Just moments ago, a user asked a question (Freelancer vs contractor - 10k link) that was voluntarily removed by the OP because apparently he perceived the comments as being rude. Specifically, the OP tagged me in a response about my response to his question "Is this legal" This would seem to fall fairly within the closure / DV reason of "Legal questions are explicitly off topic. When I mentioned to the OP that legal questions are EXPLICITLY off topic , the OP felt this was off - putting.

This discussion is related: Shame on us! We must treat new users better!

How can a established users guide new users about the community standards without putting off new users?

  • 1
    One little thing, SHOUTING (using upper case for emphasis) in your comment stating it's off-topic probably came across as a little more aggressive than you intended. It's perhaps one reason this particular user got defensive :)
    – Jane S
    Sep 10, 2015 at 21:04

3 Answers 3


It's worth keeping two semi-contradictory ideas in mind when interacting with new users:

  • Different people, and people from different backgrounds, will read things in different ways; a comment meant to be succinct might come across as dismissive, or emphasis might be interpreted as shouting.

  • Some people are very sensitive and there's not much you can do.

With a new user you don't know which of these applies (if either). I try to do the following to (I hope) improve the chances of a good experience:

  • I try to start off my first comment to a new user with some sort of greeting; while some find it superfluous or even noisy, others see it as welcoming.

  • I try to acknowledge that expectations might be off -- "we're a little different from other sites" and similar language can make the user less likely to feel blamed.

  • I try to avoid all-upper-case for emphasis because it can be seen as shouting even though that's not what I intended.

  • I try to link to relevant resources (like the on-topic list in the help center).

  • I try to suggest improvements rather than using critical language -- "you could improve this by X" or "could you [edit] to add...?" instead of "this is off-topic" or "you need to X".

Sometimes, no matter what you do the user gets upset. We can't make everybody like us; we can only do our best to provide an environment where someone who wants to be part of a site like ours can do so.

Related (broader than just comments): What are the most effective ways to guide new users?

  • 1
    I think your final point is most important. If all you are doing is posting a message that is critical of the post, and often implied of the OP, then there is no constructive value in the post. These posts just need to stop period. If you have a constructive suggestion make it plain and pleasant or dont post it. Sep 10, 2015 at 17:26
  • +1: You're good with new users.
    – Jim G.
    Sep 10, 2015 at 23:09

I've been thinking a lot about this subject, especially since another question was posted here about it few days ago: Shame on us! We must treat new users better!

In both cases, I don't think we did terribly as a community. All of those questions had a fair bit of interaction with suggestions for what to do.

We could have been better overall. But one user had the "screw you SE" message shortly after (if not before) posting their second to last question. At that point, it's not surprising they picked up flak. The other seems to have just... overreacted as nothing about that reaction makes sense to me.

A big problem Workplace has is people wanting to validate their preexisting notions. "I think my boss was an idiot and I'm perfect, please tell me so" and then anyone who has a different perspective immediately places them on the defensive. As a community we can't really do anything about that.

However, debating minutia about "was this poorly received?" or "we did great!" isn't really helpful. What is helpful is figuring out what things we can do regardless to make our site better and more welcoming.

Some thoughts to be proactive on (loosely inspired by here):

  • Significantly editing questions to bring them on topic. If there's anything we as a community can do to make people feel more welcome, it's this. A lot of times the required improvements to a question are obvious. Whether only formatting or basically rewriting this is probably the best way to help people fit here. From my experience in having more or less completely rewritten quite a few questions here (with a comment gently explaining what and why) it's almost always well received.
    • Often it's not that much more work to do this than post a comment, either.
    • I only do this with questions which for me meet the criteria that 1) the core question is good/valid and 2) the asker appears to be asking in good faith. (1) is pretty straightforward but (2) is somewhat just a feeling I get when reading posts (not sure if that helps ha)
    • Maybe we should have some sort of site contest or something for this? I'm not really sure.
    • FYI to everyone, if you post [edit] in a comment, like "can you [edit] to add this information?" it will smart link to the edit button
  • Your tone should match the way you'd talk in person with someone you respect and whom you want to respect you. This is something everyone agrees with (well likely... ?). The trick is to realize that when you say one thing, people occasionally hear another thing. I suspect most issues we have hear are the result of this mismatch.
    • Many users of Stack Exchange are very direct in their communication, whether culturally or just personality wise. Most people worldwide are not. Unfortunately, many direct people just... don't recognize that when you just say "voting to close, this is off topic" without any better explanation or empathy for a new and confused user, this can be problematic.
  • Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions. For me, this is hardest. There are definitely questions which get posted that set off a "this is a drive by post, will never get followup edits/comments" meter and those I honestly just downvote. But a lot of questions here are good questions at core, but needing some help/guidance. I don't think it's realistic for us to expect that every single question posted here will be workable or have an original poster who will put effort into it.
  • Flag comments that are not helpful/constructive. It's not a burden for moderators and it's easy for everyone. Comments are temporary/post-its anyways. Please feel free to flag things that you feel are too abrasive or confrontational. If you flag borderline comments, it would be very helpful if you use a custom message explaining something like "abrasive to new poster" or otherwise explain why as it can be difficult to identify why otherwise ok comments are flagged.
  • +1: For "A big problem Workplace has is people wanting to validate their preexisting notions."
    – Jim G.
    Sep 11, 2015 at 3:02

How can a established users guide new users about the community standards without putting off new users?

Before new users can post a question, have the system display a page (a "New User's Guide") laying out what is acceptable and what is not. Have an "I agree" checkbox check be required before the guide goes away.

It probably won't solve the problem, since some will agree without bothering to read it, but I think that's the best you can do.

When I mentioned to the OP that legal questions are EXPLICITLY off topic , the OP felt this was off - putting.

It doesn't matter what you say, nor how you say it - someone will always feel everything is "off-putting". As they say - you can't please everyone.

Update: I just realized the OP thought my comments were rude! That wasn't my intent. Unfortunately, since the question was deleted, I can't go back and clarify the questions contained within my comments. That's unfortunate... It there a way I can send him a message privately?

  • while I agree with idea to show them such a guide, please note that SE team likely thinks opposite: "On the smaller sites, I believe the idea is that, since they get less traffic than Stack Overflow, there's not as much of a disincentive to prevent people from posting, since the community can help users fix problems with their posts, or close, flag, and delete..." (do I think they're wrong? you bet)
    – gnat
    Sep 10, 2015 at 20:36
  • "It there a way I can send him a message privately?" I'm afraid not, Joe. Any private interactions such as mod messages are very carefully controlled.
    – Jane S
    Sep 10, 2015 at 21:18
  • @JaneS technically Joe could stalk him to another SE and post a comment somewhere. But when I say it like that.. it sounds really stalkerish :)
    – enderland
    Sep 10, 2015 at 21:53
  • @enderland Hmm, in that case I probably shouldn't do that. Any more.... ;)
    – Jane S
    Sep 10, 2015 at 21:59
  • Maybe someone with power could undelete that question? Perhaps it's not worth doing... Sep 11, 2015 at 23:45
  • @JoeStrazzere you the ability to cast an undelete vote, too - I think anyone with 10k rep can cast undelete votes.
    – enderland
    Sep 12, 2015 at 15:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .