I responded, critically but also respectfully, to an established user's comment below a rather ill-formed question. He responded: "I offer this in the spirit of ‘we are at <1 question per day, let’s save what we can'".

This concerned me, because I'd love to see MESE graduate from beta status, but not at the cost of keeping low-quality posts, or keeping questions that are clearly off-topic for this site, just in order to make it "look like" we receive more on-topic, quality questions than we actually do. The user I speak of who posted the comment quoted in the title, has since deleted that comment.

I support this site, no matter what. But I'd like us to graduate in a more dignified manner, i.e., not keeping every single question that comes in, et.al, not keeping off-topic and low-quality questions, just to graduate from beta.

I'd like to hear other perspectives, because many users have been here far longer than I. Am I missing something I don't yet grasp? I do understand that quality control might be a more relevant issue when a site is receiving an abundant number of poor quality and/or off-topic questions. I'd merely advocate that the "worst of the worst" in terms of quality, and all off-topic questions, not be given a bye, just to increase the count of (legitimate) questions received on this site. Are there arguments I haven't considered?

Another alternative I am perfectly supportive of, is that users who believe a question, though admittedly poorly asked, is worth keeping, to make the effort to edit and improve such questions that they support keeping, and make only edits that do not make already existent answers irrelevant. How do others feel about this?


The latest example, after my post yesterday, are the three upvotes for this question which fails to address math educators or math education, even after being immediately informed that this might be a good idea for the OP to do.

Please, let's show some self-respect as a valid SE site candidate, by not sniveling and groveling to keep off-topic questions here, solely for the "added question" it might add to the tally of daily MESE posts. Let's stick with counting valid MESE posts.


For context, the question was What's the point of exercises without answers?

I saw the question, along with the close votes it was gathering. A member both commented, pointing out the underlying reason the question was being voted to close, i.e. that it read more like a rhetorical question, or a rant. Fair enough, time to close. But, then the same member posted a +7 answer, which I voted up. It seemed to me, there was a choice, to let it get closed or to save the question by editing out the offending bits to save the essence of what the 'good' answer addressed.

What I found curious was the seeming contradiction of the effort to write a good answer while at the same time seeing a rejection to my suggestion that an edit might save the question.

"We are getting fewer than one question per day" is certainly not a claim that bad questions remain, but rather, an effort to see if there's a kernel of good question that can remain or be expanded given an edit. For example, a question that is bound to be closed as 'opinion-based' may very well be morphed into one which asks if there is a study or research that addresses the matter. 'Too Broad' might just take a bit of effort to narrow the scope of the question. Of course, as with any edits, the edited version should still reflect the intent of the OP, if not, the edit can be rejected.

My intention, here, is spelled out in the last line of this current question -

Another alternative I am perfectly supportive of, is that users who believe a question, though admittedly poorly asked, is worth keeping, to make the effort to edit and improve such questions that they support keeping, and make only edits that do not make already existent answers irrelevant.

And this is exactly what I had in mind when I offered (now-deleted) comments.

Last - For what it's worth, we are trying this at Money.SE. Clearly off-topic questions still addressed as usual, but members willing to edit questions where such edits are considered minor and on reflection, leave the question as a valuable one. No lowering of standards, no impact to on-topic list. Just an observation that an OP isn't always going to do so.

Edit - the attempt at "rescuing questions" was recently acknowledged at the Apple stack at the post Shout out to people for rescuing questions. And the 'lifeboat' badge seems to encourage this approach.

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    $\begingroup$ My comment was intended to invite you to do so, since the 'good' answer was yours. I failed to @ you. My bad. Since you owned the answer and was first to offer the comment to OP's rant. I was just suggesting you offer the edit. $\endgroup$ – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jun 24 '19 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ Again, my mistake. I felt compelled to answer and/or expand on my words being quoted in a Meta question. On a lighter note, how did you write a whole question with no question mark? $\endgroup$ – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jun 24 '19 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ Re: Reluctance to edit questions you have answered: It seems fine (to me) to edit a question to improve it, even if you have answered it. If the question has many answers already and your edit changes the question, then it's a different story -- but if the question is in a state where it is barely- or not-answerable, and you are the only one tending to the question, you should definitely both improve it and answer it. I really don't see why not! $\endgroup$ – Chris Cunningham Jun 24 '19 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeTaxpayer - "Just an observation that an OP isn't always going to do so." - bingo. Or, I would argue, is often not even able to do so - the tacit assumption on all these sites is that everyone is always online and immediately able to respond to recommendations. That is a pretty strong socioeconomic hypothesis. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 2 '19 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not suggesting anyone is entitled to an answer, simply that we should keep in mind that some askers may have very limited time frames for being on these sites, or even the internet and may not be able to check such things immediately. And if they don't get any answers, that's okay; after all, it's free (or perhaps we are all the products). What's not okay is shaming people for that and not knowing somewhat murky and hard-to-find community standards - especially given the anonymous-by-design nature of this particular community. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 4 '19 at 2:24

Although I mostly agree with JoeTaxpayer's answer, my response to the original post, the heart of which is

I'd like to hear other perspectives

is probably a little long for a comment.

