Adding questions to existing threads: effective?

EStjarn

Senior Member
Spanish
Hello,

I have a couple of queries regarding the practice of reopening an existing thread to ask a new question.

Are members encouraged to do so rather than to start a new thread if their questions are similar to already-asked questions?

Do reopened threads get as much member attention as new threads, or even half as much?



Let's say the answers to the above queries are, as I suppose, yes and no, respectively. Wouldn't that mean that the recommendation constituted a contradiction? Shouldn’t it be the other way around: that members were recommended not to reopen threads because of the limited attention reopened threads generally got?

I did a little research and here’s what I found:
.
Keeping in mind the limited amount of data, this applies to the EO forum; it may be relevant to other forums too.

I checked yesterday the threads whose most recent posts were sent between Oct. 22 - 28, 2013 (GMT +1:00 hour). There were altogether 862 threads.

Focusing on the 'red envolope' threads (that is, threads with more than 150 views or 15 posts), I picked out those that were originally started more than two months ago, regarding them as reopened threads. I found 43 such threads.

I learned that a thread is reopened for three reasons: to post a reply; to say thank you; and to ask a question. The frequencies were: replying 12, thanking 2, asking 29.

However, some of the "asking threads" were reopened not by regular members but by moderators merging old threads with new ones (a few of which had already received fresh answers). I noticed 5 of those.

So, in a week, about 24 threads were reopened by regular members asking a question.

Among those, I found 2 unanswered threads, that is, threads in which the added questions had received zero replies (for reference, 796419 and 1530108).

This was, admittedly, a lower ratio (2/24) than I had expected, yet significantly higher than that of unanswered new threads, of which I found zero (resulting in a ratio of 0/819, where 819 = 862-43).




(I notice there is, incidentally, a previous thread on this topic, asking questions in existing threads (47 posts), from 2007.)
 
Last edited:
  • Vanda

    Moderesa de Beagá
    Português/ Brasil
    Very interesting data! You gave me topic to think about. I do observe that when a forero makes a question in an old thread very few people woud read and reply to it, - in our forum.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    On the French forums, we expect people to search for the answer first (rule 1), and that includes checking the archives. If they find an existing discussion that would be a good location for their question, we prefer people to post in that thread. When someone starts a new thread instead, we routinely merge the new questions into an older discussions or close it with a note directing readers to the existing thread.

    I absolutely believe you that questions posted in existing threads may occasionally go unanswered or receive less attention (particularly in the first few minutes -- over a day or two, many of the earlier participants may come back and check the thread after receiving a notification of the new activity there). One reason a question in an existing thread may get overlooked is because that we have a number of people (members and mods) who are in the habit of sorting threads from the last day in ascending order by number of replies, so as to locate those threads which have not received answers and try to help out if they can. This method will miss follow-up questions in existing threads. Of course, anyone who notices a question that gone begging for more than 24 hours is more than welcome to report it to the mods (via the red triangle). We will usually bump it back up to the top of the forum or try to provide some sort of a reply to get the discussion going.

    I don't deny the frustration of having one's question be ignored... but then again, it is also extremely frustrating to have to sort through dozens of very similar threads when you're looking for information in the archives! :)
     
    Is it true that when a forero adds a new question/post to an old thread the old thread is likely to get fewer replies than a brand new thread? YES, especially if it's exactly the same question asked in the original thread.
    Why?
    Because it often happens that, especially when the threads have quite a few posts and the new question is very similar to the previous one, the correct answer was already given in the previous posts but the forero didn't read them thoroughly enough before adding his "new" question to the old thread. Senior members, on the contrary, read all the answers, realise that a good one was already provided and they either don't bother reposting the same answer again or just post something like "hey, did you read post # 5?" :)

    1 - Look for the answer first.
    Check the WordReference dictionaries (if available) and scroll down for a list of related threads; or use the forum's search function.

    Rule #1 doesn't simply say "Look for a thread about the same topic and tag your new question on the old thread", but it says "look for the answer first", that is, carefully read the thread first and then add your post only if you didn't find a helpful answer. :)
     

    Sowka

    Forera und Moderatorin
    German, Northern Germany
    Hello :)

    I absolutely believe you that questions posted in existing threads may occasionally go unanswered or receive less attention (particularly in the first few minutes -- over a day or two, many of the earlier participants may come back and check the thread after receiving a notification of the new activity there). One reason a question in an existing thread may get overlooked is because that we have a number of people (members and mods) who are in the habit of sorting threads from the last day in ascending order by number of replies, so as to locate those threads which have not received answers and try to help out if they can. This method will miss follow-up questions in existing threads.

    But I think this is to some extent compensated by people like me: I generally open threads "backwards", reading the most recent post first, and then moving to the top of the thread to read the entire discussion. So I would to some extent rely on the different reading habits of our forum members.

    Of course, anyone who notices a question that gone begging for more than 24 hours is more than welcome to report it to the mods (via the red triangle). We will usually bump it back up to the top of the forum or try to provide some sort of a reply to get the discussion going.
    I fully agree.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Thank you, everyone! :)
    On the French forums, we expect people to search for the answer first (rule 1), and that includes checking the archives. If they find an existing discussion that would be a good location for their question, we prefer people to post in that thread. When someone starts a new thread instead, we routinely merge the new questions into an older discussions or close it with a note directing readers to the existing thread.

    I would say that this is how it works in the EO forum too. Thank you for spelling it out because I don't think the forum rules say anything about adding new questions to existing threads; I'm not even sure the practice is implied in the rules.

    Before I begin my argument, I just want to say I am not questioning rule #1, to look for answers first, neither am I questioning the merging of new threads with old threads or the closing of threads and leaving a redirect note as done by moderators. I am only questioning the part in bold above.



