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How should a new user posting a lot of low-quality answers be handled?

I think that the quality of most of the answers is not low enough to call for a flag on its own. In most cases they are an attempt to help the asker. However, the typesetting and language is horrible.

How should I try to convince the poster to learn how to use the typesetting features of the site and also take answering "more seriously"? By commenting? By downvoting? By flagging?

Since the user has posted quite a lot of answers during the last two days, and doesn't seem to react to comments, what would be the most effective way to get the point across?

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    $\begingroup$ No, specific-user would not be appropriate here. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Oct 5 '13 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber Ok, I removed the tag. Feel free to add any tag that's fits better (if any). $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Oct 5 '13 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ "convince the poster to learn how to use the typesetting features of the site" why should they have to, and what does that have to do with their attitude towards answering? They're not able to understand it. I find it rude that you assume everyone is capable. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Mar 8 '16 at 19:57
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A custom flag explaining the situation seems like a good idea when other initiatives are continually not taken up by the poster. Perhaps a note from a moderator is more effective than comments by regular users.

Commenting on the answers is important as well; highly upvoted comments can indicate community opinion and may provide some "peer pressure" to improve typesetting.

Downvoting is a bit more itchy, but it could be justified if the typesetting obscures what the post is saying to the extent of depriving it from (almost) all usefulness.

A more time intensive option would be to simply edit the answers yourself (lead by example, so to say), if the poster didn't respond to calls for improvement in the comments. This is actually encouraged on SE as a whole, but on MSE we seem to be more reluctant; if someone is willing to invest the time to salvage the answer (after deciding, on a case-by-case basis, if the underlying argument is worth it, compared to other answers, etc.) this could be an option.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. Since other people have tried to reach the user to no avail, I just raised a custom flag with a link to this thread. Time will tell if it works! $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Oct 4 '13 at 11:19
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First off, you assume that they don't "take answering seriously". Not everyone who is going to use the site is going to understand the typesetting or even be capable of learning it. I don't think it is appropriate to get a moderator involved if the only issue is writing style and mathjax. It seems more like an issue of editing the post, to me. And why should it matter? Are the answers helping people? Are the answers correct?

I do not see why a person is obligated to respond to complaints regarding mathjax and things. We require people to use it answering and asking yet we never consider the possibility that someone just isn't capable.

Also, I find it incredibly rude to say a user needs to take answering "more seriously". You assume the person is lazy or trying to cause trouble when for all you know that is all the person is capable of and they are putting forth their best effort. I honestly find that statement ridiculous.

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  • $\begingroup$ Writing a readable answer is important - if the style and lack of formatting is so serious that it's difficult or impossible to read the answer, it is not a good answer. Mathjax is not required for anything, but having a readable answer is important; answers that are low-quality should be at least commented on to encourage the author to take the formatting a bit more seriously. $\endgroup$ – T. Bongers Mar 8 '16 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but my issue here is that the author assumes a person is lazy because they don't use mathjax. /That/ is my issue. A person merely having an unreadable or bad answer is a completely different issue, and mathjax will not help in that case. Also, mathjax isn't really a large issue as it's something a person could easily fix through a minor edit. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Mar 8 '16 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ If an author has the attitude that "I can write with bad formatting because someone will come along and edit it later," that's a problem. You're also reading a lot into the original question: Saying that someone should take answering more seriously is very different from saying that the author is lazy. $\endgroup$ – T. Bongers Mar 8 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ I never said that the person should have an attitude of that sort. I'm saying that not everyone is capable of writing mathjax and that is rude to assume that someone is even /capable/ of using it. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Mar 8 '16 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, that was actually a small subset of what you were saying. Moreover, the original question never even mentions mathjax - and I haven't really ever seen someone who posts high-quality answers here yet was incapable of learning some basic formatting and mathjax. Your premise is quite strange. $\endgroup$ – T. Bongers Mar 8 '16 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ "How should I try to convince the poster to learn how to use the typesetting features of the site and also take answering "more seriously"? By commenting? By downvoting? By flagging?" He's implying the issue boils entirely down to typesetting which is why I'm saying he assumes the person is capable. It's also in my opinion a trivial matter and not something I would want to waste moderators time on when a simple edit fixes it. The answer was readable and usable. Mathjax doesn't really help on that other than to make it look pretty (and help text to audio systems). $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Mar 8 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ When a user has a lengthy history of writing low-quality answers without engaging with commenters or other users, that is an issue; the question is not about "a user wrote one badly formatted question - how do I get a moderator involved." When a user's actions require a significant amount of cleanup by other users of the site, this needs to be resolved. $\endgroup$ – T. Bongers Mar 8 '16 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ If I recall correctly the user in question posted 10-15 answers a day (maybe less but probably more) most of which were either in barely readable plaintext or, much worse, a bad scan of a handwritten paper. They were pretty much beyond salvage, so it wasn't the standard edit job to fix them. It was quite clear that the posts were not made in bad faith, which is why I and many others tried to reach out to them. This went on for a couple of weeks without any signs of change, which is why I posted this question. $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Mar 8 '16 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ And, for what it's worth, the flag made things change to the better. If that was because of moderator intervention or due to other things I will never know, but the user did continue to post answers, but with very much higher quality. $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Mar 8 '16 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ ok well the way you phrased it made me believe that you were targeting someone as lazy or uncaring for not using mathjax, which you have to admit is pretty trivial. I will say though, what level of idiocy compels one to use a picture of a paper as an answer? $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Mar 8 '16 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck I find it terribly interesting that you complain about the original author being rude after reading between lines that weren't there, yet feel it's perfectly ok to imply that someone who posts an answer consisting of a picture of their paper is an idiot. $\endgroup$ – T. Bongers Mar 8 '16 at 21:22

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