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Are there any howto guides that show the basic aspects of using SO? It would be nice to have something to link to when telling a user to stop creating new questions whenever their original question is closed as "not a real question", and to edit the original one instead.

There are other simple howtos that could be useful, such as:

  • Tagging as homework, and giving efforts so far
  • How not to use a title "CODE PLS!!!!!"
  • Asking on an alternative SE site
  • Commenting instead of posting a new answer
  • Accepting an answer

Even something as simple as a standard screenshot with the various componented (link / button / text boxes) numbered could be extremely useful.

Related to this, what about completely new users who don't see the notifications of new comments? Perhaps it could be possible for a mod to trigger a template email to them?

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marked as duplicate by gnat, ProgramFOX, Hugo Dozois, ben is uǝq backwards, Martijn Pieters Mar 6 at 18:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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This would be great!!! I've just started here but already I am finding it very hard just to format code blocks. Tried searching everywhere and even experimenting a bit... all without luck. A decent intro document with the most common markdown would be quite helpful. –  John Dec 26 '10 at 15:35
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@John Welcome to SO! A markdown guide already exists here. For code formatting, take special note of the {} icon in the formatting toolbar. –  marcog Dec 26 '10 at 15:43

3 Answers 3

This system is built on learning through discovery and community self-moderation. Your suggestions (the bullet-list examples you want in this FAQ) tells the story of:

Why there is no "Stack Overflow Guide for the Absolute Beginner"

Look at your examples; They are wide-ranging and scattershot. If you think about it, this isn't really a beginners' guide, but a list of things that annoy a few seasoned users. So by time you flesh out your list to cover everyone's quibbles, you end up with the bulleted FAQ list from hell.

Let me back up a bit... In reality, HERE is the beginners' guide for the conscientious new user:

Welcome. Please read our short FAQ. Then have a look around until your comfortable with how the community and the system works. Try answering an occasional question and be mindful of the feedback you receive. Thank you.

But you've been using this system for over a year, so surely you've picked up a few great tips and observed numerous errant behaviors of the less experienced. But so have tens of thousands of other users with their similar list. So the thinking begins: "Surely, if we could just compile and commit to writing this list of all the most common foibles, surely, the unaware, unpracticed, unmindful user will consult this compendium before they err."

Unfortunately, the users who will most likely run afoul of this list are also the same exact people who will never read it.

It's actually surprisingly rare that a new users asks for a users' guide. I shouldn't say surprisingly because it's not surprising at all. The bar of entry to use this system effectively is surprisingly low. The vast, vast… vast… VAST majority of users pass through without incident. New users muddle through; new users quickly become experienced users; experienced users guide the new users… but, inevitably, a few become indignant and wish others to lament the cycle:

Why Seasoned Users Want a Beginners' Guide

To vent, plain and simple. Consider the FAQ of any forum… or any one of the numerous netiquette guides. They're huge! Here is how those guides inevitably come to be that way:

Way back in the earliest days of forums, old-timers grumbled and criticized that the new users didn't adhere to the same behaviors they learned over their years of experience. So they create a FAQ in reaction to whatever issue(s) were heavy on their mind. Newer initiates note that the FAQ is only making a small dent in the behaviors they're observing. "Surely there's a way to add to this document." So they write that up, and soon they're adding quibbles of their own. A process grows out of the effort and soon there's a whole sub-culture of watching out for FAQ-able problems. Add bullet… Add bullet… Add bullet…

Ultimately, the result of the document is to arm grouchy old-timers with written proof of their indignation; to chase away newbies by being unpleasant to them because they posted on the wrong forum. Soon, the rules that govern such places seem so bizarre and so persnickety, that the whole thing becomes unpleasant for those who — you know — want to ask questions about [subject].

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Read my comment under @Pekka's answer. While you make some good points, I'm trying to follow a different path to sending users to "the faq". –  marcog Dec 26 '10 at 19:30

It would be nice to have something to link to when telling a user to stop creating new questions whenever their original question is closed as "not a real question", and to edit the original one instead.

In this case it doesn't apply since neither question is a real question, but if a user asks a really bad question that gets closed, is it so bad if they open a new, good one instead of editing their previous question?

Let's face it it's fairly difficult for a question to get re-opened after editing, and if the first question is not a real question while the second is, they are not duplicate are they?

Tagging as homework, and giving efforts so far

Tagging as homework is completely optional and not required. Giving efforts so far is common sense, and if a user doesn't know that I guarantee you that they won't read any howto guide.

How not to use a title "CODE PLS!!!!!"

Same as above. Common sense; if a user is stupid then they won't read any guide.

Asking on an alternative SE site

Deciding which website to post on, in some cases, is very difficult and there are many many gray questions that can potentially belong on more than one website. Even experienced users have difficulties for this, so I can't imagine new users..

I think the best thing to do is to post the question on a website that looks right for it (something that users already do), and if it ends up not belonging there then it will be migrated, no big deal. Hundreds or thousands of questions are migrated each day.

Commenting instead of posting a new answer

New users can comment only on their own questions, and if they try to post an answer to their own questions they are asked if they want to post a comment instead.

Accepting an answer

They are reminded by a notification when they upvote an answer.


With all of that being said, there is an ample collection of guides and FAQs here on meta stackoverflow which are linked to from every website's FAQs.

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I appreciate the spirit in which this suggestion was made, but new users get tons of hints and FAQ links already when asking a question. Try asking a first question as an anonymous user - the whole process is full of pointers and useful links.

I think it's fairly safe to say that those who still write questions titled "CODE PLZ!!!!1" simply ignore any FAQ, hints, and help documents, regardless how well written and prominently pointed out they are.

Those in this group for whom there is hope, will learn from the comments and downvotes their initial contributions attract.

Those who don't learn even from that, eventually get the boot, and good riddance!

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This is more in the interests of making it easier for those passing on the hints. I don't want to explain to every user how to do XYZ, but I will put in the effort to link them to a brief screenshot/howto explaining the process. If it's short, some will actually read it. If it's a labelled screenshot with a big (7) next the "edit question" link, they'll be even more likely to view it and understand. –  marcog Dec 26 '10 at 16:13

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