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Frequently I see people with enough reputation to edit complain about formatting issues instead of taking matters into their own hands to edit and improve questions. I can understand why this might be the case if the OP has enough rep that they should know how to use the system better, but often it's on questions from users with 1 rep (brand new accounts). What can we do to encourage more civil (frankly, many of the comments are downright rude) and helpful behavior by people who can edit posts?

FWIW, I lost some flagging mojo by flagging what I thought to be rude comments respecting the quality of a new user's post, so I'm not sure that flagging is the answer unless the mods are on board.

Examples:

Note: I'm not holding this up as a good question; it's a lousy one. But there is an opportunity to work with the user to improve it rather than simply blast away at the poor quality.

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I agree with this in general so +1, but to be fair, an OP just dumping code without any context and a "can you spot an error in this" title like in your example deserves to be kicked in the shin. That is no way of making a first post on a Q&A site. –  Pëkka Mar 23 '11 at 15:17
    
@What - that was only the most recent example I've seen. This might be a better example: stackoverflow.com/questions/5378413/… –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 15:28
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Can anyone find a more clear cut example, i.e. a valid question with just bad formatting/spelling? –  Jakub Hampl Mar 23 '11 at 15:28
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@Jakub - just added an example where the main issue was the title. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 15:29
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Why do people with edit privileges complain about people with edit privileges complaining about bad post quality, instead of just editing the post themselves? –  user27414 Mar 23 '11 at 16:00
    
Sorry, Tim, I couldn't help myself. –  user27414 Mar 23 '11 at 16:01
    
@status-declined - if you look at my second example, you'll see that I did a fair amount of editing and a little bit of instructing in comments as well. In the first example, the question had been closed with extreme prejudice by the time I got back to it. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:02
    
@tvan - actually, I was giving my link clicking finger a break, since I've seen countless examples of the same thing before. I was mostly just looking for an opportunity to be a sarcastic jerk. So thanks for taking that away from me. –  user27414 Mar 23 '11 at 16:07

4 Answers 4

When I do this there is an element of "teach a man to fish".

If I just improve the post the OP will never learn and come to rely on others to edit their posts into shape.

By commenting, voting to close and (in extremis) down-voting, you encourage and perhaps even force them to improve their posts themselves. This will save everybody's time in the long run.

However, this is not (nor should it be) a hard and fast rule. The action you take will depend on the current post, perhaps what other comments have been left or even the OP's history.

In some cases it might be the best approach to edit the post and then leave a comment asking the OP to review it and double check that you haven't misinterpreted them. In fact this would be the best of both worlds. However, if this is the fifth post you've come across from the same user with the same type of problem you might not want to do that.

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For new users, if you can help get it into shape I would comment AND improve. That, to me, sends a better message than comment and CLOSE. For someone who's been around long enough to know better, it's fair game to close/downvote/etc. I'm mostly talking about low-rep, new users. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 15:30

It kind of depends on the improvements that can be made.

If the question is merely worded poorly (spelling, grammar, asker isn't fluent in English, ambiguity resolved in comments without the asker performing edits, formatting issues, etc), then an edit should be possible to clean the question up. In the specific case of formatting, new askers tend to remain completely blind to the gigantic "here's how to format stuff" box right next to the input box, and the quick formatting buttons. Complaining about formatting alone is useless without a link to the Editing Help page.

If the question isn't answerable, that's an entirely different problem. Let's take that first example, the PHP code review. Ignoring the code formatting, there is not an answerable question there. There is no way that any sort of editing could possibly have made it recoverable. The asker would have to provide more information on what he/she was having trouble with.

Another example of that second type of question is this one, titled "INSERT query not firing". It, too, is a code dump, but at least there was something there to go on. More revealing is the asker's attitude in the comments, where he believes that he doesn't actually need to explain what's going on. While the question did get answered (I think, maybe), again there is no possible set of edits to the original question that could have saved it from a close.