    Let's say there are three stages in the life of a thread: it is created, it is developed, it functions independently.

    Simplified, the person behind the creation is the original poster, and the people behind the development are the repliers. When these stop posting, it is assumed that the thread has reached a maximum and that it may start functioning independently as a Q&A unit.

    Now, when members are asked to add a question to an existing thread, they are not given the status of original poster since there is no thread creation involved. From the list of threads, the new asker appears to be a replier. It is only by opening and reading the thread that we may learn that the member is in fact asking a question, not responding to it.

    Repliers are supposedly fond of the activity of developing threads. Their attention is, I'd say, first and foremost directed to threads that are under development, especially to the 'newborns'. Since existing threads have already reached a state of maturity, they will get limited replier attention.

    Do askers, repliers or even thread users gain from that a question gets limited member attention? I'd say no. None of them do. Everyone wants discussions that are as good as they can possibly get. When limiting the amount of attention directed to a question, we are also limiting its chances to be thoroughly discussed.

    Members who reopen threads to ask questions have apparently looked for answers first without finding them. The understanding should be that their queries are unique in some sense. On assumption that the usefulness of a language forum, as that of a dictionary, depends on the number of entries and the quality of those entries, that uniqueness should merit encouragement to initiate a fresh discussion, in my opinion.
     
    Last edited:
    Now, when members are asked to add a question to an existing thread, they are not given the status of original poster since there is no thread creation involved. From the list of threads, the new asker appears to be a replier. It is only by opening and reading the thread that we may learn that the member is in fact asking a question, not responding to it.

    Right and what's the problem with that? People should carefully open and read threads, not just try to guess what the actual content of the thread is or who may have posted a message. Foreros prefer to reply to valid questions, regardless of who asks them.
    If I want to learn how to translate "I love you" in Spanish, what difference does it make whether I'm the "asker" or, by tagging my question on an previous discussion, I'm simply a "replier"?
    It might make a little difference if I just wanted to have my translation proofread and I didn't care too much about anything else (but proofreading is not the scope of these forums ;))
    Repliers like the activity of developing threads. Their attention is, I'd say, first and foremost directed to threads that are under development, especially to the 'newborns'. Since existing threads have already reached a state of maturity, they will get limited replier attention.
    The real question is: Why "existing threads have already reached a state of maturity"? Maybe because the original question has already been answered satisfactorily? People stop posting in a thread when they think a good answer has been given, not when it has reached a certain number of posts :)
    When limiting the amount of attention directed to a question, we are also limiting its chances to be thoroughly discussed.
    Ultimately it's not the number of posts that limits the amount of attention a question gets, it's how interesting, well framed and fresh a question is that affects the number of replies it will get.
    Members who reopen threads to ask questions have apparently looked for answers first but without finding them. The understanding should be that their queries are unique in some sense. That uniqueness should merit encouragement to initiate a fresh discussion, in my opinion. After all, the greatness of a dictionary is dependent both on its number of entries and on the quality of those entries.
    Apparently..or let's say they should have.
    If a question is different from any previous ones, then it deserves its own thread and I think we all agree on that.
    Dozen of threads about exactly the same topic have negative repercussions on the quality of a dictionary. Having to browse through 20 threads with exactly the same title to find an answer is frustrating and put people off.
    So bottom line, what's fairer? Making ONE single user happy by letting them open the eighty-seventh "I love you ..." thread in the Spanish/English forum (Yes, there are already eighty six " I love you..." threads in the Spanish/English forum) or ask them to take a careful look at those eighty-six previous threads because it's very likely that their question has already been answered?
    The umpteenth thread about a done-to-death topic might benefit the "asker" (I'm not even too sure about that since it's not obvious that the new answers will be more accurate than those given in the previous threads) but at the same time wastes foreros' time (repeating the same things over and over again) and puts off thousands of people who search for the same topic and are faced with dozens of apparently identical threads.

    In my personal opinion the interest of millions of people who refer to the WR forums every year is more important than the interest of one single user :)
     
    Last edited:

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    You mean addding to an existing thread, rather than reopening it, which is what only moderators are capable of doing, right, Estjarn? If so, in my experience, if a forum member adds to an existing thread, the chances are that they will not receive an answer, just like I haven't many a time. Rules are rules, though, at least it keeps the forum neat and clean.

    <<Moderator's note:
    Thank you. The title has been changed from "reopening" to "adding". ;) >>
     
    Last edited by a moderator:
    If so, in my experience, if a forum member adds to an existing thread, the chances are that they will not receive an answer, just like I haven't many a time.

    And why do you think you didn't get any answers? Only because you tagged your question on a previous thread and therefore it passed unnoticed?

    Did you report it?
    No bumping. If nobody responds to your question, do not post again to simply request help – instead, post more information or context to help us to help you. If your question receives no reply, you can use the report-a-post
    report-40b.png
    icon in the bottom-left corner of your post to request moderator assistance
    .
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Admittedly, I did not report those posts, but it was nothing urgent, so no big loss. It's good to know that more can be done to elicit an answer, thanks, Paul, I didn't know about this.
     
    Among those, I found 2 unanswered threads, that is, threads in which the added questions had received zero replies (for reference, 796419 and 1530108).


    The fact those 2 threads received 0 replies doesn't mean that people ignored them, it merely means they didn't think it was worth posting a reply :)
    Your statistics would be more relevant if you could prove that people don't read long threads..You have only proved that people are less likely to reply to long threads, which in my opinion happens when, after having read them, they think a good answer has already been given.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Thanks for your input, Paul.

    From your comments in post #7, I realize I have not been entirely clear on one point: I am not against merging threads. What I am questioning is the preference for that regular members do it (so to speak).

