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Following on from Check mark discoverability seems to be low for new users, I've taken to commenting with the following proforma whenever I see a 0% accept rate a question from a new user who has asked multiple questions, but never accepted an answer (especially if they have indicated in comments to previous questions that an answer solved their problem):

Welcome to Stack Overflow! I can see that you asked a few questions here before, but haven't marked any of the answers you received as accepted. Accepting answers rewards the poster and shows the community that your problem has been solved; you can also upvote any post if it's useful or helpful. Please take a moment to revisit your questions and accept answers that solved your problems: it will make people more willing to help you in the future.

In response, I was recently pointed by another user to the meta discussion Is it appropriate to comment on people's accept rate? (of which I was already aware and indeed had devised the above message after reading, intending to be as helpful and friendly as possible). For the record, since reading that discussion, accept rate has not stopped me from answering questions.

Clearly, some think that the above message is still poor etiquette: but it was intended to help inform new users who may not understand the workings of the site. I would have liked to include further information about posting & accepting one's own answers to questions solved by oneself, or promoting/improving questions that have not yet been answered satisfactorily, or deleting questions that cannot be answered—but sadly there was not room to do so without losing other useful information.

I was going to request a feature to notify users with 0% accept rate that they should accept answers, but clearly that would duplicate Show alert for users with 0% (or low) acceptance rate. Whilst a feature like that would negate any need for the community to provide new users with such guidance, in the meantime many new users remain unaware about question acceptance.

I would like to know whether attempts to educate new users in the way I tried are indeed poor etiquette?


To those who argue that users should be free to leave resolved questions unaccepted should they so wish, my view is that such non-acceptance is harmful to the community because:

  1. future visitors can't be certain whether their identical problem ought to be solved by any of the answers (and certainly the answer that solved the OP's problem may be buried amongst other answers, rather than highlighted and shown at the top); and

  2. helpful users might keep coming back to the open question (e.g. through the "unanswered" tab) thinking that further contribution is being sought, only to frustratingly find that the question is answered: this discourages use of the "unanswered" tab and makes genuinely unanswered questions harder to find through the noise.

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The linked discussion is three years old now, and surely out of date - since asking it, Marc Gravell has become an SE employee, so if he really still thinks the appropriate thing is for no one ever to talk about accept rate, he could just... get rid of it. –  AakashM Oct 23 '12 at 8:06
"notify users with 0% accept rate that they should accept answers" ... no, notify users with 0% accept rate that they can accept answers. No user is obliged to do anything of the sort. Minor detail and I assume that's what you meant. In any case, such a soft reminder by the system has also been discussed here. I'd much rather see he system do this than random users. –  Bart Oct 23 '12 at 8:29
possible duplicate of How to tell new users with 0% accept rate to improve it? –  Toon Krijthe Oct 23 '12 at 13:07
possible duplicate of Is it appropriate to comment on people's accept rate? –  Bo Persson Oct 23 '12 at 13:26

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

While phrased more nicely, it's still noise and doesn't satisfy any of the things that comments are for.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to educate Stack Overflow users, I'm very much a fan of that, but consider the following:

  • We have visual (color) cues that indicate to everyone that their accept rate is different than other people's.
  • The system nags the user with a dialog asking them to accept answers to questions they've asked.

That said, it's perfectly feasible to let the system do this. We're not helping anything along by piling a comment on (which will then have to be cleaned up later, something requiring you or other people to do more work for little benefit to the site).

Rather, I'd argue that energy is better spent in the review queue, suggesting edits, flagging posts for moderator attention, etc.

Having questions with unaccepted answers is not an indicator of poor quality on the site, and we have many other, higher priority issues directly related to quality that have to be dealt with before we should crusade for accept rate (so we can all bust caps, yo).

