By perusing through the site, I have seen quite a bit of topics closed and arguments ensue. The tone in most of them seems condescending. Compared to some other SE sites, this one seems to be "catty".

Perhaps expanding the FAQ to include a better description of the topics the moderators will allow would be helpful?

Note: this is not about my question that was closed, although it had upvotes and the closing made no sense to me, I was not offended nor were there arguments in that particular one.

  • We're trying to make improvements to our FAQ in this question and I've laid out some (I hope) good general "off topic" bits but we still need a better description of what's on topic IMO.
    – Rarity
    Jul 19, 2012 at 21:27
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    Where have you seen "catty" and "condescending" comments? There have been some cases where users are (understandably) upset that their post was closed, but I haven't seen much rudeness by those closing questions. Examples would be great.
    – Rarity
    Jul 19, 2012 at 21:28
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    I'd also like to say I've seen lots of questions that could have been closed outright by a moderator, but the other moderators had left constructive comments and waited for the community to deal with them or close them. Usually, when a moderator closes outright, it's at the request of a (correct) flag.
    – Nicole
    Jul 19, 2012 at 21:37
  • +1: I've observed the same. In fact, I strongly considered emailing the stackexchange team to inform them of this behavior. // IMHO: If the moderation doesn't improve significantly, then this site risks irrelevancy.
    – Jim G.
    Jul 20, 2012 at 2:38
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    @Jim: we do watch the site and meta too y'know... If you want to bring out specific examples as Rarity suggests, it would help a great deal in evaluating the merits and severity of this complaint.
    – Shog9
    Jul 20, 2012 at 3:58
  • I've changed the title a bit; I want to keep this meta post on topic, not a dumping ground for rants.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:16
  • @Rarity - Your edit took my second answer off topic... Jul 20, 2012 at 19:31
  • @Chad it wasn't really on topic. Though this question was broad, the stated intent seems clearly about rude comments/arguments on closed questions. Meta questions need to be focused to remain constructive as well
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:34
  • @Rarity - The problem here is not necessarily the mods. But the 2 problems I see (as a site issue) deal with the catty issue. I see and actually agree with the assessment and have been trying really hard to combat it myself. Just like in high school the kids will stand back and watch a fight. If the teachers will not step in and stop the fight when they see them the kids will stop coming to school unless they want to get in a fight... /metaphor It applies here. If users are allowed to attack people trying to help or get help (even passive-agressively) the people will stay away. Jul 20, 2012 at 20:17
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    @Chad I'm just not seeing these attacks, and I review almost all new questions (and am responsible for many closures). Without examples this all sounds like a important discussion to have, but if you look closely there doesn't appear to be anything we're talking about. Sure, don't be catty, always good advice. But who's actually being catty?
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 20:34
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    @Rarity I was referencing closed questions in my initial post, however I agree with Chad, and it was not my intention to limit the scope of the question to simply "closed questions." The berating of people asking a question, as evidenced by the example in Chad's second answer, is relevant as well. The passive-aggressive comments in posts are what really make it a bad experience to participate in the site. I don't see why a new user would stay in a community like that, which is why I raised this question.
    – squeemish
    Jul 20, 2012 at 20:38
  • You could have pointed to examples; do you have more than that one post? Yes, the comments were a bit excessive in that post. It also hit Reddit and got 15,000 views. It is not particularly representative of the typical new question experience (nor has the author left the site for it). I have noticed some rude comments and have edited them to be more constructive however. But I also maintain that "don't do that" and the reasons why not offered in that question are constructive.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 20:51
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    I'm pretty sure this whole topic here is 100% pointless, unless examples can be given. We've seen one...kinda. The one example that was brought up was not even all that applicable.
    – acolyte
    Jul 24, 2012 at 15:14

5 Answers 5


This is in response to the question of How can I encourage a culture of punctuality in a software company?

1. Telling an asker not to do something is perfectly okay:

My answer was one that basically suggested to the question asker that it wasn't a good idea to try to force (or encourage) such change. I basically said "Don't do that" and then followed up with what I thought was the better solution. "Try this instead."

