TL;DR: Our wording is complex, and hard for people from other languages to read. Let's make it simpler.
Seriously, though, at least read my example at the bottom.
For a long time, I've noticed a trend: People from certain countries (which I will refer to, collectively, as Elbonia) seem to 'ignore the rules' more than people from other countries. I've never been content just blaming the people, or putting a broad blanket on it.
That's an easy way to put the blame on someone else - a group of people, actually. "Those Elbonians just can't get it."
While writing my nomination for the election, this finally clicked:
I'm going to propose something radical: It's our fault. Yes, they should read the rules - but let's do a little thought experiment here:
You were born and raised in Elbonia, and thus were only exposed to the native language from birth. Furthermore, Elbonian has a vastly different structure than English does.
One day, you decide you want to start programming. You find Stack Overflow, but discover everything is in English. So you start taking English classes (or just try to pick it up as you go). This is probably very hard for you - you're trying to learn a whole different language, with a different structure.
Now, you want to ask a question on Stack Overflow. You make an account, press the 'ask' button... and get this:
Welcome to Stack Overflow!
We’d love to help you, but the reality is that not every question gets answered. To improve your chances, here are some tips:
Search, and research
Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found (on this site or elsewhere) and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!
Remember, you have a month of English experience. If you happen to have a three year old handy, read them that and have them explain to you what it means.
Luckily for you, you know what "proceed »" means. That sounds like what you want to do. You check the box and then type your question into the box. You haven't read any of the help text. You just want to get your question answered.
If this isn't making sense, I challenge you to take a month of Portuguese and then read https://pt.stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice. Actually - try Russian. That's what it's like for these people.
Turns out, there's a standard test for 'how hard something is to read'. Actually, a whole bunch of them*. Let's take the how-to-ask page and run it through that website:
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||5.9|
|Automated Readability Index||5|
|Average Grade Level||7.0|
You might have a shot at reading that - but why would you? You have nothing invested in Stack Overflow, you just want to get your question answered. You're probably on a schedule. So you click continue and type your thing into the box, where it gets immediately downvoted and closed and deleted and whatever other bad things we do to questions.
And we wonder why these folks often write 'bad' questions.
Now, let's run some other text around the site through the readability score calculator:
Average Grade Level 11.7
Average Grade Level 10.1
Average Grade Level 9.5
- (answer guidelines)
Average Grade Level 8.3
Average Grade Level 7.9
Average Grade Level 6.7
I didn't leave anything I tried out of this list. There is no cherry-picking going on here. Our rules are simply hard to read.
We've expected new English speakers to read 8th grade stuff - and that takes effort.
What if we were to simplify these rules down to a 5th or 6th grade level? I'm serious - these countries are developing very rapidly, and they're going to be our primary audience shortly. Something like this for the answer box:
Thank you for writing on Stack Overflow!
You must answer the question. Explain how you found the answer!
You must not ask for help. There is another place you can do that
You must not post your thoughts without facts. All answers must be based on facts.
To learn more, see our tips on writing great answers.
That's an average grade level of 3.9. Down from 8.3. (Note that this is my 60-second attempt, if we implemented this I would want better wording. This is just a proof-of-concept.)
If we make our rules easy to read, people will be more likely to read them. This is a net benefit for everyone. To get yourself in the mood necessary for writing these, spend about 20 minutes reading Simple Wikipedia.
I realize, of course, that we're a professional site. People in the US/UK/EU and other places are proficient at English. The current text is much more accurate and information-dense. I do think, though, that it's possible to write simple text in a professional way.
If we have to, we could even geolocate based on IP and show different versions to different users.
What are your thoughts? Is this a good idea?
* These scores are not perfect. They're only intended to give a relative indication of roughly how hard something is to read. We all know how accurate machines are at natural language, so take this with a grain of salt.