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This site has been through a lot. Our community has changed significantly from what it was a year or two ago. We have a brand new mod team and it's time to focus on moving forward as a community. To further that goal I've created this Q&A as a place to gather feedback and ideas from our community.

Answers to this post can be constructive ideas, recommendations for changes of policy or just general thoughts on how the site is going and what you would like to see going forward.

How this Q&A works

To get the most value out of this post and ensure there is space for everyone to be heard, I'm going to ask that answers follow a few simple rules.

One clear premise per answer

  1. Post some of the things the community has done/observations you've made/things you think still need improvement. Make sure and note whether you think the thing is an improvement, a problem, or some mix of the two (one person might see the same change as bad that you see as good, or vice versa)...

  2. Post one kind of thing per answer, so that when people upvote/downvote based on whether they agree or not it's more clearly actionable - if you write an essay about 4 different things, it's not going to be clear what part(s) people agree or disagree with and thus it becomes unactionable. You can of course contribute multiple answers.

  3. Upvote or downvote the answers based on your agreement with whether you see that thing happening and concur with the answer's premise that it's good or it's a problem. (In other words, if someone says "We get too many new users and I hate them," you would upvote if you agree, and downvote if either you don't think we get too many new users or if you don't hate them.)

No long comment threads

  1. If you disagree with an answer, post your own answer, don't argue in comments. If you post more than one comment on an answer, you should consider if that is useful at all. We're interested in overall community sentiment as shown by votes, not so much that one person is so irritated they post 10 comments.

  2. This isn't the place to workshop solutions - if a problem gets a lot of votes, we should open a new meta question to do justice to that issue. Solutions hidden in a comment thread on one of these questions are unable to be clearly vetted and voted on so they will tend to go undone.

As usual, Be Nice applies to meta as well as the main site.

You may strongly disagree with other users or with the mods or whoever, but we trust you can find ways to express what you like or don't like without being hostile or insulting to others. Focus on actions rather than characterizing people.

So please contribute your ideas, thought and feedback so that we can improve our community together!


Large parts of this post are borrowed from RPG.SE's annual community check in.

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The site is recovering, but we still have a problem with user retention and a lack of active high-reputation users.

The vast majority of questions I see on Writing SE nowadays come from new or low-reputation users, and after their question is answered they don't tend to stick around, engage with the community or ask any more questions. I think this is partially why the site tends to feel so empty nowadays, with very few active chat rooms, discussion threads, etc. There are also a lot of unregistered users and guests asking questions, and many of these questions are closed due to new users' unfamiliarity with how Writing SE works. We receive a great deal of questions that belong on English SE, not Writing SE. We've also had a big problem with questions that are too broad to answer or have no objective answers.

To compound these problems, there are far fewer active high-reputation and veteran users than there used to be around here, probably due to the mass user and moderator exodus on the site in general. You can clearly see this in how inactive this meta was until the moderator election posts, with only one question a month if we were lucky. I feel this is a contributor to many issues this site has been suffering, such as off-topic questions being slow to close due to a lack of active users with close vote privileges and very slow approvals to things like tag wiki edits.

To boil this all down to one actionable piece of feedback: The site needs to attract more active users and keep them long-term, on all reputation levels.

With this all being said, I think the site is in a much better place than it was at the start of the year, and with this new mod team I feel we're in a great place to move forward as a community. I hope we can all work together to rebuild Writing SE. I was not very active until recently, and was not around for the fracturing of the community, so it frankly caught me very off guard when I returned from a hiatus and found that Writing SE had turned into a ghost town - I had to essentially catch up on what had happened secondhand. I feel that we've gotten to a much more stable state now, with the efforts of many dedicated users, and I am confident things will keep getting better.

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    This is definitely the biggest problem we have at the moment. We do have more active users than we did in the weeks and months immediately after the exodus, but we still don't quite have enough, and we need to find ways to bring more people in and entice them to stay. Thank you for your feedback. – F1Krazy Sep 28 '20 at 22:32
  • Fully agree with this response. We are actively searching for ideas to help make this happen. If you have any, feel free to post them in meta so we can work out the details. Thank for sharing your thoughts. – linksassin Sep 29 '20 at 0:32
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    No one is saying it, but would it perhaps be better to accept reality and shut this site down, knowing that one big site is better than two small sites? – Ray Butterworth Sep 29 '20 at 0:57
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    @RayButterworth I respect your perspective, and I agree that many parts of the site are struggling, but I disagree that the site is beyond saving. To my knowledge Writing SE still meets the Stack criteria of questions per day, has a number of dedicated users (granted, not as many as before) and is a great resource for writers on the Internet to look for answers to their questions even if they aren't members of the site themselves. We also have much better moderation of questions than before, especially with a new mod team, and we're improving every day. It would be a heartbreak to close now. – Sciborg Sep 29 '20 at 11:52
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    @Sciborg, I don't disagree with you, but given that this is a good question that explicitly solicits answers from the community, it's a sign that something is still seriously wrong when it receives only one answer. A good answer, but still, only one. When a very general request to "gather feedback and ideas from our community" gets such a poor response, it indicates that "our community" is lacking ideas or simply doesn't care. – Ray Butterworth Sep 30 '20 at 0:48
  • @RayButterworth That's fair, and it does make me a bit sad that nobody else has responded. I guess on some level I just don't want to see the site go. It's given me lots of good memories. – Sciborg Sep 30 '20 at 0:50
  • @RayButterworth - Given that the site that some of the high-rep users decamped to is effectively dead (zero site interactions for weeks at a time), surely the better move would be for them to come back to the site that still has activity. – Valorum Dec 6 '20 at 10:46
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Our chatrooms are quiet

