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I have seen this many times and experienced it myself as well.

When a new member asks a question,

  1. It may be not formatted well
  2. It might not contain the relevant tags, etc...

As far as I can see, what happens most of the time is everyone down-votes the question, also maybe flags it instead of correcting the situation or leaving a comment as necessary.

Can the moderators get involved in this situation and do something more appropriate?
What is the best possible action that can be taken here?

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1  
I've noticed this too; there's often a sort of no-mercy for first not-great questions. I always edit first, and upvote if warranted based on what I believe them to be asking. Only if it's completely off topic do I usually flag them. –  Ben Brocka Dec 6 '11 at 15:27
10  
Q: "How can new users not suck?" –  Won't Dec 6 '11 at 16:00
    
possible duplicate of Could we please be a bit nicer to the noobs? –  Josh Caswell Dec 6 '11 at 21:46
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We already have a solution for this, called Review. You can learn more about it here: What is the newly added Review section? –  Adam Davis Dec 7 '11 at 15:24
    
As @AdamDavis mentions, I use the Review section extensively to edit posts that contain a big walls of text or insufficient formatting or weak english and bring them to a decent state. –  Nanda Dec 7 '11 at 16:47

8 Answers 8

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Personally I always try to edit obviously-first posts to tidy them up, rather than just downvoting and moving on - grammar, spelling, phrasing and layout - to as close to the de facto house style as I can. IMHO this:

  • Makes the user less likely to get apparently hostile down votes (which might drive them away before they've given the site a chance)
  • Shows them how to e.g. format code correctly in the future
  • Helps them learn the purpose of the site - collaboratively getting good quality questions and answers. i.e. their posts may be edited, added to etc. by others like a wiki.
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18  
Important point (for the benefit of the post, not specifically for Mark): anyone can propose an edit to a post. –  Marc Gravell Dec 6 '11 at 12:46

Let me be a contrarian and state that the vast majority of the downvotes on poorly written first questions by new users have been deserved. There are several things in a question that will attract downvotes like flies:

  • Demanding that people give them code
  • Using textspeak
  • Demonstrating no research at all (see Matt Gemmell's definitive article about this)
  • Asking us to debug their application, usually with no stack trace or console output
  • Being completely incoherent
  • Writing a rant that attacks one or more popular pieces of technology

Any developer with any common sense will know not to ask something containing one or more of these elements. This is not something that we should have to train new members on, because this kind of behavior is not acceptable in any professional forum or mailing list. Quite frankly, in almost every case that I've commented and explained why they got downvoted for doing this, they kept right on asking bad questions in the same way.

As Jeff has stated, "the world is awash in questions" and we can afford to be selective of what's allowed here in order to maintain a high signal to noise ratio as the site grows. If someone wants to have their question be treated well, they can put in a little effort when asking.

However, this doesn't mean we should be jerks about how we treat newcomers. We should be polite, professional, and provide constructive criticism to those who are open to improving. If there's a good core question that is roughly worded, you're right in that we should edit it to expose the quality content. I've edited nearly 1500 posts, and one of the most rewarding things on the site is to watch an edited question reverse from being downvoted to massively upvoted.

Downvotes, close votes, and the quality filters exist for a reason. I feel that removing the penalty for downvoting questions, the addition of the automatic question ban for repeat offenders, and the expansion of the close votes and tools has led to a noticeable improvement in the quality of the site over the last year.

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I'd say another (extremely annoying) thing to add to that list would be putting the word "Urgent!" (or similar) in the title or body of the question. Instant flood of downvotes. –  jadarnel27 Dec 7 '11 at 15:22

Can the moderators involve in this situation and do something more appropriate

I don't think that the moderators can keep up with those questions and I don't think its their job (at least not their most importants task)

What is the best possible action that can be taken here.

Edit the question, format as good as possible and add the needed tags when they can be determined from the text/title or source code. (You will get the honor of several badges, or even reputation (for an approved edit, if you are below 2000 rep) if you follow this rule)

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There's nothing moderators can do about down-votes, but they could decline flags that simply indicate that it's low quality, but probably won't.

There are a lot of flags being raised - particularly on Stack Overflow - and moderators don't have the time to go into great detail checking posts to see if it's just the poor spelling and grammar that are causing the down-votes.

It's up to individuals to do their bit by editing posts (see Mark's answer) and disputing flags where they think this is the only problem with the post.

Moderators should be exception handlers, dealing with the stuff that the community can't deal with itself.

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I assume that this problem is exactly what the "Review / First Questions" option is there for. I'm not sure if this is visible to all users or if you have to have a certain amount of reputation, so maybe you haven't seen it?

It gives a list of first questions, you can filter it down to the specific tags you are interested in, you can then go through and edit, comment, up/down vote all from one screen. I'd consider the community regularly using this page to be "the best possible action that can be taken here?" - it is even encouraged by badges.

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Very glad you posted this as down voting "newbie's" questions is a particular peeve of mine. I feel that the correct action to be taken here is to format the question correctly; correcting spelling, grammar and coding where necessary.

This prevents any animosity from new users whose questions have been voted down and informs them of the correct way to ask and format questions for the future.

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I think your assumption that we need more new users to ask terribly questions is demonstrably false.

StackOverflow has....

  • 900k users
  • 2,400,000 questions
  • 5,100,000 answers
  • 2,800,000 daily visits
  • 4,200 new questions daily

SO does not need users who are incapable of forming a coherent question without having their hand held. We are not hurting for new users. We are hurting for GOOD new users.

This is not a social networking site where we want to encourage everyone to be the best they can be and coach them through writing good questions and doing their own research.

This is a Q and A site that gets 3 new questions a minute all day. If a few of those new people get their feelings hurt because they posted bad content then we don't really need them.

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what is is possibility that user get it right on very first day?? –  huMpty duMpty Dec 7 '11 at 16:25
    
@huMptyduMpty - if they take a few minutes to read the FAQ or any of the multitude of various sidebars about how to ask questions, close to 100%. If they don't bother doing that then I really don't care to help them. –  JNK Dec 7 '11 at 16:28
    
If it is, that may be correct. But as I believe the chance of getting the first question right might be less. Also it is probably a doubt about “WE” as you mention in your answer “we don't really need them”. –  huMpty duMpty Dec 7 '11 at 16:51
    
Stick around longer and read about the mission and goals of the site. There are numerous blog and meta posts explaining that we want high signal-to-noise here and eliminating garbage content is discouraged. We don't need more content, we need more GOOD content, and deleting the trash is a part of that. –  JNK Dec 7 '11 at 16:53
    
I don't think that everyone start as a super user. Experience make them... –  huMpty duMpty Dec 7 '11 at 16:56
    
@huMptyduMpty - I'm not saying they need to start as a super user. But being able to ask coherent questions that are in-line with the site's rules is a requirement. You can ask a STUPID question, but as long as it's clear and shows some modicum of effort I won't DV or VTC. Experience <> ability to read. –  JNK Dec 7 '11 at 16:58

I want a button labeled:

remove this question from public view and let me work on it for ten minutes

Sometimes questions have been voted to oblivion and closed and well on their way to deletion just because the questioner only knows French, or didn't know how to format their post so the HTML is visible to more than just the browsers.

I'm occasionally willing to take ten minutes to fix up a question that would normally be evaporated, and I'd like the question to stand on the merits of my improvements to it. The FGITW "problem" is usually awesome at getting questioners some answers quickly and making sure spam never lives more than four or five minutes, but when people without a good grasp of English ask good questions, FGITW can doom a question to a horrible death before I've had a chance to work on it.

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