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I've posted two different answers here now with this recommendation and both of them have a lot of upvotes. To repeat:

I'd like to introduce a rule that I think we should consider. We are not here to be copy editors. We are not here to redraft emails, write speeches, tell you what to say. We're here to help people determine for themselves the best way to phrase something; to give advice for researching how to find the arguments you need. We're not here to come up with the argument or to put words in mouths.

If the goal of a question is "tell me what to say" or "re/write my email for me" - we should not answer these questions. These are the equivalent of the Stack Overflow "Give me teh codez" questions.

Many of these questions can be reworded in ways that will be more helpful to the general public but if all we're doing is rephrasing their email for them or telling them the words to say, we're not teaching them how to write those emails or find the words themselves.

To add to that, there is likely an infinite way to word these - none of which are likely more objectively "correct" than the others - and they need to take into account all of the concerns, which means that the perfect wording for one person will likely fail to help another. We need to be encouraging people to ask how they can write these themselves - what they should consider, etc.


If these are considered off topic, we should create a FAQ that will be used to guide users who have their questions closed for this reason in how to improve their questions.

We should also give guidance to our close voters about how to close these questions. Do they fit under a default close reason or do we need a custom close reason and, if so, what should it say?

  • Custom close reason. Just not sure of wording. – JohnP Oct 4 '17 at 21:40
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    If you decide "custom close reason", feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I have a new-ish format for these that has been extremely effective. – Robert Cartaino Oct 5 '17 at 0:03
  • Thanks, @RobertCartaino ! – Catija Oct 5 '17 at 0:06
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    @Catija What if a user has no idea of what to say or run out of the options to what to say? Would their question be closed? Please clarify this. – A J Oct 6 '17 at 6:09
  • @AJ I guess I'm not sure what you mean. If the end result is "put words in my mouth" I don't know that it matters why this is the case. Proofreading (on sites like ELL or ELU) is off topic regardless of how desperate the person asking for help is, ID questions on M&TV are closed as lacking detail even if the OP has no additional detail to add... Can you, perhaps explain why these should be special somehow? – Catija Oct 6 '17 at 18:09
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    @Catija I was asking about this If the goal of a question is "tell me what to say". Is there a particular criteria or something for this? Because if this applies, half of the questions on the site will be nuked. And still this topic is about interpersonal skills. – A J Oct 7 '17 at 1:25
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    @Catija You still didn't clarify this. – A J Oct 7 '17 at 16:57
  • Your request for clarification doesn't make sense to me so I have no way to respond to it other than how I already have @AJ The point of this is to prevent questions that aren't looking for any actual help other than "write my email for me" or "put words in my mouth". I have already stated that. I don't know how to make it more clear. If you have specific examples of questions you are curious about, feel free to post links to them but I can't really address your concerns in generalities. – Catija Oct 7 '17 at 17:05
  • @RobertCartaino Being the curious person that I am, any chance you could put that new-ish format in an answer here? – Tinkeringbell Oct 10 '17 at 19:13
  • @Catija, you've compared these questions to 'give me teh codez' questions on StackOverflow. I've spent a few days searching there, but it almost seems like the consensus on SO is that these types of questions are to be downvoted and nothing else. Am I missing something? – Tinkeringbell Oct 10 '17 at 19:32
  • @Tinkeringbell There are a couple similarities with other sites. That is one of them. I'm not completely familiar with it but the other ones I like to think of it as being related to are the "proofreading" close reasons on ELL and ELU. – Catija Oct 10 '17 at 20:33
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    @Tinkeringbell If this is going to happen, it will take a bit of study for me to write it up. It's a delicate balance between brevity and making a clear, strong point. The idea is to (1) start with an affirmative statement about what the site is about so it becomes all but self-evident when the close description (2) describes where their problem statement went wrong in the context of that site. Optionally, (3) it should give them to an action item. See some recent examples here and here. – Robert Cartaino Oct 11 '17 at 15:12
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I disagree, with a caveat.

How to phrase something is a VITAL interpersonal skill. As growing up with Asperger's syndrome, I learned that HOW you phrase something is sometimes even more important than what your point is.

Or, as it was put to me, people won't pay attention to you if you come across as a jerk.

How to phrase something all goes to the interpersonal skill of TACT. To this day, I am occasionally admonished over HOW I phrase something. Just look at chat. HOW to phrase something is an essential social and interpersonal skill.

