I've noticed over the past few days a handful of comments that have been a little too aggressive about poor English. I mod messaged someone who pretty much asked how someone was going to write his resume if it was so bad, and other similar cases.

One of these were flagged - and we rely a lot on users to keep an eye on such things.

There's no real new rule here but, if someone's being not nice to someone about their usage of the English language, and it's a logical fix, could we help out by editing, and flagging the comments? It would be nice to see if there's a pattern of it so we can take action if needed.

If folks have any ideas on how we can do this better or more efficiently, let me know.

There's no real fundamental change in moderation policy - just that I'd like to bring visibility to this and well, encourage folks to be excellent to each other.

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    Help Center -> Be Nice is relevant here: "Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions. Don't expect new users to know all the rules — they don't. And be patient while they learn. If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for help." – Robotnik Mar 19 '18 at 4:46
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    Would it be too ironic and recursive if I pointed out that, in English, the names of languages (e.g., “English”) are typically capitalized?    :-)   ⁠ – Scott Mar 20 '18 at 4:21
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    Only if you called me a terrible person or otherwise insulted me. Now, in a perfect world, you'd go "Oh, let me fix that for OP" ;p .... Do I need to capitalise English language? Or is it English Language? – Journeyman Geek Mar 20 '18 at 4:22
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    Meh, it's really hard to ignore poor English sometimes—especially when it leads to posts that are impossible to answer—but then again we have to accept that we can't teach people another language here. I sometimes suggest people to use Google Translate instead of attempting to formulate the question themselves. – slhck Mar 20 '18 at 15:09
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    I think the title could be "Can we be nicer". At least, neutral. My experience is that many interactions on this website aren't that friendly/neutral. (I'm not here to make friends, but aggressive comments may deviate the attention from the question/answer.) – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 22 '18 at 20:58
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    Honestly? I wanted to narrowly scope a specific issue I saw. There's nothing worse than vague complaints. – Journeyman Geek Mar 22 '18 at 22:34
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    @JourneymanGeek In your comment "There's nothing worse than vague complaints." only adds negative/aggressive noise. That's the kind of things I am talking about, and is too often present on Stack Exchange. – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 29 '18 at 2:47
  • That's one point of view - but the full context, that preferring narrow scopes, which are implicitly things we can fix is important. My goal is literally to raise awareness of a specific issue, in the hopes such things are fixed, commented on or flagged, or better yet people are mindful. If there's a specific class of action I feel is unhealthy, it gets its own question. – Journeyman Geek Mar 29 '18 at 5:08
  • On the other hand: why would Super User be the only resource for people to get help? I wouldn't dare to ask a question on, say, a French or Portugese website. – Arjan Apr 1 '18 at 11:35
  • Cause for what its worth, english is kind of the common language of the internet. What sparked this off was essentially personal attacks. Besides, Its not only ESL folk who have bad english – Journeyman Geek Apr 1 '18 at 12:02

If these sorts of comments are coming from regulars, then they will probably read this meta question, so that's good enough.

Considering that, if you (the one reading this answer) know you are a person who gets easily annoyed by poor English, just skip over questions/answers you find that are written with poor English. Granted, this is harder to do if it's an answer to your question, or a comment on your answer, but it's always better to disengage before you end up crossing the line.

Content posted on the site in poor English eventually needs to be clarified (edited/rewritten) to be more readable, or deleted if it's bad for other reasons too. However, there's no obligation for you to invest that time and energy to do that editing, especially if doing so would irritate you. Instead, just move on and let someone else deal with it. There are enough of us on the site that skipping over content that irritates you is not committing a mortal sin.

