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The Problem

It happens on every second question I try to answer: The question is unclear but the user does not respond.

Why? The usual reason is that the user asking a question seems to leave. Probably to come back later and check if there is any answer.

But on Stack Overflow that doesn't always work so well since there are very often comments asking for clarification.

And if the clarification is not provided, the question gets closed, gets ignored and/or downvoted.

That is really a pity since the first few minutes is the time when a question gets the most attention - especially on Stack Overflow where we have thousands of questions every day and every few seconds a new one. People move on very quickly to the next.

The Solution

Can we please add a hint telling the user to stay put for at least a few minutes?!

Maybe in the question form, or when taking the tour, or by an online indicating icon visible in the question or at least when closing the browser tab containing the question.

We could tell the user something like @ThinkingStiff suggested:

Things happen quickly on Stack Overflow. Expect comments requesting clarification shortly. Editing your question to satisfy these comments can help get your question answered more accurately.

I think this would also really help in reducing the flood of questions being pushed in the review queue every day.

share|improve this question
"Things happen quickly on Stack Overflow. Expect comments requesting clarification shortly. Editing your question to satisfy these comments can help get your question answered more accurately." – ThinkingStiff Nov 26 '12 at 16:26
@ThinkingStiff: Sadly, no one ever reads that. – Madara Uchiha Nov 26 '12 at 16:36
I normally comment, to leave a "marker" unless the question is really crap and then come back later to see if the OP has changed anything. If not then VTC etc but there's always a chance that they have actually acknowledged it. Anything to keep them around for the first 20 minutes would be good. Bytes are cheap so spreading a few around to rescue a couple of newbies is a good thing. (I agree if it's not clear from the comment!) – ben is uǝq backwards Nov 26 '12 at 21:48
Possible duplicates here, here and here. – George Cummins Aug 21 '13 at 21:01
...or, even more annoyingly, time is wasted answering based on wrong assumptions. – Aaron Bertrand Aug 27 '13 at 20:02
In low traffic tags you can wait weeks for answer, so that message would be simply not true and misleading. It could actually discourage new users by giving false promises. – Danubian Sailor Sep 23 '13 at 14:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 41 down vote

It's almost become a cliche on Meta that any message we display to new users will necessarily go unread.

I think a fairly clear, simple, and obvious message displayed to new users right after they ask their question could be quite helpful.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
Similar to the "we don't want to put any effort into hand-holding these users because they are most likely hopeless" argument you see on here a lot (especially regarding post bans). +1 because I think this could be effective, despite going against the common arguments around here. – jadarnel27 Nov 26 '12 at 18:21
@jadarnel27 - what you describe has long been another pet peeve of mine. – Adam Rackis Nov 26 '12 at 18:26
@jadarnel27 What exactly makes you think this can be more effective than the already existing ways (which get regularly ignored)? – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 18:34
@Alenanno - because the regular ways are embedded in FAQ pages that normal people don't read. Ever. I'm a 20K user and even I haven't read the faq. – Adam Rackis Nov 26 '12 at 18:42
@AdamRackis Not really: Did you read the message the first time you posted a question? This is one more thing that people won't read. I still don't see why this would be any different, honestly... I have read the FAQ. The problem is not the place, the problem is that some users simply don't bother reading it, no matter where you put it. – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 18:48
@Alenanno - I don't know - I don't remember even seeing the message. Is it displayed in the page where you type your message in, or is it displayed in the actual question that you see when you post your new question? I think the above could be helpful because it's visible on the actual question after you post it. Some people will ignore it, but I think plenty will read it. – Adam Rackis Nov 26 '12 at 18:58
@AdamRackis If I remember correctly, it's displayed right after you click on "Ask question" (a new page opens). When you accept this page, you'll be brought to the usual Writing-the-question page. I tried making a new account and asking a question to post a screenshot here, but it didn't work. :P – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 19:02
@Alenanno - ah. That's what I mean. Anything you put between the user and his asking of a question is likely to be ignored. Users—especially developers, which we all are—will almost always ignore instructions like that. But displaying it on the question itself, after the user has asked it, could I think me marginally useful. – Adam Rackis Nov 26 '12 at 19:04
@AdamRackis I'm not sure about that, but again, we can't all have the same opinion. :P – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 19:30
Can the message display be made more obnoxious and intrusive, perhaps? That isn't sarcasm; it's a suggestion. – JoshDM Aug 21 '13 at 21:27
@Alenanno - please specify the "regularly ignored existing ways" which you declare in your first comment. – JoshDM Aug 21 '13 at 21:30
@JoshDM I have mentioned them while talking to Adam in this comment thread. If you check the other comments I wrote I mention all of them. :D Some of that has change since then, though. – Alenanno Aug 21 '13 at 22:30
Perhaps this could work as a JavaScript alert after they submit the question. – HansUp Sep 22 '13 at 18:17


