I've been browsing stack exchange for some time, and I keep on seeing questions that begin with some form of this message:

Hi, I'm new to this website and I'm not sure if this question is in the right place. If it isn't, could you move it to the right site? Thanks.

[actual question goes here]

To be clear, these users aren't posting this in the chat or in the meta, which I wouldn't have a problem with; instead, they are posting it in the actual main site, right in front of their question that they are unsure about whether it's in the right place.

I have a few problems with this:

  1. It's not relevant to the question.
  2. It would be better if that issue was resolved before they asked the question.
  3. The main site isn't the place for this: it should be asked in the meta or the chat (yes, I know that a user needs a certain amount of reputation to post in the chat or the meta: I'll discuss that later).

Since the people who posts these messages are usually new users, I think that what should happen is that they need a nudge in the right direction. So, what I propose is that, if a message begins or ends with a message similar to the one posted above, when that message is submitted, the system automatically gives the user a message like this:

Hi, you said in your question that you weren't sure whether your question was in the right place. This site is for [insert relevant portion of the faq here], so if your question is not on topic, then it might be better if you asked it on another site.

A lot of people ask questions that would be better off on [list the sites where questions are most frequently migrated], so make sure that your question wouldn't be a better fit there.

If you still aren't sure, then you should ask in the [site name] chat [include link here to the chat, that, if the user clicks it, directs them to a special chat room that only they and the moderators/above 10k users can use, so that the new user can get their question cleared up], where a moderator or an active user should be able to answer your question.

If you are sure that your question is in the right place, then please go back and remove the part in your question where you asked if it was, so that your question will be better received. If this filter was in error, then continue and post your question.

I think that will clear up a lot of new user questions, and make a lot of questions a lot better and less redundant.

Edit: here's a list of Google searches that demonstrates that this problem exists:

  • can you provide some actual examples of posts like this? – Jeff Atwood May 23 '12 at 0:02
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    @JeffAtwood I updated my question with a list of google searches. – user160606 May 23 '12 at 1:21

Just knowing that migration functionality exists shows some familiarity with the system, so I don't think additional hand-holding is going to have a huge benefit here.

When I see this, if the user really does seem to be new, I just edit the question to move that block to the bottom — shortening it a bit if it seems especially "fluffy" — so that it doesn't take up valuable preview space on question list pages. (I also make all other edits appropriate to the post, of course.) The idea is to leave a subtle hint for others to not be too rough on someone who's still getting used to the SE system.

On the other hand, if the asker has a four-digit rep already, I'll just remove the block entirely. The community doesn't need to be instructed to use the closing/migration mechanism, nor does it need permission.

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    I always just remove the block entirely...if it doesn't fit I leave a comment, if it does fit, who cares, no need to leave it. – Ben Brocka May 22 '12 at 21:12

I've been guilty of this at least once, but sometimes it just can't be avoided: there are many sites on SE whose scopes overlaps, and IMHO requiring each new user to "make a tour" for the entire network before starting to participate is a bit overkill.

Sure, there are people who are obviously just lazy and expect others to do the hard work for them. But many people are just timid, getting a bit too reluctant to start participating in a new community (especially if they've already seen examples of other people being scolded - rightfully or not - for not showing proper research before asking), and depending on which culture they come from showing this "disclaimer" may seem to them like just a sign of humbleness (even if others perceive it as a disruptive thing).

In my opinion, the best action to take in those cases depend mostly on the perceived intention of the poster. If you think it was an innocent mistake, and the presence of that fragment bothers you, just edit it out of the question (the same way many people remove "Hi" and "thanks" from other people's posts) or maybe move it to the bottom, as Popular Demand suggested.

I don't know how prevalent this problem is (your google searches above suggest "a lot" at a first glance, but I noticed many of the first hits in, say, the "gaming" site are just different pages pointing to the same question), but I don't think it justifies implementing an automated counter measure - and not a trivial one, since identifying such occurences would demand some natural language processing to be successful (each person might say the same thing in different ways, how to detect it without too many false positives/negatives is beyond me).


Lets consider what these blocks really mean.

When someone adds a note like that, what I suspect they're really saying is:

I've been reading this site a while, and I realize that some questions are closed for various reasons, and sometimes with no explanation, or worse, with a very rude explanation. I recognize that my question may not be a perfect fit here, but I'm not sure where else or how else to ask it. So if it's not a good fit, please don't bite.

The best way to solve this problem, then, is to always guide people gently. I know that everyone reading this post already does that (right?!), but there is a vocal minority (it is a minority, right?) that can be less than polite when dealing with new visitors to our site. (Okay, I admit, I am sometimes guilty as well.)

So I propose the systematic solution to this problem is to always be extra polite when closing or migrating questions, so newish users won't feel the need to use such blocks at the beginning of their questions, and call out our peers when they are less than polite to new visitors. (The super new users don't use such blocks anyway, because they haven't been lurking long enough to notice or care that some questions get impolite responses).

The short term solution is, I believe, to remove the block when the question does fit, and leave a polite explanation (and suggestions for improvement, if possible), when the question really doesn't fit.

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    That's one possible interpretation. Another would be: I've been reading this site a while, and I know that my question doesn't really fit here. I suspect that there's another SE site that will fit better, but I don't want to search for it. So instead of downvoting and voting to close, search it for me. – Dennis May 23 '12 at 1:52
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    @Dennis: In any case, giving new users the benefit of the doubt never hurts. – Flimzy May 23 '12 at 5:53

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