In the "How do I ask a good question" section of the FAQ, there is nothing about providing example inputs and outputs (and well chosen examples), yet this is one of the most common deficiencies of most code and script related questions that I see.
- Questions can often express a desire for an output which is contradicted by their sample code; without sample inputs and outputs, it can be impossible to distinguish between buggy sample code and a poorly worded question.
- They may not even attempt to define the desired output, (wrongly) believing it obvious from the code.
- Even where a sample input and input is provided, edge cases are usually ignored and the single sample may be so poorly chosen that it reinforces rather than mitigates ambiguity.
- Many members simply do not have English as their first language, so either they find it hard for them to express what they want or they are unaware of potential ambiguity in their choice of words. Good sample code and data would mitigate this hugely.
These are very common problems with questions and waste much time. I do not believe that that "Be specific" addresses this problem at all adequately. I realise this secton of the help center seems to be generic to all affiliates, so can't be worded too specifically, but maybe something like this could be added, after "Be Specific"
Provide Useful Examples Where possible, provide examples which illustrate what you want to achieve. Giving examples of the problem faced and the desired result can reduce the risk of confusion about your intent, saving a lot of time.
What do people think?
Secondary question: is this section of the Help Center FAQ absolutely generic or adaptable per site? If it can be made site-specific, I think that clear, specific advice about sample inputs and outputs would be essential on the coding/software-engineering affiliates (but in that case I should raise it on their meta sites).