Stack Overflow gets a good daily chunk of questions posted by non-English speaking users. They, part of the time, post questions that are valid but are poorly formed for English speaking users. As a result they are difficult to fully understand and they get down-voted pretty often.

Sometimes, if I can't update the OP and reformat the question to be more clear I'll start asking questions to the OP to help determine what the problem is. However, by then it's got -5 votes and going to get closed pretty fast.

I know the forum mods and users on Stack Overflow deal with these accordingly and correctly, but sometimes I would still like to help because I believe I can.

What's the best practical way to deal with these situations?

3 Answers 3


Try to edit them if you can. Recently, I was looking into flags on this question. It wasn't asked very well, which made people think that the OP was trying to build some kind of site to molest random registries all over the world.

It dawned on me that the user was probably using PHP-GTK for a desktop app and needed to set some registry values. I was right. A little editing turned the question completely around. While it did turn out to be a duplicate, the OP had a much better experience and more importantly, got the information he needed.

If you can make sense out of a question when other people can't, edit, edit, edit as much as your time and motivation allows.

There are some things to consider:

  • Are you wasting your time? Is the OP becoming a leech and just milking you for every second you'll give them while happily letting you put all the effort into them getting an answer? If yes, flag it and move on.

  • Is the question, even if worded properly still something we want on the site?

Moderators are fluent in gibberish. It's a language we learn quickly after being elected. If you think something might be salvageable but you just aren't sure how, flag it and let us know. Even if the question gets closed, we'll see it. If we think it's worth salvaging, we'll try to salvage it in many cases.

Just make sure you reserve that for the rare instances where a potentially awesome user is just having problems communicating an issue.

  • "might be salvageable but you just aren't sure how, flag it and let us know" That increases my options on seeing newbs getting "closed as not a real question" on first questions. I usually leave around comments meant to be helpful. Would a moderator reopen a question (it usually takes 5 people) if the post were edited and flagged? Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 18:52
  • Yes, if we get a flag that a question has been edited and would now be a good fit for the site, we'll re-open it if we agree. Perhaps, we might edit it some more prior to opening it again. We want new users that show potential to have a good experience, just not at the expense of angst when it comes to our long term users.
    – user50049
    Commented Jan 22, 2012 at 18:56

Forget about the downvotes and edit it anyway. I have done so in the past and as a result some questions ended up with a positive number of votes anyway.

If the question got closed, but you feel it is a good question after edit, vote for it to be reopened. Keep in mind that the closing of a question is not permanent.


Guidance from the top has always been, 'Don't edit if you can't be perfectly sure that you are preserving the original intent.' In my experience, the whole problem with these questions is that it's impossible to tell the original intent. So an edit can yield an understandable question, but it may well not be the OP's question. Thus, I vote to close, downvote, and hit the 'low quality' flag on the grounds that the only possible way to repair it involved telepathy.

  • You can always leave a comment saying that your edit might have changed the scope of the post. If the OP cares about the question, they'll read it. If not, you turned a turd into something useful, even if it wasn't the OP's intent. Win/Win in my book :) A lot of really smelly questions don't receive much love from the person that asked them. They have no interest in joining the community, hence they just ask somewhere else when they receive a negative response.
    – user50049
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 18:38
  • I'm just quoting Jeff et. al.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 20:01
  • Ah, yeah. I'm specifically talking about times where you think the user (if helped a little) would become an asset. They are rare. If the language barrier seems to be the only barrier, well .. it's a subjective call.
    – user50049
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 6:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .