Some members do not proofread what they have written, some are used to informal communication channels, and some are not native English speakers. The result is that posts frequently have incorrect capitalization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc., making reading them difficult and unpleasant.

None of this has anything to do with whether the questions they are asking, or the answers they are offering, are on-topic, interesting, correct, etc. On the other hand, I remember reading that there is an expectation that members make their best effort to write proper English.

If I think that someone is just being lazy, and making no effort to improve, is it unkind to downvote them because of their writing if there are an “excessive” number of “obvious” mistakes?

Examples of “obvious” mistakes, which anyone can learn to avoid by reading English for five minutes: Not capitalizing the first word in a sentence. Not ending a sentence with a period or other appropriate punctuation. Not putting a space after the final punctuation in a sentence. Not breaking up walls of text into paragraphs. Not capitalizing the pronoun “I”. Not capitalizing people’s names, especially when they are very famous physicists or mathematicians. (Perhaps this is just me, but I find that last one extremely disrespectful.)

I have no interest in being a cultural imperialist, but, given the fact that this site operates exclusively in English, my opinion is that the English should be at least C-grade.

I am entirely open to arguments that the quality of the English should not matter at all, or that I should simply fix or ignore the posts that bother me.

  • $\begingroup$ Possibly related. $\endgroup$
    – rob Mod
    Sep 6, 2020 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ What about misspelling people's names? I don't think this is any less respectful than not capitalizing. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2020 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ John Rennie has provided a thoughtful answer for why proper English should not matter; it currently has 9 upvotes and no downvotes. But my question asking whether it should matter has gotten 8 upvotes and no downvotes. Should I or should I not interpret these upvotes as saying it should matter? (No one has actually written an argument saying so.) In general, my understanding is that upvotes on meta questions generally indicate “Yes” on the question asked. If this is the case, then the respondents seem roughly equally divided on the issue. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Sep 7, 2020 at 3:20
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Meta votes are difficult to interpret - I would offer an alternative interpretation that people read your question and think "that's a good thing to talk about" so they vote it up but that in the end they tend to agree enough with John's answer that they don't offer a dissenting answer. (I invite people to prove this interpretation wrong by offering a dissenting answer ;) ) $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind Mod
    Sep 7, 2020 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ On top of that last comment, I believe that when a meta question is proposing something (like a change to site policy or whatever), then upvotes are more likely to indicate agreement and downvotes to indicate disagreement, but when you're just asking a question, as is the case here, the votes don't necessarily have those meanings. In this case it's likely that some or most of the upvotes are just expressing appreciation that you brought the topic up for discussion, and/or that you wrote your question well. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Sep 7, 2020 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ OK, thanks to both of you for explaining how to interpret the votes. I’m going to assume that there is not much (or any) support for my point of view. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Sep 7, 2020 at 22:01
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You can always improve questions and answers by editing them. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Sep 15, 2020 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ I do not mean any kind of offence but all these stackexchange sites seem "too much" to me sometimes. I've hardly ever seen an "unedited" question. One missing comma, and it gets the "edited'' tag. I wonder if these trivial mistakes are fixed or edited just to increase the no. of edited posts; of course there can be exceptions. $\endgroup$
    – Wonder
    Sep 16, 2020 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @ShaonaBose What would be the point of increasing the number of edited posts? The point is to increase the quality of the site so that it is a resource similar to Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Sep 16, 2020 at 16:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ShaonaBose What do you mean by the "edited tag"? Why does it even matter what the number of edited posts is? $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2020 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ "Editor" badges are awarded for a certain no. of edited posts. That's why I thought so. And @G.Smith, in my opinion, these sites are even better than Wikipedia. The answers here are curated according to the OP's question. Wikipedia, on the other hand, seems nothing less than a textbook. $\endgroup$
    – Wonder
    Sep 16, 2020 at 16:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Anyone who edits for the glory of an Editor badge has an interesting notion of glory. I think most editors edit out of an altruistic desire to improve the quality of the site. It takes valuable time which would be better spent on answering questions. But without editing the site would be unbearable in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – G. Smith
    Sep 16, 2020 at 17:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ShaonaBose At least from what I can tell, most users who edit posts continue editing after they get their badges. And even if that is their motivation, edits still improve the site quality. Who cares what the motivation behind the editing is? As long as they are valid edits, they improve the site quality. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2020 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Proper English = Old English. Immigrants from Scandinavia who couldn't bother to learn proper Old English grammar changed Old English to Middle English. $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2020 at 18:22

2 Answers 2


The aim of this site (or least the original aim) is to be an authoritative source of information about physics. That is, anyone with a question about physics can search this site and either find an authoritative answer or ask a new question and hopefully receive an authoritative answer. And I think this has worked well. The quality of many of the answers on this site astounds me and I have benefited enormously from my association with it.

So my view is that it's the question that matters. If someone asks a good question that will attract good answers, but the question is badly or even carelessly written, then we should all make the effort to edit it into shape. I admit it can be a little galling that a lazy OP will then get upvotes as a result of our work, but in the end everyone benefits so it's worth the effort.

That said, I very rarely see questions that I think are good, but have been carelessly written, and if the question isn't worth the effort I will downvote and move on. But I will be downvoting the question, not the effort the OP put in to writing the question.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Indeed, I think there is quite some correlation between people who put little effort in the content and in the form of the question. So I think there is a correlation between bad form (not only bad English - walls of text has nothing to do with English) and bad content, but it is not because of the bad English those questions are bad. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2020 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, I think nobody likes being corrected (even if one appreciates the feedback). Everyone likes to be absolutely right straight away. So there is an incentive for people to keep improving their writing even if there is no explicit penalty, just for the pride of being in command of the language and appearing neat. Perhaps such an incentive is enough. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2020 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ @GuillermoBCN People who are seeking answers to problems in Physics are hardly to get triggered by such incentives. $\endgroup$
    – Wonder
    Sep 16, 2020 at 16:43

The tooltip on the downvote button is "this question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful", which I think is a good description of what we should be using the downvote button for. And I do believe that it's possible for bad writing to make a question not useful, if the writing severely interferes with understanding it. In those cases, I'd say that downvoting is an appropriate response, although I think such a question would probably also qualify for the "needs details or clarity" close reason, and that's probably a better response because it more directly pushes the question to be edited.

That being said, there are a lot of questions that have some problems of spelling, grammar, formatting, etc. but they're not so bad that they make it difficult to understand the question. In those cases, downvoting is allowed but is probably not all that useful, unless you also leave a comment about the issues. The ideal thing to do, of course, is to edit to fix the issues, but if you don't want to or don't have time to edit, it might be best to just ignore it and move on. (If you would have upvoted the question if it were properly written, then declining to upvote is also an acceptable response.)


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