With so few highly active users our chatrooms have basically become a ghost town. It would be great to see activity there again as it helps to engage more users with the site more consistently.

For those who aren't aware, any user with at least 20 reputation can talk in chat. Our main chat room is The Overlook Hotel, a general room where anything our community is interested in can be discussed. Users can also use it for help with crafting or editing questions/answers for main site posts.

Additionally any user with 100 reputation can create new rooms for dedicated discussion spaces. Some ideas for rooms could be a NaNoWriMo writer's club, writing feedback or help with idea generation.

Chat is perfect for any topic that is relevant to writers but doesn't suite our Q&A main site model.

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    I wasn't even aware there was a chat room for writing, and only ever saw the worldbuilding one when comments got too long and were rolled over. – DWKraus Sep 30 '20 at 18:23
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    I'm with @DWKraus, I think I've been reasonably active in the last few months but I had no idea there was a chat room. Not to get too into solutions, but it'd probably help to make that more visible somehow. – Tau Sep 30 '20 at 20:08
  • @DWKraus That was one of the main reasons I made this post. Since it is so quiet there there isn't many users to promote it. SE doesn't broadly advertise it as it isn't meant to be a core feature but a nice added bonus. But you can find a link in the hotbar. There is also a quick link for comments via [ chat ] which will link to Writing Chat – linksassin Oct 1 '20 at 1:05
  • there's also a beta chat room which hasn't seen much activity in a month or two. – Ceramicmrno0b Feb 3 at 15:49
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Wait long enough and it'll grow back. SE isn't going anywhere and enough programmers or programming adjacent people will discover the site. Be the change you want to see, ask the questions you want to answer, and answer the questions you value.

Gimmicks won't work, but being kind, inviting, and interesting will.

Allowing critiques up to a specific word count might get you more people. Stack exchange requires code sometimes. So long as there's a question with the writing, should be fine and more concrete. Also might build a community if people feel heard.

Prior users were a little clicky. Won't necessarily be bad to leave some of their ways behind. Lead a horse with water.

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    I'm interested to know in what regard you found the previous community clicky. Any particular practices or behaviours you think led to this feeling? – linksassin Jan 10 at 11:17
  • "Allowing critiques up to a specific word count might get you more people." Technically, we have this already, via the Beta Reviewers/Reviewing chatroom. Like all SE chatrooms, you need 20 rep to post in there, but still, it's a thing that exists on the site currently. – F1Krazy Jan 10 at 14:52
  • cliquey 😛 – Matt Ellen Jan 15 at 15:00
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Things are definitely slow here. I haven't been here as long as some others, but I can tell from the other answers that we're in a bit of a low point as far as user activity goes. I try to help as much as I can, answering questions I can help with. It seems to me that a lot of the problems are stemming from low activity and/or lack of users.

If we look at new users, I think a lot of them are misunderstanding the Writing SE guidelines, or even just not reading them and asking for critiques as their first question. When they realize we don't like those, they seem to leave and just try and figure it out themselves or at another site. I think an easy way to reduce this just a tad would be if we added '...but you can ask about that in the beta chat' to the end of the automatic 'Welcome to Writing SE! You're question is off topic...' comment that the mods put out a lot. Then the user would have to ask an on-topic question to get the 20 rep to talk in chat and might stick around. If they do, then that's +1 on-topic question or answer and a user that might stick around a bit longer than a few hours.

As for higher rep users, I don't have a whole lot of ideas there. Worldbuilding SE has plenty of high rep users who are very active, but I don't really see any reason for them to stick around. Maybe they just like the content or something. Anyway, if we could figure out why they stick around over on Worldbuilding, maybe we could mimic that here. (I'm suggesting Worldbuilding because its rather closely related to Writing, but I suspect any site has a similar reason)


And here's another problem I don't know how to fix but would appreciate if somebody else did. If it gets enough attention I'll move it to it's own question so there can be more activity.


And then there's those people who're just rude. I don't know if there's much we can do about them, but I don't appreciate them and would like to figure out a way to stop that from happening. First there was that one guy(deleted question, 2000+ rep to view) who got mad about special groups or something(I think it was probably poorly timed because there were a few questions about racism and discrimination in writing on the front page, which may have influenced the outcome of that) for a bad reason and left Writing SE shortly after.

