I have a few users who are sincere, rule-abiding, earnest, not help vampires -- and a great deal of work. One of them struggles with phrasing his questions coherently; there's clearly a language issue and we want to help, but it's bad enough that we have to ask him what he meant (we can't just fix it for him) and he gets frustrated and people feel even worse. Another writes just fine but is fixated on questions that are noisy, trivial, or boring, so they get downvoted. People leave helpful comments but it just doesn't seem to make a difference.

This has been going on for a few weeks now and I'm getting complaints from some other users asking if I could talk with these users about the problem. Now if they were breaking site rules that'd be one thing, but I feel awkward telling somebody "yeah, you're not breaking any rules, but your contributions are too crappy for us".

Should I say anything to these users? Should I tell the complaining users to try to do more to help? Should I encourage them to ignore the problem on the theory that these users will eventually go away? Something else?

  • 1
    I wasn't sure if this should be two different questions. Should I split it? (Are these user pathologies different enough?) Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 20:22
  • 1
    I think they're interpolated enough to remain as one. :)
    – Talisman
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 20:31

4 Answers 4


I'm not quite sure what the topic of your forum is, but generally, you can take two approaches.

If you're comfortable with it, you can just talk to the people. Tell them that you understand it can be difficult to write in a language that you're new to, but it's still a problem. If you see egregiously poor grammar usage, simply edit the post and say, "Please try to phrase your post clearly." Even if they have English problems, it still doesn't change the fact that it's bad grammar and/or sentence phrasing that needs to be clearer.

From personal experience, a member of a forum I moderate had very, very bad grammar. We had to tell him that since the board is for intelligent discussions, he should likewise use correct grammar because it is easy to understand.

If you want to try a more public method, it's a good idea to put in place some general rules for grammar or helpful questions. You'd be able to explain it there rather than as a personal approach, but you'd still probably have to talk to him telling him he's breaking rules, albeit without the said awkward phrasing that you mentioned:

"yeah, you're not breaking any rules, but your contributions are too crappy for us"

This is my method of choice, as a matter of fact. But do whichever one you think would work best. As for telling the complainers to do something, that's generally not advisable. They're not the moderators, after all, you and whoever else is on your team are.

One more thing: Does your site have a chatroom? If so you can probably encourage the one with poor grammar to participate in it more. This way if he says something incoherent, he can just correct himself when someone says in the chat:

Hm? What do you mean?

These are my suggestions.


It's entirely up to who you're prepared to cater to. You can never provide for everyone, only a majority at best, and a niché audience at worst.

From what you've mentioned, I suggest perhaps using Private Messaging features to include some helpful pointers. Small tips that are positive but also constructive, like what questions or topics to post about. Language barriers are naturally difficult however and unfortunately you may just have to accept that unless the person in question is themselves willing to learn more of the language, they will have difficulty communicating with others.


In the first case I'd say "suffer, revert, endure." There is hope the user will get better...eventually. Damage from editing should be reverted, and for answers/posts, the community will deal with these, no need for moderator action.

In the latter case - it's not like people write these questions because they don't need the answers. So it's good there's someone who can handle these. It's not like all questions must be expert-level, and that one removes burden of answering "poor" (but still valid) questions from expert users. Also, on SE site, if you're lower-intermediate in given discipline, it can be hard at times to gather enough rep points to attach a large bounty to that one expert-level question, which you really need it answered, and it didn't get any good answer the first time round. Hunting down the "easy questions" is about the only way.


As for the first user or his likes, then there are some options:

  • Help them out by editing to make their posts better
  • If the post is very bad that english people cannot understand, then close their questions as unclear and tell the user/remind the user the site is an english one.
  • use Chat to discuss the issue with the user

As for the second user, if he/she or his likes simply just keep posting low-quality over time, then you probably should use the private contact system, and if it continues then ban the user.

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