Conversely, we get new users who expect Stack Overflow to behave like a chat room and start spamming comments on their question (ok, that doesn't bother anyone else), on other people's post (yes, some of them do that even after they reach 50 reputation), and via flags (yes, moderators waste time declining “y no answre for 10 minutes its urgent” flags).

We also have new users who accept the first answer they get and leave after 10 minutes, even if that answer was completely wrong.

Let's not encourage them.

It's perfectly fine to post a question and come back the next day. The important point is to provide the requested clarifications, not how fast they are provided.

A question can be closed in minutes, so telling askers to hang on won't even prevent that.

share|improve this answer

Sadly, most users won't read that.

When a user registers, he "must" read the FAQ, he is provided with help messages every step of the way, encouraging him to add details and code. When their questions get closed, they don't bother reading why, they just open it again, hoping to get an answer, not realizing their question is bad.

Adding yet another warning sign won't solve the problem. Only put a further obstacle between the user and his question (Even though the question was already submitted).

No. Sadly, most users only respond to the sting of downvotes and closes/deletions. And if that's not enough, they're banned.

share|improve this answer
How must a user read the FAQ? – juergen d Nov 26 '12 at 16:44
@juergend: You sign on it ("I have read and accepted") when you register IIRC. It was said once, but I haven't tried it. I said "must" because most users scroll through and press OK. – Madara Uchiha Nov 26 '12 at 16:45
@MadaraUchiha: I don't think that "terms and conditions" include reading the complete FAQ. And since nobody reads that like you say a hint in the question form would be much better. – juergen d Nov 26 '12 at 16:51
@juergend Were you talking to me? Mine was just a (serious) joke. Anyways, if I remember correctly, before posting a question you are asked to read the FAQ. – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 16:54
Nobody ever reads a site's faq before starting. But a big message right in front of the user, displayed after asking a question? There's a good chance the user will see / read that. – Adam Rackis Nov 26 '12 at 16:56
@AdamRackis: Find? yes. Read? Not likely. – Madara Uchiha Nov 26 '12 at 16:58
FYI -- this post details one of the "required to click through" pages that new users get. (CC @Alenanno) edit: oops, link added =) – jadarnel27 Nov 26 '12 at 17:27
@jadarnel27 I think you forgot to link. :P – Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 17:28
Imagine that someone somehow discovered a way to prevent you from accessing their website until you've actually read all the terms and conditions. How many people would just walk away if that happened? – Sam I am Nov 26 '12 at 17:36
but just think of all the fun that you could have with those T&C – SeanC Nov 26 '12 at 20:02
Well, I guess I'm the 1%. I read the T&C or ToS, or whatever they're called before doing stuff. I want to be sure of what I'm agreeing to. For all you know, PayPal's T&C could say they are allowed to commit fraud on behalf of you. There was one on TDWTF about a game that said in the liability part about how they aren't responsible if the game "kills your family". – Cole Johnson Aug 27 '13 at 20:05
@ColeJohnson too bad McDonalds' lawyer's didn't have a HotDrink FAQ... BTW, make that 1.001% - I read 'em too. :)) – Howard Pautz Aug 28 '13 at 4:27
@Alenanno "I agree..." = biggest lie on the Internet. – Nate Barbettini Feb 6 at 16:15

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