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It might seem obvious to a new person to the Stack Overflow site to simply search for "How do I ask a question?" or "How do I ask a great question?" or "How do I use this site?" yet none of those really help that person do so.

Unless you KNOW to click the "?" icon for help those type searches really give you no help? Can we fix this to at least put forth some links to the site guidelines or something useful to help that new person? (something obvious as a small simple "How" button under the large "Ask a Question" button.

Hopefully this revision gets to the gist of my question.

People come to Stack overflow to 1. Find something already here. 2 Ask a question. 3 something else. ANYTHING that makes 1 or 2 harder/less intuitive in ANY way is a failure. THUS, the three "Tags", "Users", "Jobs" are MUCH MUCH less useful to those two primary things than a simple "How to ask" link might be in that place, clearly visible and to the "Users" objective - how easy to add a comment to a less than ideal question i.e. "See that "How to Ask" link on the left there? Click it, have fun."

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    Once upon a time, a long long time ago in a galaxy... there used to be a link called, faq, (yes, a word not an icon!) embedded in the top bar. It was very easy to find information. This got replaced by an icon, a grey circle with a question mark – Mari-Lou A Oct 1 '18 at 12:14
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    @Mari-LouA Yeah, I miss the old FAQ; the Help Center is just too cumbersome. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Oct 1 '18 at 15:33
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We're currently working on improving our question asking guidance for users, particularly new users, so we're open to recommendations for improvement.

Our Search bar on our main sites doesn't search help topics, it only searches the Q&A content of the main site. You have to get to the help pages first to find help with how to use the site. As you say, the question mark icon in the top bar can be difficult to find if you're not sure what you're looking for.

For brand new users, when they visit the Ask a Question page, they're redirected to an interstitial that gives them some quick asking help with some links to other information on the site and how to ask.

How to Ask interstitial for new users to the AaQ page.

For users who check the "thanks" box and "proceed" past this page, there is a similar helpful box on the Ask a Question page in the right hand sidebar:

How to Ask box on the Ask a Question page with links to the help center and guidance for asking questions

These links take you to the Help Center (which is found at /help) where there is a search function for the articles there and directly the Asking Help page, which has a bunch of good advice and links to other resources. It also includes a link to Meta Stack Overflow, where there are many very helpful questions and answers about writing good questions that can be found using the search bar while on MSO.

As part of our work to improve the asking experience, we're developing an Ask a Question Wizard for Stack Overflow (though I hope it may be useful for other sites in the future, too). It's taking a bit longer than planned to get it up and running but it's in active development and should be available soon for use by everyone - you can actually use it right now if you want, it's just not integrated into the Ask a Question page yet. Please note, using this will actually post a question on SO, so don't submit your question if you don't actually want to ask it!

Eventually, this should be built in so that new users see it and its guidance by default when asking a new question.

We do try to guide users, particularly new ones, to helpful pages once they actually click the "Ask Question" button and we hope to improve this in the future to make help easier to find and proffer it without users having to go looking for it. The reality is, few users look for it, so we're better off making it more obvious.

