On SO when you click "ask a question", the subject "placeholder/overlay" is:

What's your programming question? Be specific

How about having something on the question textarea too? It must be simple, or the type of people this is mostly aimed at wont read it.


I suggest in the question textarea the "placeholder/overlay" be something like:

To get a good answer, remember to provide (where applicable):
Clear explanation of your exact issue;
What you've tried, what happened;
What you want to happen;
Any relevant code;

Reason for Proposal

In PHP/MYSQL/HTML I often see questions without basic info. No code, not clear what they're asking, no indication they've tried anything, etc.
Not sure about other tags, I'm sure it'll be a similar case - it never hurts to remind people anyway.

Some people will always post what they want, regardless, but reminders/prompts in the question textarea before they type might help enough to warrant it being implemented.

Potential Improvements

At the minimum it could potentially catch the forgetful, and those who are tired/busy/unaware we need certain info to help/etc.

Even prompting only a few people now and then to provide one more thing that they otherwise wouldn't have is another comment someone doesn't have to post asking for info, which in turn allows more time on something constructive, and would reduce frustration from seeing it happen regularly.

As well as making answering easier, it also helps questioners by likely getting their questions answered quicker. Some people will not bother with a bad question at all, not even commenting or coming back later, so the questioner loses that one view, + all others who think like this.

A good question is also more likely to obtain a concise answer.

EDIT to add a slightly revised proposed message for the placeholder (just food for thought, I'm sure there's better ideas waiting to be suggested):

Good questions get decent answers, and quickly.
Poor questions and duplicates get downvotes and slow or no answers.

Good questions require a minimum of:
Clear explanation of your exact issue;
What you've tried, what happened;
What you want to happen;
Any relevant code;

  • I'm surprised there's no comments at all. I'd prefer "you idiot this is stupid" as opposed to no comments...
    – James
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 1:12
  • 1
    Yeah, why not; some sort of checklist; can't hurt. Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 7:22
  • I was just typing up something similar to this and came here instead. I think the checklist is a great idea. Is this a duplicate, what have you tried, what can you reproduce, etc. Basically a small blurb paraphrasing the checklist would be nice. After all, the text area is rather large. It is a simple change. placeholder = "small blurb" goes right on the element and that is it.
    – Travis J
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 17:21
  • @TravisJ "Is this a duplicate" is a good one. And from another debate elsewhere, I also think "To get a quicker answer" would help as a lot of the crummy questions are from people wanting a quick answer. Again, this aint going to change the world, and is probs why few votes, but every little certainly does help
    – James
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 17:48
  • 1
    @James - I agree this wont prevent every low quality question from coming through. But if a few minutes can affect even 1 in 100 questions I think it is worth doing. Moreover, there is placeholder text in many of the inputs on stackexchange and it only makes sense to also include one in this area.
    – Travis J
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 18:06
  • @TravisJ yup. I also suggested changing the title placeholder in another question, as it's currently not particularly punchy or persuasive enough. scroll to "Interesting Ideas" "#2"
    – James
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 18:15

1 Answer 1


Some Changes

Is there room for improvement here? I think the simplest form of improvement would be to add a placeholder to the textarea. This way as the user is hastily moving from title to question at least they might see and read some tips since the placeholder will be the main focus of the page at that point.

Add this attribute to the <textarea> element

placeholder="We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed. 
Be on-topic. Provide details and share your research. Tell us what you found and why 
it didn’t meet your needs. Make it clear how your question is relevant to more 
people than just you."

This text was taken from the sidebar and from https://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-ask. It will look like this


As noted below, the "How to Ask" section is replaced with "How to Format" once the textarea gains focus. It would help to leave the How to Ask section in place, and perhaps slide the How to Format section in beneath or above it once the textarea gains focus.

Status Quo

The status quo is that there is no placeholder text inside of the textarea. There is a section to the right of the text area which shows

side suggestion

However, this easily blends in with the side of the page, and if the OP is only looking at input fields which is where their attention is then they will completely miss it. Moreover, upon mouseing into and clicking (or tabbing) the question textarea, the "How to Ask" is replaced with

how to format

"How to format", and that is all the user sees for the remainder of writing their question. I did not realize there was a formatting epidemic on stackoverflow.

  • +1 as I totally agree with the general idea (well dur) although I think bullet point style as I suggested in my question would be better than a large paragraph. We're trying to entice people who specifically don't read the help sections or poke around a bit to see how questions are asked properly. These people wont read a big block of text, they'll ignore it. Some might not, but most will (imo). Although debating this or not, either would certainly help I believe. It's right there in their face when asking so we're back to every little helps..
    – James
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 1:23
  • @James - As it stands, there is no support in html5 to have a bullet style list as you suggested. I did look into the prospects of making one but it was not possible. It would be possible to overlay a div element with the format you suggest (and attach an .on("input",remFunc) to it), but I am not sure if that would be overkill and so I left it out in favor of showing this simple example. @Others - I would like to see some sort of placeholder here, it does not have to be exactly as phrased above nor does it need to be limited to the placeholder string.
    – Travis J
    Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 2:05

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