    In my view, a thread should ideally be merged while a discussion is taking place or after it has blown over. But not before the discussion has even begun for the reasons given in post #6. And regular members can only do it before it has begun. (I realize it should be called 'appending' in that case, but the visual results of merging and appending are the same.)

    I believe that if moderators did the merging, askers, repliers and users would all benefit from that (as argued above). Naturally, I'm not suggesting a ban for regular members to do it. I'm just questioning the preference for that they do it.

    Also, one might suppose that if moderators handled the merging, the decisions about which discussions should be merged into which and whether they should be merged at all would become more consistent. (I have no evidence for that they are inconsistent presently.)

    I would not suggest this if I knew that every other thread needed to be merged. But, in line with the above data, I don't think that's the case. The number of threads to be merged would seem to be around 3-5 per day on average in a forum that handles about 150 threads per day. Thus I feel there is relatively little to gain from encouraging regular members to do that work compared to what is lost.
     
    Last edited:
    In my view, a thread should ideally be merged while a discussion is taking place or after it has blown over.
    What would be the point in merging the new thread with the old ones once it has blown over?
    Why having extremely large threads (if we merged all the duplicate threads about a recurring topic we'd end up having a few hundred-post long threads) if then we encourage people to ignore them and open new threads about that same topic? :)
    Merging all the threads after they have blown over is pointless.
    I believe people should not open threads about a done-to-death topic and, if they really can't find a suitable answer, they should add their question to one of the previous threads.
    Starting a new "How to say I love you" thread every week doesn't make any sense :)
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    The fact those 2 threads received 0 replies doesn't mean that people ignored them, it merely means they didn't think it was worth posting a reply.
    I agree it is likely that some members had a look at those threads; none of what I've said above is or is intended to be in disagreement with that. However, I don't think it is good form to advise members to post questions in existing threads and then not provide for that those questions get the same thorough treatment as questions in new threads. I cannot prove the unanswered threads weren't read as much as other threads; I can only point to the fact that all new threads received at least one reply, which seems to indicate something.
    What would be the point in merging the new thread with the old ones once it has blown over?
    I thought this was normal practice: that moderators, once they realized a thread might benefit from being merged with another, did so regardless of the intensity of the discussion at that point. Going back to the example data provided in the OP, there were five merged threads. For the first two - 284138 and 989967 - these are the relevant events:

    1. New thread opens at 3:09 PM. First reply in the form of link to previous thread at 3:15 PM. Threads merged at 8:44 PM.
    2. New thread opens at 11:19 AM. First reply at 12:30 PM, followed by five more posts, last one at 4:30 PM. Threads merged 33 hours later.
    Why having extremely large threads (if we merged all the duplicate threads about a recurring topic we'd end up having a few hundred-post long threads) if then we encourage people to ignore them and open new threads about that same topic?
    No one has suggested that having extremely large threads would be of use to anyone. Personally, I'm not fond of very long threads. However, I think sometimes merging threads is a reasonable moderator action, as is deleting threads.
     
    I can only point to the fact that all new threads received at least one reply, which seems to indicate something.
    It shows that people answer threads with no reply even when it's a done-to-death question.
    Why? Because they either don't know whether the forero who opened the new thread had checked the previous threads or they don't know whether there are previous threads on the same topic.
    I thought this was normal practice: that moderators, once they realized a thread might benefit from being merged with another, did so regardless of the intensity of the discussion at that point.
    Sometimes threads about the same topic are merged but it doesn't happen on a regular basis otherwise we wouldn't have so many duplicated threads.
    No one has suggested that having extremely large threads would be of use to anyone.
    No one did that, but that is exactly what would happen if we followed your suggestion, that is, if we allowed people to open as many threads as they wish about the same topic and then we merged them all once the threads have blown over :)
    We could decide not to merge duplicated threads but again, the unwanted consequence would be having dozens of different threads with an almost identical title and about the same topic.
     

    juandiego

    Senior Member
    Spanish from Spain
    Hi, all.

    When a user takes an old thread to add a new question related to the thread title and it gets no attention, I add "[NUEVA PREGUNTA]" (new question) at the end of the title, and a bump if necessary, and delete it after this new question is solved: it works most of the time.

    I think we should help people who bother to comply with rule 1 and don't open a new thread for a similar question. On the other hand, many times this new question deserves its own thread because some way or another it makes the original thread to digress.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    It shows that people answer threads with no reply even when it's a done-to-death question.
    Why? Because they either don't know whether the forero who opened the new thread had checked the previous threads or they don't know whether there are previous threads on the same topic.

    I would say that in the EO forum, when someone opens a new thread on a topic that has been discussed to excess, that thread is closed with a moderator note containing a link to previous relevant threads and, I think, a request that the member append their question to an existing thread if they can't find an answer. I would suppose that in 99% of those cases, the answer to the poster's question may be found among the exsting threads. However, if it can't be found, I still think it merits a new thread because if the question is appended to an existing thread, how are regular users or other members supposed to find the answer to that same question? The advanced search function. Yes, that would work. But I think that's stretching it. I think what's needed is a new thread whose thread title reflects the particular topic aspect that the member has come upon.

    To have eighty-seven threads all with the title 'How to say I love you in Spanish' would be useless. They should all have titles that reflected what was special with them. I would suppose perhaps 10 of those threads would survive a scrutiny, with some other 10 to 20 merged into them, while the rest would be deleted.
    No one did that, but that is exactly what would happen if we followed your suggestion, that is, if we allowed people to open as many threads as they wish about the same topic and then we merged them all once the threads have blown over.

    How can you say this is my suggestion, Paul? I would never suggest something so stupid. I don't like duplication more than anyone else. I think closing and deleting those threads (as described in the paragraphs above) is the correct thing to do. What I'm suggesting is that every question that touches upon an aspect of language that is unique should merit its own thread, and that the decision to merge that discussion with another thread should be left to moderators.

