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Today I've seen a user on Stackoverflow put a comment on a lot of users posts saying:

Please don't forget to add a '?' to questions! Some people do a search in the page for '?' and if none exists in the 'question' go directly to the next (actual) question in line.

The user posting this has nearly 100k reputation and I guess we frequent the same tags as I've seen the identical comment in at least 5 or 6 posts today.

Personally I find these comments annoying as they contribute nothing actually meaningful to the discussion or the question. If I click to read a comment I don't want to see pedantic comments on grammar every time, so on the 5th one I queried it.

How can I inform a user that the value he's entered has been contrained to the JSpinner lower bound?

To which the response started hostile and moved on to insulting so there was clearly no point trying to discuss it further.

So:

  1. Is it really true that a significant portion of people just do a search for a "?" on opening a question? Is that actually good advice?

  2. Is it correct behaviour for someone to be repeatedly posting grammar quibbles in questions?

  • 14
    you can always flag it as "not constructive" – MattDMo Jan 2 '14 at 18:05
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    If you thought the comment wasn't adding anything to the question, why did you reply to it? Now, we have 6 comments that don't add anything to the question... – yannis Jan 2 '14 at 18:08
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    @Yannis That's why I dropped the discussion there. – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 18:09
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    @MattDMo I wanted to get a second opinion/consensus/etc before I started flagging someone's posts. Maybe he's right after all :o – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 18:10
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    @Yannis If it was just the one, I'd agree, when you know they're going to continue posting them, the goal is to have a few extra comments now to avoid a bunch more useless comments later. – Servy Jan 2 '14 at 18:11
  • I don't mind your first comment, and I probably would have left a similar one @TimB. However, when a comment discussion takes an unconstructive turn, your first instinct should be to move away (and flag, if said turn is ugly enough). Far more productive things you can do with your time. – yannis Jan 2 '14 at 18:13
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    "Some people do a search in the page for '?'" – really? – slhck Jan 2 '14 at 18:16
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    @slhck I do (honestly). Being a non native speaker, little things like having a proper question in the title really help me parse the question a bit quicker. That said, that whole comment discussion was a waste of time, the title was ridiculously easy to fix. – yannis Jan 2 '14 at 18:18
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    @Yannis I know it really helps—it's just that many "questions" here are fine and answerable, even if there is no literal question mark there. I don't understand why people (who are obviously capable of reading and understanding the question) would rant about a missing "?". – slhck Jan 2 '14 at 18:22
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    Isn't ranting about absolutely insignificant things the whole point of the internet @slhck? ;P – yannis Jan 2 '14 at 18:23
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    Please don't forget to put a space in the name "Stack Overflow". ;-) – Arjan Jan 2 '14 at 19:11
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    @TimB I now regret the tone I took with you the on that matter. Sorry.. I am going to try real hard to force myself to wait at least 2 hours to reply to someone who says something what I perceive as criticism. It might help avoid getting into these types of back and forth arguments. Who can say, maybe in that time, other more level headed people can jump in and state politely what I am unable to, or perhaps the comment will be self deleted, or flagged and deleted. Or then again I just might realize they were right all along. Here's hoping.. – Andrew Thompson Jan 4 '14 at 22:44
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    @AndrewThompson No worries, it's easy to do, especially on the internet. :( Happy new year to you. – Tim B Jan 5 '14 at 0:03
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I will not delete my original answer, I'll let it stay on the public record so people who agreed with my original answer can vote this one down. OTOH I've decided that it is not worth using that comment any longer.

As I have been reminded on this thread by @SamIAm, the OP does get explicitly notified when their question is edited. I'd completely forgotten about that.

Thinking for a while that I might just move the comment to the edit reason (which I typically leave blank, on the basis that it is easy to see in the revisions what has been changed — that plus expedience), I've also rejected that for two reasons.

  1. The 'little comment app.' that I wrote specifically for my copy/paste comments (I have a lot of them) is only set up to provide a single comment area, and I could not be bothered changing it. The technical comments are far more important and useful.
  2. It might be seen that I am trying to 'hide' such advice in the edit comments out of general view to avoid criticism. If I'm going to write something, I'd prefer it to be in public view where it can be flagged or critiqued.

If I'm editing, I do think it is worth adding a '?' to questions. But I'll just make the edit & move on without further comment.


I truly thought I was helping the questioner as well as the general community, but that confidence is now much weaker. So I'll write no more on the '?'.

I still have a few comments in the app. that relate to what people consider grammar as opposed to being purely technical. I'll review those over the next couple of days. Probably most of them will go, possibly all of them.

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    Don't know if you've seen this, but you might find it useful: stackapps.com/questions/2116/… (FWIW, there used to be something similar around for edit summaries, but I don't believe it's been updated in quite some time) – Shog9 Jan 4 '14 at 22:48
  • @Shog9 Intriguing.. I am just about to 'knock off' for the night, but have the page open for a careful read when I get back. Thanks for the heads-up! – Andrew Thompson Jan 4 '14 at 22:52
  • That auto comment thing is great, just installed it :D – Tim B Jan 5 '14 at 0:07
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This is a stupid thing for either one of you to waste any time or thought on.

Obviously Andrew observed a common problem with titles and was driven to try and correct it, albeit in a fairly unproductive fashion. You observed a problem with comments, and also attempted to correct it... in a similarly unproductive fashion.

In much less time than it took you to have your little comment discussion, I edited the title to make it more descriptive of the actual question and include a question mark and added a comment recommending this to the both of you.

I strongly recommend you follow this example in the future.