From the Workplace FAQ - How to Answer:

Answer the question

Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

(bold emphasis in body is mine)

In short, there is nothing wrong with telling a question asker not to do what it is that they're asking, so long as a viable alternative is presented in it's place. Let's not lose sight of this very important point.

2. Condescending Tone

While the issue of condescending comments or answers could be dealt with in the form of constructive guiding comments, editing questions and answers, and/or downvotes, it's important that we understand that the FAQ for this and all Stack Exchange sites clearly state that answers can indicate disagreement with the course of action and offer alternatives.

Always be polite and have fun

It’s fine to disagree and express concern, but please be civil. There’s a real human being on the other end of that network connection, however misguided they may appear to be. We’re here to learn from our peers, not yell at each other.

I also don't think everyone that says "this is a bad idea" intends to be rude or condescending. Sometimes, a comment is all it takes to alleviate the problem. A few people, including Chad, pointed out some problems with my answer in the comments. Most of them were very respectful and helpful, and I was able to correct the answer to make it fit the guidelines 100%. So let's also not forget that when we leave comments to someone who may not have posted something that is 100% perfect, that many people want to positively contribute and may simply need some help or encouragement to get from point A to point B.

If that doesn't work, if your comment is met with further rudeness or condescending attitudes, then that would be a good time to flag the post for moderator attention, and calmly walk away.

  • There was one comment that referred to the asker as sounding like a "douchey boss" which I edited. There are a couple referencing being a "dictatorial" boss which I left...I think how a plan might come off to workers is very much something that should be covered in responses, as much as I want to keep a civil atmosphere I don't want to squelch all opposition to an asker's idea. So there was a tiny bit of rudeness there, but I think it's better now.
    – Rarity
    Jul 23, 2012 at 11:59
  • To be fair had there not been several other answers that basically said you are wrong to try I would not have down voted yours. I would like to add that I was polite and did not discuss it at length. I explained my down vote and I stand by it. That said I do not think I flagged your answer as one to delete.(not that any of them were accepted anyway) Jul 23, 2012 at 16:16
  • I can definitely understand where you're coming from. After seeing several negative responses, that can put you on the defensive. I don't think you were out of line, but your comment seemed a bit curt to me. Your comment did help make my answer better, IMHO, even if it did make me a little defensive. I probably could have reacted a bit better myself rather than accusing you of serial downvoting.
    – jmort253
    Jul 23, 2012 at 19:29

I go over almost every question as it enters the site, participate in many of the closure related discussions and, as my close votes are binding, my votes have been responsible for a bit over a third of the recent closures on the site. Yet I'm really not seeing this "catty" behavior on closed questions.

Yes, there have been a small number of rude/rude-ish comments; some I've removed or edited myself. I could probably count that number on both hands. Maybe one hand.

Yes, rude comments are a problem and they should be flagged. Moderators can edit/delete rude comments, but we must be aware of them. We can't read every bit of content on the site; this is what flags are for, to bring issues to our attention. Flag a post and we'll either take care of it or decline it with a message explaining why there's nothing we can (or nothing we should) do.

With no examples I'm really not sure what to say here. Yes, catty comments aren't nice. But this discussion isn't really worth having unless there actually are catty comments. Maybe I've missed them. Maybe your definition is different. But without examples there's not much to be done here. Just flag inappropriate comments and be civil. That's not really "this site being more friendly to users when closing questions" though; that is a constant expectation of this network and this site is no exception.

We don't tolerate rude comments. You don't need to ask us to enforce the FAQ. Instead tell us where there's a problem.

The one example given so far is definitely an exception, not the rule; note that that question has 15,000 views. The post hit Reddit and thus got a flood of activity, good and bad. That doesn't happen on a daily basis and is extremely hard to moderate, especially before the dust has settled. We aren't here to moderate Reddit. Reddit is a mostly lawless land and some of that attitude comes over when a question gets big on Reddit. Most of our closure reasons and quality standards are to keep those problems out.

We can't read everything on the site, so sometimes a question slips by and gets turned into a mess after the initial phrasing on the question. When that happens, you have to flag things to let us know there's a problem. Especially when a question is Reddited we need extra help to keep a question, comments and answers in line.


