This answer is correct, but it uses linguistic terminology. My concern is that some ELL users may not be familiar enough with English to understand the answer.

What are the guidelines for using terminology when answering the questions here?

Also, should these guidelines be added to the FAQ since they may apply to most questions and answers?

4 Answers 4


As the author of the Answer pointed to, let me say I am entirely in sympathy with OP’s concern. Indeed, I have just edited my answer to reflect observations by Commenters which showed that I had not made one key point very clearly; and to add a definition of a term I thought I might have used too casually.

On the other hand, the Question concerned a matter which raised some moderately technical considerations. Technical terms exist for addressing those considerations—not particularly difficult terms, terms which any student of English has to wrestle with at some point on the learning curve anyway, terms which make the discussion easier to follow—so I felt it would be proper and indeed valuable to employ those terms, provided I defined them intelligibly first.

What we must not do is assume that the terminology we've all employed with reckless abandon since grade school is familiar to the reader. To be sure, there are some terms probably all readers will know—a learner’s unlikely to have gotten to the point of being able to post here (however defectively) without knowing the difference between a noun and a verb. But beyond that?—

And I suggest that it is essential that we provide learners not only correct answers, but generalizable answers: intellectual tools which allow them to bring their knowledge to bear on the next question. It's not enough to “teach a man to fish”—you’ve got to give him a fishhook, too.

  • 2
    I agree, especially with the phrase in bold. If you define a term, and the term is really useful in your answer, by all means use it. Even if you don't define it, a term like relative clause would be fine; it is easy enough to look up for those who don't know it. We don't need to explain all of English grammar in an answer before making a point. But, sure, if you are so inclined, defining basic grammar is never wrong. Terms like restrictive clause are equally useful, but perhaps a bit more advanced; and, as they are a central part of your answer, you were right to define/explain them.
    – Cerberus
    Jan 24, 2013 at 3:12

In any writing, you have to know your audience and target your writing to communicate with them effectively. At the same time, this is also a resource for the Internet community at large, and folks will find you site through search. To that end, you always want your answers to be authoritative and expertly presented using the correct vernacular.

So great answers shouldn't necessarily be "dumbed down" to the lowest common denominator. Excellent answers describe the concept in a complete and expert way, while also presenting those concepts in an understandable way so be useful by whomever may read it.

Adding better answers and voting them up will separate overly simplistic answer from those that will help the most people.


Let the users decide. An answer that won't be understood won't be accepted. It should be encouraged to explain terms you use, but if the answerer choose not to, it's their risk of low score.

  • That's my concern! First, some users may think, "it's too hard for me" and go away. Yet another point is that properly formulated, full of inevitably correct terms, answers -- better answers -- may here become lower scored than one-liners like "do this and this, period". Jan 23, 2013 at 23:01
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    @bytebuster: An answer that is better on ELU is not necessarily better here.
    – SF.
    Jan 23, 2013 at 23:15

Although that post introduced terminology, the author explained what each term meant rather well. I can see other authors not taking the time to explain their terminology and relying on the terms themselves to answer the question. In those cases, I agree that the answer is not a good one. In the end, I think it's a situational thing.

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