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I've been a member of PSE (and SE in general) for a little over a month now, and I'm starting to look into doing reviews. I took a look at it when I first got the permissions to do it, but there haven't been any open reviews for me to do, so I just ignored it

Today when I went to reviews, I saw a couple close votes that I could do and went ahead with them. The first made pretty clear sense for me to vote to close as too broad and I did so. The second confused me as to whether or not it should be closed as too broad, and got me thinking that I don't really know exactly what can be classified as too broad. As I thought about it more, after being a member for 40 days (and checking the site multiple times daily) I still have very little knowledge about the exact rules.

After seeing this post I have reservations about making reviews because I don't want to make mistakes. Obviously there are rules that should be followed, but in some cases I'm sure we also need to bend the rules a little if a question doesn't exactly fit them, as clearly this site is not along the same format as regular SE. So how do I learn when to vote to close/reopen and generally what is right without just reviewing until I get banned and learning from specific examples?

Edit: What I'm really looking for here is how to find out the unwritten rules of PSE. There clearly isn't much of a consensus on a lot of these rules which can explain opposing votes toward closing/reopening on many questions. For situations where there is a consensus, could we possibly make a tailored guide to PSE as to the meaning of too broad or belongs on another SE site (such as math)? This would hopefully stop people from asking bad questions in the first place, but also help us to not be unsure when making reviews.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent! I was hoping someone would post this. @mods: maybe [featured] tag? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor May 30 '15 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'll post an answer at some point but not immediately, since clearly my approach isn't considered as good as I thought it was by the powers that be. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor May 30 '15 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ I have a personal approach too, before answering I'd like to see an "official" response by a moderator, since this discussion is very delicate and misinterpretations could affect negatively the reviews. $\endgroup$ – leoll2 May 31 '15 at 8:39
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I've thought a bit about how to answer this question over the last few days. There are a couple things I'd like to note before discussing how reviewing "correctly" (this is hazy; more on this later) works.

The first is that review bans are very, very uncommon. I could probably count all of them on one or two hands. Most of the advice I'll give here should be pretty intuitive if you take the time to read the content you're reviewing. If you're well-intentioned and paying enough attention, you're not going to run into a review ban.

The second is that review bans are seriously unlikely to be held against you in the long-term if you're making a genuine effort to improve. Nobody has, to date, needed to be stopped twice.


As far as actual advice on reviewing, I'll start with what I consider the tenets of reviews:

  • Reviews are driven by the community. You are the community. So, if you all decide to review a certain way, that's going to be what will happen. In the absence of other information, don't be afraid to go with what seems right; it probably is.
  • If you're confused about a review, everyone else probably is, too, and going with the best choice might be a good idea.
  • If you're extremely confused about a review, it might be a good idea to skip it.
  • Most of the knowledge you need can be gained through participation in the site.
  • You can always follow up on a review to see what happened with it, including the reviews you've skipped, by checking your review history.
  • If you don't understand why a review was completed in a certain way, Meta is here for you, and nobody's going to hold a question about it against you. For that matter, if you're not sure why a question was closed, or notice a close-war on a question, feel free to ask here, too.

It's a good idea to be aware of site practices, and this is something you're likely to have already picked up through normal participation. Most of what follows here should be fairly intuitive, but I'll go into detail anyway.

  • First Posts: I'll start here because this is always the problem child of review.

    The one thing that causes new users to leave most often is a lack of human interaction. Don't let new users ask or answer into the void. No Action Needed is almost always flat-out wrong. You are the only one to review a user's first post; bear this in mind when reviewing.

    When reviewing FP, the ideal is to leave a helpful comment about their post. Barring that, upvote an existing helpful comment, and barring that, at the very least, please try to vote (or, if need be, flag). You might need to read the question as well as the answer, too.

    If you can't think of a helpful comment to leave, nobody else has said anything, the post isn't worth either an up or downvote, and it doesn't need to be flagged, then consider either skipping or calling it no action needed.

  • Close queue: It would be nice to be aware of the justifications for the existing close reasons. However, they're supposed to be relatively understandable to a new user, so using them where it feels applicable is a good idea.

    Also note that you're one of five reviews in the close queue, so if you make one error here or there, or unintentionally apply the wrong close reason, it's not going to have a tangible impact on the site function. This isn't to say being careless is a good idea, obviously.

  • Suggested edits: This one's pretty straightforward. Don't approve code block markup where it doesn't belong. Approve/improve edits that increase the clarity of the post, and catch most or all of the problems with it. Reject/improve and reject edits that miss most or all problems, or cause new problems, or edit in irrelevant content, or are vandalism/spam/etc.

  • Low quality posts: There's only one policy to be aware of, which is that answers need to have a reasonable amount of justification to them. If they lack justification, they should be deleted.

    Note: answers shouldn't be deleted if they're wrong; wrong answers should be downvoted instead. An answer that is wrong but thorough and complete Looks OK.

  • Tag wiki edits: Most people aren't too sure about this, so don't feel awkward if you aren't either. Tag wikis are weird. The general guideline is: excerpts guide the user as to when to use the tag; wikis guide the user when they want to learn more about a topic. Try to adhere to these guidelines when suggesting and reviewing edits.


Well, this ended up being a lot more words than I thought it would. Sorry 'bout that. Hopefully it's complete, though.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting and thorough answer - thanks! A few points though... 1) You say "review bans are very, very uncommon", but they've been issued to three of the most active users/reviewers. Naming no names, but it sounds like a problem if the people who review the most are precisely those who get stopped from reviewing. Maybe this meta post will help prevent this happening in the future? 2) What about reopen votes? There's a whole queue for them - any advice for reviewing them that's not already covered by what you say about close votes? [cont] $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jun 4 '15 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ 3) "The one thing that causes new users to leave most often is a lack of human interaction" - I disagree (and I was a new user fairly recently!) The biggest discourager is negative feedback: DVs, VTCs, criticisms in comments. I always try to be as friendly as possible to newcomers: even if their question is crappy, I try to explain why in a nice way (unless it's obvious spam) and encourage them to keep on participating in a more on-topic way. But "No Action Needed is almost always flat-out wrong" is interesting and useful advice, and probably the main way I've deviated from what you say here. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Jun 4 '15 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ @rand Actually, you'd be surprised about (3). Some stats were recently released; negative versus positive feedback had little to no statistically significant impact on whether a user stuck around. It was only a lack of feedback that held significant negative impact. (I forget where I read this, though.) Besides, the goal is not more users; the goal is users who understand constructive criticism. As for (2), pretty much the same as close votes. As for (1), there are a number of reasons that could happen, but comments aren't a good place to hypothesize. $\endgroup$ – Aza Jun 4 '15 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ @rand Rereading your comment, I think I may have miscommunicated. Negative doesn't mean unfriendly feedback; it means downvotes, critical but helpful comments, closure, etc. $\endgroup$ – Aza Jun 4 '15 at 17:21

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