I see a lot of questions on Writers Stack Exchange that contain basic errors of grammar and punctuation, or consist of one long rambling run-on sentence, or discuss an intended translation into English by the author in broken English. The facts that my own grammar and punctuation are not perfect, and that I speak no foreign language remotely well enough to even attempt to converse in a foreign language forum, are irrelevant. I am prompted by this discussion on Worldbuilding SE, about an imaginary society that values honesty above all else, to ask what is to be done when the only honest answer to a forum member's question would be crushing?

The one vague idea I had was a standardised answer, or possibly reason for closure, that was less painful by reason of being standardised. I cannot think how to phrase such a thing, but I do think that for some questioners a hint here on this forum that their English… er… needed work would be ultimately less painful than a pile of rejection slips or a bunch of one-star reviews for the novel they've spent their hard earned money to self-publish.


2 Answers 2


The ultimate point of Stack Exchange is to produce canonical, well-written questions and answers. Nathan is correct: Improving questions is exactly the point of the edit function. This site is collaborative, and it's intended that other users will submit edits intended to improve the question. The process is completely open and transparent, and an edit history is available for every question. There are also checks on the editing process.

There are writers who don't yet realize the power of editing their own work; let's help them acquire the habit. Seeing helpful edits to their writing will serve as a good example, and can only help them improve.

(Admittedly, there have been cases on Stack Exchange sites where users objected to their words being edited, but they're rare in my experience, and I don't recall seeing one here on Writers.)

There's generally no reason to criticize a user's writing if you can simply edit an obvious typo or grammatical error. If the situation is unclear, you can take a guess at the solution and leave a note, or just ask the user to clarify.

In the case of a brand-new user, it's probably a good idea to leave a note:

Welcome to Writers! I've edited your question to make it clearer and help you get answers; please feel free to revert my edit or further change it if you need to.

...but that's not always needed with experienced users. As always, use your judgment, and if you're unsure you can leave a comment or ask for help in chat. In extreme cases, you can flag a question and bring it to a moderator's attention.


This forum is a less formal format than proper publishing. First, I would argue that if a post is especially egregious, that is the intended purpose of the edit functionality. The goal of this forum is not to critique the question beyond validity suited to the purpose. Offering the best, most authoritative answer to the question posed is the goal. Criticizing the particulars of the language in a question (unless that is the intent of the question) is scant steps away from:

a) ridiculing the intelligence of the poster

b) ridiculing the question itself (i.e., - "that's a dumb question").

Let us not be so elitist that there is not room for growth in all aspects of the use and art of language in writing.

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    I very much agreed with your first four sentences. You clarified to me and reminded me of the specific purpose of this forum, and specified a course of action (edit function) that I and others can follow. I agreed much less with your view that criticizing the language of a post was scant steps away from ridicule. The core of the problem is that criticism so often feels like ridicule even when it is meant in a helpful spirit and, in fact, would help prevent future ridicule. I'm a member of several Stack Exchange forums. In most of them, though I sometimes edit for clarity, I would not... Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 7:49
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    ... generally do anything to correct faults in English that don't affect the comprehensibility of the post. But this is a Stack Exchange for writers. And although I hope that it is welcoming to writers in all languages it unavoidably concentrates on writing in English because that is the language in which the forum is conducted. For a forum for writers not to tell a would-be writer about glaring deficiencies in their writing seems misplaced politeness. Sorry if the length of my reply appears to be argumentative; in fact I am very grateful for your constructive answer.to my question. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 7:59

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