Encouraging Better Questions

I would like to encourage the asking of better, more substantial questions.

Every day we receive many brief, low-quality questions that are unlikely to elicit anything but low-quality answers which are equally unlikely to be of any help to future visitors of our site.

I therefore propose that the initial Ask Question dialogue, which has only a nebulous link to the Help Center, be modified to state its most important point:

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

As far as I am concerned, the gold standard for how to ask a good question is best demonstrated by Yoichi Oichi, our only member to hit 10k let alone 20k sheerly on the strength of his well-researched questions — and whose wonderful work may soon be recognized, too.


Case Study

There are hundreds and hundreds, maybe even thousands of these. They get closed but they never seem to get deleted.

In the example set presented below, I’ve noticed quite a few similarities standing out. If I were writing an expert system for training our Low Quality Review Queue auto-flagging, some of these observations would definitely make it into the trainer:

  • Not one shows any research or effort.
  • All are extremely short.
  • Most of these questions have been closed for one or another reason.
  • None have been deleted as of this writing.
  • None have been revised.
  • Almost none have been migrated to ELL, even though these are clearly questions from English language learners.
  • Most are asking a boolean question looking for a yes/no answer, or else are forcing you to select between two alternatives as though they were mutually exclusive.
  • Most involve asking whether something is “right”, or “correct”, or “grammatical”, or “proper”.
  • Many have meaningless titles. This is useless for searching.
  • Some have ungrammatical titles.
  • Many have ungrammatical questions.

Here are just a few examples, alphabetized in reverse so that the Wh- questions come first:

