I realise that for a great number of users English is not their native language, and therefore the English writing will frequently contain mistakes. I have no issue spending some of my time making edits to such sort of genuine mistakes. I firmly believe we should be encouraging non-native English speakers to participate and use English to the best of their abilities.

However, deliberate use of slang, abbreviations, colloquialisms etc. should be avoided. Users should be at least trying to write in correct English to avoid confusion, improve clarity, and help make all posts accessible to all users. There are a number of users who do not do this.

For example, the following question features such problems:

"When I was younger like 10 I used to drop big logs but now I'm older my logs are not so big"

and a subsequent comment shows the confusion:

"I honestly thought at first he was talking about chopping wood or wearing wooden shoes"

And comments on an answer were also poorly written:

"Downvoters didnt study enough poop in school cuz they were grossed out and thought ''eeww icky', but I went the distance for you @Jan, you know me n you is down."

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    $\begingroup$ Just posing as Devil's Advocate, but doesn't the OP's language and attempts at correcting the question make it clear their age is probably still fairly young, and as such, they may think the words "poop" or "shit" (the only words they may know for it) are inappropriate? In which case the majority of the language is deliberately attempting to write correct and appropriate English? I agree with what is said here but I think this might be a poor example. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ I've nothing against them saying poop, most would understand that I think - I featured that comment more for things like "cuz" and "icky" and the general wording such as "you know me n you is down" - people not familiar with slang types of English could get completely lost $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jan 13, 2016 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not of this domain, but in math.SE, we would choose to edit the question, and leave a small note in comments (probably a warning in next question if they repeat it) pointing the changes made in "favour" of them. But again, I guess people who "wryt lyk dis" will always haunt you, thanks to mobile phones and IMs! And if a comment like the one quoted at the end is made, I guess it will easily be reported as obsolete/not constructive soon in math.SE! (I was just passing by, this question caught my attention, fact that the same haunts me all over internet! :) ) $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2016 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the input, as a community we do a fair bit of editing on this sort of thing. I put this meta post here so we can have something to fall back on if we get a user that comes and keeps writing with slang etc. - then we can ask them to improve it and point to it being a community decision $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jan 15, 2016 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused as to what kind of force you're going to channel to make people comply. $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2016 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ Obviously we can't force someone to comply, having this post here just gives clarity and something to direct people to. Before if people were writing badly we had to try and convince them ourselves, now we at least have a fairly well up voted meta post as something that can represent the community and add more weight to requests. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jan 15, 2016 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


I think that there are 2 things going on here:

  1. the functional need for clarity in questions [tl;dr: GOOD],
  2. preference for a particular dialect of English (or level of formality!) in questions [tl;dr: BAD].

I strongly support (1) and believe that we should be opposed to (2). The question seems to have been taken down in the intervening years, but as far as I can tell you are not distinguishing these two things when you talk about "correct English". And I think that it is possible to write quite clearly in dialects of English that I don't speak that. Dialects of English can be mutually intelligible if people make the effort to communicate (i.e. clarity).

I agree to some extent that the quote from the question (about big vs. little logs) is a little hard to parse for me. But the quote from the comments ("Downvoters didnt study enough poop in school...") is perfectly comprehensible, even if it's not the way I would put it.

Maybe I'm forgetting something in the SE guidelines, but I see it as part of the mission for SE Biology (and other SE sites that use English as their language) to make an effort to answer comprehensible questions written in AAVE or Scots (though it's technically a different language) or the slang of that question/comment.

We all try hard enough to answer incomprehensible questions written in "correct" UK or US English, even though only a rather small minority of the English-speaking population uses these as a first language.

In this case I think that it's perfectly possible for us to ask in a comment "what do you mean when you say that you 'drop logs'?" in the same way that we might ask "what do you mean by 'protein interactions'?", if that were unclear (e.g. protein-protein vs. protein-DNA vs. whatever). We might feel un-hip or silly in the first case, but there's no real difference between the two.


I agree strongly with the poster, and, if I think the question is worth it, perhaps do more edits on the English than most users of SE Biology. I encourage other readings with sufficient standing to do likewise.

A recent edit of mine of this type, involving changing “how come?” to “why?”, was reverted by the OP as unnecessary, albeit with polite thanks. I therefore add a couple of reasons why I think this sort of editing is necessary in general. (All the points may not be particularly relevant to the particular example.)

  • Presentation of our Site: SE Biology is a serious scientific site for “biology researchers, academics, and students”. Unfortunately we are plagued by what I would call ‘drive-by killers’ asking questions of the type ”which animal has the longest penis“ and justifying their posts by saying that posing a question is a student of biology. The impression given by questions employing slang, lack of proper capitalization, and non-scientific terminology deter members of our actual constituency from taking the site seriously. In my opinion this is one reason that there is a shortage of academics willing to interact with us to answer questions.
  • Communication: Answers can only be provided to scientific questions that are clearly expressed. This requires the use of precise scientific terms, as well as the careful choice of the English used to describe the problem. Sloppy language has no place here is it frequently leads to sloppy thinking. On the basic level of communication, why use two words of slang — “How come” — instead of the standard English word, “Why”. Why? And this is especially important for non-native English speakers or those who do not communicate using text-messaging emojis.
  • Example & Aid: SE Biology and the science community in general involves a large number of people who are obliged to communicate in English, even though it is not their native language. The poster has focussed on correcting mistakes such people might make, but I think it is also important to help them by setting examples that they can follow. (Indeed this is also true of native-speakers who have been disadvantaged in their education.) It is common for neophytes in a field to pick up the worst habits of style they encounter, probably because uncommon words and slang expressions appear to be the secret language of the ‘club’ they wish to join. (A German colleague who had worked in the US once sent me a paper he was about to submit in which he employed the (invented) term “ballpark-wise” rather than the using the word “approximately” that he must have been taught in school.) Like it or not, anyone in academic science will be judged by their English. Providing bad examples is selling the disadvantaged short.

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