    The situation we're discussing here was noted six years ago (see linked thread at the end of the OP) when the size of WR was about a fifth of what it is now. It was seen (by some) as a problem then. I can imagine that when the WR forums were new the idea of appending similar questions to existing threads made all the sense in the world. But I don't think it's relevant anymore. What should be the focus, in my opinion, is to make clear, through the thread titles, what's specific about each thread so that it's easy to find answers to specific questions.

    I was recently involved in a project looking at comma use. There were some 800 threads in the EO forum containing the word 'comma' in their titles. When I looked through those, I realized what a wealth of information they constituted, but how little, in general, their thread titles were able to reflect that wealth.
     
    Last edited:
    Hi, all.

    When a user takes an old thread to add a new question related to the thread title and it gets no attention, I add "[NUEVA PREGUNTA]" (new question) at the end of the title, and a bump if necessary, and delete it after this new question is solved: it works most of the time.

    I think that adding "new question" in the title or in a post (some users do that themselves) has its pros and cons: while it's true that it draws attention to the thread and makes people aware there's a new question, it may also lead people to ignore the previous posts of the same thread which, in my experience, often contain pretty good answers.

    I would say that in the EO forum, when someone opens a new thread on a topic that has been discussed to excess, that thread is closed with a moderator note containing a link to previous relevant threads and, I think, a request that the member append their question to an existing thread if they can't find an answer. I would suppose that in 99% of those cases, the answer to the poster's question may be found among the exsting threads. However, if it can't be found, I still think it merits a new thread because if the question is appended to an existing thread, how are regular users or other members supposed to find the answer to that same question?
    That's exactly what happens in the En-IT forum too.
    The real challenge here is to be able to judge when a new question is specific enough to deserve a new thread or not. Different people will always see things differently and have different opinions :)
    I think closing and deleting those threads (as described in the paragraphs above) is the correct thing to do. What I'm suggesting is that every question that touches upon an aspect of language that is unique should merit its own thread, and that the decision to merge that discussion with another thread should be left to moderators.

    Right, let me see if I get what you mean: do you think people should be allowed to open as many threads as they wish about the same topic and then let moderators decide whether to eventually merge the new thread with an old one?
    If we adopted that modus operandi we would implicitly encourage people to ignore the rule #1. We'd end up with tons of duplicated threads every day, most of which would have to be deleted and removed from the forum at some point :)
     
    Last edited:

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Aside from the community considerations, there really are a few potential direct benefits for the member whose new question is hanging at the end of a thread, so to speak.

    1. I can refer to the other responses as I formulate my reply, and my answer will be better for it. The other contexts and responses focus my thinking, and I'm more likely to get the nuances just right.

    2. Similarly, I can point out to you how your context is similar to or different from the others. I might not be able to think of the perfect translation. Still, if I tell you that FranticGenius had the meaning right in 2008, but you really need a more formal/funny/ironic/idiomatic/metaphorical way to say the same thing, maybe you'll think of the perfect answer yourself. Or someone else will have a :idea: moment.

    3. I've been here a while. If you start a new thread about something I've seen before, I probably will not read your opening post very carefully. Instead, I'll search, post "Hi, did you see this one?," report the thread, and move on. And since you're one of the good guys, you'll answer yes, I did search, I saw that, it wasn't what I was looking for and here's why; and you'll be annoyed at me, and that's no fun. :eek:

    4. The people who answered the thread before are probably still subscribed to it. If they answered the first time, maybe they know more about it than the random members online while your thread is on the front page. Are you careful to only post questions while the native speakers living on the right continent are on line? Or maybe there's a doctor/engineer/lawyer/linguistic genius who knows a lot about your own field of interest. I'll bet that person doesn't read every new thread every day. But if he's like me, as soon as he logs on, he checks My Threads (subscribed threads). Whether from yesterday or from 2005, if there's something new and interesting at the end of one of those, he'll take a moment to read it and decide whether he has anything useful to add.
    ____
    Sometimes a new post really does deserve its own thread, even if the word has been discussed before. The phrasal verb is completely different from the verb in isolation, for example; or sometimes the issue is grammar in one context, vs. meaning in the other. If a new question doesn't really belong on that old thread, I report that, too. (A thread report doesn't always mean MemberX is in trouble!) I'll sometimes suggest titles for both the old and new threads to make the difference clear. And when I'm searching, I often report the first post in an old thread just to suggest a more specific title to facilitate later searches.
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Right, let me see if I get what you mean: do you think people should be allowed to open as many threads as they wish about the same topic and then let moderators decide whether to eventually merge the new thread with an old one? If we adopted that modus operandi we would implicitly encourage people to ignore the rule #1. We'd end up with tons of duplicated threads every day, most of which would have to be deleted and removed from the forum at some point

    As said in post #6, I am not questioning rule #1. In everything I've posted above, it is implied that that rule is observed. The specific situation I am addressing is when members, after having searched for the answers to their questions without finding satisfying answers, feel they are expected to add their questions to threads that almost seem to provide the information they seek. We're talking about 3-5 such threads per day in the EO forum, or less than 5% of the threads.

    I would say that members who bother to append their questions care more than the average member about abiding by the rules. I feel the forum owe those rule-abiding members the freedom to choose whichever they want of the two options - to append or to start a new thread - without implying that they're breaking a rule of sorts. As Kelly shows us, one can find several advantages with appending a question. What I'm asking is, in essence, that the expectation to do so be lifted. Then, if an appended question doesn't get any replies or gets less attention than new threads, no one and nothing will be to blame for that: not the repliers, not the moderators, not the rule.
     
