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There was a time when we'd get floods of answers from users unfamiliar with our site policy. Unable to spend a significant amount of time and effort on each of these posts, many of the IPS users began using canned comments1.

These comments do their job. They tell the user in question what's wrong and give them a reason for when their answer is deleted. But they don't do their job well. They're boilerplate, unemotional, unpersonalized and probably a huge turnoff for both new users and experienced users.

We've just entered a new era in IPS now that we're no longer part of the HNQ. What used to be floods of answers is now a steady drip. I think now is the time to exercise our interpersonal skills in the way we moderate this site. Now is the time to bring in and train up new users so that we can become as strong as possible in preparation for the next wave of HNQ.

I think it's time we stop posting straight pasted canned comments and start personalizing them to try and actively work to help newer users fix their answers and become integrated with the site.

What do you guys think?


1. This was also discussed a little more than a year ago as it started happening. See here for that discussion.

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TL;DR - I think stock comments can be useful as guidelines, but not when they end up looking like copy-paste-next!

So I read a lot of the content posted here, and noticed I was writing very similar comments over and over, so I've kept a personal file of snippets for a while. Here are the guidelines I try to follow when using that.

1. Respect the writer.

If you see an answer that looks to have a significant amount of effort and/or that is very personal in nature, please, take that into account. It feels very disrespectful to put that much into an answer and get an autocomment in return. To the answerer, it looks like a rubber-stamp rejection of an honest attempt at a good answer, and that it was totally ignored and treated the same as any ol' bad answer.

They put effort into their post; respect that by putting some effort into your comment.

2. Use stock comments as templates, and add details to be as helpful as possible.

If stock comments were good enough, we wouldn't need to comment on closed questions! But we do, because it's not always obvious to OP where their post went wrong or how to fix it. (And because it's a lot more welcoming to see someone is willing to talk to you about it.)

I posted a few of of my personal doc's comments here... and you can see I added some disclaimers, e.g., on the backing up comment:

(You're encouraged to edit the last sentence based on the particular answer - for instance, to highlight a particular aspect that you feel is on shaky ground, or to encourage the user to expand on some experience or reference that they hinted at in their answer.)

While a stock comment is helpful as a starting point, it doesn't tell the user what exactly is wrong with their post. Presumably, if your hand is hovering over "paste", there was something in the post that tipped you off -- what was it? If they didn't "back it up", what needs to be backed up? Be specific and constructive.

3. If you don't have the time or energy to customize your comment, consider leaving it for someone else to review.

One major reason for using autocomments is to save time when reviewing, but if boilerplate autocomments are making people feel unwelcome and discouraged from contributing.. I'm not sure that comes out to a net positive for the site in the end, unfortunately.

We have a pretty good amount of users who are active in community moderation, so if you're feeling burnt out or don't want to deal with writing Yet Another Comment for Yet Another Not-Backed-Up Answer, chances are good someone else will be around who can take care of it. Don't feel pressured to review everything if you don't have the time or energy or desire to do so!


My personal doc is mostly a bunch of variations of sentences and sentence fragments, and I frequently update or tweak it. For example, when I became a mod I spent a good amount of time on my first comment explaining to a user how to get their answer undeleted, and from then on I've composed my comments like:

[what caused the deletion] [what exactly was the problem] [how to undelete]

The first and last points are usually snippets (and after the feedback in this question I updated them!), but the middle part is the interesting bit that really depends on things like - were there already comments explaining the problem? was it just flat offensive, or can it be fixed? is there a relevant meta post? is the user new, or do they have a history (good or bad)?

That doc is really helpful to me when moderating, because I sometimes take a while to find just the right words, and it helps me remember good phrases to use. But no two posts are exactly the same, and the more specific we can be in our constructive criticism of a post, the better.

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    I don't use autocomments much, but when I do, I like to customize them a bit. It is a very good way to express the problems the post has, both in general and more detailed. It is also important to not come across as impersonal assembly-line workers who stamp their autocomments on each post, as the author of the post will assume that we didn't even read their question. – Kaspar Scherrer Oct 30 '18 at 10:59
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Another aspect to consider is application. A canned comment might be just fine in the abstract but be used in a way that misses the mark. For example, there's a canned comment about explaining why your answer is right (back it up, etc). Applied to a one-sentence "you could try X" answer, that's fine. Applied to a long answer that supports some of its claims and not others, it can sound unwelcoming or worse.

Canned comments are neither good nor bad; they're a tool. You still have to use the tool appropriately. One way to do that is to start with the canned comment that contains the links you want to use, and then personalize it. For example, you can add "could you add more explanation about point #3?" and say something positive about other parts of the post.

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I recently had an incident where it became clear that using one of the canned comment could be very not well taken. Since I didn't wanted to antagonize every user, I decided to take the time to think about it before using it again.

So, here is the conclusion I arrived regarding the canned comments:

  • They are really convenient. I don't need to search everywhere for relevant links, I don't need to format them properly, I just need to copy-paste them.

  • They are, indeed, impersonal. Worse, if you don't take the time to personalize them, they turn out to not be helpful. People wonder "what more explanation do you need?", "Isn't everything useful?". And you end up with confused people who don't know what to do and who resent you for making them feel that way.

    • In light of this point, I believe that a bad canned comment can be worse that no comment at all.
  • But canned comments are also helpful. I'm not on this site because I'm good at interpersonal skills, I'm here because I'm bad at it. I strongly believe canned comments can help me find a nice way to say things, if only we improve them and made them more personal.


So, taking all that into account, what do I think we should do?

One point seems clear to me, we need to improve our canned comment or stop using them (but I really don't like this last option).

But how do we improve them?

That's a good question and perhaps one for another meta post. But just adding a "[personal remarks goes here]" into your canned comment could really help.