share|improve this answer
For the avoidance of doubt, I don't really expend effort on this. If I stumble upon a 0% accept rate whilst browsing for questions to answer, I hit three keys and that message appears in a comment box. Sometimes I'll take a moment to browse their previous questions to see if I can help improve existing answers, and then find that they have already commented that an existing answer solved their problem. I wasn't aware the system already nagged: but does it show people how to accept (they don't know)? Finally, you mention "the things that comments are for" - where can I find such a list? –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 14:28
Aside: I'm genuinely surprised that noone else feels the noise in "unanswered" questions is a big problem. Review queues, except for close votes (which I often feel too uncertain about), are generally pretty empty when I check them. –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 14:32
@eggyal It's about perspective, as a moderator, I process around 300-400 flags a day of pure and utter crap. Unaccepted answers are the least of Stack Overflow's concerns. We have a ton of great content, but a whole lot of absolutely horrible content as well (and we're considered to generally be of high quality). There's so much other stuff that we need to do before we worry about accept rate. –  casperOne Oct 23 '12 at 14:36
@eggyal Here's the reference for comments: meta.stackexchange.com/a/126184/140951 - Note that all of them are about clarifying the post, not altering the behavior of the user (note, I've used comments to this effect, but in a moderation capacity, where privately messaging them would have been excessive. I consider this to be an exception, not the rule). –  casperOne Oct 23 '12 at 14:37
Following that link through to stackoverflow.com/privileges/comment provides the most authoritative, definite answer yet. Thank you! –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 14:39
@eggyal An even better link, yes, and note from that link, under "When shouldn't I comment?" it says "Discussion of community behavior or site policies". –  casperOne Oct 23 '12 at 17:36
Absolutely, I saw that - should have mentioned it here I suppose. Thank you again! –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 17:37

I don't like visible accept rate and accept rate comments. However, looking at the comment you post, it's not the worst I've seen.

It's informative, never hints at the accept rate percentage as such, and informs the user to accept answers which have solved their problems. Good going so far. With many similar comments often not going beyond "please increase your accept rate", I would personally not necessarily flag yours.

My only nitpick? Your last line: "it will make people more willing to help you in the future". This is the only point where your message strays from informative to "start accepting or we won't help you". Surely that's not how you mean it, but I would not be surprised if it's taken as such. If you decide to keep making the comment, I would take out that last line.

That being said, I don't think any user should (have to) make such comments. This is easily something that can be deferred to the system.

share|improve this answer
+1 "can be deferred to the system" - agreed (and indeed, this was originally a feature request for precisely that). Re my comment's final sentence, as I said it doesn't influence my behaviour but it is an absolute fact that it does influence others' (whether we like it or not). I'm therefore not stating anything but truth, which is again solely intended to help the OP. –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 8:48
Which might have a negative side-effect. Stating "Please increase your accept rate or I won't help you" states a truth as well. But we can both agree that it's a terrible message and can only have bad consequences. That last line of yours, though trying to be informative, pushes it in the wrong direction. If you decide to keep making such comments (which one really shouldn't have to) I would take it out. –  Bart Oct 23 '12 at 8:50
Okay, I will (at very least) remove that part. I agree that "one really shouldn't have to", but given that the system currently does not do this for us the practical reality is that if one would like users to understand how the site works, offering help & advice is the only way to achieve it. –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 8:52
I suppose my question is, until such feature is implemented what is the correct etiquette? Am I right in understanding that your answer is "ignore it / there is no problem"? –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 10:27
My personal etiquette is to not comment on it. I don't think there is a big problem. The only exception I would ever make is if a 0% accept rate user explicitly states something to the effect of "Thank you, that perfectly solved my problem" or something similar. But even then I would inform them that no user is obliged to accept anything and that doing so is their own decision and should not be influenced by anybody else. I used to have a similar view but I guess I moved on. –  Bart Oct 23 '12 at 10:32

I've taken to commenting with the following proforma whenever I see a 0% accept rate

Please don't. It has been said many times and I even posted another answer on the matter. Now I'm posting here to add something new.

I have many accounts and on some of them I have quite a lot reputation. There are some questions I've asked where I haven't accepted yet. Ok my accept rate is around 50-70% but I don't care that much honestly. The accept rate means only that: how much you have accepted. It doesn't say:

  • if I care about accepting;
  • if I'm asking for help in a malicious way.
  • etc

That's why such comments exist, because many misunderstanding this meaning. And it's for this reason that I agree on removing this information (if they ever decide to do it). I'm not saying you do it because you're bad and you want to be "bad". I'm sure you're doing it because you want to help, but it doesn't really help. You say you don't like unaccepted questions because that leaves the question "open".

Yes, the non-acceptance leaves questions open, and if the OP is not satisfied, it must stay open. Why should would they want it to be "closed" if they don't find any answer worth of it?

