I spend more time on Stack Overflow than I should, and I really getting sick of one thing:

Questions on certain tags, for programming languages which are familiar to many (like JavaScript or PHP), it happens quite often that question from new users are absolutely useless.

They often do little more than state what they want, providing no information on what they tried (if anything), no examples of what they're looking for, etc. Usually these questions have a race between voting to close and downvotes. The person who asked the question probably gets sick of Stack Overflow and won't ask a question again.

I don't like how this is currently handled, and I really do not like to read tons of useless questions.

I know about this page, but it's like the license agreements seen when installing new software: nobody really reads all that stuff, you just skip to the end and click through.

So I would like propose a few changes for users with a reputation < X (100?, 200?) that I hope might help to guide new users:

  • If the question is shorter than X characters, ask them if they think that their question might be too short/not precise enough.

  • If there is no code block embedded in the question, ask them if it might help other people to understand if they would add some code showing their work to the question.

  • If no text formatting / markdown for texts longer than X characters were used, ask them if they saw the possibilities of the editor to make the question more readable. Perhaps even suggest specific formatting (Most lists look like this: "1) first point 2) second point" - this could potentially be detected and the proper syntax noted)

  • If the question is asked within less than x minute(s) of the Ask page being loaded, ask them to read through what they wrote and check for mistakes and general comprehensibility.

All of this guidance should be mandatory, but if provided then maybe they will start thinking about their question and how it looks to others, and will invest more than 30 seconds in asking it.

I believe this could be big improvement for everybody. New users are happy because their question will be answered more often. Users who answer question will be happy because they do not need to read this not understandable 5 lines of badly written and incomprehensible cry for help.

  • We do bullet #1 sort of, our "quality standards" appear to take post length into account (among other vague factors)
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 12, 2012 at 23:33
  • 2
    For the record, your sentiment is very much appreciated. Should you get downvoted, note that downvotes are different on Meta. I'm one of the frequent closevoters/downvoters on SO and I do think doing that is the only right way to deal with this problem - if you have 4000 new questions a day, you have to kill the exceedingly basic ones with fire, and those who ask them need to go away and learn to program and to Google. (IMO.) Still, maybe a sanity check like you propose might help - I'm not sure, I'm interested to see what the team say.
    – Pekka
    Jun 12, 2012 at 23:38
  • @BenBrocka: I know there are a few test/helpers. I would like have some more.
    – TheHippo
    Jun 12, 2012 at 23:42
  • @Pekka: Thanks for the heads-up on the voting here on meta. I agree with you on that not every question needs to be answer if it is to basic or just a Google search away. But for example today I read a question like "I tried to use GoogleCharts with ExtJS via a component I found on the internet." This might have been interesting, but it missed a lot of informations.
    – TheHippo
    Jun 12, 2012 at 23:59
  • 1
    @Hippo yeah I see what you mean... there is some percentage of users who might be helped by a mechanism stopping them, but I fear a much larger percentage doesn't care and will simply try to get past the filter, or doesn't even know where to begin providing details (because they really have zero idea what they are doing). Those users, IMO, need to learn the basics first, and their stuff getting dowvoted might even give them the feedback they need to understand what they're doing wrong ...
    – Pekka
    Jun 13, 2012 at 0:05
  • I wonder what % of brand new users questions require this sort of help (closure/ect stats anyone?) not sure it's worth annoying people that aren't repeat offenders
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 13, 2012 at 0:15
  • If a new users ask a comprehensive question he hopefully wouldn't get any message. I am not tied to when to do this test. Instead of hard setting this to any points, we could stop doing this, after a new user accepted an answer for first time. (This could be an indication that his question wasn't that bad ;-)
    – TheHippo
    Jun 13, 2012 at 0:53
  • I get the intent and I think it's sort of a good idea in some ways...the possible implementations just give too many vibes of Clippy and MS Bob...
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 13, 2012 at 1:02
  • Point 2 (suggest including code) is already implemented. Point 3 (suggest adding formatting) I don't like because I think it'll lead to extraneous use of formatting, which drives me crazy. Warning about no line breaks in long posts might be helpful, though. Point 4 (timing between "Ask Question" and posting) is a good thought but will catch people who typed out ther question elsewhere and are copy-pasting it into the text box on the website.
    – jscs
    Jun 13, 2012 at 1:16
  • It would be nice to have statistics on average character count on questions / closed question, etc. About formatting: Let's say there if there are more then 500 characters it would be nice to have at least one line break/new paragraph. (Example: stackoverflow.com/questions/11004542/…) If there is a "1)" and a "2)" in the text there is a high change this could be transformed into a list, .... About timing: Let's say if there are more then 200 characters within 30 seconds you are good to go.
    – TheHippo
    Jun 13, 2012 at 1:25


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