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Luckily we are still growing and it seems now the holiday season has passed again and we see a few new community members join the site and ask their questions.

What has been striking me most the past couple of months is that the quality of questions coming from new users seems to deteriorate. I see more and more bad grammar being used with the same amount of spelling mistakes. Now some of this can of course be explained because not all community members are native English speakers (which is why we all have the power and duty to edit and improve their questions and answers), but it is not all just grammar and spelling which makes the quality of questions low.

I see questions with limited to no research effort or questions which simply are not clear (contain no additional information what so ever). Now Stack Exchange rules and conduct would be to downvote those questions, but on a new user I always feel this has a negative impact. Certainly if the downvote is not accompanied with a comment (I personally would love to see it impossible to downvote without leaving a comment, as I just find that evil).

So in my role and a moderator and a community member I try not to downvote anything unless I absolutely see no other means of indicating unwanted behaviour. Mostly I just revert to not voting and leaving a comment indicating improvement is required. But I'm wondering if there is anything more we can do to educate our new users while not diminishing or discouraging them?

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  • Nice catch, it didn't feel like I had an answer when I started typing. :-) I deleted the comment and made an answer.
    – Alvin Reyes Mod
    Sep 11 '13 at 5:50
  • Bart, I mostly agree with your bit about down votes without a comment but would add that if someone else has already left a comment asking for more info and I down vote a question, I often just up vote the existing comment instead of piling it on the OP with yet another comment asking for more info. Sep 19 '13 at 9:30
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Honest but gentle feedback should help, especially from moderators and "senior" members.

I sometimes find it harder not knowing a new user's background, though; it's easier asking colleagues and familiar users for clarification (i.e. "what did you try?").

It's a fine balance asking "do you know about this type of site" without being patronizing.

Maybe we can treat them as we would new, real world, colleagues or peers?

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I've noticed the same as you Bart. When I review first time posts I think I wind up editing them 50% of the time, and I think at least half the down votes I've casted have also been on first time posts (mostly questions but a couple on answers as well.)

I think in general Alvin has a good answer but I would add:

  1. When a question contains an actual question and has some, but not quite enough, detail to provide a meaningful answer, a comment prompting for more information is appropriate and I see a fair number of community members doing that. I would say the same if answering the question would require wild guess work on the part of the answerer. Usually in these cases we seem to get more information from the OP with such prodding.

  2. When a question doesn't really contain any sort of question (your 'questions which simply are not clear'), such as Publishing/Unpublishing failed I think a down vote and a comment are in order. This makes it easier to keep track of questions that are potentially 'in trouble' or that may need later action taken against them by the community, such as closing. It actually seems like these are the questions we do not get good responses to from our prodding in the comments.

    I also think these are the sorts of question the community should be voting to close if we do not receive a response to comments prodding for more information within a couple of days. If the question was important to the OP one would think they would be keeping track of it so if they don't respond in a timely fashion I think it is appropriate for the community to put the question on hold. While this may be off putting to the OP, this community will only succeed if the information here is useful and a completely unanswerable question is not useful to anyone....

  3. When a question asks for information that would have been at least partially answered with 30 seconds of searching here or on Google I think a 'what did you try?' sort of comment is in order. Down voting in this situation may be appropriate depending on the egregiousness of the apparent lack of research.

  4. If the issues with the question are just grammar, spelling or formatting I say just go ahead and fix the issues. Depending on how extensive the fixes were, maybe leave a comment letting the OP know about the changes as well as letting them know that they have any issues with your fixes they can revert the changes back to their original version if you got something wrong.

Of course even with fixing grammar, spelling or formatting there is still the opportunity to discourage users with whatever you put in the 'Edit Summary' when you save the changes. I really hadn't thought much about it until recently when I realized putting 'clarified question title, grammar, formatting and spelling improvements' in the Edit Summary might be viewed by the OP as a dig at his or her writing abilities.

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