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I think that the design of MSE could be more welcoming to new users. I don't know how much effort it would take and of course that should be considered. My view is as someone who is relatively new to the site, just a few months, and who is relatively active. I am not under the delusion that these ideas could be implemented quickly, but unless efforts are begun they will never happen. The following list is not presented in any particular order and does not pretend to be complete. I should also say that despite what may sound like complaints, what I am presenting here are ideas to improve something that I find very valuable. I'm presenting them now before I become too accepting of the status quo.

  • MathJax is an example. The information on using it is generally good but it could use a table of contents with internal links to help users, esp. newcomers, find what they need. The supplementary material presented as comments should be integrated into the main flow and kept up-to-date.
  • Policies should be spelled out in one place with a table of contents (and links) for everyone to see. At present one discovers policies randomly in some Meta threads. Some policies are shown in a FAQ page which, for all practical purposes, is hidden.
  • We could use a Style Sheet with recommended notation conventions, where there is ambiguity. This "what to" guide would go beyond the MathJax notes, which is primarily a "how to" guide.
  • The language used when a question is put on hold or closed could be more considerate. For example the statement that a question is "off-topic" is very off-putting and actually a misnomer in most cases which we may be stuck with. We should explain that in the explanation. And more generally make the explanations kinder. The following response is cold and uninformative.

"This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level."
Moreover, the criteria described above are ignored much more often than they are applied.

  • Written criteria for accepting, closing, and deleting a question should be spelled out in one place with a table of contents (and links) for everyone to see. (It could be a special part of Policies.)
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    $\begingroup$ Re: The language used when a question is put on hold or closed could be more considerate. What you ask in this bullet point seems to be related to these feature requests: A feature requested for the purpose of avoiding unintentional newbie-biting and Should “missing context” be under “off topic?”. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 28 '17 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ So one question is whether the voting on those feature requests already shows sufficient support. (The two feature request on our local meta have currently scores 10 and 16. The feature request on meta.SE is at score 86.) If yes, then the question why they weren't implemented yet is mainly question for SE staff. (And perhaps for moderators, since they also communicate with the people from SE.) Probably I should add that this network is very large and there are probably hundreds of feature request. So that some of them do not get implemented or it takes quite a long time is not that surprising. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 28 '17 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think there's one very good and important point here: it would be useful if we could have a much more basic MathJax introduction. I imagine a student who is studying calculus or discrete math for the first time with no experience with TeX finding our existing guide to be a bit impregnable. Such a guide could be styled like: "To typeset $\frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a}$, use \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a} enclosed by dollar signs," etc. Something with very basic, simple examples would be useful, I think. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Montgomery Nov 28 '17 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @AaronMontgomery the the MathJax tutorial provided here on meta is a bit complicated for a newbie. It is currently linked from the How to ask page (which is displayed to a user when asking the first question). When I leave a comment about Mathjax, I use this comment template. It contains several links, the first one is help on mathjax notation - incidentally, it contains exactly the example with quadratic formula. [ed.] $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 28 '17 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ It seems that some of the stuff raised in this question should be discussed - although I think that discussing all of this in one question is probably going to be rather difficult. Anyway, +1 from me for raising some interesting questions. (Despite the fact that I disagree with some parts of the question and in some places it is somewhat unclear what the OP actually suggests.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 28 '17 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Well, then I propose a block, after registering an account, from asking, until such a new user goes through the notice of mathjax with links to learn it, and checks "I understand;" and until such a new user goes through a pop-up of site policies, and checks "I understand"; and until such a new user is presented with a "style sheet" about notations conventions, and a review of mathjax, and a review of site policies, and checking "I understand". And only then, be allowed to ask a question. All such information is available, if a new user takes the initiative to learn the site policies, etc.. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 28 '17 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ Stephan.... cont .... Since most new askers (and some not so new askers) don't check this out, it doesn't mean the site is "not nice." But perhaps we simply need more hoops for new users to jump through by requiring a series of three or four pop-ups, policy, expectations, how to ask a good question, style, and require the would be new asker to check off "I understand" prior to posting. If after that, if they still fail to abide by what they claimed they understand, they should be held accountable, just as any other user is. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 28 '17 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ I think that it's already not that hard to learn the standards of this community. The problem is that there are tons of people posting PSQs [Problem Statement Questions] who do not care about this site and are only interested in having the community solve their homework for them. [ed.] $\endgroup$ – Qudit Nov 28 '17 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ After a short exchange the poster edited the question and I made some additional edits, to focus the discussion on the design of the site and the documentation we provide, and away of things that can be taken as discussing the conduct of individual users. Thus, I also tried to remove all discussion on that aspect. $\endgroup$ – quid Nov 29 '17 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @quid that "rationale" means very little, especially when you are responsible for having decided what this question should be about, give the asker an ultimatum to make it so, and delete valid responses to the post (given your censorship and deletion of 50 % of the post). so, you designed this post to be what you believe is valid by crafting (and requiring the edit of) the question, and by deleting real and valuable content. Without such content, due to your intervention, you've rendered the question meaningless, inhibiting the very users who care about such questions, from future engagement $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 29 '17 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @quid What you claim is the case hardly has merit, because you've destroyed the very conversation you claim you had with the asker, destroyed the conversation and context of the post, to make it what you think is worth keeping. All good and well, except this is not the question asked by a non-mod user, and is not the conversation about the question you chose to change. Hence: your rationale is meaningless, as you've left no evidence in comments to verify your claims, and censored the comments, which only you and other mods can now see. That's not fair. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 29 '17 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Any way, I think it deserves mentioning that it rests in the hands of people to be nice and welcoming, not scripts. Most users know that written rules, regulations, specifications, exceptions in print (privacy policies, insurance policies, consumer responsibilities, user agreements) aren't designed to be fun, but rather informative. Words cannot coddle. Only people can be welcoming, can set limits, can be nice, or not nice, so if a user acts in a not nice way, in an unwelcoming way, that's where change needs to take place.... $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 29 '17 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ ...To blame documentation for users feeling "unwelcome" is outrageous, especially when the blame comes from users who, like us all, are ultimately responsible for when and how or even if, new users are welcomed, recognizing that "welcoming a new user" $\not \equiv$ "coddling a new user." $\endgroup$ – Namaste Nov 29 '17 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ I do wish for a table of contents on the MathJax tutorial meta post, one that's similar to the "How to ask a good question" meta post. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Nov 30 '17 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ "The following response is cold and uninformative." How do you propose to make it informative? I think it contains all of the necessary things while still being short enough that people will care to read it. And cold? Oddly, I do not think it is cold at all. What, specifically, is so cold about it? $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Nov 30 '17 at 1:41
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I'm surprised wiser minds than mine have not responded to your bullets in an answer, since there are so many wiser minds than mine here.