I like the sentiment of the following paragraph:

Another alternative I am perfectly supportive of, is that users who believe a question, though admittedly poorly asked, is worth keeping, to make the effort to edit and improve such questions that they support keeping, and make only edits that do not make already existent answers irrelevant.

However, I think that it is sometimes difficult to edit a question gently, and so I prefer to sometimes answer the question which I think is implicit in a "question" - really, a post. After all, a post which is a cri de coeur, and perhaps not 'properly' formulated for the nominal specs of this site, usually has a pretty good question about teaching embedded in it - but turning it into an antiseptic question may defeat that purpose, not to mention sometimes make it harder to find in a search.

So I propose the following, which I have done from time to time:

When there is a legitimate pedagogical issue lurking within a question that could benefit from personal experiences or from research content, let's keep the original question as part of the post, making clear by whitespace what the implied question is.

This makes it much clearer who is responsible for each part. I know that, in principle, one can look through the edits - but given that some edits on the SE network are for the most trivial things, while other newbies to SE might not even know what the edits are for, I doubt that a lot of people are going to be digging through those too much unless they are already pretty invested and know how to ask 'good' questions.

Final comment: This view is based on many experiences editing in both math and math ed (or at least SOTL) publications. MESE is not a high-level journal that needs to edit out all but the highest-quality content; it is a place for people to ask questions about something we all care about. And so, like in many editorial situations, we should work with an author if there is a good kernel of an idea. Since the nature of the Q&A format is that one can't guarantee the author has immediate internet access to see the comments or suggestions, we can try to do it ourselves in a way that maximally preserves authorial intent visibly.

The worst thing that happens is that there is a confusing question that nobody looks at. So, that costs Stackoverflow how many microdollars per year to keep in their database? But the benefit of keeping both that kernel (editing) and keeping the real style and heart of the post (leaving the original alone, using markup to put the 'actual' question front and center) can be incalculable.

Not least for a new user who instead of feeling like MESE is yet another edit-policing Wikipedia, is a place to soon become a full contributor.

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    $\begingroup$ “Mostly” is great, much appreciated. I composed my answer as a quick response to the question, and if it leads to a some percent fewer questions closed or migrated away, that would be great. You’ve raised good points here. OP’s level of return visits and willingness to provide the first pass at an edit varies by member, of course. (Elsewhere) I’ve seen a question that hit HNQ, had a point of ambiguity that needed addressing, but no return OP visit. The result was 2 sets of answers, and agreements to no edits. Not all issues are simple. $\endgroup$ – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 2 '19 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JedrekMansfield oh, I agree about the entitlement factor! (In fact, that would be a useful math pedagogy question ... since math probably in some ways is "easiest" to have drive-by "just give me the answer, now!" situations.) I think my point is that a lot of people on MESE simply don't know about these community expectations. I would estimate that fewer than 5% of my own colleagues at primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States (as a demographic example) have heard of it, and probably less than a quarter have even heard of StackExchange. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 2 '19 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeTaxpayer luckily so far on this site it seems much more self-selecting than the others. I guess not that many people teach math ;) $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 2 '19 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JedrekMansfield by the way "But that's part of the reason there is a site tour, and a Help section." -> I do find that this is one of the most annoying parts about all SE sites, in that the tours and help are not exactly prominent. On Stackoverflow itself, I can't even find them! Obviously that isn't something we have control over here. But if there was a huge "New Here?" in the banner with the title of the site, that would go quite a ways toward fixing this problem. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 3 '19 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ "So learn to engage with users and expect of them, not what you expect from a mere five year old" - I think we have vastly different experiences here. In some ways I expect more from 5yo with time to explore the world than harried adults hoping for some help ... but I think that means we probably will have to "agree to disagree" on the point of these sites. Hopefully still working together on improving questions and answering them. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 4 '19 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ (NB: I'm unsure of the etymology of my last name; that is one of several possibilities, but probably simply the @ handle is fine for these purposes.) $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jul 4 '19 at 2:18

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