In reply to the question "help pls fast need help with C++ Code [closed]", I answered in a comment, while the question was being closed:

See How To Ask Questions The Smart Way and/or Writing the perfect question.

I sympathise ESR's guide but it's IMO too long for this pupose (and from another age, or for another forum: a forum that's more explicitly for experts and perhaps less tolerant/polite). I find it so long that to suggest it to someone seems to me officious (as if I were telling them that I expect them to jump through a dozen hoops and to write a long-winded essay of a question).

Jon's blog post is, begging his pardon, quite long too. I can imagine someone looking at it and thinking "TL;DR" (especially if reading English is a chore).

What's the best thing to suggest to someone about how to to write a question? Is there a FAQ entry for this topic? Preferably, perhaps, shorter than either of the above?

The FAQ itself describes/defines what's on-topic and off-topic in a couple of sentences each; but it isn't a tutorial/explanation of what's a good (well-asked) question.

I've read the list of 'faq' and 'faq-proposed' headings and this seems to be a new one. "How do I write a good answer to a question?" already exists. There's a How to ask a smart question? which ought to be relevent but which has no accepted answer or summary.

  • 7
    I would argue that if someone isn't prepared to spend 10 or 15 minutes once in order to get a lifetime of good answers, they're really not interested in investing their time wisely. It's likely that they're happy to waste other people's time by writing bad questions in the hope the someone will put in extra effort because they couldn't be bothered to write clearly.
    – Jon Skeet
    Feb 25 '11 at 7:38
  • @Jon You might be right. Maybe this isn't about them, this is about me and what I want. What I want (to be able to direct someone to) is something along the lines of what you wrote, but perhaps more, I don't know, approachable. For example I like the layout of the How to ask page: it's short, one page, whitespace, section titles. More instructive than conversational. The first thing I think when I see it before I read it is "I could read that", whereas with ESR's page is "A whole document: what a lot". ESR's page and yours (and others linked ...
    – ChrisW
    Feb 25 '11 at 13:18
  • ... from How to ask are IMO informative and admirable, but perhaps not easy to get into? Especially for someone who finds English difficult to read? It's good that a How to ask page exists, and I like its layout. As for its content I find it rather too light on detail but perhaps that could be improved (via feature requests as Grace Note suggested); perhaps by adding more hyperlinks to it, so that it becomes an introduction/overview/summary of instructions.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 25 '11 at 13:23
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    I agree that having a brief page is nice. I would like to think that people who are going to benefit so hugely from SO would be willing to put in a bit more effort themselves though - perhaps after reading the brief page, mind you.
    – Jon Skeet
    Feb 25 '11 at 13:24

How about the Stack Overflow How To Ask page? It was based off of Jon's writings, but is much more condensed and easy to swallow. First-time askers are also presented it when they ask their first question, if I'm not mistaken.

  • Quite right. Forgot about that page.
    – user102937
    Feb 24 '11 at 19:23
  • Thank you; I don't remember having seen that page before. It's the right topic/heading ("How to ask"). If I want to suggest some change to its content, I guess I should email suggestions to team@stackoverflow.com
    – ChrisW
    Feb 24 '11 at 19:29
  • @ChrisW You can suggest changes to it as a feature-request here on Meta. Also, you probably never saw it because you were a new user over a year ago, which is well before this was added. It was only added a few months ago.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Feb 24 '11 at 19:32

A good question

  • is clear,
  • is on-topic, and
  • is answerable.


How to ask already exists here: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-ask.

Every new user, when asking their first question, sees this. They even have to click a checkbox to confirm that they've read it. Sadly, some people don't bother.

  • In what way does stackoverflow.com/questions/5108605/… for example fail those? The implied question ("What is the code which implements this functionality?") is clear, on-topic, and answerable. Also is defining it as "clear" just a circular definition? Should you explain "clear" somehow, perhaps with examples of clear and not-clear?
    – ChrisW
    Feb 24 '11 at 18:46
  • @ChrisW: That question fails on all three points. It is unclear, off-topic, and cannot be answered canonically (i.e. it has many possible answers).
    – user102937
    Feb 24 '11 at 18:56
  • @ChrisW - I have to disagree that it's on topic. It doesn't even have a question. The implied request, "do my homework for me", is not on topic. Any question which implies something like that is probably going to be closed because even though Stack Overflow is an extremely giving and helpful community, it is more geared towards guidance, and does not like lazy people who are looking for someone else to do their work from scratch for them. Feb 24 '11 at 19:00
  • @Nate I know that, but I thought perhaps there could be a FAQ to explain how and why questions are good or bad, and how to improve a bad one. If someone asks an off-topic question, you can just close it and refer them to the FAQ. If someone asks an on-topic question (e.g. about "how to code something?", as in this case), but asks it badly, so badly that you just want to close it, so badly that you can't fix it just by deleting a few words, fixing punctuation, spelling and formatting, and/or by asking one or two questions as comments to tell them what you don't understand ... then what?
    – ChrisW
    Feb 24 '11 at 19:10
  • @ChrisW I agree there should be a quick simple FAQ on how to improve a question. This page seems helpful and relevant enough. On a side note, in all honestly, the likely hood of that person or someone in a similar situation submitting a better question is slim, or they would have started on their homework much earlier in the first place :) Feb 24 '11 at 19:46

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