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Lately, I have been noticing many comments given by the "user" Community to low effort questions. In particular, the comment is worded as:

Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

See this question for example.

Now, I fully support the idea of quality standard enforcement, and agree that questions like the one I linked (and all other questions that I saw the comment on) are questions that indeed need improving before they are answered.


That said, I think the wording of the automatic comment is only useful if the user posting the question has some experience on this site.

For first time user, I think the wording is somewhat lacking and will only annoy, confuse and possibly anger first time users. For example, take a look at the linked question above. Imagine you are a first time user, and you get the comment. The comment says "it is hard to tell exactly what you're asking". But, says the first time user, how is it hard to tell? I am asking about the limit and how to calculate it. How much more can I clarify my specific problem? The problem is "calculate this limit". Why is Community telling me this is "not clear"?.

Also, even if the user figures out what is wrong with their question, they are likely to add additional information about the question into the comment instead of editing it. This is why, when I hit upon a question like the linked one, and the user is a first time poster, my default comment is the following:

Hi and welcome to the site! Since this is a site that encourages and helps with learning, it is best if you show your own ideas and efforts in solving the question. Can you edit your question to add your thoughts and ideas about it? Don't worry if it's wrong - that's what we're here for. Here's a quick guide: How to ask a good question.

which I think is much less likely to confuse a first time poster. I am not saying it is perfect, but I do suggest that the text of the automated Community reply be modified to:

  1. Explain what exactly the problem is (i.e., usually, the problem is that the question is a problem-statement question and the OP has not shown their own attempts at solving the problem)
  2. Guide the user to the "How to ask a good question" page.
  3. Specifically use the verb "edit" so the OP is encouraged to edit the question instead of adding additional details in the comments.

Do you agree? Why and why not?

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    $\begingroup$ Let me also add that moderators (as of right now) cannot delete these comments either. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 3 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ At present these “canned comments” are identical for all sites. A request to make them configurable per site is currently under review. $\endgroup$
    – Martin R
    Sep 3 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with everything here, except: I'm not a fan of the "How to ask a good question" page. It is not a "quick guide", and looking at it now there are a million distracting comments (it too must annoy, confuse and possibly anger some new users!). But maybe that's a discussion for another day. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Sep 3 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 It's not the best, but I think that at least the titles are quite useful. $\endgroup$
    – 5xum
    Sep 3 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ I would also like to point out that I have come across these comments by Community out in the wild three times now (I'm sure if I go through Community's comment history I can find loads more), and none of those questions have actually been very unclear. It has been pretty immediate exactly what the poster is asking. There have been other issues, like lack of context, or question duplication. But clarity has not been one of them. $\endgroup$
    – Arthur
    Sep 3 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: What a big joke! $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Sep 3 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Whenever I see "...provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking". I think of the line from HHGTTG, "We demand clear-cut lines of indecision". $\endgroup$ Sep 3 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ The most comical context for these comments is PSQs , literally the body reads "evaluate $\int 4xdx$" and someone tells you "....it's hard to tell exactly what..." ahaha, right then! No, just kidding, but, seriously...??!! If I were a new user, I'd probably react like this. The funniest response I've seen to this comment from a new user so far(on a PSQ) is : "I'm asking for an answer to my question" Hahaha, now THAT was useful information! Ok , a bit more serious , but we've got to stop this message template stuff, it's just not working. Step in and type a comment yourself, please! $\endgroup$ Sep 3 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ I so , so , so much more prefer your comment to the Community-created comments, though. A welcome, a request to edit the question, a link to HTAaGQ (?!). On occasion (for example, post-closure, heavily downvoted etc.) you may want to add a sentence about what the occasion itself (you're getting downvoted b/c ..., posts that get closed reopen after getting improved, you can use ... or read up ... as well, then make an attempt and add this to your question). Something mathematically relevant to the question can be added as well (helpful references, directions of approach etc.) $\endgroup$ Sep 3 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder what happens when I flag those comments as, say, no longer needed. Will the flag be declined no matter how? @AsafKaragila $\endgroup$ Sep 4 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila According to Yaakov, mods can now delete those Community comments. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/369013/… $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 4 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Consider adding your default comment to List of comment templates, it's a good one $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    Sep 5 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ The same problem persists as badly on Chem.SE as well $\endgroup$
    – TRC
    Sep 5 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ Awesome, awesome post. I definitely had all of the problems you mentioned when I was a first time user. The norms of this community just aren't at all what first-timers are expecting them to be. (Though I will say, SEM is not nearly as bad in this vein as a lot of other SE communities.) More attitudes like yours are sorely needed around here. $\endgroup$
    – Josh Abel
    Sep 8 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @PM 2Ring: Another "hilarious" aspect of this new feature: comments asking for code on sites where that's irrelevant. --- Here's an example that showed up in Academia Stack Exchange the same day you made your comment here (which I only saw a few moments ago, because I only visit mathematics-meta every one to several weeks). $\endgroup$ Sep 8 at 19:52
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Update

As of September 8th, 2021, many of the original review actions added back to the new review queues, including voting on the post or comments, flagging, and commenting, accompanied by the button "other action" to complete the review.


