# Should new users be allowed to provide questions similar to others?

Recently on CrossValidated I have found that new members may not have studied all the rules prior to asking their first question. I find that moderators and other users will quickly vote to close either because they think it is a duplicate or statement of the question is not clear or the question is off topic. Such decisions are a matter of judgment. I have seen cases where these new members become very frustrated. I understand why the rules must be followed. However I think in such cases a comment to the new member suggesting what is wrong with the question should be done first. They should wait a reasonable amount of time for a an edit to the question or a comment from the new member before taking action.

On two occasions I did things that I thought were reasonable but got moderators upset with me. Situation 1: A new user asked his first question that I told him was not complete and looked like a self study question. He commented that he couldn't edit the question because he thought he was limited in the question length. So I agreed to edit it. The question was put on hold. I don't remember whether it was before or after I made the comment. So I edited the question adding the information he gave me in comments. I also added the self help tag. I then found a second question with similar problems so I edited that one too. Two moderators criticized me for this for different reasons. On the second question I was told that I should have given the OP the chance to edit the question himself (not knowing the discussion that went on with the first question). The other moderator didn't think I should have edited a question that was already put on hold.

Situation 2: A new user asked a simple question. I had a satisfactory answer but I also knew that there were many situations (possible for different modeling methods) where this problem came up. The user was worried that she did something wrong. I thought that it would be best for me to give the answer and point the OP to a search method that using the key words "negative R square" would yield many hits. I thought it would be a difficult task to see if I could consider any of them an exact duplicate. I thought that the OP should look through a few of them to see how commonly the question comes up with a variety of models. The OP and others liked my question and I got 2 up votes for it. A moderator suggested that I should not have answered the question but rather should have searched for a duplicate and recommend it for close/hold. He assumed that there would be an exact duplicate and that I was cluttering the site with repeat questions and an answer that was short (not canonical) and not as informative as a longer supposed duplicate.

Am I wrong in either situation and if you think so could you explain why?

• Its an interesting point. As a new and inexperienced user myself, i have tried to follow the rules. This has generally been a rewarding experience because searching through similar but not identical problems to my own has often led me a deeper understanding of the problem as well as pointed me on the path to a solution. On the other hand i have seen some poorly considered questions from new users where just looking at the 'Related' questions clearly provides an answer. I do think limiting new user's questions could discourage new engagement but maybe funelling them through more rigorous – JustGettinStarted Dec 28 '16 at 1:43
• question vetting would be worthwhile vis a vi expanding the suggestion and key word filters they have to go through before getting the option to post might work. – JustGettinStarted Dec 28 '16 at 1:45
• @JustGettinStarted I agree with you. It is always a good idea to encourage more strongly that the new user at least search through the site before submitting a question. However in one of my examples the OP was submitting his first question and really did not understand how to edit his question. Also it was Christmas day and he was being hit with down votes and having his questions put on hold. I think situations like that call for a little compassion and some bending of the rules. How did you feel when you submitted your first question? – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 5:46
• "The other moderator didn't think I should have edited a question that was already put on hold." I thought this was expected behavior - if I can edit a question that is on hold, and make it appropriate, I do (and I don't think I've ever been told not to). For example, a question that says "How to I interpret this in Stata" might be put on hold as being about Stata - but the question is more general, and can be just "How do I interpret this?" – Jeremy Miles Dec 28 '16 at 11:35
• @JeremyMiles, I would say it depends: edits will bump a closed thread into the review queue, but subsequent edits will not bump it into the reopen queue. So if the thread isn't voted to be reopened as a result of the 1st set of edits, the OP will have largely lost their chance. Thus it's important to only make edits that would result in reopening, & otherwise to leave closed posts (like sleeping dogs) lie. – gung - Reinstate Monica Dec 28 '16 at 13:50
• My main intention was to get opinions about my specific actions. Happily the discussion has broadened and a lot of the rules are being debated. I am particular glad that two moderators have already chimed in. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 14:31
• I noticed recently that an OP tried almost any trick in the book to get a question reopened. The post got exceedingly long and in my opinion didn't merit the length. He went so far as to make a new question asking for suggestions as to how to get the question reopened. That question got lengthy as well. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 14:36
• @gung thanks for the clarification. – Jeremy Miles Dec 28 '16 at 16:28
• See Are we closing questions too fast?. In my answer there I argue for closing - i.e. placing on hold - quickly questions that aren't up to scratch. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jan 2 '17 at 21:16
• @Scotchi I like the thread you reference. – Michael R. Chernick Jan 2 '17 at 22:07
• @MichaelChernick: See for example stats.stackexchange.com/questions/255283/comparing-percentages. I closed this one in the belief that there was a real danger of a quite inappropriate answer. It's also an example of when a comment to explain what's unclear is needed. By contrast I'd have closed stats.stackexchange.com/q/255304/17230 without comment, & left the OP to work out for themself how to ask it better. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Jan 9 '17 at 15:34

Should new users be allowed to provide questions similar to others?