    Last edited:

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Now, when members are asked to add a question to an existing thread, they are not given the status of original poster since there is no thread creation involved. From the list of threads, the new asker appears to be a replier. It is only by opening and reading the thread that we may learn that the member is in fact asking a question, not responding to it.
    Why would you not open and read the thread? I don't know about you, but I certainly am not psychic - it's only by opening the thread that I can find out that it's on old thread, and when I open a thread it's to read it, not just to look at the dates on posts. I usually don't even notice that it is an old, reopened thread unless someone specifically comments on the fact.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    What I am trying to express in that paragraph is that, in general, a new thread is a request for help. Repliers understand that someone is waiting for an answer when a new thread is started. In that sense, such threads carry a sense of urgency, which attracts extra attention. Older threads don't say that someone is waiting for an answer: by the looks of them, it would seem the threads had just received another reply or thank you note. In reality, they often have a question appended, and people are indeed waiting for answers in those cases too.
    I don't know about you, but I certainly am not psychic - it's only by opening the thread that I can find out that it's on old thread...
    One doesn't have to be psychic to know whether a thread is old without opening it. An old thread is almost always a hot thread (indicated by the red envelope); however, new threads (here understood to be less than two months old) may be hot too. The difference is the number of views in relation to number of replies. For example, new threads don't have 3 replies and 1,000 views. Finally, if you hover over the name of the original poster directly under the thread title, the date and hour of creation are displayed.
     
    Last edited:

    Sowka

    Forera und Moderatorin
    German, Northern Germany
    What I am trying to express in that paragraph is that, in general, a new thread is a request for help. Repliers understand that someone is waiting for an answer when a new thread is started. In that sense, such threads carry a sense of urgency, which attracts extra attention. Older threads don't say that someone is waiting for an answer: by the looks of them, it would seem the threads had just received another reply or thank you note. In reality, they often have a question appended, and people are indeed waiting for answers in those cases too.

    One doesn't have to be psychic to know whether a thread is old without opening it. An old thread is almost always a hot thread (indicated by the red envelope); however, new threads (here understood to be less than two months old) may be hot too. The difference is the number of views in relation to number of replies. For example, new threads don't have 3 replies and 1,000 views. Finally, if you hover over the name of the original poster directly under the thread title, the date and hour of creation are displayed.

    But this approach is based on the assumption that any reply is a good reply. So any additional reply would be superfluous.

    The conclusions I would draw from such a situation would be different: I would certainly open such an old thread with a new post to see what has been added. I may have participated in the thread and may have overlooked something while replying, and this new post may contain a correction that could prove helpful to me... or a new question. I would find this interesting anyway (and that's why I almost always read the most recent post of a thread first).

    In some cases, I may not reply to such a new question -- but this would then simply be because I don't know a good answer. I generally don't reply to threads that I don't (think I) know a good answer for, old or new.
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    But this approach is based on the assumption that any reply is a good reply. So any additional reply would be superfluous.

    I don't see how it can be based on that, Sowka. I don't even see it as an approach. It's an attempt at explaining why appended questions tend to, or seem to, get less attention than new questions. There's an enormous difference between regarding an old thread as, on the one hand, not imbued with an equally strong sense of urgency as a new thread and, on the other, complete just because someone has posted on it. The latter would be absurd.
    The conclusions I would draw from such a situation would be different: I would certainly open such an old thread with a new post to see what has been added.

    It would seem you're suggesting that I'm saying this should not be done or that it is not done. What I'm asking in the OP is whether older threads get as much - or even half as much - replier attention as new ones do. I am not suggesting they don't get any replier attention at all. At a minimum, they do get the attention of the members who developed the thread to its present state.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    What I'm asking in the OP is whether older threads get as much - or even half as much - replier attention as new ones do.
    Well, then the answer to your question is quite straightforward. You have surely guessed it already: nobody knows.

    In order to compare the "replier attention" new threads receive with that bestowed on questions appended to older threads, we would need some sort of quantitative metric. Constructing a meaningful one is no easy task; we certainly don't have one at present. So the statistics to support or refute your suspicions simply aren't available.

    As highlighted in the posts above, even direct observation (such as the impressive project you undertook for a small subset of threads on the EO forum) generates results that are difficult to interpret. And as you discovered, the process is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and probably a little bit subjective... not to mention that the numerical results themselves could depend on the day of the week, the length of the time window observed, the forum in question, etc.

    It would seem you're suggesting that I'm saying this should not be done or that it is not done.
    Well post #1 above did seem to imply that you feel there is something unsatisfactory about the current system, and furthermore that something ought to be done about it. If this is not the case, then that explains why you have submitted for debate neither a clear statement of the problem as you see it nor a suggestion to remedy the perceived shortcoming. In which case, I confess I'm not sure what we're all discussing here. :p
     
    Last edited:

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    One doesn't have to be psychic to know whether a thread is old without opening it. An old thread is almost always a hot thread (indicated by the red envelope); however, new threads (here understood to be less than two months old) may be hot too. The difference is the number of views in relation to number of replies. For example, new threads don't have 3 replies and 1,000 views. Finally, if you hover over the name of the original poster directly under the thread title, the date and hour of creation are displayed.
    Ah. I don't pay attention to any of that stuff - I just open the forum and start at the top of the list, reading each thread and then continuing to the next....
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Well post #1 above did seem to imply that you feel there is something unsatisfactory about the current system, and furthermore that something ought to be done about it.

    This is exactly right. However, it would be very wrong to suggest that I am recommending members to not open old threads or that I have suggested that members do not at all read old threads. The data in the OP shows that, for that specific week, 22 out of 24 old theads with appended questions received answers; some of them even sparked discussions.
    If this is not the case, then that explains why you have submitted for debate neither a clear statement of the problem as you see it nor a suggestion to remedy the perceived shortcoming.