I disagree with the assertion that helping someone rephrase something is necessarily like "U give me codez", code is much easier to find out there than IPS.

Now the caveat

While I do think we should help people out with phraseology, I do think we should also include backing it up with a "why this works" bit.

Also, we don't have to write them a script to respond with a good "how".

If you must criticize your employee, do it in private, begin with noting something he's done well, then go on to tell him that you've noticed he's been late this past week and ask him if there is anything going on and if you can help him address it.

is much different than

when you talk to him, phrase it like this "Joe, you've really been working like a champion lately. The reason I want to talk to you is that I've noticed you've been coming in late. Are you having troubles at home? Is there something I can help you with?"

and even in cases where you go for this option ^^^ you can still say

Notice that I began in a positive way, then addressed the issue, then asked to help. This is a method of criticism as outlined in {Some author's} book {Title}. This is an effective assertive way of getting the point across without being confrontational.

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    +1 I endorse this. I don't really get the scope of the site some days. It's starting to get blurry. – NVZ Dec 6 '17 at 18:14
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    I'm a wee bit confused since you have an answer here saying the exact opposite. I fully support editing questions so that they ask for guidance, not for specific editing of an existing email or planned dialogue and I absolutely think that the most important thing is to explain why the solution works. For example, I feel this answer fails that completely and I have commented as such. – Catija Dec 6 '17 at 19:27
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    @Catija I addressed that here The questions and answers should be IPS, the "back it up" rule should be enforced, Q&A should be edited to conform when it does, closed when it does not, answers that are not answers should be flagged as such and closed/deleted where appropriate. – The Wraith Dec 6 '17 at 20:09
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I believe that one of the better models to follow on this is the "Identify this" questions from Movies and TV SE.

Identify-This-X Questions

Identification questions are currently on-topic for this site in regards to identifying actors, movies, TV shows, and specific episodes of TV shows. ID questions must be as descriptive as possible and should not consist of only an image for detail. Important details to include are:

Plot details of any scenes you remember

Descriptions of any characters or locations

Where you watched the movie or TV show

When you watched the movie or TV show

Any idea of how old it was

Any idea of country of origin (if known)

Whether it was animated or not

Any other distinctive detail

Also try to give the question a meaningful title that already includes key identifying details (e.g. description of a character, setting or plot) and avoid generic titles like "name of horror movie". See this question to get a feel of what we expect from a well rounded Identify-This-* question.

If we clarify what bullet points we expect out of a good IPS question, then this kind of model would fit well with helping to keep things in scope and avoid tons of "why was my post closed" on meta from a generic "Well, it's off topic".

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    I like the idea of such a list. It would be very helpful if you could begin to flesh out the IPS version of the M&TV list above. Might even end up with a couple versions. One for How do I say ___? that deals with the "not a copy editor service" angle and another for dealing with questions of How can I do ___? type questions that deals with the idea that we can no more tell then exactly what to do than we can tell them exactly what to say. – Witan ap Danu Oct 6 '17 at 1:35
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I think you make a very good analogy to the gimme codez problem.

I think we can use the same principles that SO does.

  • Does the question show that they've put in some effort to resolve it?
  • Is the question asking us to do something FOR them as apposed to showing them HOW to do something? How, is fine, for is not.
  • Can the question be edited into a "how" style question? If so, we should edit
  • As I agree that there could be any number of wordings, the technique should be focused on instead.

EXAMPLE OF FOCUSSING ON WORDING

"Dear John, I just wanted to thank you for the widgets you sent us last week, unfortunately, we have too many widgets as it is, and simply cannot take any more into our house. We appreciate all the effort you've made and this kind act, so we wanted to let you know that instead of keeping the widgets, we are donating them to 'women without widgets' in your name, thank you.

EXAMPLE OF MECHANICS

Okay, you want to thank John for his gift, then explain that you can't keep it and why, let him know that you're going to donate them instead, and then thank him again.

If we do the latter instead of the former, we can avoid headaches.

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    This seems great. I like the examples of how to answer. Could you also help highlight what we might look for as a red flag in the for vs how wording of questions? I see a lot of questions titled "how can I write this" which often gets interpreted by answerers as "write this for me". – Catija Nov 15 '17 at 13:48
  • @Catija I'll think that over and edit to add for that. – The Wraith Nov 15 '17 at 14:15
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I'm fine with closing answers that ask for what is essentially proofreading. Although this can be fun, we aren't here to teach English skills or write copy, but rather to teach general principles.