The worst problem I have seen is a piling on of down votes on questions that are not bad topics just asked poorly. It is one thing when it comes from an established user with a high rep but piling on for a user with > 10 rep. The users were trying to add content to the site and get involved in our community. To see them pushed away because they asked a decent question the wrong way is disheartening. We should be offering constructive methods of helping them rephrase the question.

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    One of the reasons we try to close quickly and ask for edits, improvements, clarifications in could-be-good-but-needs-a-little-work questions (not so much those that are more clear cut), especially with new users, is so that they can see how the process works and that the potentially reopened question is one that gets better, more focused answers from the start. But we don't get to them all, and not everyone with commenting and voting privs is always (or even sometimes) constructive. (I'm agreeing w/ you BTW)
    – jcmeloni
    Jul 20, 2012 at 17:14
  • Votes are supposed to represent the quality of the question. I've very rarely seen any situation here where the "piling on" was inappropriate, rather it's almost always an indication of a very poor question.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 18:43
  • I removed your last two statements as they were not accurate. New users can edit their own questions and are free to comment on their own question and answers to it. Downvotes do not prevent editing of anything. Closed, downvoted questions can always be edited by their author as long as the account is not deleted and not suspended.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 18:45
  • @Rarity - Requires 5 rep for comment on own and 10 for edit own (or vice versa) ... please look into it if this is not how it is supposed to be. Jul 20, 2012 at 19:11
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    @Chad the only 5 rep requirement is to post on Meta. 10 rep allows you to add more than 2 hyperlinks or inline images, nothing prevents 1 rep users from editing/commenting on their won questions. I've definitely seen 1 rep users comment and edit on this very site as well.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:14
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    For those wanting to see the posts that have been "piled on with downvotes," here you go: lowest scoring posts currently on the site
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:45

The other problem I have noticed is that it has become acceptable to attack a questions goal in an answer. I think the worst example is: How can I encourage a culture of punctuality in a software company?

The OP asked how he can change his culture to one where people are at work during their expected work hours. There are at 11 answers that boil down to "you are wrong for wanting to try." These are not answers to that question and by allowing them we have created a precedence that it is acceptable to do this and do it over and over. To me this is the perfect example of a place where our moderators should be saying this is an exceptional circumstance and stepping in to close and delete these answers.

If the question were how do I keep women or an ethnic group from doing something I do not like at my work place then I would understand and I expect the question would be closed. But this is a legitimate question and it deserves a legitimate answer.

It is an emotional response that says yeah you can not force me to be on time. I actually sympathize with the sentiment. But the reality of the work place is that it is work not play.

