From time to time Meta has discussions on how to improve the overall quality of the site. The most recent one is here:

What can be done to bring up site quality?

A not infrequent suggestion in such discussions is that higher rep users should, among other tasks, ask more questions. For example, user159691 states in his or her answer to the 'site quality' question:

... experienced, veteran users who are already familiar with all the workings of the site should probably make an effort in answering, but mainly in asking.

As a 20k user I probably qualify as 'higher rep', and could perhaps be asking more questions. However, as a language teacher who has a good set of reference materials and is fairly proficient in internet research, I can generally find an answer to any question I might have.

So, finally, to my dilemma:

If I have a question, as I now do (Why is it only fish of all animals that typically do not have a plural form?):

  1. Should I research it myself and not ask the question (assuming that I find the answer)?

  2. Should I research it myself and ask it anyway even if I find the answer?

  3. Should I ask the question without doing any research? (It could be that an etymology expert here can give me a good answer and spare me the time I would need to research it myself. But then I might be admonished to show my research!)

There are a couple of similar questions linked to below, but I would be grateful for an up-to-date answer from a moderator.

Asking questions you know the answer to

Do we need to write the better questions ourselves?


Thank you for your contributions to this discussion. The link provided by @ab2 contains the following text by Stack Exchange pioneer Jeff Atwood:

To be crystal clear, it is not merely OK to ask and answer your own question, it is explicitly encouraged.

Bottom line — never hesitate to ask and answer your own question on any Stack Exchange site. Please do! It’s all part of our shared mission to make the internet better.

Atwood's statement, together with the useful suggestions by @Mari-Lou A and @Tonepoet, has resolved my dilemma.

  • 4
    Spoiler alert: It's a grey area. – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 12:32
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    I for one find on my own answers to almost every question that comes to me. I did however ask once or twice here, and found that the answer was within my own research but I failed to notice the obvious. – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 12:44
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    Best tip: Share your research so nobody can vote to close your question as general knowledge. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 13:05
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    What about 'sheep' ? – AakashM Jan 23 '18 at 14:02
  • @AakashM I think you are missing the point, or maybe that's intentional? – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 15:15
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    @Mari-LouA But since Shoe has good Google-Fu, the "research" becomes the "answer", which is what leads us to this dilemma. – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 15:18
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    @AakashM. My comment above was in response to another comment, since deleted, about the fish question. But as NVZ points out, that is just a red herring. – Shoe Jan 23 '18 at 15:28
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    There's no dilemma. Shoe can post the question if they think it is useful and interesting but not supply the link that contains the answer. If users like the question they will answer. If they don't, Shoe can post the "answer" him/herself before it is closed. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 '18 at 15:53
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    By a strange coincidence, I just killed a question I was writing about "coasteer" [sic] because I found the answer on line, although not in General Reference. (GR says the word does not exist, but it does.) Yes, the OP has identified a major dilemma for users adept in google-fuing (if that is a word.) – ab2 Jan 23 '18 at 18:17
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    @ab2 Guess what? Google-fuing gets me back onto ELU: english.stackexchange.com/q/19967/50044 Ha! – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 18:26
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    @Gio I think not. I think the upvotes on this meta question indicate "me too!". We are all high-rep-users here, who are lost. We have questions, but we have answers as well. We do not know what to do with those. To share, or not to share... – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 19:22
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    A similar Q was asked on The Great Outdoors Meta outdoors.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1094/…. The answers are worth reading. – ab2 Jan 23 '18 at 19:46
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    I think the problem is o't so much that the community would procedurally bar questions if they were asked the right way, even if the answer was found. I think the problem is motivating high rep. members to actually contribute the results of their research. Once you get enough rep. and know how to use all of the tools well enough to find an answer on your own, there's just not much incentive the community can return to you, and the imposition of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license upon us does not make matters much better, since you're surrendering exclusive rights to anything you do bother to write. – Tonepoet Jan 23 '18 at 22:59
  • I've never been able to ask a question, because every time I have a question, I find the answer in my preliminary research. – curiousdannii Jan 25 '18 at 0:48
  • @curiousdannii - I really wish I had your ability. – user240918 Jan 25 '18 at 9:45

Here are some tips for asking questions if you're a high-rep user (and non)

  1. Do your homework. Make sure your question has not been asked before, use the search tool to discover possible old questions.

  2. Bounty If there is a very similar question, don't post your almost duplicate question. Instead, consider placing a bounty if the answers supplied are not to your liking.

  3. Flip side. Sometimes you can ask the same question but in a different way. If the older question asks "why", ask "when" instead. Link the older question in the new one, and explain why the answers submitted are not relevant.

  4. Misdirection If you "think" you already know the answer, only share some of your research and wait to see what happens. Chances are users will reveal or unearth new information that will overturn your preconceptions. This is good!

  5. Post an answer. If no one answers and you see you have two VTC (votes to close) you could post an answer. A good answer will often act as a springboard and inspire newcomers, or spur veterans, to post their answers too.

  6. Research. Always, always show the results of your research. Closing questions for lack of research is probably the No.1 reason why questions get shut down. At this level, users will expect high-rep users to know about Etymonline, Merriam-Webster, and Wikipedia. If only one or more resources do not have the answer you are seeking, post those links that "show" you did some research prior to asking. If none of the cited resources answer your question, add the links and post that new question immediately!