  1. Would one say “plethora” or “plethoral” in this context?
  2. Would my expression be right?
  3. Which would be correct? Owen and I or Owen and me
  4. Which sentence is grammatically correct?
  5. Which sentence is correct to say?
  6. Which sentence is correct?
  7. which one of these statement's grammar correct
  8. which one is the most correct answer?
  9. Which one is grammatically correct?
  10. Which one is correct “Where I was or Where was I”?
  11. Which one is correct (This or That)
  12. Which one is correct sentence usage
  13. Which of the two words fits? overchallenged/overtaxed
  14. Which of the two is correct usage?
  15. Which of the following two sentences is correct and/or better?
  16. Which of the following sentences is correct
  17. Which is proper usage: “What I've Learned” or “What I learned”?
  18. Which is grammatically correct
  19. Which is correct: “not less than” or “no less than”?
  20. Which is correct “is” or “are”
  21. Which is correct, “from a young age” or “from young age”?
  22. Which is correct - 'did with the egg' or 'with the egg did'?
  23. when and how to use word “anyway” in a scentence
  24. What's the difference between after and afterwards?
  25. What part of speech is “to” when attached to an infintive?
  26. What is wrong in this sentence?
  27. What is the proper word/phrase for SMS style language?
  28. What is the proper use of the word “state of the art”?
  29. What is the proper spelling of “enqueueing”?
  30. What is the proper interpretation of these two sentences?
  31. What is the mistake in this sentence?
  32. What is the gramatically correct form?
  33. what is the difference in the usage of the following?
  34. What is the difference between owned and pwned?
  35. What is the difference between “As far as” and “As much as”?
  36. What is the correct verb that follows “as well as?”
  37. What is proper sentence structure?
  38. What is proper grammar for a question that ends with a colon?
  39. What is grammatically incorrect here?
  40. What is correct: still to be/continue to be/should be/must be?
  41. What is better style: “is linked” or “it is linked”?
  42. What goes after another person: we or us?
  43. What does Banglored mean and how it is created?
  44. What does a fist bump means?
  45. What can be the proper meaning of the ‘over’?
  46. We have noted the service voucher and are pleased to confirm the booking
  47. Verb agreement with “that” as relative pronoun
  48. Use of not without an Auxillary
  49. Use of IS and WAS in reported speech
  50. Use me and grab you appropriate phrases to use?
  51. Usage of “acknowledge”
  52. uninterested / me too or me either
  53. This Company is the Driving Force of / Behind our success
  54. The subject or should it be Subject is being moved to a new area tomorrow?
  55. Their or there legacy
  56. The house in the house was destroyed
  57. “the” before “condition”
  58. “Thank you for being so late” vs. “Thank you for having been so late”
  59. Technical writing sentence correction/suggestion
  60. Successfully submitted vs Submitted Successfully
  61. Some problems in understanding a word in a sentence
  62. Solve this if you are (a) genius?
  63. Sentence construction using the word “and”
  64. Reporting to, or reporting into, which is a correct form?
  65. Question related to cover letter
  66. question about where the comma goes
  67. Proper use of “has been” versus “have been” after plural reference
  68. Proper usage of the word “trouble”
  69. Proper usage of plural/singular verb
  70. Proper sentence choice, while sending reply through email
  71. Proper punctuation?
  72. Proper English for “started shooting anywhere”
  73. Proper Capitalization of “ancient romans”
  74. “predictions of” or “predictions for”?
  75. “have been” or “has been” ?
  76. Payable to the order of you or Payable to your order
  77. Past tense vs past participle in passive forms
  78. Open/switch on the air-conditioner when we are home
  79. One or two apostrophes for two subjects in the possessive case?
  80. off-duty - can't understand
  81. Occupy vs. occupying
  82. Meaning of “silver of shell”
  83. Meaning of palm
  84. Meaning of “over them”
  85. Meaning of “makeshift dias”?
  86. Making A Binary Decision
  87. “Lay on the bed” vs. “lay in the bed”
  88. “It's me” Phrase
  89. Is “today's” grammatical as a singular possessive?
  90. Is “thought'd” Proper English?
  91. Is this sentence proper grammar?
  92. Is this sentence grammatically wrong?
  93. Is this sentence grammatically correct?
  94. Is this saying grammatically correct?
  95. Is this Quote grammatically correct?Own Lines
  96. Is this proper English?
  97. Is this proper English?
  98. Is this phrase grammatically correct in UK or US English?
  99. Is this grammatically correct? “We were thinking of holding a meeting…”
  100. Is this grammatical? “Each method has features in which context to use it.”
  101. Is this 2nd sentence grammatically correct?
  102. Is the word legs singular or plural?
  103. Is the sentence “The police had evidence on him.” grammatically correct?
  104. Is the sentence “Does having a way to charge your electronic devices while on the go sound relevant to you?” grammatically correct?
  105. Is the phrase “At about the speed of ten miles per hour” correct in the context?
  106. Is the following sentence grammatically correct? It doesn't sound right
  107. Is that grammatically correct?
  108. Is “steepness” a proper word?
  109. Is Shakespeare proper English?
  110. Is “of which” a proper way to begin a relative clause?
  111. Is 'much better' correct usage?
  112. Is jargon proper English?
  113. Is it proper to say I am going to “prom” or is it “the prom”
  114. Is it proper grammar to write a number with “th” after the month or only if it is used before the month?
  115. Is it grammatical to say: Your understanding is correct?
  116. Is it correct “Will ask more questions if needed required”?
  117. Is “I'll when” proper form?
  118. is “I does” grammatically correct?
  119. Is “how much ever” grammatically correct?
  120. Is “from how long are you experiencing this symptoms” correct?
  121. Is “for all who” grammatical?
  122. Is “few couple of …” a proper usage in English?
  123. Is “expect lie from you” grammatically correct?
  124. Is “… et al. data.” proper grammar?
  125. Is “cattle herds” grammatical?
  126. Is “as is” grammatically correct?
  127. “In a time when” vs. “in a time where”
  128. In a sentence, to OR -
  129. I'I'm not sure which prepositions should be filled in this sentence?
  130. i have vs i had
  131. “If anybody answer this question” or “If anybody answerS this question”
  132. “I don't” or “don't I” in questions
  133. 'I can identify myself with' or 'I can identify with'?
  134. How would you say this? Or is it already grammatically correct?
  135. How to use the verb ''to be'' in English grammar?
  136. How to say it differently by using various word?
  137. How to refer to a period of time?
  138. “Here is/are” followed by plural
  139. he pregnate my daughter and he pregnated my daughter
  140. “Hadn't I” vs. “Didn't I”
  141. Grammatically correct use of criteria
  142. grammar - No + singular/plural noun + singular/plural verb
  143. give some example using s+verb(be)+adj+to+infinitive?
  144. Flattering vs. flatter
  145. finding proper article for a sentence
  146. Family go vs family goes?
  147. English language proper sentence
  148. Do these sentences make sense?
  149. Direct and indirect object with the verb “kick”
  150. Difference between “through” and “by”
  151. Difference between systematic and systematical?
  152. Difference between “single” and “a single”
  153. deserve vs make a compelling case
  154. definite article usage with president
  155. Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns
  156. correct use of “have you and did you”
  157. Correct usage of “Peace of mind”
  158. correct my sentence in grammatically
  159. coming to the shops or going to the shops?
  160. “Cant fight no more”, is this grammatically correct?
  161. Can someone please fix the grammar and punctuation in this sentence?
  162. Can I say It has written by he himself.?
  163. Bridge the gap toward/from
  164. “A threat to us people” or “a threat to we people”?
  165. “at all time” or “at all times”?
  166. Are the two sentences synonymous?
  167. Are these sentences both grammatically correct?
  168. Are the sentences below grammatically correct?
  169. Are there any differences between later, latter and last?
  170. Another way to say “communicate evidence”
  171. “All previous work is” or “All previous work are”
  172. A different use of BOTH

