Those of us who have been using SO (or any SE site for that matter) for a while know that the box where we type our text is not identical to what is posted (because of various markdown capabilities we are given). We also know that there is a display below the text box that shows us what our post will actually look like once we are done, and we know how to format thing the way we would like them to look.

I've noticed a trend where a user will format things nicely (or somewhat nicely) as plaintext where they type, and ignore the fact that it is not at all formatted like that in the actual post (despite the fact that it is displayed, live, directly below where they are typing). Lists that are meant to span several lines appear as a single string across one line running onto several, code is partially code-formatted, etc...

I suggest that new users and users with many third-party edits (corrections by more experienced users), be prseented with a confirmation dialog when posting confirming that they have, in fact, checked out how their post will actually appear once posted, and that it is accurate. To address concerns regarding reduced conversions, a possible solution would be to bypass the dialog for absolute first posts, since those will be in First Post review queue anyway.

This will:

  • Make it easier for everyone to read
  • Reduce the amount of editing we have to do to make things readable
  • Make it easier to take new, serious posters seriously, as their questions won't look lazy and effortless due to lack of formatting.

Mock up of dialog to be displayed: enter image description here

Possible criteria for whether to display dialog:

if posts == 0:
if posts < 5:  # questions AND answers
if third_party_edits / posts > .3: # 30% "fixed" by others
  • I was tempted to leave only one newline between each section, and not properly put the list together, but those things annoy me and I'm sure nobody would want to read such garbage.
    – yoozer8
    Dec 23 '11 at 3:35
  • 3
    Really? I've noticed a trend where low-rep/new/one-time users don't bother formatting their posts in the slightest, even when there's a preview right in front of them Dec 23 '11 at 3:44
  • @Fezziwig that's why I'd like to gently remind them as they post that they can do better, and that thay probably won't get a good answer unless they do...
    – yoozer8
    Dec 23 '11 at 3:45
  • 1
    This has a likely/certain effect of reducing conversions (posts). I honestly highly doubt quality will be improved much. Users that preview will be annoyed and users that don't will just find they have to click yet another box to proceed.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 23 '11 at 6:55
  • @Jim, I'd like to put a bounty on this question. do you mind if i edit it to include a mocked-up screenshot and a potential solution that addresses both issues raised in 2011?
    – mhlester
    Feb 14 '14 at 19:53
  • @mhlester Please go right ahead!
    – yoozer8
    Feb 14 '14 at 21:00
  • 1
    @Jim, Whelp, it looks like this got you 63 rep from upvotes, but not a single new post for me to award my bounty. Maybe "Authoritative Answer Needed" would have been a better choice, but I bet people skip over bounties that have an accepted answer. It was nice playing though! A little more exposure never hurts.
    – mhlester
    Feb 21 '14 at 18:36
  • @mhlester I didn't even think to unaccept the answer. Not sure why it's accepted in the first place, since this a feature request and the answer isn't a "Yes we will implement" or "No we won't implement".
    – yoozer8
    Feb 21 '14 at 18:50
  • I'd imagine it was considered an acceptable reason not to implement at the time
    – mhlester
    Feb 21 '14 at 18:51
  • +1 just for the Python example... (kidding, I like the proposition in fact). Feb 21 '14 at 21:51

First of all I think this is a good idea. Asking a question should be something that is given thought, and taking the time to ensure that the question is formatted properly is a part of that. "Training" new users to learn about markdown, and SO's formatting seems like a sensible thing to do.

I'm not sure about the conditions however. Maybe I'm a really bad speller (I am) and I get a bunch of edits, but I always format my posts beautifully. If there is a way to query the reason for edits maybe it could work.

  • Valid point. Might be too big of a query but just checking edits from within the first 10 minutes might help - those are more likely made by people trying to be able to read the code
    – mhlester
    Feb 21 '14 at 21:51
  • Worst case scenario, it probably just gives up on you after a couple hundred rep :
    – mhlester
    Feb 21 '14 at 22:04
  • Yea, once someone gets to I'd say... 200 maybe give up. That also brings up the issue of cross network rep. Feb 21 '14 at 23:17
  • keep in mind this proposal ultimately adds just one extra click to a targeted set of users. a few false positives shouldn't hurt much at all
    – mhlester
    Feb 21 '14 at 23:20
  • 1
    Just a thought... Maybe instead of a full blown popup after they click create, maybe just a highlight on the realtime editor, with a message saying something like "This is what your post will look like.". This seems a little less invasive and reinforces the usage of the realtime editor. Feb 23 '14 at 7:34

Rather than try to adjust user behavior with all the carrot and stick incentives, we should look to how we can adjust the Stack Overflow behavior so that user "format" in the final view that will be seen. (For example, look at the MailChimp.com final form HTML editing or that of many other products.)

We should spend our time lobbying for improving the tools folks use here on SO rather than educating users in an older paradigm (what you see is not what you get).


Though I consider this as a good suggestion, I want you to note that it depends on users. I've seen users with more than 500 rep posting poorly formatted posts. Only the HTML formatting may be unaware for the new users. In all these cases there are a lot of experienced people here who are willing to format the post for them :) and I'm sure most of them will learn on the way.

  • @AnnaLear It looked good when it was like a quote :D
    – COD3BOY
    Dec 23 '11 at 7:26
  • 6
    Perhaps, but that's not what quotes are for. They are for, well, quoting things. Please don't abuse the markup; otherwise your posts are harder to understand. Thanks.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Dec 23 '11 at 7:28
  • 2
    Oh, the irony... :)
    – itsjeyd
    Feb 14 '14 at 22:48
  • 1
    This answer is marked as the accepted answer? Interesting. It seems more like a comment to me.
    – ThunderGr
    Feb 15 '14 at 8:50
  • 1
    @ThunderGr, keep in mind this answer was from 2011. I edited OP's post considerably and added a bounty. This answer put the question to rest until I resurrected it. Check the original question history to see why this was an acceptable answer.
    – mhlester
    Feb 16 '14 at 5:07

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