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Agreed - but even in the first case some effort could be made to elicit more information. If the OP doesn't respond with more or shows hostility to supplying more, that's different. I'd prefer to start with an expectation of goodwill and cooperation than lead off with "your question is crap, your code is crap, and, oh, you're probably crap, too, for coming here and asking your question this way." Complaining adds very little to the site; instructing and inquiring are much more profitable, IMO. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:01
    
Generally agreed about instructing/inquiring, but sometimes there isn't really enough to actually inquire about. Classic "give me the codes" and "How do I do [long complicated task]?" and "How do I do [thing with obvious Google results]" questions are incredibly difficult to improve by constructive poking and prodding, as usually the asker doesn't have the capability or knowledge to provide improvement. But that's slightly off the topic of editable improvements. –  Charles Mar 23 '11 at 16:09
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sometimes I'll suggest different ways of asking questions, like "try coming up with a small program that demonstrates the problem and come back and ask about that" when it's clearly not worth trying to get more detail about the current question. There's no blanket answer or strategy that will work. I guess I'm wondering how we get potential editors to do an attitude adjustment. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:13

This is one reason why I'm dead set against anything that further encourages commenting when down-voting: there are an awful lot of non-constructive comments that we'd be better off without. Your first example had been edited prior to any comments, but it was still a mess... However, we're four comments in before we get to anything helpful.

What can we do to encourage this? Exactly what you are doing: leading by example. Comments complaining about a perfectly good post just look silly...

Flagging these comments is kinda pointless unless you actually have cleaned up the question, since anyone reviewing them will tend to be sympathetic.

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If the comment is offensive, then I would flag it (learn to speak English, stupid!). If it's not offensive, then I might just edit the post myself, and maybe even remind the complainer that he can do the same.

Side note: I've noticed a lot of the proposed edits by non-edit-priv-having-users are cleaning up non-native posts and other simple problems.

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How rude does it have to be for it to be considered offensive? Does it have to include the word stupid or just imply it? I flagged a comment that was clearly mocking the OP (not on these questions) and my flagging foo took a hit when a mod deemed it not worthy. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:10
    
@tvan - that's hard to say. That's why we need multiple flags. I would say that from your experience it would seem that your rudeness threshold is lower than most other flaggers. Personally, I think the flag weight system kinda sucks in this regard. I'm still seeing plenty of bad flags, but now an experienced user like yourself is becoming gun shy. –  user27414 Mar 23 '11 at 16:13
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@status-declined - it might help if I could explain why I'm flagging a comment, like I can with a question. I don't know what control mods have over the effect of declining to do anything about a flag. Perhaps there needs to be a "ok, I understand why they flagged, but I just disagree" option. The way it sounds, you're automatically docked if the mod dismisses the flag. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:18
    
@tvan "I understand why you flagged but I disagree" leads to "valid" if we still take action despite our disagreement, or "invalid" if nothing happens. If you want to couple an explanation, and especially if there are multiple comments to address, use a normal flag for moderator attention to explain the situation. –  Grace Note Mar 23 '11 at 16:26
    
@Grace - I'm not sure I understand. What I was suggesting was a third-option, a no-op if you will. The flag is neither valid nor invalid, just nothing was done about it. It would be for the marginal case where you understand the flagger's point of view but come down on the side of doing nothing. Probably doesn't matter in the long run for people who aren't abusing the flag system; it was just a thought that there might be some gray between the black and white. –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:33
    
@tvan If we let the flag age away or otherwise just don't do anything, that's the no-op we use. This does not end up impacting your flag weight, either. The same goes for spam/offensive flags. –  Grace Note Mar 23 '11 at 16:33
    
@Grace - good to know. I guess my situation was classed as "invalid." –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:37
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@Grace - fyi, I've updated the Flag Weight FAQ, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/80170/what-is-flag-weight, to note how flags that age away are handled. Could you review it to make sure it's accurate? –  tvanfosson Mar 23 '11 at 16:41
    
@tvan Just to let you know, I've recently gotten evidence of a flag aging away that did take away flag weight. Likewise, community resolution does up your flag weight. I have appropriately revised the FAQ entry. Sorry for the confusion! –  Grace Note Mar 29 '11 at 14:24

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