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I have noticed a trend on Stack Overflow where the first question posted by newer users (typically having <100 reputation) tends to get downvoted, mainly because said users don't know how to ask questions (which is a common issue) or they don't understand how SO works.

How do we, as a community, encourage new users to stay?

Having your very first question downvoted can be very discouraging.

I realise we can send them to the FAQ, but what else can be done to recover these users who often don't come back?

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Agree. Post a comment with advices and FAQ seems smarter. –  GG. Dec 1 '11 at 23:13

8 Answers 8

up vote 29 down vote accepted

I disagree with you guys. We have a mechanism to edit bad questions - we should use it. This will help the new user understand how best to ask a question. Simply downvoting and shouting "read the FAQ!" will drive new people away.

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But getting your question edited could put people off too. Also what if the question is ambiguous? Your edits could mean that any answers are meaningless to the OP. –  ChrisF Jul 8 '09 at 13:06
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@ChrisF: If the question is ambiguous, then it's useless to everyone. That should be made clear via comments, and if the author doesn't show up to clarify then the question should either be edited (take a guess at the missing details...) or closed. –  Shogging through the snow Jul 8 '09 at 14:19

A new user is told to check out the FAQ before he even logs in. You can see that notification yourself if you log out.

A question by a new user != A badly written question. But there is some correlation. Usually if it's not that bad someone takes it and edits out the bad parts.

But there must be some barrier for us to just say "These kinds of posts do not compile with us". We can do that with downvotes and even flags if needed.

We need to train the blue eyed new users that we have a standard. And we need to stick to it.

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I'm not sure I see a problem here. I think it's right that bad questions get downvoted whoever asked them. At most I would suggest mandating a comment explaining why a question was downvoted.

Maybe some other aspects need explaining better to new users. For example, if I ask a sysadmin question on SO it might be a bit confusing to be pushed onto a different webs site.

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And of course there are some who never learn - there are a few users that have very low rep, yet they have a long list of questions and answers. Most of their questions are closed and/or downvoted off the map, and most of their answers are likewise downvoted. Yet instead of learn they persist in mediocrity. –  GalacticCowboy Jul 8 '09 at 13:26

This problem affects any forum and is usually solved by recommending that people lurk, read posts and possibly post answers before posting questions.

However, the nature of SO is that people find it because they have a problem they need solving and usually fairly urgently. So in this case they jump right in and post a question.

Other than reminding everyone to "be nice" I don't think that there's a lot we can do as there will always be someone who jumps on the new poster by just down-voting rather than just commenting with positive feedback or editing the post to tidy the source formatting etc.

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I'm a relatively new Stack Overflow user. I was stung by a downvote I received when I answered an ambiguous question asked by a relatively inexperienced user. Perhaps the downvoter was peeved that the OP had accepted my answer when they thought their interpretation of the question was correct. I couldn't be bothered putting time into Stack Overflow answering questions for a few months after that.

I know some users will say that downvotes shouldn't be taken personally but it's human nature to do so. Stack Overflow also strongly emphasizes the importance of reputation to new users and encourages them to grow their reputation as fast as possible so an early downvote is particularly discouraging. I've seen some truly terrible questions and answers but it's much more useful to leave a comment requesting clarification or a corrective suggestion than downvote them. I feel far more offended by selfish fire and forget users who ask lots of questions, get lots of reasonable answers and don't accept any of those answers.

To a new user Stack Overflow can feel like a bit of a clique dominated by high reputation users. High reputation users have clearly done a great deal for the community but is it helpful to the community as a whole to reward them with the ability to discourage new users with a trivial dent in their own reputations?

I'm now half expecting a flurry of downvotes to this answer from hawkish high reputation users who like the status quo and the sense of power they get from easily downvoting other users. Let's find out...

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"the sense of power they get from easily downvoting other users" says a lot more about your perception of the world than it does about the community here. –  Farray Sep 13 '11 at 14:41
    
1) downvotes carry a different meaning on meta 2) the C++ SO community is harsh but fair 3) anyone putting time in to SO will get more rep from upvotes than they lose from downvotes (the scoring sees to that) –  AakashM Sep 13 '11 at 15:00
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@AakashM I wouldn't disagree with your assessment of 'harsh but fair' but I would question whether 'harsh but fair' is a sufficient response to 'How do we, as a community, encourage new users to stay?'. You're right, of course, that upvotes normally outweigh downvotes numerically but that's not the impression you get when you're on the receiving end. –  persiflage Sep 13 '11 at 15:41
    
@persiflage I find that comments explaining go a long way to "lessening the blow" of downvotes, but the community is not in favor of requiring comments. This aversion is not without merit - it is simply problematic (and ultimately impossible) to coerce behavior by legislative means. The old adage remains true - you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Some people will get downvoted. Some will leave. For those who stay, the long-term scoring trend is in their favor. –  Farray Sep 13 '11 at 17:37

I generally post a comment along the lines of

"Welcome to SO, [username]! Your question is a bit difficult to understand, could you tell us what language you're using/post the complete error message/show us the code that's giving you the problem/etc.? You can edit with the little link to the bottom left of the post."

If the new user isn't responsive or insists on being a plzsendtehcodez-er, then I'll downvote the question.

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One encouraging comment seems to go a long way. Both towards keeping users and toward getting them to fit in. –  dmckee Nov 30 '10 at 3:37

I agree with the answers posted above. The SO community has a well-documented standard that has emerged as SO has grown, I believe SO has done enough by providing the information in the FAQ. This might not be enough to ensure a new user has a positive experience when asking a question on stack overflow, however the user also has an obligation to discover and abide by the standard.

The type of user SO aims to attract should not be averse to observing standards, nor learning by example, and while it may not be a positive experience to be downvoted, one quickly finds out when one has made a faux pas

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I too feel that down-voting a new user is impolite and discouraging and that it is in the community's best interest to encourage them to stay, and to get better at phrasing useful, legible questions.

I propose a technical solution on top of the helpful suggestions in this thread:

  • A user's first question should get them 10 points. "Well done, you asked a question.". This would take some of the sting out of initial downvotes.
  • A user's first question cannot be down-voted without an explanation
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It is in the community's best interest for them to ask good questions. –  Bart Jan 20 '13 at 19:00

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