That being said, I can't tell you how many times my wife and I have helped each other phrase difficult observations or requests which are likely to cause offense but must nevertheless be said. A facility with diplomatic language is perhaps the most sought-after interpersonal skill on this forum, and questions should not be closed for asking for a general kind of help.

On a side note: if asked why, those choosing to close a question should be able to point to a resource in the "Help" section, and quote chapter and verse. New users can't be expected to browse every topic in Meta first, since A) that's far too time-consuming, and B) Meta should be about discussion of rule changes, not for the changes themselves.

To be fair, this is already in the help center and written in what I think is clear language. Nevertheless I think there are some users who remain confused about the distinction between general help and editing copy. Moreover there are others who seem to feel that a Meta discussion is sufficient justification for closure. Please see the comments under this question:

How to tell a family member that he shouldn't get married with his girlfriend?

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    It's in the help center, and I think the wording of it aligns with what you're saying in this answer: ask us to rewrite text or otherwise tell you what to say. We are not an editing service. Questions should focus on how to generally write or decide what to say so that you can tailor them to your situation. – Catija Jul 30 '18 at 14:51
  • @Catija I should probable edit to give more context to my frustration. The specific problem is that someone misinterpreted the section in the help center to mean "let's close all phrasing questions" and someone else pointed to this thread as justification for it. – Andrew Jul 30 '18 at 14:55
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    There's two parts to that quote that are worth noting... if a question (or answer) specifically just asks for (or provides) a suggested phrasing, that's not a helpful question or answer. Particularly in the case of answers, it's extremely important to explain why the phrasing you choose is "diplomatic" or the better choice. An answer that merely says "say this", isn't really helpful to the OP because it doesn't guide them in how to create such a statement on their own. – Catija Jul 30 '18 at 14:57
  • In that specific case, I don't really see a phrasing request, though. :) Not that you should get rid of this answer, but if there's a specific discussion you'd like to have about that question, that may be worth a question of its own. :) – Catija Jul 30 '18 at 15:01
  • @Catija I'll be honest. I think the question itself has problems and deserves even less of a diplomatic answer than I wrote. But nevertheless the question shows effort and an understanding of the site rules, and I couldn't point to any specific violation -- quite the opposite actually. The phrasing request is in the title itself "How do I tell a family member ..." and seems in line with expected format. I'm concerned that new users find the barrier to entry prohibitively high, especially when questions are closed for reasons not clearly reflected in the rules. – Andrew Jul 30 '18 at 15:14
  • This is one of those semantic things, though... "how to tell..." doesn't necessarily signal a phrasing request any more than "how to deal" signals a "tell me what to do" question. The body of the question is as (if not more) important as the title... – Catija Jul 30 '18 at 15:16
  • @Catija Actually I think that highlights one of the key problems of this sub, the inability to agree on what certain words mean. I've read discussions where both the terms interpersonal and skill were so strictly delineated as to border on jargon. In this case the word "tell", in my opinion, is an undeniable request for communication, e.g. "How can I tell my son to clean his room?" "How do I tell my boss I'd like a day off?" and so on. Both of these are asking for communication to push toward a specific result. – Andrew Jul 30 '18 at 15:23
  • @Catija I think it's fair to require that questions ask for something specific, but it's a bit unfair to ask them to also reconsider how to phrase perfectly ordinary English. – Andrew Jul 30 '18 at 15:25
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    Sure. :) I'm a big proponent of editing, particularly in the case (that this applies to) where the OP is likely not a native English speaker - I've just edited that question to address that. There are absolutely questions where we can't edit to know the situation better but, in that case, there's plenty of background to make it easy to pull the question away from the brink of being a phrasing request and towards a search for better ways to communicate our feelings. – Catija Jul 30 '18 at 15:26
  • I'm a little late to the party, but Andrew has pointed out what I consider to be a significant issue with moderation that I fear is only going to get worse with Catija's promotion (congrats, by the way). That's the feeling that a small group of people have "settled" matters that aren't in the rules, are just barely above parity in votes on meta, but were agreed upon by the majority of the most active highly rated users. I can't justify nominating someone who joined 8 days ago as a pro-tem moderator, but if you keep challenging weak areas in consistency, you'll make things a lot better here. – AHamilton Jul 30 '18 at 18:54

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