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I've been looking at some "not a real question" posts and they all seem be fairly generic to one or two scenarios. Either it's just not a question (which might actually be off-topic), or they haven't tried hard enough to make a post that lets us help them.

The FAQ identifies it as:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

The asker still has a problem but the question is useless until they address problems. I was wondering if we could get a generic list of questions we can ask ourselves to see if it's a helpful question (rather than or in addition to simply having close/open votes).

I'm not sure what the questions would be, but something along the lines of:

  1. Did you include code that demonstrates your problem?
  2. If applicable did you include a screenshot?
  3. Are you rambling?
  4. What did you try?
  5. etc...

I'm just wondering if this might be a useful approach to fit in somewhere for those questions that are not real questions, and see what others think.

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The most obvious resource is this post entitled How to Ask Great Questions.

There are plenty of other information including the How to Ask page every new user has to go through to ask their first question, so you can see that this information is already presented to users.

There is also a blog post written by Jon Skeet called Writing the Perfect Question

(I acknowledge that this is a links only answer but two of the links are to other content within Stack Overflow).

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Shameless Jon Skeet "Writing the Perfect Question" plug. Any answer without a valid Jon Skeet reference is not truly an answer, no? :P – Jared Farrish Feb 18 '12 at 17:21
@JaredFarrish - thanks - I was looking for that. – ChrisF Feb 18 '12 at 17:23
  1. Is the author's problem described clearly and effectively?
    • A lot of times, users describe the stuff leading up to the problem and forget to include the problem itself. This is a situation where a downvote or comment would be appropriate to remind them, and if the user doesn't deal with it, a close vote.
  2. If necessary, is relevant code displayed to demonstrate the problem?
    • I find the best way when it comes to posting code is to try to replicate your problem on a smaller scale rather than giving us an entire page of code. This is a mistake a lot of users make when the problem ends up being just one line.
  3. Has the author made efforts to solve the problem themselves?
    • Users should show that they've made the effort to research the problem on their own time. It is better and easier for us to answer questions when we have something else to build off of, not just their code and what they think the problem might be. If they show they've done some research and looked into the problem beforehand, we can use the progress they've made to our advantage in answering the question. Also, beyond what they've looked up, it helps to know what they've already tried so we can go from there too.
  4. Can users appropriately and fully answer the question?
    • We close very broad questions (one I saw recently was "What's the difference between server-side and client-side?" which comes up so often) because they simply cannot be answered completely and to the full extent. If the full-fledged and correct answer would require a lot of explanation, backstory, and detail, then it's most likely too broad for these sites.

This is my criteria for a "real question." It could definitely be added to (if you think you have something, let me know in the comments).

EDIT: I skimmed the last part of the post, so this list is written in the third person. :P My mistake, I'll fix it later, but you guys get the point for now.

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