  • Things used to be a lot better when meta questions were asked on SO itself, under the tag [sofaq]. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Oct 2 '18 at 6:48
  • I would also point out that I, as a somewhat longer term user recently observed several "not the best question" from a new set of users. I wanted to help them, considered the best course of action. I then wanted to point them to a "how to ask (better) questions" page which really sort of lead to this question - since I don't click the "?" icon, I did a mouse-over on the icons, even clicked the "?" but did not see a "How to Ask" on that either. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 11:53
  • "The reality is, few users look for it, so we're better off making it more obvious." Yep, so add a simple link right there on the left side - the fact that your answer has to have images in it to "explain" actually gets right to the issue of "How do I ask?" not being right on the page at all times...at least as a link. I added a comment to my question regarding this. I would not buy a car where I had to push a button to get the steering wheel to appear. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 12:06
  • @MarkSchultheiss I'm not quite sure how clicking Ask Question to find help about asking a question is bad UX, particularly when one of these pages requires two clicks to move past the page to actually get to the Ask page. I'm including images because users on SO with some reputation won't see the first page any more. We need to interrupt their progress of asking to feed them the info rather than hoping they'll click a "help asking" button instead of the "ask" button. If we don't, even fewer people will see it, regardless of how obvious we make a link. – Catija Oct 2 '18 at 12:21
  • My point is 2 part. 1. User posts a bad question. 2. Other user (me?) goes to help/answer I have two choices A. Down vote bad question, vote to close bad question (helps no one). B. Try to help, point out link to "How to ask" that should always be there, add additional comment with suggestions of what to do to improve. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 14:16
  • Help me do B. above as easy as possible since you are right, I no longer see what you posted, and frankly I don't know how to get the user to see it either - so I am of little use in the site instruction department here. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 14:18
  • OK. That makes more sense. But your title specifically says "as a new person" and that's how I answered this question. What you're actually looking for @MarkSchultheiss Is an easy way "as an experienced user" to help a new user find the right page to get help with improving their question. That's a completely different thing. – Catija Oct 2 '18 at 14:18
  • I am greedy, I want both really, help me help new users, help new/existing users with an always existing way to get to that knowledge point. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 14:19
  • OK, so this answer addresses the new person part and explains that we're already working on solutions for helping new users better than we currently are. You might consider asking another question (and I'd recommend MSO rather than MSE if you're interested in SO specifically) that focuses on helping you, an experienced user, help others better. Lots of users have their own solutions to this problem already, whether that's memorizing the url to the how to ask page (/how-to-ask) or having a userscript with pre-written comments. – Catija Oct 2 '18 at 14:28
  • @MarkSchultheiss I'm not sure if this specific suggestion is one that we would implement but we can definitely look at it. In the interim, I recommend you find some alternate solutions to your problem - they may help more than anything we could implement. The Auto Review Comments script can be useful as it lets you create your own comment text and save it. It's much more flexible since you can tailor the links to best help the users. That /how-to-ask page isn't always the most useful depending on the situation and linking to a page that doesn't help can just confuse and annoy users. – Catija Oct 2 '18 at 14:37
  • Thanks, looks like I need to research what "The Auto Review Comments script can be useful as it lets you create your own comment text and save it." is. Thanks for pointing that possible knowledge gap I have out. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 2 '18 at 15:44
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Well, as a new user you are invited to read the tour which links to the help center. The Help Center starts with a search bar:

enter image description here

Searching for "how do I ask a great question" produces the link you'd expect:

enter image description here

As for why that doesn't work when you use the search bar on the main site: it's very hard to figure out a user's intention from what they type in the search bar. Do they want to search the Q&A repository, or are they looking for general help with the site? (On Meta Stack Exchange, it would be even harder.) Large companies spend lots of developer hours to make artificially intelligent chat bots to help their customers; it's not something which is feasible for Stack Overflow right now.

  • "I'm sure that that information is searchable." Just point out how exactly (within the constraints of the site, not some search engine)? (other than click the "?" icon - plenty of space on the left for those since that left panel was added I might add. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 1 '18 at 15:37
  • @SonictheInclusiveWerehog: On the one hand, the old April Fools chatbot was pretty terrible. On the other hand, building a very low-key text-recognition system that just adds some unobtrusive links to site help if it looks like that's what's being asked about ought to be a lot easier than building a truly reliable full-featured chatbot. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 1 '18 at 16:19
  • @NathanTuggy Just a joke... – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Oct 1 '18 at 16:20
  • @MarkSchultheiss I've added screenshots. – Glorfindel Oct 1 '18 at 16:23
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    Thanks, I see my question needed revision, indeed on Meta that works but not on StackOverflow where more people ask questions. – Mark Schultheiss Oct 1 '18 at 16:53

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