This post is mostly speculated, but there are some postulates at the bottom.
Recently I discovered the "league" option/site/ranking and was quite amazed how many users with reputation $< 200$ there are. I have no idea (maybe some moderators/admins can answer this?), but I guess the statistics for users with reputation $<20$ stand off even more (geometric distributions are not uncommon in nature). The point I am trying to make is that there is (by my guess) a large number of users that ask just one question and disappear. It may be possible that most of them does not read the FAQ, or any etiquette related information, they logged in precisely to ask that one precise question they had in mind. What is the result?
Depending on the outcome, they might get their question answered, they keep in mind the site is useful, and will come back sometime again (why read the FAQ if the question had been answered?).
Also, the question might get down-voted, closed or whatever if they happen not to match in actual math.SE policy (BTW which is quite liberal). The question might get answered accidentally, but they probably won't come back (maybe someone could tell us the approximation of the complement?, i.e. the percent of people which gets their first question downvoted and still ask another question). Nevertheless, they didn't read the FAQ.
Of course there are other possibilities, but I would want to address these two, since, by my guess, it may be already a majority.
The question is how to make the newcomers read the FAQ (how many of you do read the license when installing a program that shows one)? Also pointing to the FAQ/discussions in the comments may not be that helpful, that means if the poster has attitude similar to "why do need I read a number of pages of text to ask just a single $ \$!\%\$\&@\$ $ question?"
Inlining (posting the text of) the relevant part of FAQ might be a better idea, as it is more convenient to read, and shows (in the eyes of the newcomer) that someone cares--they (the newcomers) might be more inclined to follow the rules (and maybe even to read the FAQ afterwards).
However, those are only the ad-hoc solutions and (let me just call it that for the lack of a better term) the wrong of asking the question before reading the FAQ have been done. What can we do with this?
- We do not do anything--the number of newcomers is low and we can handle the issue.
- We better stress the most important issues, so it is more convenient to be familiar with them (should I say it is less convenient to be unfamiliar with them?).
- We try to make question-asking process more guiding, e.g. if the reputation of the user is low, suggest the
(homework) tag, or warn if the text does not contain the question mark symbol
? (there are other indicators of imperative style too).
- We test the most important issues, i.e. requiring correct answers to few simple questions to complete the registration process (we do test if someone is a human, don't we?).
- Introduce some kind of sandbox or
(hint) tag (for questions that explicitly do not ask for full answers)--personally I think this might be a good idea, have math.SE community ever tried this?
I am aware that some of the points feel insulting, but it might be possible to formulate/realize them in a respectful way--I think I would understand to be required to bear some nuisances if the reasons were explained. (Moreover, the privileges system is very similar--one would have a "privilege" to dismiss the guidance of the question-asking process.)
As I said at the beginning, this is a speculation. It would be very helpful to know the true statistics, then we could decide if the problem I described is a real issue or not. Secondly, it might be hard to realize some of the ideas without SE programmers support. Finally, that kind of actions may seriously influence the growth of the community, both negatively (hard registration process is discouraging) and positively (really nice community is encouraging).
I would appreciate your comments on this.