  • 3
    +1 all fair points. N.4 would typically apply to HRUs. – user240918 Jan 23 '18 at 18:48
  • Sweet and succinct. +10 – NVZ Jan 23 '18 at 19:13
  • +1 for #4 and #5 by themselves! Productive and non-obvious techniques. Of course the major challenge is still having interesting Qs occurs to one in the first place, and survive the #5 trial by fire in the second place. Very few of my Qs survive those two filters :( But you’re the paragon of showing us it can be done, and consistently! – Dan Bron Jan 23 '18 at 23:36
  • some inexplicable downvotes, probably from lazy HRUs :) – user240918 Jan 25 '18 at 13:07
  • @user159691 Maybe we can deduce something from the downvote patterns. I only received one vote, whereas MariLou received two. MariLou's answer and my own share the same gist, so somebody probably did not like one of the elements shared between them. The one I think is most objectionable is asking questions if you already know the answer. Maybe someone thinks you shouldn't. MariLou's opinion contains some advice mine does not, so somebody probably disagrees with a point of that advice, and I think the most contentious piece of advice given, although a valid option, is point no. 4: Misdirection. – Tonepoet Jan 26 '18 at 16:32
  • @Tonepoet I actually voted up for No. 4. I dunno how else an HRU can contribute much. I don't ask a lot of questions here. I find my own answers in a flash. – NVZ Jan 27 '18 at 12:45
  • @NVZ I was not objecting so much as just guessing why somebody might dislike the posts, and that seems like the most objectionable one: It is somewhat deceptive, causes us to retrace the same ground, and delays using the answer as a "springboard" as mentioned in point 5. Also, not everything is supposed to be contributed here: We don't want to be redundant with any existing, commonly available and definitive resources, which is why we have the Gen. Ref. rule in the first place, but, in response to your question, I updated the end of my post with another hyperlink. Please read that article. – Tonepoet Jan 27 '18 at 14:06
  • @Tonepoet By the looks of it, the downvote on yours could be for the length. ML's answer is short, with bold titles, covering more points in fewer words than yours. I didn't downvote, btw. – NVZ Jan 27 '18 at 14:10
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    @NVZ - I wonder what users, who don’t have questions to ask or think that answers can be easily found, hang around this site for. – user240918 Jan 30 '18 at 7:45
  • @user159691 I'm one of those users. I have no question to ask. I don't answer much. I still hang out here to read and learn from others'. – NVZ Jan 30 '18 at 12:05

The principle goals of the Stack Exchange network are to to help disseminate information and settle disputes through productive peer review whenever it is possible to do so, and help future researchers more easily find the answers to whatever questions they may have. It does not really matter how much reputation someone has, just so long as their post helps us to succeed in these goals. The reputation system is mainly meant to help us achieve those goals, rather than to serve as a detriment to them.

As a result, when deciding whether or not to vote for a question's closure, I would advise ignoring the amount of reputation a person has and applying the standards just the same. I think the minimal threshold of necessary research varies on a question by question basis, and should be low enough to accommodate newer users while remaining just the same for even the more experienced ones as a matter of fairness.

However, that is just my opinion, and we might not be able to get everybody to agree on that, so it would be advisable for you to do as much as possible anyway. Remember that questions which can be skillfully crafted to generate intrigue will be rewarded with more votes for them than they would be otherwise.

As such generally speaking I would suggest going ahead and researching the question as if you were attempting to write an answer. Document what research efforts failed, and which ones succeeded. Consider if it was too easy to find the answer to the question using methods you would expect a lower reputation user to use in a valid question, or if it is legitimately obscure information before deciding to post it. Defer to the following flowchart from Are Some Questions Too Simple? when deciding if the question should be asked on our website, while keeping in mind that if it should not be answered, it should not be asked either:

If you do a web search for the question, is the answer in the first few results? If no: Answer the question yes ask the following: Is the answer too slow to load, too hard to parse, or otherwise in need of improvement? If yes: Answer the question. If no ask the following: Is the question basic and trivial, or is it complex and interesting for experts? Interesting: Answer the question. Trivial: Close the question as 'General Reference'

Note that fact that this flowchart gives a question every opportunity to be salvaged if it has any redeeming value. Pay special attention to the last point. It is there for a reason. Maybe there are special circumstances that render the answer to the question especially interesting, such as the conventional wisdom about the matter being wrong for instance. Just keep in mind that the community reserves the right to make the final decision regarding what it considers to be "interesting", either with or without basis, with its votes though. Preferably, the test should succeed before it ever gets far enough for this to be a consideration.

Also, use your experience with our website to avoid asking questions that would be closed for other reasons. Don't Ask primarily opinion based questions, or true duplicates. You should also write questions clearly, and explain how any potential duplicates that might be found differ from yours. You know this already though.

If after referencing these guidelines you decide that the question can be productively answered, then disclose as many of your failed research attempts as possible in the body of the question. Include as many as you can reasonably fit into the body of the question in order to prove to others that it is not too easy for people to find the answer otherwise, and prevent others from making unnecessarily redundant research efforts.

If you do find a good answer to such a question, please do not keep it to yourself: Publish the answer alongside its question, as well as you can possibly document it. We want to learn the answers to difficult or interesting questions, or at least help future visitors who may have the same problem to find them. There is a checkbox which enables this function to expressly encourage this behavior on every Stack Exchange website:

A screenshot of the checkbox taken from the Stack Overflow Blog.

You have all of the time in the world to document why you think this is the best answer, but it is actually possible that answer you found is not the best one, and it should be submitted for peer review. Simultaneous publishing is expressly provided for and implicitly encouraged with a checkbox that can be found beneath the "post your question" button, which gives you a separate field in which you can start writing an answer.

  • Thank you for your helpful suggestions. – Shoe Jan 24 '18 at 7:56

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