I believe that if a PROMINENT BANNER were to be presented to these askers when they went to ask their question, one that read . . .

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

. . . then those questions would not have been asked in that way. They might not be asked at all, but they might have been improved and made better questions, thereby soliciting better answers and improving the site overall.

Even if not closed, poor questions tend to generate poor answers. If we can encourage the asking of better questions, it’s better for everyone.


Related Questions on ELU Meta

  • 3
    +1 but your banner is too wishy-washy (which surprised me a little) – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 9:40

A few thoughts:

I realize the suggested language comes straight from the Help Center, but the word "thoroughly" jumps out at me as sounding kind of, well, cranky. As far as I'm concerned, SE is part of the process of conducting thorough research. We don't want to make it sound like we don't like being asked questions at all. Along the same lines, I assume that by "PROMINENT BANNER" you mean something other than the help box that's there now, something that reaches out and smacks the questioner across the face and forces them to read it before they can do anything. I'm not opposed to this, but if the show-your-work message is the only thing that appears in the smack-you-across-the-face banner, it will make it look like that's the only thing we care about.

I would prefer to provide first-time askers with a more rounded set of guidelines that also promotes ELL as being a site that's more suited to the needs of people learning English. It's clear that a lot of "low quality" questions come from people who don't know ELL exists and would probably have asked there first if they'd known. Perhaps the banner for first-time askers could say something along the lines of:

Welcome to English Language and Usage! The key to getting a good answer is knowing how to ask a good question. Please see the Help Center for our guide to getting the information you're looking for.

Stack Exchange works best as a supplement to basic research, rather than as a replacement for it. Many basic questions can be easily and quickly answered by consulting commonly available online references. If you've researched your question and haven't found an answer, tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. Sharing your research helps everyone, and will help you get a more specific and relevant answer!

If you're not a fluent speaker of English, you may get a better answer if you ask your question at English Language Learners, our sister community for speakers of other languages learning English.

Other than that, I think this is a good idea and you have my upvote.

  • Well, I thought of putting it in the sidebar where the link to the Help Center is; basically, just expand it a little. Clearly, people simply will not follow the link, so we need to put what they need to know right where they can see it. This critical part is rather hard to find. – tchrist Jul 1 '14 at 2:08
  • 2
    I don't know that your suggestion is any better than what we have now (the tour). It might be too long for people who aren't fluent to read, and it's no more than a polite, friendly suggestion. While I'm all for polite and friendly, there are a number of users who continue to ignore the polite, friendly suggestions that I keep posting under their questions. I like @tchrist's suggestion better; shorter, more direct, and less similar to the tour. – anongoodnurse Jul 2 '14 at 7:24

Can't you be a bit more forthright ?

There is a StackExchange site for people learning English (ELL), so just make it clear to anyone asking a question that if they are learning English then their question is not welcome on this site.

I would say that having a banner is a good idea but it should state clearly what the site does NOT want. I propose

  • This site is not for people learning English it is for native or fluent speakers of English.
  • ELL(with a link) is the correct site to ask questions if you are learning English.
  • If you do not understand the words native or fluent then this site is not for you.
  • If you ask a question about learning English it will be deleted.
  • If your question is not written in fluent English it will be deleted. **
  • If you are a native/fluent speaker and you ask a question that is answerable by using a General Reference (with a link*) it will be deleted.