Depends on what you mean with "allowed" and "similar". A new user can post similar questions, but if it is similar to the point some users consider it a duplicate (aka, a borderline duplicate) it should be closed. Duplicate questions are ok to ask (as long it is not recurrent from the same user which is not doing any previous search within the site before posting; remembering if a user post too many questions that get closed he/she will receive a temporary question ban, etc; that is why it is not ok asking too many duplicates in a row), because there are many ways asking the same question, but it is important that answers don't be split across the site. So pointing to the canonical post (which not always is the older one) will help users finding the best answer.

But what if "similar" means it is not a duplicate, and it is closed anyway? No problem, the "On hold" notice/message will tell the OP to edit his/her question and explain why it is not a duplicate. Edits to questions with "On hold" status will be sent right away to the Reopen queue, where it can be voted to reopen. Moreover, a user with more than 3k reputation can also vote to reopen a question without any need of an edit being made, and the question will also be sent to the Reopen queue.

Recently on CrossValidated I have found that new members may not have studied all the rules prior to asking their first question.

Unfortunately, nowadays this is a big problem, but not exclusive to SE. Are you helping moderating the community leaving comments to such OP's to visit the tour page and the help center, for example?

Additionally, I think the actual problem is that many new users don't study any of the rules at all (not even the tour).

I find that moderators and other users will quickly vote to close either because they think it is a duplicate or statement of the question is not clear or the question is off topic.

Really? I find it is still a slow process here in CrossValidated, with experienced users refraining to rapidly closing questions to the point they will collect poor answers and OP will not be satisfied. You probably know that a question with a positive score answer is considered answered, so the community bot will not bump this question to the active page; it will be buried with that poor answer. On the other hand, if a question is quickly and correctly put "On hold" the OP will have a chance to edit the question to make it more accurate and chances of receiving a better answer will increase. At the same time, we keep our site the most clean as possible.

What we could try keeping improving, is to give a chance for a new user to improve his/her question before doing any downvote; and if possible, leaving comments with specific feedback, beyond what the closing messages already say.

Such decisions are a matter of judgment.

Yes, that is why closing, reopening, approving edits are mostly processes which are submitted to peer review (I say mostly, because mods and users with gold badges have the hammer vote; but I am confident to say in most cases this is not a problem. In this respect, I think we have a minor problem with obsolete comments, but this is another discussion).

I have seen cases where these new members become very frustrated.

No comments to this sentence, because you did not bring any example. It is difficult to say something.

...I think in such cases a comment to the new member suggesting what is wrong with the question should be done first.

I think it could be done at the same time. That will help. In fact, we have carried some important efforts to incentivize users leaving comments. See the work of Silverfish and gung here in meta: How best to use the review queue?.

They should wait a reasonable amount of time for a an edit to the question or a comment from the new member before taking action.

Well, I think they shouldn't if they don't want to. We are all volunteers here and time can be limited. We are already curating the site and answering questions. OPs need to make their part, i.e., helping users to help them. Reading the rules in the help center and taking the tour is one thing they can do. Another action they can take is to post the question and be ready to quickly provide replies in comments and edit their question. After all, it is in the OP's best interest to improve their own question.

On two occasions I did things that I thought were reasonable but got moderators upset with me.

Again, difficult to comment without real examples. I will make some general comments though.

Situation 1: A new user asked his first question that I told him was not complete and looked like a self study question. He commented that he couldn't edit the question because he thought he was limited in the question length. So I agreed to edit it. The question was put on hold. I don't remember whether it was before or after I made the comment. So I edited the question adding the information he gave me in comments. I also added the self help tag. I then found a second question with similar problems so I edited that one too. Two moderators criticized me for this for different reasons. On the second question I was told that I should have given the OP the chance to edit the question himself (not knowing the discussion that went on with the first question). The other moderator didn't think I should have edited a question that was already put on hold.

There is a very specific agreed internal policy for the tag. Did you follow it? I don't agree having this tag on our site (despite I agree the specific closing reason and its respective guidelines to OPs is very helpful; but tag and closing reason are different things), but the majority of users agree with such policy, therefore it should be respected.

I suggest you to narrow down your question (with examples) to emphasize better what points you don't agree with the feedback received and how they are different from what the policy says.

Situation 2: A new user asked a simple question. I had a satisfactory answer but I also knew that there were many situations (possible for different modeling methods) where this problem came up.

It could be considered a "Too broad" question; hence, putting it "On hold" and asking the OP to narrow it down to which "situation". But if you felt it was not the best option, then, keep your opinion (like you said, it can be a subjective decision).

