As a follow-up to this question, I would like to know if the following proposal would be helpful to reduce low-quality first-time contributions.

Duplicate disclaimer. While writing this question, I saw this other question that has a similar content. If you think that this is more of a duplicate than original content, I can migrate this as an answer in that thread. To be noticed that the discussion in that thread - even though the number of upvotes is good - has been abandoned. (I would like it to be continued, either here or there).

I am aware that effort has been already put into this issue in the past.

Format. I personally like the advice page and I think that all the information therein contained is important. However, as already pointed out, a non-irrelevant amount of new users completely ignore many of the points listed. What if (a shorter version of) that page was instead shown, as a checklist with a tick for each point? I am particularly thinking about turning the small three-point list on top into something like:

[ ] - I formatted the formulas using MathJax
[ ] - I chose a title that is specific and summarizes my question
[ ] - I described in detail what I know and what I didn't understand

Even though there are many points that need to be covered to make a good-quality entry, I would narrow this short-list to 3-5 elements that can be used as a guide to avoid very low-quality answers.

Timing. I would show this short-list right above the Post Your Question button or as an interactive pop-up (or similar) that is activated when pressing the button.

As a (relatively) young contributor, I might have an unclear idea of how this issue is perceived by more substantial contributors. Anyway, given the high volume of questions asked by new contributors each day, I believe that it is important to set the right conditions for them to ask a good first question.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I am extremely against telling people they can only use the site if they learn MathJax first. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2018 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm but learn how edit a post with mathematical formulae in this site it's not a whim, it is a necessity for example to write the question in a post, or to provide your effort to answer your own question. I don't understand your point/words. $\endgroup$
    – user243301
    Sep 6, 2018 at 21:19
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @user243301: Many questions can be perfectly well asked without using MathJax. Even for questions that contain formulas, the asker is often able to provide a reasonable ascii-only representation of it, and there are plenty of more experienced users around to prettify it afterwards. Telling new users (who are often not math students or others who will already have met TeX before) that they need to learn a whole new typesetting language before they're allowed to use the site would be the epitome of newbie-hostility. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2018 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ Okey, then I sympathize with your comments @HenningMakholm $\endgroup$
    – user243301
    Sep 6, 2018 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I think making the same point below this question or its answer would be useful as well. Of all the things that users could offer suggestions to a new poster, my pet peeve has been those comments "Please use mathjax: <link to the tutorial>" which are more common, I think, than questions asking for clarification, or for the asker to include their earlier efforts. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Sep 6, 2018 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Else, I can link from there to your comments here, @HenningMakholm. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Sep 6, 2018 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm while I agree that "using MathJax" is maybe sometimes overemphasized, to use it in the basic way that is sufficient for most questions is something that can be learned within minutes. Maybe we need somewhat better documentation on it to get the basic points across more quickly but really it is not that hard. And if somebody really struggles yet somehow conveys they made an effort, usually there are many ready to help. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 6, 2018 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ One more point @HenningMakholm there being a check-list does not necessarily mean that one cannot post without having ticked every box. It could still be used as a guide (the word in OP). Say, if all are ticked, it says: thank you for having taken our advice into account. If one is missing there could be an additional remark why it could be useful to follow it, but there would not need to be block on the post. The information could be used to filter question so that users willing to help out with MathJax could find those question more readily. There is a range. Let's avoid extremes. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: It's not primarily a matter of how hard it is to learn or not; it's a matter of perceived barriers of entry. Once you tell people that they have to go away and learn an entirely new notation before they're allowed to play, the demage is already done, no matter how quick it would be for someone to learn the small subset they actually need. (And if they need only a small subset, then the requirement is pointless anyway, because the formulas one can write with a small subset are generally ones that can be communicated well in plain text anyway). $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2018 at 23:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Similarly, if you tell people they cannot post before they tick the boxes and assert they have jumped through the hoops, then that does the damage already -- even if you sneakily do technically allow posting without ticking those boxes. (And don't try to say that's not how a row of checkboxes will be perceived. We're all used to websites which refuse to do anything unless you check an "I accept your terms of service" box). $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2018 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm "because the formulas one can write with a small subset are generally ones that can be communicated well in plain text anyway" I don't think that's true. Evidence to the contrary can be found in the elaborate ASCII art produced in the old days (or maybe sometimes still today) to "typeset" formulas that can be produced with a very small subset of MathJax commands (where with very small I mean maybe 5 commands and one or two principles; likely still true when reduce to two commands and two principles). $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, it is not clear to me what damage there is done. Rare will be the valuable question that is not asked because of this. If at all it might prevent some poor or routine questions from being posted. That is not a damage, but desirable. This idea of maximizing volume at the expense of quality that is still too wide spread on this site is rather unfortunate. @HenningMakholm $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: if you do not think it is bad for the site and counterproductive to our mission to scare potential new users away with pointless requirements, then I don't think we're going to agree. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2018 at 23:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I agree with your opinion that Mathjax is not to be mandatorily enforced. I think it is the least important point in that check-list. I'd rather have a question with poor math formatting but a good title and analysis of a problem, rather than a greatly-formatted post with a unhelpful title and no display of effort on behalf of the user to explain her problem. What is your opinion about the other items? Would you think that asking new users to give a good title and relevant information about the problem would be a bad idea? $\endgroup$
    – user124708
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm first, the requirement is not pointless (it is maybe not absolutely necessary, but it certainly not be pointless). Second, I highly doubt that a relevant number of potentially valuable contributors will be sacred away. Third, I already explained that I would not be in favor of having this is knock-out criterion. Yet finally I am firmly convinced that users should be told in no unclear terms that if they want to use the site it is in their best interest to invest a bit of time to get familiar with the typesetting. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:45


You must log in to answer this question.