You're kind of forcing those OPs to accept answers when they don't really want to. And this creates a problem: accepting an answer is a responsibility towards new visitors. If you accept something just for the sake of it, you're presenting potentially wrong (or partially incorrect) answers to future users. Whether it takes 1 hour, 2 days or 2 weeks, accept the proper answer, not just "an answer so that my accept rate goes up".

The only occasion that I think you can post something about accepting (and not about the accept rate) is when there is a new user who genuinely doesn't know about accepting an answer or how it works. Then you can comment like (whether the answer is mine or not, doesn't matter): "I'm glad you found this answer useful. In case you do, remember that you can check the tickmark to signal your accepted answer". As soon as the OP does it (or if they reply saying that they are not satisfied yet), remove the comment as it becomes obsolete.

Lastly, you say that in your opinion "non-acceptance is harmful to the community"... Well, certainly we all wish for answers to be accepted, but acceptance is not the only way to signal a good/correct/helpful answer. Upvotes play a major role in this and they are the community way to accept an answer, since they cannot do otherwise. When I browse for new questions, I honestly don't care whether the OP accepted one answer or no, because the acceptance shows what was more helpful for the OP, not for me. I browse any answer and upvote where necessary (accepted or not). If all are useful answers but one was particularly helpful for me, that won't necessarily be the same answers that the OP accepted... Hope I didn't make a mess and this last paragraph was clear enough.

share|improve this answer
I agree, though the OP clearly stated he only applied this to users with a 0% accept rate. That is, multiple questions asked, and no answers accepted. Still one has to be careful and I would personally rather not comment. –  Bart Oct 23 '12 at 8:41
@Bart My answer still stands. The 0% accept rate tells nothing about the intentions of the OP. It only says "he accepted X answers out of Y questions", nothing more and that's why any comment on it is noise. –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 8:42
Sure, no discussion there. –  Bart Oct 23 '12 at 8:43
I said "whenever I see a 0% accept rate". I don't comment if the user has accepted an answer. My assumption is that they don't know how to accept (the system certainly doesn't educate them in any way). Secondly, as I said, I would have liked to include further information on how they can get questions to a state where they are able to accept an answer, should there not yet be a worthy one: but comment length is limited. And thirdly, as commented above, I perceive non-acceptance to be harmful to the community. –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 8:45
@eggyal The accept rate activates only after 4 questions asked, so it's even less functional in that sense. Don't comment on the accept rate. Take for example, a new user, 1 question and he says "thanks!" under an answer and does nothing else. Then, you can say "hey, look..." etc. In that case, I'd agree. I understand there are ambiguous cases, just an example. About your third point, I disagree. How can non-acceptance be harmful to the community? In what ways? I don't see any, honestly, but if you have any examples, please share. –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 8:49
@eggyal I added a paragraph, hope it helps. :) –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 8:53
Yes, I agree upvotes can be indicative - but they also can be perverse. Posts often get upvoted for being humorous or witty, and correct answers (especially deeply technical ones that many people can't verify) don't get upvoted at all. As you say: acceptance indicates that an answer at very least solved the problem for the OP, and I take that information seriously when I'm faced with a similar issue. You also don't address that non-acceptance leaves questions "open", such as on the "unanswered" tab: I try to go these to answer unsolved problems, only to get frustrated by finding many solved! –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 8:58
@eggyal Well, I'm sure people can figure out what that number means, since it's the same in any place of the internet. :) I don't think that's a problem at all... Yes, the non-acceptance leaves questions open, and if the OP is not satisfied, it must stay open*. Why should would they want it to be "closed" if they don't find any answer worth of it? Sorry, I disagree on that point with you. We always go back to that point: if the OP does not know about accepting, again the problem is not the accept rate, it's the "know-how-to" that lacks. –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 9:08
Yes, I completely agree with this point: "it's the 'know-how-to' that lacks". How do we, the community, solve that pending a notification from the system? A comment explaining how to accept answers is surely the only way? –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 9:09
@eggyal There already is actually. I received the same notification on a new site yesterday (which was kind of out of place, considering I'm not exactly a new user...). –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 9:16
Is there? Wasn't aware of that, and can't find anything about it on meta. Can you post what it said, or link to an announcement about it? –  eggyal Oct 23 '12 at 9:21
@eggyal I don't know if there is an announcement, check on this site... If I re-see it again, I'll take a screenshot. –  Alenanno Oct 23 '12 at 9:44

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