We all know there is this constant issue that questions get asked without the user showing any own effort towards solving them on his own. Because of this one reads often first comments like this:

To get the best possible answers, you should explain what your thoughts on the problem are so far. That way, people won't tell you things you already know, and they can write answers at an appropriate level; also, people tend to be more willing to help you if you show that you've tried the problem yourself.

Here it is certainly nice to give the user a chance to improve his question before downvoting him, especially if he is new. On the other hand it also gets quite annoying to read comments like this on every other question (at least in the entry level math fields). Also it convolutes questions only and goes against the clean and organized look of MSE we all appreciate. Especially if the user then responds with "I don't know how to start" and a whole dialogue begins just to learn what exactly he has thought of and where he is stuck.

I think this could be improved. There could be a placeholder text in the question box similar to how there is one in the title box already. Basically the text should convey exactly the same message as those first comments do. It disappears as soon as the user enters some text. It should not replace the "How to ask a question" FAQ but rather those first comments which only demand to show effort and specify where help is needed. This would be IMO the nicest direct approach one could take because it is right before the users eyes but still not obtrusive. Popups which one needs to confirm first are too obtrusive and by habit tend to get clicked away without being read, while some link to some FAQ at the side or bottom (like there is currently) tends to get overlooked and not get read either. By placing a placeholder text in the question box the user would constantly get reminded but it still wouldn't be too obtrusive.

What do you think?

  • Have you noticed the "placeholder text" in the comment box? How often does it keep people from answering in comments, or discussing what may become off topic? It certainly has not been successful in doing either of those things. The thing is, as you note about pop-up boxes requiring a tick-mark, the faded lettering in the comment box and elsewhere is barely noticed by users. – amWhy Mar 24 at 19:59
  • I should make explicit the "placeholder text" in the comment field: "Use comments to ask for clarification or add more information. Avoid answering questions in comments." – amWhy Mar 24 at 20:03
  • 3
    @amWhy It's impossible to know how often the placeholder text keeps people from answering questions in comments aside from "not always" :) That doesn't mean it doesn't help, and it doesn't mean that the proposed feature will never help - though it might not help enough to be worth the trouble of implementing it. – Misha Lavrov Mar 24 at 21:03
  • @Misha I'm not saying it won't help. Please point out where exactly I said that. I'm simply pointing out that if people become inured to a pop-up box, as the OP is suggesting, going through motions on autopilot, they most certainly will ignore, and or become inured to the "placeholder" text. How often do you notice the comment placeholder text? – amWhy Mar 24 at 21:07

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