    The question has all along been (cf. the thread title): Is the system of appending questions as a matter of course effective? I am proposing it's not as effective as that of asking questions in new threads. And I'm suggesting as a remedy that the recommendation / expectation / requirement (it's unclear what it actually is as it's not stated in the forum rules) to append questions be abolished or, if that would seem too drastic a measure, temporarily revoked for a period of time (say 3-6 months) to see what will happen.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    But why?
    If you could show that opening a new question offers a significant advantage to you over appending that question to an existing thread, I'd be sympathetic to that position. But I'm skeptical that this is the case.

    In the absence of that demonstrated advantage, the interests of the community must take precedence. I'm a frequent user who does not ask a lot of questions, and there are many members like me. There are also huge numbers of guests who use the site exclusively for searches without posting at all; and even if they do not add to our store of knowledge, their clicks help pay the bills through advertising income. The statistics as I'm writing this post:
    There are currently 28049 users online. 239 members and 27810 guests.
    Members like me, and those guests, have a very strong interest in making forum searches as easy and efficient as possible. It is very important to us that we do not have to plow through dozens of threads with the same title. Important enough that I take the time to write thread reports, and important enough that dozens of volunteer moderators take the time to handle those reports on top of the work they already do behind the scenes.

    I believe it would be a mistake to make searches harder for me, and for 25,000+ other people, in order to see whether it makes it easier for someone to get a new question answered when a similar discussion already exists.
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I believe it would be a mistake to make searches harder for me, and for 25,000+ other people, in order to see whether it makes it easier for someone to get a new question answered when a similar discussion already exists.

    To me, if the original post of an existing thread, especially its topic sentence, can be used to ask a question, it makes sense to advise members to ask in that thread to avoid duplication. If not, keeping in mind the pros and cons with each alternative, I feel it should be left to the asking member to make the decision of whether to append or start a new thread.

    Once a thread title can reflect an aspect of language that has, by the looks of other thread titles, not been touched upon before, it helps people in their search for information. If we hide that particular aspect in a thread that treats a somewhat different aspect, we will make it more difficult for users to find that information, not easier.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Here are the existing threads for a challenging phrase to translate: http://www.wordreference.com/fren/forumtitles/prise+en+charge

    Almost any context you could imagine is covered somewhere in that list. As a forum member, I DO NOT WANT that list to get longer, because it is already hard enough to find the right threads.

    Now imagine for a moment that you are a moderator, and you get a note from me begging you to try to clean up that mess for the benefit of future searchers. You've got to read all of them, remove the useless ones, merge the ones with common keywords/contexts, rename the ones with titles that don't tell you anything, etc. It's a daunting task, and it's unreasonable to expect it to happen for every tricky phrase in the database. As users, we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to keep it simple in the first place.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    In the absence of that demonstrated advantage, the interests of the community must take precedence.
    There seems to be a misunderstanding of my intentions here. I am not proposing that the interests of a single poster should have precedence over those of thousands of users. No way! The idea is that the entire community would gain from the change: the asker (more attention means more replies; more replies may trigger more interesting discussions), the repliers (who love to discuss, not just provide answers), the readers (who love interesting discussions). The only group that may not gain from, or rather, that'd be burdened by the arrangement would be the moderators. But if we're talking 3-4 extra threads per day to be considered for merging in a forum with twice that number of moderators, the extra burden, I would hope, might be seen as acceptable providing there really is a communal benefit to the arrangement.
    It is very important to us that we do not have to plow through dozens of threads with the same title.
    I am in total agreement with you here. But to me it represents a different problem since I don't see my proposition as a green light for starting threads on aspects of language that have already been discussed. I am against that. However, as your link shows, even with the existing system, we don't get around this problem. I would suggest that giving the few who append their questions to existing threads the freedom to choose between the alternatives would not by itself notably increase the number of threads with identical titles.
    Here are the existing threads for a challenging phrase to translate: [...] As a forum member, I DO NOT WANT that list to get longer, because it is already hard enough to find the right threads.
    I understand your reaction. I checked the list: it consists of 108 threads. (I know you're using it as an example, but so am I.) From experience I can say that that would represent a neat [sic] number of threads to examine in order to, as you say, clean up a mess for the benefit of future searchers, that is, as a regular member who takes a special interest in the topic rather than as a moderator responding to a member request, providing, of course, that moderators have agreed to do the actual changes.
    Now imagine for a moment that you are a moderator, and you get a note from me begging you to try to clean up that mess for the benefit of future searchers. You've got to read all of them, remove the useless ones, merge the ones with common keywords/contexts, rename the ones with titles that don't tell you anything, etc. It's a daunting task, and it's unreasonable to expect it to happen for every tricky phrase in the database.
    To a moderator getting a request of that sort, I would imagine it to be a daunting task, considering everything else that is on their plate. But to a regular member who has a genuine interest in questions regarding language, perhaps especially in the topic at hand, I would say that the task of suggesting changes of thread title, threads to be merged and threads to be deleted is not daunting (providing the number of threads is not too great), but potentially interesting.
    As users, we owe it to ourselves and everyone else to keep it simple in the first place.
    Agreed: to keep it simple. But what is simple here? To have fewer, longer threads that contain several different aspects of a certain topic, or to have several shorter threads, each one specializing on a particular aspect? To me, a large number of threads is not a problem but an asset, as long as the uniqueness of each thread can be determined from its thread title. When it can't, I agree it's a problem.
     
    Last edited:
    To me, a large number of threads is not a problem but an asset, as long as the uniqueness of each thread can be determined from its thread title. When it can't, I agree it's a problem.