Here are a few more practical tips:

  • If there are comments with poor English, flag one of them (no need to flag them all on the same question) and a moderator will clean them up as needed, deleting any unclear or unhelpful comments.
  • If you can spare the time/energy, and the content is a question or answer, edit it to improve the clarity based on what you can glean from what was written. Ask for clarification if needed.
  • If you're lazy, just vote to close the question as "Unclear what you're asking" or flag it for a mod. Either of these actions should at least put others' eyes on it eventually, who in turn will either put in the work to clarify the question, or contribute to getting it closed so we can move on.
  • In all cases, avoid discussion about the original author's quality of writing, etc. Users will get defensive and that's never a good thing. If you can't understand what they wrote, just leave a comment stating that you don't understand (and point out specifically what you don't understand) and see if they come back to clarify. If they don't, well, the content will eventually be closed/deleted after all.
  • Yup, but if they don't flagging comments that are snippy would be nice. Also, the comments are on posts - and these are things that could/were edited. – Journeyman Geek Mar 19 '18 at 12:48
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    Applying the Social-Media advice of "just keep scrolling" here. Nice. – music2myear Mar 19 '18 at 15:33
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    I guess I get frustrated by hard-to-understand posts, and I’m not sure whether I’m handling them well. I’m not clear what line you’re drawing in your last (fourth) bullet. It’s OK to say that I don’t understand what they’ve written, but not to say that their writing is hard to understand? I have suggested that people get help from a friend who knows English better than they do, or that they use Google Translate. I believe that such suggestions are constructive; are they too “aggressive”? – Scott Mar 20 '18 at 4:21
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    @Scott, "I don't understand" doesn't say anything explicit about the poster, only yourself. "Your writing is hard to understand" is a statement about the poster that could potentially be taken defensively. Looks like somebody has been skipping PC (political correctness) training. :-) Flip side: I've seen comments saying "I don't understand...", to which the poster replied "Are you stupid? It's perfectly clear to anyone with a brain". But at least you've taken the high ground. – fixer1234 Mar 20 '18 at 9:59
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    I've gone "I've had trouble parsing your post - could you {improve thing}" most recently and it went well :). – Journeyman Geek Mar 21 '18 at 11:05
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    Sometimes I'll reply along the lines of "Let me make sure I understand the question. I think you mean {blah blah blah restating the question in better English blah blah blah}. Is that correct, or have I misunderstood you?" – Steve Rindsberg Mar 25 '18 at 2:32
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    As a non-native speaker, I've learned a lot from people editing my questions & answers on this site. More than often I've thought "aha, that's a more elegant way to put it" or "oh, so that's how formatting works". Please just edit away, it's like free tutoring, it's helping! – Konerak Mar 29 '18 at 6:47

The issue is site-wide. As a comment notes, we have the "be nice" policy, but mods often need to remind members to do so.

A member that posts in the tone of "Are you stupid? It's perfectly clear to anyone with a brain", isn't likely to stay a member for long, and if they try to, often create a lot of work for the Mods.

To answer your question (admittedly, from my view at Money.SE) the mods and members alike try to edit when the intent is clear. When it's not, we try to ask the OP to help us understand. Ideas to do it better? Just lead by example. The tough part of this is the lower rep members who might not catch on so quickly, their behavior might take some time to change a bit.

To clarify, high rep members might still be nasty, but they should know better.


I'm going to go with "No".

An individual can be nicer and make positive change. However, I'm not sure "we" can be nicer in general. Your question evokes deep philosophical inquiry in to the nature of human interaction on the internet. Studies like "The online disinhibition effect" have shown that humans are more cruel to each other on the internet than they would be in real life.

The online disinhibition effect: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15257832

Until the troll culture of the internet changes, this site is just another venue for the venting of vitriol. All things considered, I think this community is very nice. I see less hateful troll activity here than in other unmentionable parts of the internet.

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    Any hateful troll activity is unacceptable. And this post is literally me trying to raise awareness and trying to cause the positive change I want to see. – Journeyman Geek Apr 10 '18 at 22:54
  • Right on. Some people will read it and it will have some sort of effect on those people. So I think it will help. – HackSlash Apr 10 '18 at 23:04

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