I was recently reading the Skeptics.SE FAQ, and one of the top lines of their faq is:

New users (even users familiar with the StackExchange format) should read our introduction to the site before posting

The link listed goes to a very newbie-friendly meta post which explains what SE is, how it differs from online forums, and the sort of quality expected from both questions and answers.

I loved this, and would love to see something similar implemented in all SE sites. I made a similar proposal over at The Workplace a few weeks back, but see some other SE sites that could probably use something like this as well.

I think new users are much more likely to read a page specifically designed to introduce them to the site than they would be to read the entirety of the faq. The FAQ is quite long, and contains a lot of things that are not relevant to new users right away.

A separate page or meta post designed specifically for new users could teach them how SE is different from other forums/Q&A sites, how to ask good questions, and anything specific to the SE site that users should know before posting, all without cluttering the FAQ further.

In addition, it can help alleviate the perceived hostility that is sometimes mistaken by users who don't fully understand a SE site yet, and get negative feedback from other users.

So my proposal is to create a generic, friendly, welcome-new-user page or meta post that can be edited by individual SE communities, and that teaches new users whatever they should know before posting, such as

  • What SE is and how it differs from online forums

  • That SE sites are focused on a specific topic only, and provide a link to the faq section on what is on-topic

  • That we have a specific definition of what makes a Good Question, and a short example with a link to a longer article on what is a Good Question for SE

  • Anything specific to that specific SE site, which may or may not include

    • How to ask good subjective questions (only for subjective sites)

    • That answers should be backed up with references/personal experiences, and should not just be "me-too" answers that repeat other ones (possibly only for sites where the topic is one that all users feel they have some knowledge of, like The Workplace)

    • Where/What the Meta site is (only for non-meta sites)

    • What downvotes votes mean (only on sites where down votes are very common, such as MSO)

  • Anything else you think a user should know before posting

and to add a line to the very top of the faq that says something like

New User? Click here and read our site introduction before posting

This will provide a more welcoming page for users new to SE, and I think new users will be much more likely to read a welcome-new-user page than the faq, so it will help reduce the number of truly terrible questions that get asked (sadly, nothing I can think of will eliminate those entirely).

  • 1
    So, we need to have a FAQ about the FAQ? Commented May 17, 2012 at 22:46
  • 4
    @TheEstablishment Not really, the FAQ is for frequently asked questions, while this would be an introduction to the site for new users
    – Rachel
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 2:16
  • @Rachel, we're getting the pages out on sites gradually now. Ask Different is live now; more coming soon. We'll be adding the prominent link (and nudging new users there as part of on boarding) in the future.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


I definitely agree that SE sites lack a decent launching pad for newbies. All the information they need is available - but no available resource, including both the standard FAQ and "About" pages, do much to explain why newcomers should care to find that information out.

I really like the Skeptics intro page that you link to, because the money quote is right at the top:

As a result, the Skeptics.SE community can appear to be a little hostile to new users. Many first time users — perhaps even most first time users — are surprised when their contributions are judged against an unexpected set of standards. I urge you not to be disheartened by this. Have a look around, and you will quickly understand how we work. We hope that you will soon learn to appreciate the value that these standards bring in ensuring that the answers you find on Skeptics.SE are very high quality, and, importantly, reliable.

This is precisely the unpleasant user experience that we'd like to avoid (at least, for newcomers who actually come with good intentions, and are willing to put effort into their posts). And for this, such a page seems to me invaluable.

In fact, I don't think we need the "mini-FAQ" that OP's proposing - the problem isn't conveying the FAQ well. We just need that quote, or something like it. Similarly:

  • We don't need to explain what a "good question" is; we need to explain that we have a definition of a good question, and they should read it.
  • We don't need to lay the entire scope definition on a newbie when he's just figuring the site out - we just need to say that we have a scope definition, and where they can find out more.

And so on. Introduce the principle, not the details. They'll find the details later, if they want to. Don't even drill too deep in the principle - just tell them enough to figure out whether or not they're interested in this site, and whether or not they're willing to do the legwork to figure out how the system works.

And yes, we need such a page. Because right now, if somebody asks me, "what the heck is this weird site" - I don't have a link ready to answer them.

  • Great answer, and I agree with you about introducing SE concepts, with links to the details, instead of trying to put all the details into one article :)
    – Rachel
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 14:56

I think that a quick intro into the specific SE site the first time you join a page would be a good idea. I would suggest a new joiner page that pops up the first time and gives a little introduction. I think that deciding to get a login is already a commitment which shows that you want to be shown the ropes, so I think it would be a good thing to have a tutorial striped down to the most important points. However I would not attach this to the FAQ. It should be more prominent, if you still decide you do not need the help, so be it. You will never completely get rid of people who just post anything, without regards for rules. Most users are not as cautious as me though. I first read a lot of questions and answers before starting to do anything on SE. that way I knew a bit how it worked, but this could be shortened by showing a quick tutorial at the beginning. My suggestion would even be a small video tutorial not more than 2 mins. Like this you could guide the new people in the right direction.

I slightly disagree with @zoul, if you want to get help you should also now how things work around SE. In reality you're always shown how things are done in advance before you actually perform them yourselfe. Chances are relatively high that people have already used some internet help or SE site and think they now how to do it everywhere. The internet is big and not at all standardized and therefor an introduction to a specific SE site could lead to an improvement on how it is utilized. I don't think you will put off people who want to get an answer straight away. For certain SE pages you can already post questions without a login (like SO).

  • The only thing I don't like with an intro when you first sign up, is that sometimes people sign up just to vote on a question or answer they think deserves another upvote, and may want to skip the tutorial. Having it in the FAQ means it's there for whenever they're ready to read it.
    – Rachel
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 11:26
  • I only meant that the first time it should be "forced" on you. You are free to click it away instantly. Afterwards you would be able to access it form wherever you would like ... I wouldn't add it to the FAQ because it will be like a small summary of it.
    – user186230
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 11:35

I think that the main question is: Would this lower the hurdle for new users enough for them to actually read it? I think there’s already plenty of good information for newcomers, but the main problem as I see it is that they want to get help, immediately and without any regard for local conventions.

  • 4
    I think it will :) Personally, I love seeing a [New User? Click Here] link on sites I'm new to. I know the information there is going to be immediately relevant to me, and it will contain the things I need to know to use a site. I think many more new users will read something specifically designed for them, than a long page titled Frequently Asked Questions that contains a lot of things that are not relevant or understandable right away.
    – Rachel
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 16:15

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