    I agree with you that thread titles should always be relevant and indicative of the content/topic of the discussion and therefore a long list of "prise en charge" threads is pointless, however it all depends on why there are so many threads with the same identical title.
    Do those threads deal with exactly the same topic?
    If so, then there was no need to create so many duplicates of the original thread in the first place and all the following questions should have been asked (if necessary) in the original thread.
    If the topic isn't the same, then every new question deserves a new thread and its title must reflect the difference from the previous questions.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Case in point:

    The other day a member appended a question to an existing EO forum thread, started in 2009. The original title was "penny drops/light bulb moment," and the original question was, first, whether AmE had adopted the (BE) expression "the penny dropped" and, second, what other expressions there were that conveyed the same meaning, where "light bulb moment" was given as one such expression the member was familiar with. The thread received 2 replies, both of which answered the second question, but not the first.

    The appended question, then, was, first, what the definition of the expression "here the penny drops" was and, second, whether it was used in AmE. After some posting, one member recognized the expression as "hear the penny drop," upon which the meanings of "the penny dropped" and "heard the penny drop" were found to be related but (usually) somewhat different.

    A report-post message was sent with a suggestion to include the expression "hear the penny drop" in the thread title or to split the thread. In line with the ruling system, the appended discussion was kept, and the title was changed to:
    .
    "here the penny drops [hear the penny drop] / light bulb moment"
    .
    If we analyze this, we find, first, that the original title was unclear. It should have read something like: "Has the expression 'the penny dropped' been adopted in AmE?" or (since there were no answers to that query) "alternative ways of saying 'the penny dropped'" That would have described what the thread was about originally. Let's say we had made that change so that the thread had either of those two titles. That would mean that the title with the appended discussion would look something like:
    .
    "alternative ways of saying 'the penny dropped'; here the penny drops [hear the penny drop]"
    .
    A somewhat long and slightly confusing title, but it would in fact describe the thread content.

    Now, let's look ahead, say ten years, and people continue to add questions that are similar to the ones already asked in the thread, and the title keeps growing:
    .
    "alternative ways of saying 'the penny dropped'; here the penny drops [hear the penny drop]; 'the penny dropped' adopted in AmE?; 'hear the penny drop" in formal language?"
    .
    Or more terse:
    .
    "the penny dropped [alternatives, adopted in AmE?]; here the penny drops [hear the penny drop; formal?]"
    .
    What if someone reactivates a complex thread like that to discuss one of its subtopics, say the second, but not the others, and then a while later it is reactivated again, and the discussion is about the fourth subtopic?

    And how attractive are titles like that to especially non-member users?

    We all want simplicity. But I think we can agree that this is not what simple looks like.
     
    You have chosen a very specific thread to back up your point of view. While you may well be right about this specific example, it is statistically not significant.
    It'd be like asking Nike to market basketball shoes size 18 only because Yao Ming takes basketball shoes size 18 :)
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    You have chosen a very specific thread to back up your point of view. While you may well be right about this specific example, it is statistically not significant.

    I have chosen an example that illustrates the situation I'm questioning. It's not meant to be representative in any other aspect than that.

    I'm in agreement with everything you say in post #32. Because of that, it would seem we want, basically, the same thing.

    I would suggest the following:

    If a question can be appended to an existing thread without causing a need to change the thread title, then appending is the recommendable course of action. In other cases not.
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    If you could show that opening a new question offers a significant advantage to you over appending that question to an existing thread, I'd be sympathetic to that position.

    I will give this another try. However, I will continue to limit the study to the EO forum since it is the only WR forum I am well acquainted with, hoping the results will be recognizable in other forums too.

    In no way should my findings or subjective comments be taken as criticism of the work of the EO forum moderators, but only as a questioning of the practice of expecting members to append queries to existing threads.

    The examination refers to reactivated 'red' threads to which members have appended questions, the most recent posts of which were dated 9 November (GMT +1:00 hour), that is, yesterday's date. There were 11 such threads.
    .

    1. will/would => Will that be OK? or Would that be OK?

    The original question is about the difference between 'will' and 'would' in There's a daily flight at 10am. Will/Would that be OK? The discussion consists of 8 posts with 2 repliers contributing.

    The appended question is, primarily, about the difference between 'will' and 'would' in How about going to Cornwall for the weekeend? That will/would be nice. - At some point the thread title is changed from "will/would" to "Will that be OK? or Would that be OK?" The discussion consists of 14 posts and 2 repliers contribute.​

    Comment: The original thread title was too broad. The new title reflects the topic of the original discussion but not that of the new: "that will/would be nice." I don't think a moderator would have merged these two discussions had they been separate to begin with. In my opinion, these discussions, similar as they may be, belong in different threads.

    Appending vs. New thread: 0 - 1.


    2. on a trip?

    It originally discusses whether the sentence "He is on a trip this week" correctly conveys the meaning that he's away all week on a business trip. Someone suggests the sentence could refer to being high on hallucinogens. 14 posts, 6 repliers.

    This thread has two appended questions. The first, from february 2013, is whether "He must be tripping out on shrooms" could be regarded as idiomatic English in a specific, provided context. 5 posts, 2 replies.

    The second, posted the other day, is whether 'power tripping' can act as an adjective for someone who enjoys pulling rank, as in "He's a power tripping manager who has his workers doing demeaning tasks for his pure pleasure." 1 post, 0 replies.

    Comment: Again, the thread title is unspecific, this time attracting questions that are extremely varied. I would say there's not a chance that, left to the decision of moderators, the above three discussions would end up in the same thread. Also, note that the latest appended post has not got a single reply.

    Appending vs. New thread: 0 - 2.


    3. Terse vs curt?

    The original discussion is about the connotations of the adjectives 'terse' and 'curt'. There is no topic sentence. 4 posts, 2 repliers.

    The appended question asks whether the difference between the adjectives indicated in the above discussion also hold true for a nod? E.g. They gave a curt/terse nod. 5 posts, 3 repliers.