Edit: I just use one canned comment for a closing reason and I see no problem with that. So, I definitively believe that bad canned comments are the problem here and that canned comment can be really helpful.

If you are confused by this edit, know that my answer still stand and that I just wanted to add more nuance into it.

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I feel that there’s often a “please explain the obvious” vibe about many of the comments. In the “15 year old debt” thread, I found myself wondering if the desire was that I:

  • justify, with expert opinions, the idea that children need protection?
  • offer a detailed explanation of what call blocking means, and perhaps an extensive list of links to blocking instructions for most popular phones?
  • explain, again with expert links, that in our society we don’t just take people’s word for debts?
  • offer a link to laws about debt collection, as proof that day and night harassment is not a good thing?
  • offer a link to expert opinion that debts and harassment can be a legal matter?
  • offer a link to expert opinion that legal matters can often be aided by consulting a lawyer?
  • offer links to definitions of “lawyer” and “harassment”?
  • buy a fresh copy of The Gift of Fear so that I can provide a word for word quote?
  • buy a fresh copy of Protrecting The Gift so I can provide word for word quotes to demonstrate that an expert believes in protecting children?

I’m trying not to be sarcastic here, though I am to some extent failing.

Maybe some sample answers would be good?

Now, my view is that toxic people do exist. And that sometimes you deal with toxic people by NOT giving them a forum for their grievances, demands, etc. I’m not sure if that idea—that they exist, or that it’s ever permissible to set a boundary that cuts off communication—is acceptable here. Maybe the premise is that everyone means well and all problems can be solved with consensus.

  • Can you maybe add a link to the answer/comment you’re talking about? I know that I at least am not familiar with the “15 year old debt” thread. – scohe001 Oct 27 '18 at 18:13
  • Yep! @scohe001, it’s at interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/19512/… – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 18:49
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    The comments that I post the most are definitively about "please explain the obvious". Because what is obvious to you isn't obvious to everyone. Also, if you are still asking yourself those questions, feel free to visit chat or post a meta question. – Ælis Oct 27 '18 at 18:51
  • Yes, but what obvious? Can we assume that everyone knows what a lawyer is? That it’s a societal expectation for parents to protect their children? Edited to add: I suppose I could include a numbered list of those assumptions at the top of the answer. – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 19:03
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    Are you looking for a justification for why children should be protected from harassment by adults? I’m still not clear. – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 19:23
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    This is probably not the best place to talk about this but I will still try to answer your question. In your answer, you provide steps one should follow to resolve this kind of problem. What we need you to tell us is: what make you so sure those steps will work? (also, not that, on IPS, solutions should focus on interpersonal interaction. So advice about getting a lawyer or blocking one phone number are, unfortunately, off topic) – Ælis Oct 27 '18 at 19:32
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    Why is setting a boundary that prevents a person from communicating with another person not an interpersonal solution? I asked before: are suggested boundaries that limit communication forbidden? It sounds like the answer is, yes, they are forbidden? – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 19:35
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    To expand: boundaries are an essential tool in dealing with interpersonal issues. Declining to communicate, stepping back, “dropping the rope”, is one of the big boundaries in the boundary toolbox. If a site on interpersonal skills forbids any suggestion that a person use those important tools, that’s a problem. – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 19:43
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    This is a bit off-topic for this particular meta post... but no, it's totally fine to suggest setting a boundary to limit communication. You just need to focus on the IPS part, and make sure you explain the context for why you think the suggestion will work for OP (e.g. if you have some similar experience, or have some reference for it). You did add some of that explanation in the comments, so I'd suggest editing that into the answer body. (The other answers at that link might help explain too.) – Em C Oct 27 '18 at 19:47
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    I don't think anyone who has commented is disputing your suggestion, it's just about making sure answers here are thorough. If OP knew that they should set a boundary, they probably would have done that already and not needed to ask, so explaining how you came to that conclusion will help them (and other readers) understand how to recognize that for future situations. – Em C Oct 27 '18 at 19:54
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    It’s past time for me to drop the rope. Having to justify the idea that parents should protect their child, having to explain that changing one’s number is likely to reduce phone calls, having to explain that phone calls day and night are likely to upset a child—when the person making the post already knows their child is upset... no. Part of the issue with dealing with toxic people is getting over the idea that every solution must be flawless, error-free, and that everyone will agree with it. Participating in a site that seems to actively foster that belief is not for me. – RamblingChicken Oct 27 '18 at 20:09
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    Deciding that an aunt can no longer harass a child day and night is a last-resort solution? Really? – RamblingChicken Oct 29 '18 at 0:05
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    I'm trying to understand. But this seems to be a riddle, where clues are forbidden. Phone calls are coming in that are distressing a child. I suggest that the calls be blocked, either with call blocking or changing the child's number. The response SEEMS to be that blocking calls to a child is a last-resort solution. Maybe that's not what's meant. But if it isn't, I don't know what is meant. Can you explain what is meant? I don't know how to more clearly explain, "If calls are distressing, there are ways to stop the calls." – RamblingChicken Oct 29 '18 at 8:23
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    To clarify: I'm not suggesting cutting contact with the adults--the child's parents. I'm suggesting that an aunt is not entitled to have contact, on demand, with the child. I struggle with the idea that you feel that all relatives should have the right to have contact with all children, on demand, day and night. If you do believe that, then we just have a fundamental disagreement. But I still hope that there's some misunderstanding here. – RamblingChicken Oct 29 '18 at 8:39
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    Hey all, I know we're generally lax about comments on meta, but if you still want feedback or to continue discussing this answer, it's better to make a new meta post or go to chat. That way we can keep this post focused on the question of how to use canned comments. Thanks. – Em C Oct 29 '18 at 14:13

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