The user was worried that she did something wrong. I thought that it would be best for me to give the answer and point the OP to a search method that using the keywords "negative R square" would yield many hits. I thought it would be a difficult task to see if I could consider any of them an exact duplicate. I thought that the OP should look through a few of them to see how commonly the question comes up with a variety of models. The OP and others liked my question and I got 2 up votes for it. A moderator suggested that I should not have answered the question but rather should have searched for a duplicate and recommend it for close/hold. He assumed that there would be an exact duplicate and that I was cluttering the site with repeat questions and an answer that was short (not canonical) and not as informative as a longer supposed duplicate.

We should always give a deep thought to what moderators say. They are experienced users when it comes to moderation, they curate the site, they know better than most users the overall content we have within the site, because they need to read a lot.

With that being said, users have the right to disagree. If you think the best option was to answer that question, go ahead. Perhaps, you did some previous search and did not find a duplicate question. Always try to use your best judgement.

• Thank you for your serious and thoughtful answers. I think you took all or almost all of my statements and sometimes pointed out more than one side of the issue. I noticed that several times you held back saying that you couldn't answer some statements because i didn't give examples. I think my question was rather long and it wouldn't be wise to make it much longer. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 14:12
• I like meta because it allows for a lot of careful discussion. I think it is better than chat. One can start a chat and have the other not reply and I think they tend to be too short unless both users are on at the same time and continue to stay on. Also chat tends to be one on one. Here we can get opinions from many different people. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 14:17
• I notice that here on meta even with discussion questions many questions get put on hold or considered duplicate. In fact I was worried that my question could be called a duplicate since there are so many related questions here also. But I think it is nice that the stream of new questions is slower than on the regular CV site. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 14:22

Leaving aside the specific incidents you mention (though gave some of my reasoning on one of those in comments), I want to address the title question about whether new users should be able to ask duplicate questions.

The policy against duplicates is there for a good reason. Indeed, it's one of the major attractions of the site for me. That linked article, by one of the Stackoverflow founders, Joel Spolsky, points out something that he and Jeff Atwood (the other one) had noticed about forums like Usenet (which I also answered questions on back in the day):

• newbies would frequently ask the same beginner questions

• old timers got tired of it

I've been answering stats questions online in various fora since at least 1992 (before even the Mosaic browser existed), and CrossValidated is the first forum I've been a regular on that made it really easy to find previous versions of the same question, and which tried to solve the problem by making it easy to get new versions of questions pointing to old ones which already had good answers. $^\dagger$

As Joel pointed out, the problem with forums that don't do this is that you end up answering the same "standard" questions over and over -- and the more nearly beginner-level the questions are, the more of them you get (because there will always be more beginners than experts). So as a site grows, you spend more time answering questions you've already answered before. The answers tend to become perfunctory, since there's no benefit in putting effort into really good answers -- the effort will disappear into history under the flood of new questions and in a matter of days or weeks is forgotten. Effort is only briefly recognized, and we'd only be helping one person at a time -- one question, one answer, one person helped. After writing a few thousand answers on the internet, it starts to get annoying.

Here, some of my answers are seen by thousands of people. [And while I was typing this answer yesterday, I got an upvote on an answer that was almost a thousand days old... that sort of thing almost never happens elsewhere.]

[In addition, similar questions that are not exact duplicates can be linked (both via links mentioned in comments and in the "Related" column in the sidebar) to help users find additional useful information related to their problem.]

As a result, it's actually important to avoid answering duplicate questions, so that good answers are not all over the place but concentrated into as few locations as they reasonably can be.

This different way of organizing a site requires a different kind of effort -- in place of answering every question, we end up spending time in so-called curation -- closing duplicates, improving old questions and answers, finding previously missed duplicates and closing them/linking them to answered versions of the same question, and so on. But the end result is far better -- new users, instead of waiting to get a question answered, can find their question already answered and typically in better fashion than they'd have got if the site allowed duplicates.

This benefit happens even if they have never heard of StackExchange, because good answers here show up very high on search engines like Google.

Indeed I have noticed more and more over the last four years or so that searches for something stats-related that I type into Google have links to answers here -- and often they're quite useful. That doesn't happen with my old answers on other forums (at least hardly ever) -- even when I type a search specifically designed to locate an old answer I'm looking for.

But let's imagine that we could marshal some argument for only allowing users with low reputation / recently-created accounts to ask duplicate questions (which are still otherwise deliberately not allowed, following network policy), in spite of the fact that new users will be the main source of duplicates.

If we did that, then any user who desired to get around the policy could post duplicate questions by simply creating another account, so duplicates would proliferate even more. We might as well toss out the entire SE model .... and in that case, I'd be saying my goodbyes. I don't need to participate in still more forums that encourage us to ignore previous good answers. I've done that already.