  • MathJax - I partly agree with you here. Only partly because there is a MathJax tutorial here which is organized enough, IMHO, but if you don't know to search the meta for it, you might not find it: MathJax basic tutorial and quick reference. Another way to find it is to sort the Meta questions by "Frequent". Again, that's not going to be obvious or intuitive for a new user. The inability of the community to create static, non-voted content, at least in the meta, does seem to be a weakness of the SE system that crops up from time to time.
  • Policies - I'm not with you on this one. Large numbers of users on all SE sites seem to rush headlong into posting a question in their first ten minutes on SE, but I don't think any of them can make a strong case that they had no way of knowing better. When you're not a member, there is a banner at the top of the Stack with a broad overview of how it works, and no matter who you are, when you are on the Ask a Question page, there's always a sidebar with the header "How to ask" and a link to the help center. I might be more inclined than most to read the instructions for everything before I use it, but I still have a hard time having sympathy for those who would claim to not have been given the opportunity to read the instructions. And the help center is well organized, IMHO, broken down into a sort of table of contents with links.
  • Style Sheet - The problem with site-wide notation conventions is most people will be unhappy with it one way or the other and some branches of mathematics may have popular conventions that conflict with those of other branches. Easy example: How should people notate the time derivative of a time-based function like displacement, velocity, or acceleration? That's a huge can of worms, IME.
  • On Hold Language - Here is where I'm more of an ally than the other three points. At the same time, it's never going to be possible to write on-hold explanations that cover more than 50% of cases well. It might be better to look at the history of questions that have been put on hold, try to work out the four most common problems, revisit and revise the boilerplate on-hold language to reflect the four most common reasons, and then encourage those with VTC privileges to use the comment option more often. There are many cases where I would say those voting to close should have taken more time to comment on a question with some questions to clarify it or advise edits, but so many times when I go through that trouble, the asker either flat out ignores my comments or only responds in such a way that reinforces the inappropriateness of their question. So it's hard to have a lot of faith in the success of that kind of approach. Most aksers who would be willing and able to improve their question based on comments have already visited the help center and don't need much in the way of comments to fix their questions.
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  • $\begingroup$ re MJ: OP wrote "The information on using it is generally good but[...]" and I think they implicitly referred to the meta thread you mentioned. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 9 '17 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ re On Hold Language: there are two separate issues. The one is that the custom reasons are all under "off-topic" the other is the text of the custom reason. Regarding the latter I agree with you that it can make sense to write ones own reason. It is even built in. off-topic, other. The explanations given there are automatically tracked and if only used more broadly could allow to do what you propose handily. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 9 '17 at 16:08

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