Notice that I've suggested that 'bad' questions should be deleted. Closing them seems like the nice thing to do but it will just encourage people searching for a similar term to be directed to EL&U. A deleted question will not.

*The current General Reference link takes you to a garbled page of nonsense that no-one will be bothered to read. If there is a proper list of General Reference sites, not cluttered with comments and chit-chat then people might be more inclined to actually look at the linked sites.

**This seems to be unpopular guidance, so perhaps it shouldn't be here.

Stats from websitelooker claim that 17% of traffic comes from India, 19% of traffic comes from the US and the next highest at a mere 5% is the UK. That suggests to me that most questions are coming from people learning English in India and most answers are coming from 'native' speakers in the US and a few in the UK (I'm sure SE could provide more accurate origins for Q vs A). The Chinese haven't yet found EL&U but when they do ...

  • 1
    A question not written in fluent English can still be interesting and worthwhile: an automatic assumption otherwise smacks of snobbery. – TimLymington Jul 1 '14 at 12:11
  • @TimLymington What assumption ? – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 12:15
  • You seem to have a thing against non-native speakers. One tenet of ELU is that it is not primarily for fluent or native speakers. Many of our best questions come from NNS's (two of our moderators are NNS's). It might be difficult to ask a good question on ELU if you are not fluent, but fluency is not the demarcation line. See PHenry's answer for a reasonable way to deal with this instead of being xenophobic. – Mitch Jul 1 '14 at 12:24
  • @Mitch - You're joking right? Both of the NNS moderators appear to be fluent and Matt appears to British which makes him native he also appears to be fluent. Show me the xenophobia. While you are there show me that EL&U is a better place for questions from people learning English than ELL is. – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 12:32
  • 2
    That's the problem with the demarcation. Non-fluent people can certainly ask very interesting questions on ELU (likewise native speakers can ask really basic ones). Yes, if you're an NNS, you may want to consider ELL first. But the grammar and fluency of a question is definitely not what makes a questions good or bad for ELU. – Mitch Jul 1 '14 at 12:35
  • @Mitch Surely if a question is raised on ELL by someone not very fluent in English that is outside the remit of ELL then ELL will transfer it to EL&U. That will probably happen a lot less frequently than the amount of ELL type question that are on EL&U that should be on ELL. – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 12:38
  • See also meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/4771/8019. – TimLymington Jul 1 '14 at 17:12
  • @TimLymington Is that in reply to 'What assumption?' or are you drawing my attention to something else without answering the question? – Frank Jul 1 '14 at 17:59
  • @Frank: It is an important part of the discussion that has been going on around this point for two years to my knowledge. Comments are not the place for an argument, but since I'm here: "If your question is not written in fluent English it will be deleted" only makes sense if you are assuming that only fluent English questions are worth answering. – TimLymington Jul 1 '14 at 20:13
  • @Frank: Yoichi (one of the mentioned NNS moderators) specializes in asking Very Good Questions(TM), and he is definitely not fluent. – Marthaª Jul 1 '14 at 21:33
  • @TimLymington I wasn't looking for an argument, I couldn't relate the linked content to your previous comment regarding assumption. Now you've made it clear I can see you point, perhaps it is an overly stringent rule, I will mark it as an optional feature on my answer. – Frank Jul 2 '14 at 5:35
  • @Marthaª Do you mean he is not naturally fluent and he takes a lot of time and trouble to write his questions in a fluent manner? Or do you mean he doesn't speak fluently? Nobody speaks on this site, they just read and write, I thought that my use of native/fluent speaker would be readily understood to mean reader/writer by everyone fluent in reading English. I'll happily change it if it's causing confusion. – Frank Jul 2 '14 at 5:48
  • 3
    @Frank: I'm puzzled. Have you never read Yoichi-san's posts on this site? I adore his turns of phrase, but you often need a healthy dose of intuition to figure out what he means. Take a look at his moderator nomination, for example. – Marthaª Jul 2 '14 at 14:22
  • @Martha Yes I have. I'd say he's sufficiently fluent to write a well thought out, usually lengthy, question without losing any meaning by dropping the odd article. Perhaps I'm just used to the way he writes because that's what I hear every day. – Frank Jul 2 '14 at 16:29

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