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Each day we see lots of posts like this from newcomers.

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And although there're members who dedicate their time to fixing such posts, it doesn't always help authors to learn: sometimes you see members with 300+ questions making similar mistakes.

There's also a '?' link in the upper right corner of edit area, but it's not that prominent (I've not noticed it until recently, at least).

I wonder, what can be done to educate newcomers about formatting rules? They are not that difficult, really.

  1. One simple idea is a message you're about to create your first post, please check this formatting guide. Like the ones with have now for faq: Welcome to Q&A for ... -- check out the FAQ!.

  2. Making formatting guide more 'visual' might help. I.e., for each 'trick' include not only example of code using it, but screenshot of its output (there's a lot of space on the right). Mentioning keyboard shortcuts might be nice too.

  3. Perhaps, 1-minute video-guide showing 3-4 most important features? That sounds difficult, though.

  4. Make "?" link more prominent. E.g., "editing-help".

  5. Any suggestions for another icon for 'code sample' button? Current icon gives one no idea about its function.

Other ideas are welcome.

share|improve this question
The thing is, there is already all kinds of these pointers - the users simply ignore them. Giving more to read to a user who doesn't read isn't going to accomplish anything. – JSONBog Oct 22 '10 at 15:31
Related – badp Oct 22 '10 at 15:38
@Sid That's why I'm suggesting to give less read: current guide isn't exactly easy to comprehend and have more text than necessary (even for me, and I consider myself a decent geek :)) – Nikita Rybak Oct 22 '10 at 16:48
@Sid BTW, which pointers're you talking about? I mostly educated myself about formatting through trial and errors, maybe I missed something. – Nikita Rybak Oct 22 '10 at 16:54
i just had that point: i was looking for formating help because i wanted to see if there is special syntax to refer to a tag-wikki. I was looking for a menu-item with "formatting help" but didn-t find it. After reading this post i know that there is a "?" :-) – k3b Dec 3 '10 at 10:05

Given the number of weird symbols used in programming, it might not be too hard to automatically detect source code that's outside of formatting blocks and ask the user to fix their formatting before letting them post.

Just checking for a few strings such as (), $(, //, ) { and }) could probably catch a major percentage of formatting mistakes.

share|improve this answer
This takes "Stack Overflow solved my problem" to a whole new level. – Pops Oct 22 '10 at 18:52
@Popular Demand - wasn't sure what to make of your comment so I revised to make it clear that I'm talking about checking for errors in post formatting and not errors in the code itself. That would be pretty amazing though. – Brad Mace Oct 22 '10 at 19:29
right now, when people say SO helped them, they mean the community helped them. If your suggestion (well, my incorrect interpretation of your suggestion, anyways) were implemented, then the engine itself would be catching the bugs. Then, people will finally be able to say "Stack Overflow solved my problem" literally. Which is hilarious to me, for some reason. – Pops Oct 22 '10 at 19:44

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