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I've been told by a certain someone that Stack Overflow can provide a good exercise in communication.

I was sceptical about this at first but on the odd occasion I do write a badly formulated question. This leads me to having trouble rewriting it such that it results in a solution and a waste in energy for both the users attempting to give an answer and myself.

Drawing an analogy with real-life, I have encountered this same issue. During an internship I was asked to take lead of a team and encountered criticism from another person after offering suggestions. He said he felt I was looking down at him despite my assurances that this was not the case. I felt really bad about this and it would be a good example where the choice of words was important.

Now, to avoid diverting the question which would be better suited elsewhere, I suggest taking the guidelines on this page as a basis: How to Ask Questions.

What can be added to this page? What recent examples have you encountered that fit the guidelines and to what you see as a good question?

To add to this, do you think over-elaborating a question is an issue? I'm always wary of doing this as I have a good level of English (or so I have been told) but have noticed that my interlocutors lose the train of thought when a clear and concise question could be understood immediately. Or a "pink elephant in the back" effect kicks in when I inadvertently slip in a red herring which becomes the prime focus. Writing a question concisely is not easy task though and I have been told once that I'm not sufficiently concise and focused.

Lastly, can you think of a basic template that could be used for formulating a good question? The composing elements of questions here are the title, tags and content and the objective would be to fill the unknowns with a description of the objective(s) and what attempts were carried out to reach them. Perhaps an equivalent of the Five Ws used in journalism could be used to make sure all aspects have been covered.

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2 Answers 2

Regarding

What can be added to this page? What recent examples have you encountered that fit the guidelines and to what you see as a good question?

and

Lastly, can you think of a basic template that could be used for formulating a good question?

I think that Jon Skeet nailed this comprehensively with this blog post. I've been directing newbie users to this ever since I first read it.

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Writing questions and answers on Stack Overflow has definitely improved my communication skills - I'd say that most of that benefit came from writing answers as opposed to questions, but thats also possibly because I've written 5-6 answers for every question posted.

What recent examples have you encountered that fit the guidelines for a good question?

Plenty, but now you mention it I might start keeping track of some of the best ones as good examples.

Do you think over-elaborating a question is an issue?

Definitely - in general the longer the question the fewer people read it (once you get above a certain question size). You can help this by using good formatting and limiting the size of your sample code but ultimately the more detail you include in your question the longer it takes to read and the more complicated it is to understand and therefore answer.

Having said that I see a lot more questions where people haven't included enough detail.

A basic template that could be used for formulating a good question?

I think that the basic template for a bug report is a good starting point (scroll down to "Three Parts To Every Good Bug Report"):

  1. Steps to reproduce,
  2. What you expected to see, and
  3. What you saw instead.

I.e:

  1. What you did
  2. What you are trying to do / what you expected to happen
  3. What actually happened instead

I'd also add to that:

  • A quick 1 line introduction at the top of what you are trying to do
  • What you already tried before you asked your question on Stack Overflow
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