(Similar to "Could we please be a bit nicer to new users?", but more specific.)

A user who's been around for a while but hasn't been too active just asked a very good question in a comment.

He points out that this question, back in 2012, was well-received at the time: 42 upvotes, 21 favorites, and four answers, and it wasn't closed as a duplicate until recently. In contrast, his question, posted yesterday, got four downvotes and two critical comments (one from me), and was closed as too broad within five hours.

And yet the questions are quite similar: they show no research effort and amount to "I need to do this, how do I do this, thanks bye". In 2012, at least sometimes, this got lots of help. Now, it gets slapped down in a hurry. So I'm thinking that our community's standards must have changed a lot over that time.

Perhaps, in 2012, there were a lot more new users who were simply glad to find easy questions where they could easily earn some reputation. I know that was my attitude back then. "Oh goody, an easy question, let's get some easy rep!" Of course, we still have lots of new users, and probably always will. But I imagine by now we also have plenty of seasoned users who are tired of seeing low-effort questions, and will shut them down fast.

We do incentivize this somewhat. Experienced users with high enough rep can earn badges for review tasks, and those tasks generally involve shutting down questions that don't fit our format. There's at least one badge for voting on questions. I know I vote on questions more often for both of these reasons.

I know what the help files say about good questions, and I've read esr's longer essay on the subject, and I'm inclined to agree: I don't particularly like seeing questions that could have been solved by five minutes of googling.

But (and here I finally come to my point), I wonder what this will do to our community in the long run. It seems to me that we are putting up a big fence and saying "noobs not wanted". If you don't already know how to ask a good question and do your own research before asking, and to show that you did that when you ask, you now get slapped down with downvotes and comments and close votes. And I wonder how many people, who are inexperienced and yet have potential, are turned off by this reaction, and leave Stack Exchange and go somewhere else?

There's also the excellent point that Undo made, that many people aren't reading the help files because their English isn't good enough to follow them. This problem will only get worse over the coming years, as what we used to call the third world modernizes. Do we want to drive those people away? Someday they'll be the majority. Let's not act like apartheid-era South Africa, eh?

I don't know what we should do, but I would certainly like to see some vigorous discussion of this issue. I think we should review how our incentives are working. Perhaps we need a badge that places more value on upvotes than on downvotes. Perhaps we need a new kind of vote, one that means "the question is interesting, but you need to ask it better". How about a vote or flag that means "please send this user a message about reading the help files"? Five of those, and the system automatically sends a message. We could even select which help files to highlight in each case.

I certainly think we need more nuance and more choices in our reasons for closing questions. I keep seeing questions that show no research effort, and wanting to vote-to-close for that reason, but there's no really good choice for that. There should be. The "why isn't this code working" one is closest, but quite often the question isn't about that at all, but rather "how do I do x", with no code involved. It's a Procrustean tool, and it shouldn't be. We need to be able to express to new users precisely why their questions are being closed, what help files they should read, and what they should be doing differently. We can't do that when the real reason isn't on the menu.

  • 3
    The problem with more fine-grained close reasons is that there will be no end to it. And there really is no need for it either. "No research effort" is very open to abuse, and it doesn't really focus on the actual problem. Is it asked over and over again on the site? Then it's a duplicate of something. Is the information provided not enough to answer it? Then it's unclear. If it fist none of the existing ones, you may find it's on-topic and answerable. Even if somewhat trivial.
    – Bart
    Nov 16 '15 at 11:23
  • @Bart: "There will be no end to it" - that's a slippery-slope argument. It will end wherever the mods decide it should end. That isn't necessarily "right where it is now". As for your other objection, what about the clearly stated, specialized question where the OP knows what is wanted and states it, but has no clue how to start and shows no sign that they've tried anything? Should that be closed? With what reason? It's not too broad, it's not unclear, and it's not "why isn't this code working". But we don't want such questions, right?
    – Tom Zych
    Nov 16 '15 at 13:24
  • 5
    I find the hypothesis that people don't read the help files because they struggle with English unconvincing: they're asking questions in English and expecting answers in English. No; the reason the help files aren't working is no one ever reads the help files before asking a question. Help material is considered reference: you go to it when you need it. And before someone asks their first question, they don't think they need it. The root problem is everyone thinks they know how to ask a question, but they don't.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 16 '15 at 14:16
  • @DanBron: If you mean that some new users can read the help files without difficulty, and simply don't bother: sure, totally agree. If you mean that all of them can: nope. I've seen too many questions with badly mangled English to buy that. Adding the option to read help files in simplified English would probably help in some cases. Enough to justify the effort? Who knows.
    – Tom Zych
    Nov 17 '15 at 1:21
  • @Dan Bron: For the record: my actual decision to post that question to SO was based on that post from 2012: if that post can, why mine can't? I have read help files. As my dumb google research failed, seeing that the other post wasn't just rejected, and it's so similar to mine, I didn't hesitated. It turns out that I should have. And it's kinda frustrating. Nov 17 '15 at 5:39
  • @BłażejMichalik I can understand your frustration. I sympathize. My personal opinion for the difference is: the site has changed since 2012 (along with a healthy dash of question-roulette). I can only suggest that you put details of your personal research/effort in the body of your question from the get-go. What you wrote about your research in your follow-up comment was very helpful.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 17 '15 at 5:47

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