On several of the sites I frequent, we occasionally get questions posted by people who are facing difficult situations, consisting mainly of them expressing how upset they are. In many cases, the post may not include a question at all, or it may be an afterthought ("...what should I do?"), or be rhetorical ("...why are people such jerks?")

I won't give any links to avoid embarrassing anyone, but examples might include:

  • Academia.SE: "My no-good advisor stole all my results and won't give me credit. Now what?"

  • Law.SE: "I've suffered a horrible injustice, how can I sue everyone involved and his brother?"

  • Travel.SE: "Airline X cancelled my flight, stranded me for days, and destroyed my luggage. Why does anyone ever fly with them?"

It's common for other users to respond to such posts with a comment saying something like:

This is a rant, not a question.

Usually accompanied by downvotes or votes to close.

In view of the "be nice policy", I am wondering if we can find a less derogatory way to communicate to such a poster that their post isn't appropriate for a Q&A site. Whether intended or not, it seems to me that "rant" comes across as an accusation that the poster is acting crazy or responding irrationally - not really what someone wants to hear if something upsetting has happened to them.

What might be some examples of more considerate phrasing, that could actually help the poster turn their post into a useful question, or at least help them understand why their post isn't acceptable on this site?

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    Perhaps "venting"? We all "vent", it's normal, and doesn't implicitly carry any derogatory intent, when used. E.g., "I understand your need to vent. But SE (or "this site on SE") is designed to be only a Question and Answer site ...". – Namaste Jun 9 '19 at 23:48
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    I'm curious what the downvotes signify. If you feel that there is no reason to avoid the word "rant", would you like to leave an answer explaining why not? If there's some other problem with the question, could you let me know what it is? (This can certainly be in addition to a downvote if you feel it's warranted - I'm not offended.) – Nate Eldredge Jun 9 '19 at 23:54
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    It's not a bad post or anything but I think a lot of people by now are just like: Uggghh not another one these 'In view of the "be nice policy"' posts. Most meta posts these days that even mention the "be nice policy" are routinely downvoted. – n8te Jun 10 '19 at 2:23
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    What people want to hear and what a reasonable observer can say are not always the same thing. The people who post such questions often are responding irrationally, and the "questions" they write quite often are a rant. Many such posts also cannot be turned into an appropriate question; asking what they should do about their situation is almost guaranteed to be off-topic on Law SE, for example, and I am yet to see a salvageable question just labelled a rant with no additional support offered. – Nij Jun 10 '19 at 4:44
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    @NateEldredge My downvote signifies I disagree with the proposal to blacklist the word “rant”, or agree to shift the entire onus of discourse from the OP to the community, or to continue to drive interpreting the CoC as absolving OP of any responsibility or accountability. Or to continue to weaponize it against those who’re most responsible for the value and popularity of the site. Hope that helps. – Dan Bron Jun 10 '19 at 14:37
  • Any comment that can be expressed in a gentler, kinder way and still be effective is far better and is worth expressing in the gentler and kinder way than "going for the jugular," so to speak with an immediate one-word dismissal. – Namaste Jun 10 '19 at 19:09
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    @Namaste: "and still be effective" That's kind of the problem. Given a post which is clearly and unequivocally a rant, I have yet to see a way to describe it as such without either 1) being just as "insulting" as calling it a rant, or 2) not effectively describing its content. "Rant" is inherently negative, so any description that embodies the same concepts will be just as negative. – Nicol Bolas Jun 10 '19 at 20:13

Sometimes, if you put a tutu on a raptor... you still have a raptor. It will probably still eat your face, just get blood all over the tutu.

Sometimes rants are just rants. Occasionally there's a good question we need to dig out from under all that rage. Sometimes there isn't.

Pointing out a rant is a rant isn't helpful if the user's well... somewhat overwrought already though. If there's a good question, if we can calm down the ranty user, we might be able to help them salvage it.

Be nice doesn't mean sugar coating though, or putting lipstick and a tutu on a raptor.

If it doesn't help, a no longer needed would help.

