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I'm a Server Fault user mostly and spend a bit too much time on the site. I notice a lot of very badly written or barely-thought-out questions pop up from users with 1-karma or thereabouts that require editing before they stand a chance of getting an answer.

What could be done on the 'ask question' dialogue to try to help these people write better questions? Is that dialogue too subtle for them perhaps? Could there be an extra 'are you sure you've written this question well enough' screen before submitting? Or perhaps a few yes/no radio buttons they've got to check before submitting ("Have you included sufficient detail about your system including hardware/OS/apps, etc.?", "Have you re-read and/or spell-checked?", "Is there an actual question in your message", "Your normal-character-to-exclamation-mark ratio is too high", etc.)?

What else could be done?

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6 Answers

It is nearly impossible to encourage people to put extra effort into asking a question if they don't want to.

We already give this piece of advice:

How to Ask

Is your question about the Stack Overflow engine or family of websites?

Provide details. Show examples.

Whenever possible, link to the relevant questions, answers, users, or page on the site you're discussing.

Beyond that, making a user follow that advice is not easy.

It may be more helpful to elaborate on "Provide details. Show examples.", but really, if a user follows the above advice, they should post a fairly good question.

IMHO, we shouldn't add any more friction to asking a question. Extra pages or checks on a question would only get in the way.

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I was going to say that I would have liked a "How to ask" when I asked my first question and then I read your answer and realized that there is one. I think that the placement is really easy to miss - the sidebar doesn't usually have the most important information on it and I must have totally skipped over it. There is a lot of culturally cool and uncool stuff when it comes to asking that can't be conveyed in that little box. Maybe first time askers (or everyone) could be presented with a "Here is how to ask a good question" link above the entry box that displays some extra info? –  casey Aug 17 '09 at 18:43
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I agree that it doesn't give lots of information, and it is easy to miss. I just disagree with adding in any other steps to asking a question. –  jjnguy Aug 17 '09 at 19:01
    
Case in point: User's don't like to read. I'd never even seen that How To Ask thingo before I read your post and I had to go and had to go see for myself! –  Mark Henderson Aug 29 '09 at 23:01
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The more barriers to entry you introduce, the more likely you will have users quit in frustration before ever actually posting the question.

I am not a fan of trying to algorithmically detect "good" vs. "bad" posts, because that is all up to whoever is looking at the question.

The best option is to include some more info in the How to Ask (if any is really necessary) and then just let the community moderate as needed. It has worked pretty well for a year now and I don't see any major reason to change it.

Some users just are incapable of asking good stuff or learning from community moderation. As bad as it may sound, there are such things as lost causes.

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+1 you cant make people better writers, but you can con a bunch of poor OCD schlubs to fix up, rewrite, and categorize every last post. :) –  Rex M Aug 17 '09 at 17:42
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Just post a comment asking questions that will help the asker improve the quality. If that doesn't help you'll either have to edit it into something better or simply not answer it (since it's impossible due to lack of information).

Meaning that we shouldn't raise the bar for asking questions. If the quality of the question is bad, it probably won't attract good answers. So either the user edits his question in order to get an answer or he doesn't but probably won't post new ones either.

Of course we would love to help people who can't write great questions, but if a person isn't willing to invest time into a good question then I'm not sure if that person is worth helping.

Plus I would think there are enough examples of good questions that we don't need a special FAQ part for it.

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He/she wants to provide feedback to the asker before the question is asked. –  jjnguy Aug 17 '09 at 13:31
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Vote to close them. Down-vote them. Edit them and make them better.

Your choice...

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I believe that, if there isn't enough information to recognize whether something is an appropriate answer, that's not a real question. Aside from that, there's not much I can do besides downvote and plead for more information in the comments. I could edit to improve the language, but I hate doing that if I'm not sure what it means in the first place.

I suppose there could be a "too dumb to let live" reason to close, but I'm not sure that's appropriate.

Aside from that, we are going to get new people coming in who don't know how to ask a good question, and some of these are going to develop into valuable community members. We don't want to unduly discourage them. Any algorithmic method of telling whether a question looks good will fail in some manner. More advice on the page, even if only for a user with a low rep, could pay off.

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Could there be something like a series of templates for certain types of questions, e.g. for troubleshooting help please list a,b, and c details to help give better answers? That would be my suggestion as if enough questions come in with the same type of problem it may be handy to find a way to standardize the appearance of some questions.

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