$^\dagger$ why do we keep old duplicates around long after the person that posted them has moved on? Because they ask their questions-with-the-same-answers in somewhat different ways, and so different versions of such questions are found by searches. They widen the net of searches that can be pointed to the same good answers -- they do the job of funneling people to where they can get their questions answered without anyone writing a new answer.

• I agree with a lot of what you say but I still think there is judgment involved. An experienced user could easily make a duplicate or near duplicate answer in a field he is not familiar with. Statistics is a growth area even though it is a very developed field. This may even more so be the case with machine learning. What was a really good answer 2 years ago may not be so now. I notice that the protected questions that I have seen are very long with many comments and difficult to go through. I don't have all the answers. There are so many rules that even moderates can't keep track. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 13:47
• I have notice lately that in the case of self study questions you are not even consistent with how you apply the rules. I do respect your opinion because of your long experience, thoughtfulness. You have achieved the highest reputation on this site and I know to do that requires a lot of effort. Also you have taken on the added burden of moderator. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 13:52
• A problem I have with the treatment of new users is that some of them feel unwelcomed and discouraged. We do not want to lose them. A new user can also be a very knowledgeable user, – Michael R. Chernick Dec 28 '16 at 13:55
• No one wants anyone to be discouraged. But as a balancing point I have to mention that old users can easily be discouraged by widespread seeming reluctance to read around the Help Center to find about the ground rules or do any work (research, meaning here finding out about the techniques being used or even dipping into a text) whatsoever. The point difficult to grasp is that CV is not a helpline; it is more nearly an attempt to build up a repository of answered questions. – Nick Cox Dec 29 '16 at 10:38
• I'd agree with this, but I understand the problems the OP raises. It's best not to have a new user "pass", but, on the other hand, I think the older users should explain more fully why something is edited or closed, and point the new user to the relevant information that helps them understand the posting guidelines (or these need to be made clearer when registering). Too often posts are edited / closed with insufficient explanation to the new user - often using terminology that they probably don't understand. This can cause frustration and I expect many don't come back as a result. – Mooks Dec 29 '16 at 11:07
• @Mooks I agree with your remarks. Maybe a some of the new users that leave the site are right to do so but there are others possibly many who would have become great contributors and the loss the ours. Remember we all started out as new users with no reputation privileges and little or no knowledge of the rules. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 29 '16 at 21:33
• @Michael Chernick It is a 2 x 2 table, with one cell the great contributors we missed. But when a question is badly presented, hopelessly broad, very unclear or signals "I am clueless" (several or even all of these can be true at the same time) we are unlikely to be missing a potential great contributor. Great contributors announce themselves early by posting good answers. – Nick Cox Dec 30 '16 at 10:01
• (ctd) When there's a plea to be nicer, or to explain more, it can be backed up by such posters helping out themselves by being nicer, or explaining more. It needs only modest reputation to contribute greatly by providing good explanations of why questions are being closed or by helping with improving such questions. – Nick Cox Dec 30 '16 at 10:06
• @NickCox I don't know how you would know that it is unlikely that we could lose a great contributor. Even if it is unlikely it would be a shame to lose one. Also many of us take a while to produce good questions and become comfortable with the ever changing SE rules. With your view of what makes a person worth having on the site. I think you would probably include me and many other people that I respect. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 30 '16 at 17:21
• @Michael Chernick I ask that you read the whole of the pertinent sentence again from "But when a question is" to "a potential contributor". I don't know for certain and am not claiming otherwise. I certainly include you as someone worth having, as you surmise. I am focusing on poor questions from people who usually disappear after a few days or weeks. – Nick Cox Dec 30 '16 at 18:55
• @Nick Cox I think we both have good intentions. Sometimes it is hard to articulate feelings when frustrated. I want to make an confession. As I look at questions on CV this week, I am finding some new members that I think are abusing the site. We seem to be getting mostly elementary and uninteresting questions from new members, In many of them a good moderator will suggest that the OP read specific literature or go to specific CV posts that go over the issue raised. Sometimes the action of putting the question on hold is rightfully made. But the OP does not take the advice. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 30 '16 at 20:51
• Well meaning users will then supply hints in comments (sometimes long-winded) or give long tutorial answers. I have let myself get drawn in sometimes. Also I have seen them take textbook problems which is for homework or an exam and they basically supply their answer either in the question or subsequently after some hints. It seems like they are merely using the site to check their work. I think at least most of us can agree that this is not what the site is intended for. – Michael R. Chernick Dec 30 '16 at 20:58
• @Michael Chernick No need for any confession that you identify some poor and/or inappropriate questions. It's unfortunate as well as undesirable, but it is a major part of the SE model that we are not a help line in which all questions and all questioners deserve equal attention. No one can answer a question that they don't understand (common) and no one is obliged to answer an off-topic question (common). The policing entailed should be done as courteously as possible, but you're echoing a consensus here. – Nick Cox Dec 31 '16 at 10:37