Possible Duplicates:
How to ask great questions
How to ask a Smart Question on SO?
What’s the best way to ask a question if English isn’t your first language?

Any guidelines on making sure your questions are understood? (Can't find this question via searching, surely someone has asked this before?)

I certainly don't want to go through the pain in Set function signature in Python again, and I'm sure some of the people trying to answer it don't want to either!

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3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, the proper way to ask a question on any particular topic is going to vary with the subject matter. A brief question might be perfectly acceptable, if the people who know about that topic know exactly what you are talking about.

Speaking very generally, I'd say, when in doubt about whether you are being clear:

  • Provide details. What are you trying to do?
  • Provide your code. What have you tried to get this to work?
  • Include a very specific question.
  • Think like an answerer. If you were providing support, what information would you like your users to provide you with?
  • Don't make it a wall of text. Aim for about one screen full at the most, and let the comments tell you whether that's enough or too much.

Some good tips:

  • Get the tags right. Users who are knowledgeable in a topic area will mark the appropriate tags as "interesting" or follow the rss feeds for those tags, and so getting the tags right is the best way for you question to get noticed by people who are qualified to answer it.
  • Put some extra time into the title. Especially if english is not your first language, you'll want readers to be able to distill the essence of your question from the title.
  • Use code to convey difficult concepts Again, if English is not your first language you'll probably just stumble trying to describe what you want to do. Code is likely to be more universally understood and do a better job communicated your problem. But...
  • Only show the minimum amount of code possible. Condense your code snippets as much as possible so that the problem you're trying to solve pops out. If other users have to read through a whole program to find the one method that matters, you're going to lose a lot of potential answers who just don't have the time.
  • Put effort into your question, including spelling, capitalization, and grammar. Humans will naturally respond with effort matching whatever was put into a request. Sometimes English is a barrier because it's a second language, and that's okay, but sometimes it's clear someone was just lazy about asking the question. Things like lower-case i intead of I are give-aways in this area. Breaking up long text into smaller paragraphs and using the formatting tools correctly are others. Failing at these things discourages people who might answer; it tells them you don't really care.
  • And don't forget the naked-cowboy tag.
    – random
    Sep 11, 2009 at 14:57

ESR wrote a great essay, "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way".

A lot of it does not apply to our needs, but it is a good read and well worth the trouble.

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