Today aliexo asked his or her first question on Stack Overflow: My code have answer problem!! (Optimal binary search tree c++). It was badly-worded and contained far too much badly-written code.

muntoo kindly fixed up the wording and the formatting, while I added a comment suggesting how the question could be improved.

Within a short time two people had down-voted this new user's question (and one, rather curiously, up-voted it) and then, somewhat inevitably, the question was closed "as not a real question".

It seems rather harsh to close a person's question within the first hour of them seeking help.

I would argue that we should not close a user's first question when it is of poor quality, sending them away with their metaphorical tail betwixt their legs, rather we should seek to help them improve the quality of their question so that they may become a valuable member of the community.

What, no tag?

  • Eek: This is my first question on Meta. I hope it doesn't get closed as not a real question! – Johnsyweb Jun 7 '11 at 6:13

I do not feel this question asker showed sufficient effort in submitting their question.

There are other people who do show effort in asking their question, and I would prefer that we spend our efforts on answering the questions of these users.

Feel free to send this user to https://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-ask for advice.

Note that the above page is mandatory -- every new user must click through "How to Ask" and confirm they have read it via a checkbox, before being allowed to ask their first question. Try it yourself by going into Chrome Incognito mode (or similar) and clicking "Ask Question".

How does Stack Exchange attempt to prevent low-quality questions and answers?

  • @Jeff Atwood: There was little sign of effort on the questioner's part and we certainly should concentrate our own energies on those who do show effort. But should we really dismiss a new user so swiftly? – Johnsyweb Jun 7 '11 at 6:16
  • @john I didn't see any evidence that this is a user we want on our site. You have to give to get. See: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/the-pee-wee-herman-rule – Jeff Atwood Jun 7 '11 at 6:19
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    I have to admit I'm increasingly reluctant to invest time in the complete reworking which some of these questions would require. Especially as I fear some low-effort users will just come to rely on us to "make it right" (and that's not counting the ones that think that SO has some magic spelling correction algorithms). – Benjol Jun 7 '11 at 7:56
  • @benjol they have to meet us halfway. heck, a quarter of the way.. – Jeff Atwood Jun 7 '11 at 8:01
  • So, "yes, definitely" in all cases (not just this example)? – Johnsyweb Jun 7 '11 at 8:18
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    @Johnysweb, it's a sliding scale, not black or white, and it depends how much 'energy' you want to invest. I admit that I also hesitate for 'first time users' - in that case you could add a comment to explain politely what the problem is, and as Jeff says, point them back to how-to-ask again. – Benjol Jun 7 '11 at 8:25
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    Ever think of a short question/answer instead of a checkbox to get past that screen? Like, "What two things do you need to give us for our users to provide you a useful answer?" You'd have to read pretty close to find the answer "details and context". – user1228 Jun 7 '11 at 14:24
  • @Won't: That is an excellent idea for a feature. – Johnsyweb Jun 7 '11 at 23:44
  • @Johnsyweb: I think it boils down to the fact that this is not just some Q&A site, but one where folks put in a lot of effort to ask and answer questions. Any user not willing to put forth a good faith effort, will get their question closed. – user7116 Jun 8 '11 at 0:17
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    @Won't: Maybe go as far as doing this? :] – Jeff Mercado Jun 8 '11 at 0:23
  • @Jeff Mercado: Perhaps a little Over The Top. – Johnsyweb Jun 8 '11 at 0:35

It seems clear that the original poster doesn't speak English as a first language; that's alright.

But every programmer, regardless of native language, should know that a big pile of code with "I have a problem, please help me find it" is really only answerable with example input, actual output, and desired output.

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