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From time to time I review the FAQ, I find it helpful to remind myself what the published standards for the SO community are.

The first two FAQ items are:

  1. "What kind of questions can I ask here?"
  2. "What kind of questions should I not ask here?"

In each of these sections there is some highlighted text, specifically in the 2nd:

"practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face"

Unless I am specifically reading this section and not skimming, this usually makes me do a double take. Why are "practical, answerable questions..." not supposed to be asked here?

My point is, can we change the wording/order of the FAQ as to avoid the somewhat non-sequitur of answering "what should I not do?" with an immediate, "well this is what you should do"? Especially when we just had a section about what you should/can do.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I agree, this is confusing. I just happened to read the FAQ page and my reading thought process saw:

1) What kind of questions should I not ask here?

Hm, okay, this would be good to know. Oh look, highlighted text! Must be the summary.

2) practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face

Huh? That can't be right.


This is especially confusing because it's the only highlghted sentence fragment on the page that contradicts the section title. All other highlighted sentences summarize their section title.

I understand you can argue that people should (and because of this confusion, will) read the entire sentence. (And should the entire section!) But the point of highlighting something is to bring the readers attention to the single thing they should read if they only have the time to read a single thing.

This should be changed to highlight the entire first sentence.

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The FAQ actually says:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

It doesn't say you should not ask practical, answerable questions based on the actual problems that you face; it's quite the opposite.

I don't see anything confusing in that part, in the same way I don't see anything wrong in the following text.

What should I not do?

You should just sit down, and wait your turn.

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I dont think your example text properly mirrors my points/the faq. It would be more akin to asking "How should I not sit" and answering "You should only sit in a patient way" Where the full point is lost when you look at the question and then the bolded part of the answer. How carefully does the average user read the faq? I think the average user just skims, and then gets confused for a little because of the formatting/wording, and that we can improve that use case by making a few small edits. –  Jordan Jul 1 '12 at 15:41
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You should not read highlighted phrases without to read the rest of the sentence. In your example, I don't just read in a patient way. –  kiamlaluno Jul 1 '12 at 15:47
    
@kiamlaluno: Maybe I shouldn't, but because of the highlighting I will. BOlding a part of a sentence should enhance it, not confuse me and make me re-read the entire sentence. –  GManNickG Jan 21 '13 at 18:57
    
Your hypothetical example is way more confusing than the text in the FAQ. The statement does not answer the question. –  Josh Caswell Jan 21 '13 at 19:07
    
@JoshCaswell I am answering to Why are "practical, answerable questions..." not supposed to be asked here? That is not what the FAQ says. Do you find confusing if somebody answers with "You should just sit down, and wait your turn." when you ask "What should I not do?" –  kiamlaluno Jan 21 '13 at 19:22
    
Yes, I find that confusing, that's what I'm saying. It would make me pause for a moment to think consciously about the response, and maybe ask for clarification. –  Josh Caswell Jan 21 '13 at 19:24
    
@GManNickG As you wish, but I have never heard "You cannot highlight words, or I will read just those words." Highlighting words doesn't mean "read those, and only those words." –  kiamlaluno Jan 21 '13 at 19:26
    
@JoshCaswell If that makes you pause for a moment, it reached its purpose. Notice that "you should just sit down, and wait your turn" means "you should only sit down, and wait your turn"; in other words, don't do anything, except sitting, and waiting your turn. –  kiamlaluno Jan 21 '13 at 19:29
    
@kiamlaluno: It says: "Read this to get the important takeaway." I understand if you read the entire sentence the highlighted portion makes perfect sense. But we aren't reading sentences in isoluation, we're reading a web page. And when I skim and read the section title, my next item will be the highlighted bit. –  GManNickG Jan 21 '13 at 19:33
    
In a face-to-face, colloquial conversation that might be acceptable, but not in what should be a carefully-composed and helpful written document. Face-to-face, I would also interpret a response like that -- ignoring my question as asked -- as a bit aggressive and overbearing. It's fixable, though: "Where should I not fish?" "You may not fish anywhere except from the end of the pier." –  Josh Caswell Jan 21 '13 at 19:38
    
@GManNickG Reading a web page, or printed text doesn't make any difference. To me, highlighted words just tell me that around them there is an important sentence I should not miss, which is not like saying I should read those words, and not the rest of the text. –  kiamlaluno Jan 21 '13 at 19:51
    
@JoshCaswell It is not a matter of formality, or colloquialism. When the list of "things you should do" is shorter than the list of "things you should do," it is probable the answer is about what you should do (which implies "you should not do anything but..."). Then, the FAQ is not written as a formal document, but it is not even using slang. –  kiamlaluno Jan 21 '13 at 19:54

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