Then just a few days ago there was the kid who was underage for the site and got his account removed. Nothing bad happened from him(he didn't like being removed but seemed to take it rather well compared to some others I've seen), but it is relevant for the next paragraph.

While checking out questions earlier I found some other deleted posts(2000+ rep to view, bottom of answers) where another user was literally asking to be deleted while insulting the mods, using the deletion of said account as an excuse to attack and insult the mods. Apparently this user has done this before and is a known network-wide troll, which shows this is a problem.

I understand and support the moderators actions in all of these cases, but I just want to try and stop these people from being rude to the community, mods, and everyone. Not trying to be a downer, but this is just something that seems to be happening now and should be fixed, preferably preemptively. Sorry for dropping another problem rather than a solution, but it's there and I feel it shouldn't be ignored.

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  • "While checking out questions earlier I found some other deleted posts, most likely by him" - those were posted by a known network-wide troll, who was simply using the account deletion as a pretence to attack me. I have no reason to suspect that the underage user themselves had anything to do with it. – F1Krazy Feb 3 at 17:01
  • @F1Krazy, either way, I still want to stop this. I'll edit that in though, thanks for the info. Also, not sure if it helps you catch him any, but he was on the beta chat room earlier. didn't post anything, just watching. – Ceramicmrno0b Feb 3 at 17:05
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    Yeah, I understand your concern wrt. users acting rudely. The first user you mentioned, the one yelling about "protected groups", wasn't the first rude user we've had here and certainly won't be the last. I'm not sure what we can do about such behaviour other than to make it clear that it won't be tolerated, and then penalise offenders as per the existing guidelines. As for the second, network-wide trolls are a known problem, and one that's giving the SE staff a serious headache. – F1Krazy Feb 3 at 17:17
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You can look back to previous attempts of increasing site engagements by our respected ex-moderators. I remember a contest hosted on Meta by Monica Celio, which had successfully started a great engagement on the main site (and made me won a swag prize viz, Stack Exchange Diary and Marker).

I feel such types of contests may help increase engagement.

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The SE format feels almost inherently wrong for the larger scope of writing

I've tried to come back to this site on several occasions, but I kept running into the same issue again and again. Much of the SE system depends on three pillars, that much of the time do not work for writing:

  • Questions have an objective right answer, or at least a way to determine a 'best' answer.
  • Questions are to (mostly) stick to a strict Q&A format, with discussion actively discouraged on the main question page.
  • It is building a knowledge base, meaning questions should as a rule be generic enough that others may benefit from reading them. More importantly, people should be searching for the answers.

Writing, particularly fiction, is a very subjective activity. Style, intent, context... it all shifts dramatically from time to time and person to person. Other than the most technical questions, there usually isn't a best answer. Generally the only thing we can hope for is to provide an answer that will work for this particular person in this particular situation.

For me personally, a lot of solving writing issues involves -- as the programmers call it -- rubber-ducking. I need to bounce ideas around to see what will work and what will not. The static one-question-one-answer format in antithetical to that. Yes, comments are an option, but the format does not lend itself to (and is explicitly not meant for) extended discussion.

So, there is still chat, right? Sure. But chat is, overall, very poorly integrated with the site as a whole. It always requires a sidestep from the main question, so why have a question at all? Then, as a bystander also in need of this information, especially months or weeks later, it is impossible to search through and use as a useful knowledge base. It is entirely supplementary to the questions, but does a poor job of supporting them. It also does not allow for nearly any of the markup features that the main site allows, making it a bit of a mess to read even if you can find what you are looking for.

So, in my opinion, what does a topic such as writing need? I think for me, it would be better catered to by a traditional forum environment that supports back-and-forth discussion as its main feature. Ideally, the thread starter could still tag the most useful or helpful posts for search-ability and referencing, but the charge is to remove the static nature of the Q&A format.

You can actually tell the need for this easily by looking at some of the most active questions over the years. Although as a rule Answers should stand on their own, a great many at the very least reference other answers under the same question; if not outright addressing them.

Does that means I think Writing SE should close its doors? No, I do not. It has a place for a more technical, empirical approach to writing. I do think it should make an effort to advertise itself as such, especially to draw in the technical writers and academic writers that might benefit from this environment most. Fiction should not entirely be shunned, but it should be allowed and encouraged to take a back seat.

As is, there is a lot of cross-pollination with Worldbuilding SE. One may argue that that site has the same skew of problems of fitting into the SE mold as Writing. The difference is that Worldbuilding is a bit of a bounce chamber, where Askers are not necessarily looking for a solution to a problem but for a stream of ideas. Many of our current content-driven questions should really be redirected there.

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  • "Fiction should not entirely be shunned, but it should be allowed and encouraged to take a back seat." But if we slowly drained the flow of fiction based answers and questions, we will lose a lot of activity. The site is small as is and I fear that almost shunning fiction will kill the site. – Nai54 Feb 3 at 1:17

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