Original answer

As you are probably aware, this change is due to the latest changes in the review process. I'll first try to explain how this new system forces reviewers to leave these often irrelevant comments, and then say what I think must be done to improve the situation.

By my reckoning, the reviewer who left those comments (i.e. the person behind the Community♦ user) did so because this is the only way you can "complete" a review. Previously, if I recall correctly, in the review process for first questions and first answers, there were two options to finish the review and move on to the next one, "nothing to do" for when the question/answer is fine as is, and "I'm done" for when you're done performing some kind of "review actions". Review actions in the old review queue include voting on the post, voting on existing comments, commenting, editing, and flagging. Doing any of these will activate the "I'm done" button, but you can perform all the review actions you feel necessary before clicking on the button to finish.

In the new first questions queue, the "I'm done" option is gone, and in order to complete the review, you have to choose from three options, "looks good", "edit", or "share feedback". This means that if the question is not up to the standards of Math.SE, you'll need to either edit it, or "share feedback", while flagging, voting, and voting on comments are no longer "review actions", making it impossible to complete a review with these actions. In other words, even if you voted or flagged, the review system would behave as if you've done nothing, forcing you to choose one of the set options, or skip. Moreover, the only way a comment can complete a review is through the "share feedback" button, and you have to choose between the canned feedbacks. A custom comment made under your own user name is also treated as if you've done nothing. Also noteworthy is that you can only perform one review action at a time, so if you edited a question, you cannot also share a canned feedback.

Thus reviewers are presented with a dilemma (cue the sweating in front of two big red buttons meme), when reviewing a question that needs more work do they follow the new SE procedure, or do they try to improve the question following Math.SE conventions? If they choose to stick to the workflow of the new review queue and the best action in their opinion isn't provided, besides flagging/voting/commenting or doing whatever they see fit anyway, they would also have to either (1) make edits (which doesn't address questions that lack context, since only the OP is able to provide it), (2) leave canned feedback (which can be irrelevant as you pointed out), or (3) click "looks okay" (but the question is decidedly not okay, and now this might skew whatever metrics SE uses to decide on the quality of contributions). Right now the two workflows are in conflict, and so far, the only way I've found to kind of follow both is to review as I would in the old review queue system, then skip the question. Note that this is an imperfect solution (as is not doing reviews at all) to the problem you raised, because if a review is skipped, it will just move on to the next person who might take one of the more imperfect options.

Note that this problem may be resolved soon, because after many bug reports and feature requests, SE has decided to make some changes. In the list of changes,

Reviewers will be able to create their own custom feedback through the Share Feedback modal. This custom feedback can only be shared as the reviewer themself, not the Community user.

and

Mods will be able to delete Community bot comments, and other users will be able to flag the comments as "No longer needed."

will, I believe, mostly solve the reviewer's conundrum, since they will be able to leave, for example, this (already well-used) comment from the List of comment template meta thread, which also satisfies the three points you listed,

Welcome to [math.se] SE. Take a [tour]. You'll find that simple "Here's the statement of my question, solve it for me" posts will be poorly received. What is better is for you to add context (with an [edit]): What you understand about the problem, what you've tried so far, *etc.*; something both to show you are part of the learning experience and to help us guide you to the appropriate help. You can consult [this link](https://math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9959) for further guidance.

In my opinion, however, it would be better still if the canned feedback were per-site configurable, because then it would be possible to achieve a community consensus on what the most productive thing to say is. Unfortunately, SE staff say that "this is a fairly large undertaking that we're not flat-out declining, we just don't have the resources to get to it right now." So my hopes of this getting implemented in the near term are not very high.

Additionally, as to the problems of not being able to perform multiple review actions and many previous review actions not counting anymore, there might be upcoming changes to solve them. A feature request asking to bring back the "I'm done" button is labeled "status-planned" and worked on right now by SE staff. Therefore we can expect some update soon to that end. Hopefully, this will allow for multi-action reviews and bring back flagging and voting as options to finish a review.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a detailed answer, and I agree with you. $\endgroup$ Sep 8 at 8:26

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