Edit: This meta thread, while of historical interest, is no longer accurate: Critiques are no longer on-topic on Writers. (Anyone who wants to discuss, please comment on this more recent meta thread or create a new one.)

English Language and Usage keeps sending us brief, unanswerable questions that are asking for vague improvements. ("This sounds weird to me.") I'm sure they genuinely think that they're placing the questions where they'll get better answers, but these questions are unclear and partially off-topic here. They're sorta writing critiques, but sorta not.

I'd like to post in their meta, asking them to politely stop sending these here - or at least clean the questions up before they do. Unfortunately, our critique guidelines leave a bit to interpretation in these cases. Or maybe they're not being read.

I'd like to post a brief paragraph to meta.english saying, in polite terms, to please stop sending us questions that don't have much in the way of, well, specific questions about specific text presented in context. I personally consider the minimum for a critique to be a few paragraphs of text with specific questions about that text. However, let's discuss this!

My questions to all of you:

  • What is the minimum requirement for a critique here?

  • How can we make the critique guidelines easier to understand?

  • How does all this relate to EL&U's process? At what point would questions be considered off-topic there and on-topic here?

It's easy to say, "please stop sending us your garbage", but let's be polite and informative. The mods at EL&U are nice people, and these two sites are quite intertwined and we need to keep the relationship civil.

If any EL&U mods are reading this, I'd like to invite you to chime in with any questions you may have.

  • Yes, please. This is not well-understood there and probably not here either. (I recently voted to close (not migrate) a question there and it showed up here anyway -- I guess someone else proprosed the migration. Oops. But I've probably helped send others here by not grokking our criteria.) Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 14:44
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    To anyone thinking we should accept critiques with just a sentence or two, I would suggest you read this: Rubber Duck Problem Solving. (TL/DR - The process of explaining a problem in depth helps one find the answer, or at least get closer to it.) Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 3:02
  • This was linked to from Meta.SO, have edited a note in to indicate that critiques are currently off-topic. I've also locked this so that people will know to comment on the newer thread, not here. Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 22:38

4 Answers 4


In November 2014 this community decided that critique questions are now off-topic. However, you are encouraged to ask on-topic questions that use your own work for examples. See the link for details.


Brief Definition

By way of succinctness, I'd say a critique question needs to be a description of a specific goal the poster would like to achieve.

As long as the question makes a specific goal clear, then we can help clean up the question when it gets to us. If there's no goal, it's not really a question.


Another useful way of describing what's acceptable is by making a simple analogy to Stack Overflow.

Imagine that instead of a piece of writing, you had a piece of code. Would you let through a question that said "Hi, can you look at my code and tell me if it works?". Or "Here's my code, it looks kind of weird, what should I do?". Or "Where have I forgotten to put semicolons?". In terms of critique questions, this isn't Code Review, it's Stack Overflow. You can submit your code for examination, but you'd darn well better explain exactly what your problem with it is.

Lead by Example

One thing that would be vastly useful to add to the guidelines is some examples of good and bad critique questions. That's probably the easiest way to make the difference clear.

  • This is quite helpful. What about length, do we have guidelines there? Or can these be extremely short? Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 15:01
  • @NeilFein I believe length is too arbitrary a measurement.
    – ahsteele
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 19:55
  • @ahsteele - Okay, I can see that, but wouldn't we want to avoid one-sentence "critiques"? I think we need to differentiate between critique questions and what I'm coming to think of as "style" questions. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 21:04
  • @NeilFein so is a style question one around the idea of how to correctly punctuate this sentence?
    – ahsteele
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 22:46
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    @ahsteele - That, to me, sounds more like a proofreading question, which would be closed. I think a question about "how can I record this sentence so it says [foo]" would be a style question. I think? Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 22:51
  • It's something that's almost the bread-and-butter of English.SE (along with etymology questions and "why is it done this way" questions, all of which they handle quite well) but I think we could probably handle them well here as well? Maybe? As long as the questions are clear. Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 22:53

I'm posting this for comment. Perhaps having a flowchart at the top of our guidelines will help? Any thoughts on wording, or a way to make this even simpler?

enter image description here

Based on information in existing critique meta threads. See the official guidelines for details, implementation, legal issues, etc.

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    Very important: This is not a critique question on our site. It certainly can be a critique in its literal sense (which is, indeed, the source of many of our woes).
    – Standback
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 4:59
  • @Standback - good point, have updated the chart. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 15:00
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    Even though I prefer diamond-shaped quadrangles for decisions (yes, I'm a programmer), I like this flowchart. But (and you will not like that) the text is too unspecific. And I don't think you have the possibility to make it more specific without needing paragraphs of text, which again throws up the question if the flowchart is that useful. Honestly, who thinks his own question is unspecific? What is "more than a few"? "Have you given context?" I have given you the damn excerpt, what do you need more! - Well, you get the idea. Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 19:43
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    @JohnSmithers - You're right about the decision shapes, fixed. As to the rest of this: I meant for this diagram to be a high-level overview of the process. "Who thinks his own question is unspecific?" You're right, of course, but the immediate purpose of this is to present to English.SE mods and high-rep users who are migrating questions here. Past that, perhaps we an use this as the introduction to the existing critique guidelines, similar to how SFF did their general reference flowchart. Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 1:19
  • Use it as introduction to the critique guidelines. For people migrating questions here, it is totally irrelevant. They won't care. They care about their site, not ours. We have to care about our site. Migraters only care that there might be a site where the asker might find help and migrate the question there. They cannot decide for us, if it is off-topic on Writers.SE or not. Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 14:29
  • "For people migrating questions here, it is totally irrelevant. They won't care." From my conversations with other mods, this is absolutely incorrect. Site mods commonly ask each other, "do you guys want this question? Would it be on-topic there?" Commented Apr 7, 2012 at 15:44
  • (Have linked to this from the FAQ, indicating that it's a very brief summary of the actual guidelines.) Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 18:17
  • They may ask, Neil, but they cannot decide. The image will not help. Besides that, mods are not the only ones with power to migrate. I just want to tell you, that you shouldn't put much hope into the flowchart reducing the questions about critique guidelines or "on-topicness" on Writers. Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:19

Surely the core question for critique is "what do you expect to get from this?" If the answer is along the lines of teachers corrections to my English, then it is probably not a good critique question. If it is more like "Does this section convey passion/hatred/insanity", or "Is this passage comprehensible to a qualified engineer", then it might be a suitable one for a critique.

Minimum requirements should be, IMO, a section (paragraph or two, not a word or sentence), and a requirement to comment on the applicability or appropriateness of the passage as a whole (not typos or single word usage).

Smaller sections should be a good fit for EL&U.

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