The "how to ask" block is a good idea, but it's obvious that most people are not reading it. I see tons of posts every day that are not formatted, poorly explained and so on.

I always try to leave a comment saying "oh please format your code and so on", maybe edit it myself, but the more user come to SO the more posts like this I see.

It's not a big deal and I'm all for being nice with noobs, but I feel this could be improved if the block was more prominent at least for the FIRST question a user ask. Why not make it blink and marquee?

More seriously, there are options such as:

  • "template" text defaulting in the textarea ("My problem is... [sample code] ... etc"). The text would go away when the user clicks it (or something similar)

  • Lightbox on top of everything with the "how to ask" block

  • "how to ask block" in a different color

  • Asking the user "are you sure your question is asked correctly?" and showing the "how to ask" block before submitting

  • Going through a page before the "ask a question" page that would explain how to ask questions.

I think it is fairly important since there are more and more new users. The closing/downvote system works fine, but this might lower the noise on questions and save time for people closing questions.

This would be only for the first question asked by the user so that it doesn't annoy him too much.

Feel free to edit the title, I didn't know how to word that ^^

  • offensive? damn! – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:07
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    Why not make it blink and marquee? I will cut you – Pollyanna Dec 15 '09 at 16:10
  • I'd rather make it a wordart image... but I'm cool with making it a blinking wordart – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:13
  • @marcgg, blatantly – juan Dec 15 '09 at 18:46
  • So this only applies to users with Y chromosomes? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Dec 16 '09 at 20:39

People DON'T Read!

You could have a chorus kick line singing about how to ask a question correctly while a troupe of dancing monkeys spelled out "Programming-Related" Village People/YMCA style, and people will not notice it.

You could whitebox in an image Dr Hunter S. Thompson, coked up and drunk, wielding a shotgun, telling them that they'd better ask the question correctly or suffer the consequences. They'll click through the whitebox the same way we all do with EULAs.

I'm only gonna say this ONCE: PROGRAMMING RELATED http://www.codeheaven.info/samples/hunter.png

You flash the screen 72 different colors until they actually scroll through the entire thing, they'll scroll it, click OK, and have not read any of it.

The only people this will "help" are those who already read the FAQ, and since they've already done so, they'll just be annoyed that you're bugging them with information they already know.

  • +1 - Your answer is far more interesting to read than mine. – Pollyanna Dec 15 '09 at 18:58
  • +1 What Pollyanna said. I think all the answers here basically says the same thing, but this one was short and right on-target. – Mads Elvheim Dec 15 '09 at 19:39
  • Was "on-target" a pun? ;-) – John Rudy Dec 15 '09 at 19:45
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    This is meta, everything is a pun. – Ether Dec 15 '09 at 19:53
  • Perfect, that's what I needed – marcgg Dec 16 '09 at 8:28
  • Your image link is broken... – Bernhard Barker Mar 3 '14 at 13:51

But just in case Jeff decides to go for your first suggestion, I've already done some of the work for him:

alt text

  • 1
    Hahahaha. Nice! – Mads Elvheim Dec 15 '09 at 16:48
  • 2
    Needs more flashing text. Even epileptics might miss the text right now. – alex Dec 15 '09 at 21:07
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    Needs more blinking – marcgg Dec 16 '09 at 8:29

There's a balance between making the site really, really, trivially easy to use, and pushing people away because we have high expectations.

Given that everything is editable by a few thousand members, I don't think this is necessary, and I believe that we should be catering to the new users to some degree.

By making the cost of entry low, we attract new people, new questions, and new hits on Google. The site itself corrects the questions as needed, so the system works pretty well as-is.

By pushing a "how to ask questions" box in their face you reduce ease of use, especially if you make them go through another step to get past it, or review their post again.

You hit ask a question, you enter stuff in the textbox, and boom - you've got the eyes and ears of thousands of developers for about 2 minutes.

  • makes sense [15 characters] – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:24

I think this is a lost case really, but then I don't have much faith in people in general. Besides, if you flash such a thing in a user's face, you end up insulting their intelligence. They think their question is great, even when it is not.

Not all share the same level of discipline. (making proper testcases, doing code profiles, reading the related API documentation, making sure they make themselves understood). Sometimes, the question might be over their head. In that case, the question is written in ignorance. Such users still deserve a good answer. Here is an example: How to declare gluperspective in opengl?, and here is another: How are things represented visually?

Fortunately, most people correct their question and listen to user suggestions in the comment field, if any. Stack Overflow should be for everyone, even if they suck at asking questions, or write like doctors. That's at least the direction it has taken up until now. Questioning the poster's intelligence by flashing "this is how you ask questions" is kind of unwelcoming in my opinion. The moderation system works pretty well. Rather suggest changes to the question after the fact.

  • It's not a mater of if their question is great or not, it's just the way they should ask the question (formating, information to provide and so on). For instance how can I help the OP if he doesn't provide any example, error message or even the language they are using. – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:07
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    Also, what is more insulting to their inteligence: a message stating best practices or a bunch of downvotes, comments and votes to close? – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:11
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    Uh, that's exactly what I wrote. You can't change such users. And you'll die from a heart attack if you try to. – Mads Elvheim Dec 15 '09 at 16:13
  • marcgg: If you see a lot of question downvotes with no helpful criticism, then that's the problem one should start with. Experienced users with downvote privileges know the rules. New users don't. – Mads Elvheim Dec 15 '09 at 16:15
  • I always try to ask for more info and so on, but after the 20th "my JS is broken!"-question with no code of the day, I just give up – marcgg Dec 15 '09 at 16:25
  • marcgg: I agree with you really and I feel your frustration, and I also wish SO could be less user-friendly and a bit more demanding, but that's not the route they chose for the site. Just see the whole subjective-vs-objective question debate which reigned just after the page was opened after beta. – Mads Elvheim Dec 15 '09 at 16:44

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