The rule that should exist but does not

The Japanese Language Stack Exchange (JLSE) platform has existed for over a decade now, and while the current set of rules covers the basic guidelines of the Stack Exchange platform, as well as gives users an idea of what types of topics they can ask about, I feel that there's still a very important aspect that is not mentioned anywhere: references to source material.

Questions that lack references to a source

I have only been part of JLSE for a few months, but I have seen many questions that quote some piece of text from various sources without mentioning those sources, but given the importance of context in the Japanese language, I believe that the inclusion of source material should be made more explicit in the rules.

Questions citing textbooks:

Question citing a novel:

These are just a few examples where I asked for the source material to get a better understanding of the context surrounding the question.

Importance of source material

There are a few reasons why including source material is useful, but the most important reason would be to clarify the context of some dialogue or piece of text. You can take a look at the comments on the last question regarding a novel and the comments on Chocolate's answer to that question in order to see how important context is to get a good grasp of what is being conveyed.

However, even for questions regarding purely grammatical concepts such as verb conjugation or particle usage, you will see a lot of questions of the type "Why is X being used instead of Y here?" where context absolutely matters given how many use cases there are for one particle or one verb.

One last reason I want to highlight in favour of including the source material is simply to avoid translation errors or copying errors. Especially when copying text from a physical book, learners are prone to making mistakes (for example in the Source still not provided question). This can have a very big impact on the meaning of a phrase or paragraph, which makes things harder for the people trying to provide answers.

Why context is overlooked

I will gladly speculate about why this rule does not exist yet; on the one hand, advanced Japanese learners and Japanese people themselves are pretty darn good at figuring out the context on the fly and therefore may underestimate the importance of source material because most of the questions on this platform make enough sense to them.

On the other hand, learners of Japanese generally try to ask questions targeting a specific concept or problem that can seem disconnected from the surrounding text. After all, a lot of material in textbooks is taught in chunks that provide the correct context in which it makes sense to use X or Y grammatical construction, word or expression.

The comment section

"All of the issues you've discussed above," you may think, "can simply be solved by asking for clarification in the comments. Is that not what you did?"

Yes, that certainly is an option for active users who care to get the reputation to participate in the platform. But the Stack Exchange platform's philosophy on reputation is very clear: reputation is optional, and therefore the ability to post comments is a luxury, not a basic right for all users.

In fact, if you have a look at the users overview on JLSE, each page shows 36 users and their respective stats. The earliest page that contains a user with less than 50 reputation is page 277. Out of a total of 677 pages, that means that roughly 14,000 users out of roughly 24,000 users simply cannot ask for clarification. That's almost 60% of all users.

While it is entirely understandable that some amount of reputation is required to post comments everywhere, this means that all the users who have less than 50 reputation are left in the dark and have to rely on others to ask for clarification, while most of that clarification could be included in a well-formatted answer that addresses the use case of a certain grammatical concept or word within the context relevant to a question.

Final thoughts

When the question askers neglect to provide context for their questions, and question answerers neglect to ask for clarification or context, many answers (while justifiable and correct) might not provide the right nuances for future learners to get a broader understanding of a certain concept they are having trouble with.

This makes learning Japanese from this website especially difficult for intermediate learners, who understand the basics of a language but lack the experience to apply them within different contexts. This context can be figured out more easily if askers are required to provide sources when necessary.


  • 1
    Far be it from me to point out any issues, but you may or may not have noticed that a lot of users refer to this page as JLSE (Japanese Language Stack Exchange). JP.SE is a really good alternative, and makes perfect sense, but you may find the other acronym interesting.
    – ajsmart
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 22:21
  • @ajsmart good catch! Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 8:38
  • 1
    I was just hoping for a bit of clarification on what you mean by "rule". The help page already has: "When asking your question, please provide as much context as possible. This will help others understand you and your question better and give the best answer possible." Do you want to build upon that and include a context/source requirement?
    – Em.
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:17
  • I'm prepared to provide a "built upon"/updated version of that. But I'm also wondering if you might be requesting a new off-topic bullet point/close vote reason; and/or whether or not a new off-topic reason might be practical. There have been a handful of repeat offenders in the past for whom this close reason might've been useful. I'm not sure of its practicality currently, but a certain repeat offender is set to return soon. Could be helpful for that, and future cases. Maybe an update is good enough for now.
    – Em.
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 9:27
  • @Em. I was thinking of an explicit mention in the How do I ask a good question page, for example. But since (1) the help center is not intuitive to find and (2) the pages within the help center are kind of all over the place, it may be time to streamline the guidelines a bit more. Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 15:27
  • Thanks for clarifying that. I'm not sure how easily that page can be changed (looks like it could be a stock page). But the page I linked to should be easily customizable by the mods. I'll reconsider posting my proposal as an answer. Not sure if that's the right way to propose changes though. :)
    – Em.
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 8:24

1 Answer 1


100% agree with everything you are saying, but you are over looking one small thing. We could certainly add a rule that stresses the importance of context, but the sad thing is that most people wouldn't read it. Maybe I'm just a pessimist but I'd be amazed if it made any significant difference at all.

Many users are fleeting visitors who simply want their question answered and then move on never to be seen again. They won't read the rules. Serious users will get the message about context after a couple of comments anyway.

I suppose the main advantage is that if we have a well explained rule about context then we can point every user to that rule rather than having to hand craft an explanation in the comments every time. However, if you're new to Japanese and don't yet appreciate the importance of context then I think it might be friendlier and more helpful to have someone specifically point out the problems with the question anyway, and maybe then add a link to the rule afterwards. So I'm not sure how much effort it would actually save.

In summary, I agree that this rule should exist, but I'm not overly convinced it will be effective.

  • Similarly to the question regarding a warning for translations, you could add some text on the question preview page that stresses the importance of adding references and sources. But to justify such a feature, the rule should exist to begin with. Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 16:54

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