    Comment: Here, I would say, appending a question makes sense. It expands the somewhat diffuse original discussion by providing a sentence. Also, its question refers directly to what has been said earlier in the thread.

    Appending vs. New thread: 1 - 2.


    4. Hiya

    Original question: What's your understanding of this word "Hiya"? Do you hear men use it as well? 31 posts, 21 repliers.

    Merged discussion: Do you agree that the use of "Hiya" is confined to the UK and is mainly used by female speakers? 12 posts, 7 repliers.

    Appended question: Is this British "Hiya" borrowed from the US and did it appear on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time? 3 posts, 1 replier.

    Comment: I agree that the merging and the appending make sense here. People looking for information on this particular word probably want the whole package, so to speak. (There are only two threads in the EO forum that include the word 'hiya'.)

    Appending vs. New thread: 2 - 2.


    5. Rub out / wipe out / wipe off

    Original question: Which of these expressions is suitable to use if you want to ask a student to remove something from a wthiteboard? Rub out/wipe out/wipe off the wrong word, please. 8 posts, 5 repliers.

    Appended question: I also want to know how Americans say that: Rub the whiteboard off, wipe it out, erase it, clean the board, or what? 5 posts, 2 repliers.

    Comment: Yes, appending is fine. The asker is referring directly to what has been asked earlier.

    Appending vs. New thread: 3 - 2.


    6. Open your books on, to page ...?

    Original question: I would like to know what to say if I want someone to open the book on a certain page: Open your book on/to page... 18 posts, 7 repliers.

    Appended question 1 (2009): Which of these two sentences is correct? Please, open page 3 of/to your book. 6 posts, 4 repliers.

    Appended question 2 (2012): British English speakers still say, "Turn to page 3 of [not 'at'] your book," right? 2 posts, 1 replier.

    Appended question 3 (the other day): Why does everyone say that "open your books on page 80" is a mistake? 4 posts, 2 repliers.

    Comment: Yes, the most recent appended question is fine. The other two I feel are more questionable. At any rate, the thread title does not reflect their specific focuses.

    Appending vs. New thread: 3 - 2. (No alternative gets a point here; it's a tie.)


    7. 1st and 2d conditionals

    Original question: My question is about the possibility of mixing the 1st and the 2d conditional. If it rains tomorrow, what would you do? 2 posts, 1 replier.

    Appended question: Can we use 'could' in 1st conditional? (No topic sentence.) 3 posts, 2 repliers.

    Comment: The thread title does not reflect what's specific about the original discussion. I doubt a moderator would merge these two discussions. The new question does not build on what has been said previously. I'd say it does not add anything to the (thin) original discussion.

    Appending vs. New thread: 3 - 3.


    8. Draw lots

    Original question: Is this properly expressed? I'll draw lots for a little something among those who guess the answer correctly. 5 posts, 1 replier.

    Appended question: Please clarify 'drew lots' in Zeus and his brothers drew lots for their share of the universe. 3 posts, 1 replier.

    Comment: Appending is fine here. It's like in the case of 'Hiya'. It's such a specific phrase.

    Appending vs. New thread: 4 - 3.


    9. will or would

    Original question: Which verb form should I use: Although I will/would certainly accommodate whatever schedule will/would work best for the firm. 6 posts, 3 repliers.

    Appended question: In She said we would be getting our letters soon, 'would' is fine because it's indirect speech, right? And in We will get our letters soon, is 'will' the proper choice? 1 post, 0 replies.

    Comment: I don't think a moderator would choose to merge these discussions. Although they both discuss 'will' vs. 'would' they do so from different points of view. It's not really the member's fault (again) because the thread title suggests that any sort of discussion on 'will' vs. 'would' would be appropriate in this thread.

    Appending vs. New thread: 4 - 4.


    10. Is "do a bunk" used in American English at all?

    Original question: Is ’do a bunk’ used in AmE? Robbie, the housekeeper's son, whose father did a bunk twenty years ago. 8 posts, 5 repliers.

    Appended question: Is "haul ass" a corresponding expression for "do a bunk" in American English? 3 posts, 1 replier.

    Comment: Either alternative - appending or starting a new thread ("do a bunk vs. haul ass") could be argued as being the more preferable.

    Appending vs. New thread: 4 - 4. (No alternative gets a point here; it's a tie.)


    11. Jhon isn't coming / Jhon's not coming

    Original question: Difference in terms of grammar and stress in Jhon isn't coming vs. Jhon's not coming. 6 posts, 3 repliers.

    Appended question: Is the spelling "Jhon" correct? 2 posts, 1 replier.

    Comment: It can be argued either way that the appended question should have its own thread or be appended.

    Appending vs. New thread: 4 - 4. (No alternative gets a point here; it's a tie.)


    Comments summary:

    In some cases, either appending or creating a new thread can be motivated (cf. 10, 11).

    Appending makes sense when a topic is unusual or well-defined (cf. 4, 8). It also makes sense in the cases where the appended question builds on the original question (cf. 3, 5).

    In other cases, appending tends to decrease searchability and may even create disorder (cf. 1, 2, 7, 9).

     
    Last edited:

    eno2

    Senior Member
    Dutch-Flemish
    Hello,
    I have to admit I'm frequently unsure whether to open a new thread or use an old one for a consultation. Personally I don't like to open new threads for a word or an expression that has already one or more with the same title. I try to avoid being redirected to existing threads and/or being deleted.

    On the other hand, in making a new consultation to an existing thread, you automatically add a new context… And some moderators seem to resent that.

    So what shall it be? I thought the priority was: avoiding needlessly opening new threads. And give priority therefore to reviving old ones. As for now: I prefer getting rebuked in an old thread in such cases before I open a new one…
    Greets
     
    Top