That said - if it looks like or is seen as a rant, we need to be looking at the post first and the comments in that context

  • "If it looks like or is seen as a rant"... That's only true if the the ones who judge it so have 20/20 vision and abide by the correct definition when using the term. I've seen too many meta posts across the network in which the label is over-used and applied in situations where it does not apply (including e.g., when a comment is left by someone who disagrees with a call to change something calling the question a rant, and then goes on to rant against the OP). – Namaste Jun 10 '19 at 15:55
  • Hence looking at it. And trying to defuse the issue.Focusing on the comments, its all about the bigger picture. Maybe not 20/20, but wide angle, just a little – Journeyman Geek Jun 10 '19 at 16:00
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Nicol Bolas Jun 10 '19 at 20:35
  • Guys. Less ranting please 😁. – Journeyman Geek Jun 10 '19 at 23:37
  • @JourneymanGeek Unfortunately, I'd argue that there is an overuse of the term "rant" used in comments by some users (including occasionally, site mods) about comments from other users. Sometimes used appropriately, sometimes not. Similarly, I've seen too many answers by popular users which are rants and part rant, part answer, collecting abundant upvotes. – Namaste Jun 11 '19 at 16:06

I vote to remain using the term 'rant'. Just like the police force sometimes uses violence (a little, and as few as possible) to keep order, we need to bend the rules (slightly) in order to clearly state what's going on. A term like 'rant' isn't too offensive (in my humble opinion; YMMV but that's why we have discussions like this) and is much clearer than 'a complaint stated in a completely unreasonable way'.

Also, I wonder what's next? Suspending users is Not Nice, so we stop suspending users?

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    This is possibly the worst analogy in history. And tone deaf and counterproductive in the current environment and the focus on the CoC. I’d prefer to frame it this way: rights come with attendant responsibilities. It’s a two way street. To receive the protection of the CoC one has to abide by it. One wouldn’t walk into a crowd of strangers screaming about a great injustice and expect people to circle around clamoring to help. OPs have to approach SE like adults, with an adult tone, and a clear question which accepts factual answers. – Dan Bron Jun 10 '19 at 13:48
  • The question is not binary: Should we use "rant" always or never. There's a middle ground: there are and have been many cases where no better word describes a post. But it is entirely possible, and I've witnessed it happen many times, that there are cases exhibiting the overuse/misuse of the label "rant" as a means to dismiss a not-ranting post, because the dismisser disagrees with it and/or personally dislikes the OP. I think choosing when and when not to use to label "rant" is the more important issue here, and an issue you never address. – Namaste Jun 10 '19 at 19:05

What might be some examples of more considerate phrasing, that could actually help the poster turn their post into a useful question, or at least help them understand why their post isn't acceptable on this site?

I recognize the examples you use. Sometimes, we get those on Interpersonal Skills as well. People that had a hard time interacting with someone, that have relationship troubles, that for whatever reason think the site isn't one for asking questions about Interpersonal Skills but a place to talk about anything in life.

Like you said, those questions are usually downvoted and put on hold. Instead of saying 'this is a rant, not a question', you can opt for another approach if you want. I don't know if calling something a rant is offensive, but it surely often is unneeded and unhelpful.

I personally treat those questions like any other bad question that needs to be put on hold.

I've left comments on such questions that offer some empty sympathy (Hi < username >, this sounds tough/like a lot to deal with), that point out that the question isn't a good question for the site (this question is off-topic, we can't really help you with this/but I don't really see a question in here, so I'm voting to close this/putting this on-hold), and then offer some fake support (I hope things get better for you soon). If there's anything in the question that you might be able to help with, ask further questions to clarify that bit and make edits to bring that out.

If a question is a rant, there's usually no reason to call it such (things change a bit if there's a repeated history, but for first-time users? Better not). Comments allow you to use more characters, use them. Even if you don't mean it, it may mean a lot to the person on the other side.

  • I think this answer is true to the ideals as proclaimed by SE/SO. Thanks for posting such a thoroughly thought out answer, with which I agree entirely. – Namaste Jun 10 '19 at 18:52
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    I like this answer, with one caveat: don't be fake, it tends to come across as... fake. You may not be able to empathize with someone's situation, but sympathy is cheap: if it sounds like they're in a tough situation and struggling to maintain perspective, then... They probably are - recognizing that is just being honest, and communicates that at least you took the time to read. – Shog9 Jun 14 '19 at 14:29

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