In keeping with the community's encouragement of carefully worded questions, I wonder if Stack Overflow could pop up a advisory box with writing tips when certain phrases are detected? My purpose in suggesting it is that a useful, highly indexable Q&A will be improved if it is written with reasonably clear and professional English; it might reduce a proportion of the edit workload too.

To start with, I propose that it would do so for any text-speak phrases that don't give rise to many false positives, such as:

Also, I'd include the scanning of non-code sentences entirely in lower-case, plus various cases of query overuse (12K) and exclamation overuse (6K).

Some phrases cannot easily be detected reliably, so we'd have to leave out "pls", "wat" and "nt" used as abbreviations (thankfully I don't see those as often). The misspelled phrase " im " throws far too many false positives, though it can certainly be paired reliably, such as Im trying (16K instances), im doing (3K) and im new (2.5K).

This has been suggested before, specifically for the phrase "it doesn't work". I agree that this phrase can be unhelpful; however, its misuse is hard to detect, since its appearance in a question does not also mean that further details have been omitted.

Personally, I'd leave out "AFAIK", "AFAICT", "FWIW" and so forth, since I think these are useful and not automatically a sign of a poor post. I appreciate that the distinction might, nevertheless, be seen as rather arbitrary - comments on those welcome. (Edit: some users consider these poor as well).

I'd be inclined to make this feature advisory rather than mandatory, so as to guide users rather than to harangue them. In fact, as long as the rest of a post is well written, an occasional abbreviated phrase can add some colour - at least it seems popular here. (Agreed, the rules for Meta are rather different, but still).

I've tried educating serial offenders about writing style in the past, with rather mixed results, so I wonder whether the 'neutral' voice of a computer might do a better job?

I've found that some txt-spk phrases form part of the low-quality post filter; however, a request to auto-replace them didn't attract much support (and, for what it's worth, I think an optional notice is a better solution).

Post script: I'd love to include cant (62K instances) and wont (33K) too, but that might be taking the principle too far :). Yes, they're real words in their own right, but both are rather archaic, and quite unlikely to be used here. And some more apostrophe sins purely for edification: whats at 26K and couldnt way down at 4K.

Post post script: it'd be great to discourage urgent as well, though there are several legitimate uses of that, so it'd be harder to implement.

  • 1
    How would the whole thing work? A dismissable message on save perhaps?
    – yannis
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:04
  • 10
    Perhaps something like, "Pls help us help U! U r gonna wanna rite good bcoz u gonna get downvotes"?
    – user7116
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:05
  • @six - ha, mock them into submission! :)
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:07
  • @Yannis - that would be fine, though an AJAX pop-up div while they are writing would be better, I think.
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:07
  • 2
    Any question that finishes with "Pls help help me!" is a poor question. Always. Why would you hide a weak question under layers of fancy language? It will just take longer to cast a close vote.
    – Tchoupi
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:12
  • 1
    @MathieuImbert The "Pls help us help U!" was suggested as the error message the scanner would produce (and obviously only as a joke).
    – yannis
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:14
  • I know it's a joke, but mocking them into submission probably won't work, as some users might mistake it for an example. Sometimes I worry that the derogatory designation of "give me the codes" actually leads non-native speakers to think "codes" is the proper syntax Mar 27, 2013 at 21:15
  • You should also include /\s+i\s+/.
    – user164207
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:15
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    @Yannis Yes sorry I copy pasted where I shouldn't have. I wasn't referring to this comment specifically. My point is, questions filled with lazy writing indicate lazy writers and poor questions.
    – Tchoupi
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:16
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    Actually, why stop at an advisory box? Why not create such filters that prevent questions containing lazy "txtspeak" from being posted?
    – user164207
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:17
  • @Jack - I'd not be opposed to this eventually becoming mandatory for cases where there's no chance of false positives. However, in the main, I think the community would slowly self-adjust with just an advisory system, and people would either write better posts, or start asking others to improve their writing.
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 21:29
  • @David: yes, I wasn't serious about mocking users into better writing. In fact, I think my proposal will reduce the difficulty some new users find when starting on StackOverflow. Rather than earning downvotes for poorly written questions, a non-judgmental computer will suggest some tips to improve their question, even before they've posted it. Thus, they will be slightly less likely to earn downvotes, and may be slightly more likely to survive the initial baptism of fire.
    – halfer
    Mar 28, 2013 at 1:13
  • Ha, a human grammar-checker popped up to (optionally) suggest 'optional' is a better choice than 'mandatory' - I've metaphorically clicked on Accept in response! (In practice, I suggest this system only scan for the very worst phraseology - Shakespeare this ain't).
    – halfer
    Mar 28, 2013 at 8:14
  • Are "cant" and "wont" archaic? "Wont" I don't really agree with, it's used in literary works a fair bit. "Cant", maybe, because "patios" and "argot" are used (often mistakenly) as synonyms, and it's been overtaken by "jargon" and "slang". Mar 28, 2013 at 8:17
  • 1
    I wasn't suggesting you were incorrect @halfer :-). Mar 28, 2013 at 8:23

2 Answers 2


Please don't do this.

