Proofreading Questions

2011-10-05 by . 2 comments

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If we were to categorize all closed questions on the English Language and Usage – Stack Exchange, proofreading questions would be by far the largest category. The fact that we get proofreading questions in quantity is no surprise—after all, a vast number of people are eager to learn English, which is the lingua franca of international business, science, technology and aviation”, and they want to know if their English is respectable.

At the same time, EL&U-SE has a policy that prohibits proofreading questions. Does this mean that we don’t want to help people get better at English and that we’re only here for discussing obscure questions about grammar? Of course not! The entire point of EL&U-SE, and every other SE site, is to help people learn about the subject matter. The reason we don’t allow proofreading questions is because there is nothing to be gained by a simple proofreading question—true, a sentence will be improved, but the author does not benefit from experience, nor does the community benefit, as it is statistically unlikely that some other person will come up with the same sentence. 

Certainly, we could identify all the errors in a piece of writing, but that doesn’t teach the author about pronoun-antecdent agreement, about idiomatic uses, or about the differences between to, too, and two. We’d love to teach our friends about these things so that they can benefit in the long-term. So while we don’t allow general proofreading requests, proofreading requests that identify a specific area of concern are welcome.

For example, presume the following post was posted on EL&U-SE.

The cats eating food of cat.
What are the errors in the above sentence?

The example sentence has at least two mistakes, depending on how you count them, but that isn’t our concern right now. Let’s say we were to identify the errors for the author. Hopefully, he/she would be grateful, but in the long run, the author’s only resource is to continue asking us. This doesn’t help anyone learn, and eventually, we’d all get bored of these questions.

On the other hand, here’s a good example of a proofreading question:

The cats eating food of cat.
Can you use *eating* in the above sentence? I don’t see verbs that end in *ing* by themselves in sentences, but I don’t know why that is.

This is an example of a good proofreading question; an answer could discuss verb forms that end in -ing (i.e. participles and gerunds) and why they can’t be used as a verb by themselves (but they can with a form of the verb to be, e.g. was eating). This way, the author can understand better how verb forms work. Note that the author has to take the initiative to identify the area of concern; it would be too much expenditure of effort if we explained every error when the author was only trying to get an editor for free and didn’t care how or why the sentence was wrong

In addition, most people are kind enough to mention as a side note that food of cat is wrong, and why food for cats and cat food are the acceptable phrasings. We’re generally able to help with minor issues, so long as the original author has demonstrated concern and a willingness to learn.

In summary, proofreading questions, when they identify the area of concern, are welcome on EL&U-SE.

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  • drm65 says:

    Thanks for the post; I think I may have some call to link to this every once in a while!

  • N.N. says:

    The reason for not allowing proofreading questions can be compared to the reason for not allowing code review questions on other SX sites.

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