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I think everyone knows what I mean, questions that immediately get comments such as:

  • "Please don't just copy your homework."

  • "If this is homework, please add the homework tag."

  • "Please don't state your anwsers in imperative mode." (or the not so often caps)

  • "What have you tried so far?"

  • "What is the motivation for this question?"

  • "Did you check wikipedia.com/whatever_question_is_about ?"

  • etc.

Lately there has been a lot of these, especially the ones that are just stated as orders to be solved. I know there is a "How to ask" column displayed while typing up a question, but I think that new users are reluctant to look at it. Furthermore, even after such comments are posted, the OPs are rarely willing to edit the questions into an appropriate format.

What can be done with this? Could the few most important guidelines be displayed directly in the page when a user asks the first question (or until any question asked gets an up vote)?

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    $\begingroup$ As hinted at Willie Wong's answer, I think you'll find that this sort of idea has come up in one form or another on meta.SO repeatedly, but that any sort of more prominent notice or click-through screen tends to get rejected with the idea that users will ignore it just as easily as the current hints and it'll annoy more people than it helps. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Feb 25 '11 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ @isaac not quite, but it pertains to issues of scale; see my answer $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 26 '11 at 19:53
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One possible problem is that "when a user asks the first question" would be something that pertains to the underlying SE engine, and would not be something that community moderators can effect. For the larger community of SE sites, I'm not sure how much such a feature would be in demand. (You can try asking this on meta.SO; I won't migrate this one directly, since it somewhat pertains to math.SE specifically).

Also, considering how computer users have all learned to just click through license agreements, I hold reservations on whether the proposed "solution" would in fact have any effects at all at those users.

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  • $\begingroup$ we estimate on Stack Overflow that if we can reach 10% of the people asking, and convince them to ask better (or not at all), then it is a success. But the cost is a loss of a certain % of questions, which we are hesitant to pay on smaller sites. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 26 '11 at 22:23
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Could the few most important guidelines be displayed directly in the page when a user asks the first question (or until any question asked gets an up vote)?

What would these 'most important guidelines' be, exactly? Can you define them clearly based on the data of incoming questions? That's a good starting point.

Beyond that, we do have a forced question ask clickthrough for new users on Stack Overflow, but that's largely because there are almost 3,000 questions per day. (Compare with Math which has maybe.. ~50/day per http://stackexchange.com/sites?expand=true)

This is a bit of a scorched earth solution that I think is only viable when you start to get many, many hundreds of questions per day and can afford to "throw a few away" as a result.

For more detail, read http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/10/asking-better-questions/

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    $\begingroup$ Scorched earth is a great solution! 78 degrees, 643 power, Baby Nuke. FIRE! $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 26 '11 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is no longer relevant. Math has far more than 50 posts per day. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Sep 6 '18 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ We have gotten many, many hundreds of questions per day and ... $\endgroup$ – Namaste Sep 6 '18 at 22:49
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We are spending too much time and effort trying to change the behavior of "new" users, when we should be the ones changing.

A recent comment by Gerry Myerson to a user on a now-deleted question brought this situation to my attention, and demonstrates the antithesis of our goal: (paraphrased)

Don't tell me what to do. You're not my boss. Why do you want to know this? Have you read "Hardy"...

The question was probably straight out of a textbook, so the wording was "in the imperative".

The user (http://math.stackexchange.com/users/17459/kb100) has asked other questions before, so they should know better, but...

should we DO better??

I propose that we reevaluate our goals and the means by which we hope to achieve these goals.

I am here to help people and to get help. But if I stop treating people as people (with value, which unfortunately needs to be stated), then I have failed.


So let's change.

Let us be polite, understanding, and gracious.
If you aren't into The Golden Rule, find some other motivation to treat people decently. And yes, that is an order!


*p.s. The purpose of this isn't to discuss the "he-said she-said" of a particular question, the reputation of parties involved, or whether the question was homework or not.

In the meantime, I will probably start editing questions (especially hot-off-the-press questions) to include "How would I... " right in front of the OP's presumptuous command to "Prove that...". That way, a user would have to go out of their way to be offended by a question.

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    $\begingroup$ The chat room for the discussion sparked by this event: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/1731/imperative-questions $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Nov 7 '11 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think if you can't find the exact words, you shouldn't ascribe a quote. I will admit to having over-reacted, but if I remember right I also gave some help in my answer, the reference to Hardy and Wright, maybe more. Anyway. Must do better. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Nov 8 '11 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ Feel free to add the correct words. And I agree, we must do better. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Nov 8 '11 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ As you noted, the question has been deleted, so I can't find the correct words. Deleting the question seems to have delted my comment from my activity pages. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Nov 8 '11 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if this (10k+ only!) is what Chaz was referring to... $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Nov 8 '11 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M., no, that was a different instance of my volatility. Extenuating circumstances are that that poster was a serial offender who, when pressed for details, would give a reply to the effect of, "I don't know - I got the problem from a friend." $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Nov 8 '11 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Martin: seen it. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Nov 8 '11 at 13:55

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