We have pretty high expectations regarding the content of good questions: they should clearly state the question, provide evidence of what the OP has tried so far, include just the right amount of code, have a single objectively correct answer (except for sometimes), not be hypothetical, and so on. New and even not-so-new users often find their questions closed or downvoted because they miss the mark on one or more of those criteria.

Let's avoid imposing additional restrictions on what or how people can ask a question.

It's great that you're looking for ways to improve the content on Stack Overflow, but I don't think requiring The King's English is the right way to go about it. We should instead lead by example. Treat Stack Overflow like the Q&A site for professionals that it strives to be, treat people with respect, and try to create an environment where people will choose to write the very best questions and answers that they can.

If you start telling people what words they may or may not use, you're gonna find words that are a lot worse than txt-speak coming your way. It'll make the list of Things Not Allowed On Stack Overflow even more intimidating without really improving the quality of questions and answers. I'd rather have a thousand good questions with questionable grammar, spelling, and usage than a thousand perfectly composed bad questions.

I know a neighborhood where the local home owners association has a long list of rules: you can't let your grass get too long, can't park a pickup truck in the driveway, must get the color approved if you want to paint your house, can't change the exterior profile of your house, no dogs allowed in the front yard, and so on. It's depressingly boring. Not far away is a village where they have fewer rules and a little more chaos. The residents are proud of their homes. They mow their lawns because they want their houses to look nice, not because someone came around with a ruler and left a note on the door telling them that they have to mow. They might park a pickup in the driveway once in a while, but they're considerate of their neighbors. Which area would you rather live in?

  • Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that some quirks in writing make for a more interesting place, which is why I suggested it be non-mandatory; perhaps I should have made that clearer. That all said, I think it is the view of the community that good writing is important, and in my view, the worst kinds of text-speak language isn't "colourful", it's just bad writing. The home-owners association isn't a good analogy because their oppressive rules are not optional.
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 22:22
  • Regarding try to create an environment where people will choose to write the very best questions and answers that they can. I agree that this is a good thing to aim for, but in my view this isn't presently happening. I would be interested in hearing what else can be done that strikes the right balance between improving quality and the risk of lifelessness - I submit that my idea does just that :).
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 22:28
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    I don't use a lot of txtspeak myself. It seems kinda silly. Oh, but I do use kinda from time to time even though I know it's not a Proper Word. I capitalize for emphasis, too, though I know it's not an approved use. Where we disagree, I think, is in what should be done about the bad writing. I don't want someone reading over my shoulder and coughing an "Ahem, sir!" when I stray into substandard usage. I don't need SO to teach me how to write, thankyouverymuch. We should simply let the quality of the writing reflect (well or not) on the writer. You can't impose good writing.
    – Caleb
    Mar 27, 2013 at 22:38
  • BTW, I think optional would be a better word choice than non-mandatory, but I don't think you need a popup div to tell you so.
    – Caleb
    Mar 27, 2013 at 22:44
  • Not at all the same level of error, but you're very welcome to edit my question :).
    – halfer
    Mar 27, 2013 at 22:45

People who learnt (or are learning!) English as a second language may not realize that "gonna" and the like is not appropriate for written English. I see it depressingly often with Japanese people practicing their English on lang-8.com .

In fact, there was a question on English Language Learners about whether "gonna" is appropriate.

A filter for words like "gonna", if misused, may indirectly discriminate on the basis of nationality, which would be a bad thing.

  • 2
    I thought of that, but I see it quite differently. If the lingua franca of the tech world was Japanese, and I was inadvertently committing the equivalent of "gonna", I'd definitely want to know. Bad writing will often be corrected manually anyway, possibly with snark and/or downvotes, so perhaps it would be kinder for it to be pointed out silently by a computer?
    – halfer
    Mar 28, 2013 at 10:10
  • I disagree: adult non-native English speakers are often far more aware of the correct use of register - and to not use text-speak, ghetto English and the like other than in spoken English (and even then, not in formal situations). I would wager that most of the offenders speak English as their native language.
    – Marko
    Aug 31, 2013 at 14:25

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