For a discussion of how comments can be used to augment edits, see: "That's not what the comments are for"

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  • As already mentioned the comment discussion was an attempt to prevent future cut-and-paste spam. When it turned ugly I aborted it and moved the discussion here. Yes I could have edited that post, but I'd already seen an identical comment 5 times today. – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 18:15
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    My point isn't that there wasn't a problem - it's that both of you chose to try solving it in a fashion that created more problems instead of actually fixing anything. Too much talk, too little action. – Shog9 Jan 2 '14 at 18:19
  • This is a genuine question - not trying to be awkward...What should I have done? I posted two comments querying it, as soon as it was clear that was achieving nothing I posted here for clarification. Other than ignoring it what steps should I have taken - especially given I wasn't sure whether the comment was flag-worthy or not? – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 18:40
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    You should've fixed the title, and then recommended this course of action to the commenter, @Tim. Perhaps something like, "comments carry a lot more weight when they're coupled with a demonstration of the advice being given" – Shog9 Jan 2 '14 at 18:42
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Nobody over 2000 reputation needs to leave a comment correcting an OP's grammar.

If you see a clear problem then you can go in and edit the problem yourself, and when you do this, the OP will be notified that you've edited their post, and they will be able to see the edit that you've made.

For most people, looking over your edits should be enough to tell them that they made some grammar mistakes that you don't think should be there.

There isn't any need to add clutter to the comments.

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    If the only change you're inclined to make is add a question mark this is an extra step on the path to automatic CW status for little gain though. – Martin Smith Jan 2 '14 at 19:54
  • moders asked and corrected, when i mentioned that I'm russian - so it's not true, 6724 is not very far i guess – Xsi Jan 2 '14 at 23:16
  • *corrected their opinion from normal to not( -just because of grammar – Xsi Jan 2 '14 at 23:44
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For the record, this is the comment that started our discussion.

Please don't forget to add a '?' to questions! Some people do a search in the page for '?' and if none exists in the 'question' go directly to the next (actual) question in line.

I feel it is:

  • Polite.
  • Factual.
  • Possibly helpful to the person who wants information.

I make many minor edits without comment. I would hope that when someone sees their own question edited, they might ask why, or review the edits for tips. Realistically though, I doubt that happens often, which is why I specifically comment on it.

On some questions where I make the comment (and admittedly that was one of them), it is obvious what the question could be when you actually read it carefully, but on many others, it is not.

E.G. 'My code does not work' might imply a question of:

  • Why doesn't it work?
  • What do I need to do to fix it?
  • Is this the right approach, or should I try something completely different?
  • Can you fix my code for me?
  • Am I misunderstanding the problem statement, and actually getting the correct result?
  • ...

For those, I cannot see that inferring a question is the best approach, since that leads to people answering the wrong question, and irritated rebukes from the person who asked.

So my point is, in most cases, it's a judgement call I'm not willing to make. On others, my review of the post is simply skimming over the text to:

  • Remove the major tag from the title
  • Turn the title into a statement, while copy/pasting the question into the body (a question earlier today had another poster criticizing the OP for not asking a question, when it was actually in the title)
  • Correct spelling
  • Add a space after a full stop.
  • Correct the capitalization at the start of sentences, proper names, classes etc.
  • Break 'walls of text' into readable paragraphs.
  • Correcting SHOUTING.
  • ..

When I'm doing it, it is like 'in one eye, out the other'. By the time I've finished editing, the post reads and looks much cleaner, but I couldn't say I actually have a grasp of what the person is asking or an overall idea of what the post is about.

But as I'm going, I alt/tab to a little comment app., type the 3 or 4 letters I need to select that comment, and add it to the list of comments to provide the user for future. This usually does not cause a great problem.

OTOH you took exception to it. The way I see it, your beef is:

  • Not helpful to the question or the OP.
  • Not productive in the wider scheme of things.

I will continue to edit & comment much as I have in the past, but will try to recognize those statements that 'all but lacking a ?', are a question. Don't count on me noticing them though.

Unless the powers that be decide that my behavior is intolerable and ban me, I'll tend to continue to make that comment, and do so prolifically.

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  • I can agree that there are a large number of terrible questions. However there is already a close that reads "Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking." That both tells people what the problem is and closes the question until it is fixed. If the question is clear then it doesn't need closing - and adding a ? isn't needed. If it isn't clear then it needs closing until clarified... – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 20:05
  • I don't doubt your intentions, and I agree adding more clarity to questions is a good goal. The problem is how to achieve that in a good way. – Tim B Jan 2 '14 at 20:09
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Anybody who has watched my moderation for any length of time knows that I am a stickler for proper grammar spelling and punctuation. Using adequate English demonstrates two things: literary competence and respect for your fellow netizens.

Nevertheless, I am going to weigh in that insisting on a question mark in a title (in the absence of any other spelling or grammatical problems) is absolutely pointless. Despite the commenter's premise, it has no effect on searches, and the larger problem is that many titles are incomprehensible. I would much prefer that folks focus on writing a clear title that will highlight the subject matter correctly, regardless of whether it has a question mark or not.

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  • "question mark in a title" If I see a title 'How to X?' I'll typically move the question to the body and make the title 'X'. The real basis of this was whether there is a there is a question mark at all anywhere in the title or body of a question. As I see it, the title should (ideally) be the goal. This makes some titles reduce from 2 lines to one, and avoids ten questions in a row in the question list all from starting with 'How to..' (which seems pretty monotonous and boring, to my eye). – Andrew Thompson Jan 3 '14 at 18:06
  • Depends on what you mean by "title." The title of a question is what appears in Google Search Results, so if your title is "Barring the Foo," but your question is about a very specific error message you get when you're trying to bar a foo, and not about how to bar a foo, then you've wasted the Googler's time. "How do you bar a foo?" is a perfectly sensible title, if that's what the question is asking. – user102937 Jan 3 '14 at 18:37

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