  • I agree with you, & we do try to do something with "attacking" types of answers when we see them, but one thing we do have working against us as moderators is that we have very few people actively flagging anything. I can almost name every unique person who has raised a flag. Then we are in the position of making judgement calls on borderline cases in a new site that we would much prefer the community votes on (obvious Q&As that don't fit, no problem handling), or simply not seeing them at all (we don't read every single Q & A here). I also think this question got out of control in general.
    – jcmeloni
    Jul 20, 2012 at 17:08
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    there is a related and quite thorough discussion at MSO: Is “Don't do it” a valid answer? It indicates some differences in community members opinions, but overall pretty heavily tilted in favor of "it's a valid answer, provided that you explain why the OP shouldn't do it..." - accepted answer, voted 83 with next one ("it depends on the context...") voted 17
    – gnat
    Jul 20, 2012 at 17:16
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    @Jcmeloni - Look at what happened with all of my flags and you will understand why I have quit flagging here. I have 95% helpful rate everywhere else. And fyi I did flag the 4 worst answers on that question and all were declined even though 3 of them were removed. Jul 20, 2012 at 17:56
  • @gnat - It is but one do not do it answer is enough. There are actually 3 do not do it answers(that i do not agree with) that I would consider valid. But they were more of a slow down and look at what you are doing type of answer. Jul 20, 2012 at 18:02
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    I disagree here; "Doing that is a bad idea and here are solid reasons why" can be a perfectly acceptable answer, especially on a site with subjective questions such as this. I don't think those answers should all say the same thing of course, but there's nothing special about "don't do that" answers in that regard.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 18:47
  • Uh, no, you only flagged one of those deleted answers, and it was deleted by its' owner, not a moderator. I'll also note it was only one of two positive scoring posts that were deleted there.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 18:50
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    I want to clarify what I was agreeing with in my comment -- answers that look like they are attacking a user are things we try to catch and avoid; answers that are "don't do that and here's why" (in constructive ways) are totally fine by me.
    – jcmeloni
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:05
  • @Rarity - it was only one of two positive scoring posts that were deleted there I think that is the problem though. I flagged several of them but they were all declined. Jul 20, 2012 at 19:07
  • I think there's constructive discussion and clarifications in these answers so I would not like to see them removed.
    – jcmeloni
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:25
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    Also interesting, according to the original asker of that question, they've basically taken the advice to not go through with this. Again, "Don't do that" can be good advice.
    – Rarity
    Jul 20, 2012 at 21:51
  • @Rarity that is not how i read that at all. Leadership has reinforced the requirement for punctuality. No punishment is not the same as not wanting people there on time. And again I do not have a problem with the dont do it answers. Most of these are you are wrong to try which is differnt than do not do it. Jul 22, 2012 at 20:13
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    @Rarity: You are incorrect, we are continuing to go through with it. We have opted not to introduce any escalation unless the violations are excessive and frequent. We have further introduced some additional perks to help morale.
    – Jacob G
    Jul 23, 2012 at 15:38
  • @JacobG most of the answers stated something like "don't punish them or overly focus on timing"...it seems like that's exactly what you've done. The answers weren't "Don't bother with punctuality at all" but rather "don't take away perks"
    – Rarity
    Jul 23, 2012 at 16:08
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    @Rarity - That's a distinction without a difference. If a flexible start-time is considered a perk and we no longer allow for a flexible start-time, tell me to "not take away a perk" is telling me "Don't do that."
    – Jacob G
    Jul 23, 2012 at 16:16
  • @Rarity - The question was not how do i punish them. It was how do I encourage a culture of punctuality. I think that is the difference that irritated me most about the don't do that answers. Jul 23, 2012 at 16:26

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/07/kicking-off-the-summer-of-love/?cb=1 Exactly the point I was bringing up here.

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    Yes. That's a good blog post, and we don't try to be rude; see my answer. At the risk of sounding rude...what is your point? Aside from a single question, which only you and Chad seem to think was handled rudely, I'm just not seeing this rudeness. Telling us "hey guys, be less rude" without examples or anything we can do about it is not a constructive discussion. I'm trying to be patient here, but this question thus far has just been a dumping ground for unfocused rants. That is not how constructive meta discussions happen.
    – Rarity
    Jul 23, 2012 at 15:01
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    I opened this question to spark discussion, and some people agree. Obviously from the post I just linked, this problem is prevalent. I find that a lot of the rude and catty comments are actually from you. And this is not a personal attack. I think this just shows how some people view rudeness in different lights. When your only comment on an answer or suggestion from someone is "Ummmm...no" (it was a meta question i believe), that's a complete turnoff and hits my point. Since you are a moderator and feel your tone and rudeness is appropriate, I will find somewhere else to play.
    – squeemish
    Jul 23, 2012 at 15:14
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    His "suggestion" was a continuation of a meta rant. It was not made in good faith.
    – Rarity
    Jul 23, 2012 at 15:45
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    @squeemish - We're on the Internet, which is like the wild wild west. It's virtually impossible to be direct when disagreeing with someone without sounding rude or curt. If you feel some comments directed to you are rude, reply with the sweetest tone you can muster. Oftentimes you'll find that the dissenter's intention is not to be rude but to make a very clear, distinct point. I hope you don't leave without at least giving that a shot ;)
    – jmort253
    Jul 24, 2012 at 2:44
  • Side note to those interested in The Summer of Love stuff; the follow up article shows the "friendliness" of Stack Overflow has been increasing fairly significantly over the last three years. We're not Stack Overflow, but keep in mind that the posted data here doesn't back up the complaints that Stack Overflow is getting ruder at all.
    – Rarity
    Jul 24, 2012 at 12:35

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