There is a question that was recently closed for lacking clarity. Based on some comments from the poster, and the format of the question, I believe that the poster is not a native English speaker, and appears to be pretty knew to Stack as well.

The questioner might be making an effort to revise his/her question, but is probably struggling to get his/her question right. Read in the proper light, there might be a genuinely decent question there. But I am on the fence about whether I should engage further. Part of me, as a native English speaker, wants to help out and sympathizes a little, but part of me doesn't want to engage because it could be a lot of effort for little gain.

If a decent question is asked but has minimal or improper formatting we are generally forgiving. Also we are generally forgiving about questions from new posters that copy-and-paste images of their question, while gently discouraging them from doing that.

Nonetheless is there a threshold for knowing when to help encourage newish users, especially when it's clear they are English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) or English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL), vs. cutting losses and moving on?

The volume on QCSE is not huge and we want to be known as mostly welcoming, but simultaneously there are some genuinely bad/rude questions asked of all types.

  • $\begingroup$ You mind explaining what "ESL/EFL" is, especially for non-native speakers? $\endgroup$ May 28, 2020 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, revised. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2020 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ This might be tricky, but: Do you have examples where the question clearly suffers from language issues, and the language issue is not just another issue on top of a badly written question? $\endgroup$ May 31, 2020 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ This one about Group Non-Membership may be an extreme example. The question as originally asked was already pretty sophisticated and motivated me to want to engage; the language issues were relatively minor. Maybe it's something like if [quality of question] x [clarity of question as posed] > theta, then engage; just be slightly more forgiving for new users... $\endgroup$ May 31, 2020 at 14:58

1 Answer 1


Minor language mistakes that don't impair the understanding of the question are obviously fine, so we are talking about questions written badly enough to make it difficult to understand what is being asked.

As obviously not a native speaker myself, I can definitely sympathise with not having a mastery of the language (I don't), but this is not the place to help people learning it. My approach is then, roughly speaking,

  1. Edit the question whenever I think the question itself is a good one (and I have time and will to do it).
  2. If the asker is clearly putting some effort in asking the question, and the question itself is decent, I try to be forgiving and improve it when I can, even if I might not be directly interested in the question itself.

However, I think it should be noted that, in my experience, most questions where language and formatting are bad enough that it's hard to tell what is being asked, come from a lack of effort rather than a lack of language skills. I would wager that the vast majority of people that have enough knowledge to ask a question about quantum computing are also able to put together a decently written sentence in English if they put enough effort in it.

As always, the focus of the discussion should be on whether the question itself is a good one. If it is, we should try to salvage it provided it isn't too time-consuming. Chances are, most good questions are going to be written with a decent enough English to be understandable anyway.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "As obviously not a native speaker myself" ... I never noticed... I think your approach is a good one, although I have no hard and fast rules for what's required/expected of people on this. To my mind, while I can't expect everyone to put in this much effort into fixing every question, this feels pretty ideal overall $\endgroup$
    – Mithrandir24601 Mod
    Jun 8, 2020 at 10:59

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