and see what others think!
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 18:50
  • 3
    @WendiKidd: I think Google results vary by person/region, but the first one I got by searching wrong wrongly grammar was a wordreference.com thread which mainly seemed full of idiots wrongly claiming that "I spelled quite a few words wrong" is in fact wrong, and that only wrongly is really "correct" there. So getting the right answer may not be as simple as all that. Nevertheless, I still think it was incumbent on the OP to give some indication of what he'd managed to find out before asking here. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 20:49
  • 3
    I agree with the thrust of Carlo's answer. There have been several instances where I've left comments saying, "This question needs..." or "You might want to add more context..." I don't see the need to leave a comment and cast a close vote on the first trip. Many times I'll visit the question several hours later; if no improvements have been made, I'll vote to close. I just don't see the need to close a question immediately, particularly if the user is new. Just because we may have grounds to close a question doesn't mean we all should start pouncing on it like hungry cats.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 23:51
  • @J.R. I absolutely agree with that, yes. I think there's a meta post I wrote somewhere about giving new users time to fix their questions before closing, because if we don't then we'll never get new users! And then where would we be? :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 17:39

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