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I was asking a question on Stack Overflow when the following notification popped up:

enter image description here

I used the SQL tag and the system notified me that I probably should include information about my system, the code I'm using, what isn't working exactly, and what it should do instead.

Is this something we could and would like to have as well here? Possibly we could reduce the work needed to guide newcomers writing good answers. Also, sometimes newcomers are tempted to add information other members asked for in comments - with this we would have less of these problems as well. And in general we would have to ask less for more information.

I'm thinking of situations like:

  • Coding questions. Trigger on tags like , , , , , etc.

    Coding questions get better answers if they ...

    • Include the specific device you're working on
    • Show the code that isn't working
    • Include comments in the code to explain what part does what
    • Describe exactly how it isn't working (error message, unexpected results, etc...)
    • Describe the desired results
  • Questions on specific circuits, theoretical or practical (may be hard to trigger correctly and efficiently). Trigger on tags like , , , (...?)

    Theoretical questions get better answers if they ...

    • Include the circuit you're working with
    • Show what you've tried to solve the problem yourself

If you have other ideas, please add them as an answer.

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I like it in principle, but I see some downsides:

  • The hint pops up after [sql] tag is added and the asker clicks on the question editing box, which is above the Tags line. So the asker has to start in the middle and go back up the page, opposing the normal down-the-page flow. So maybe the mechanic needs polishing.

  • This idea only makes any sense for tags that a new/unfamiliar user is likely to add. Since I don't know how the stackexchange engine is implemented, I wildly speculate maybe it would be possible to scan the question text for any words that match commonly used tags, and suggest those as likely tags. But we engineers don't like to make it too easy for someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

  • Someone has to write and maintain the tag hints for each tag. The stackoverflow [sql] tag hint text doesn't seem to be in the tag wiki, so I assume it requires moderator intervention / meta discussion to create and edit the text.

  • EE stackexchange's tag wiki's are not really in great shape to begin with, compared with the stackoverflow mothership; probably because of fewer active members and more focus on answering questions.

Nonetheless, I've often thought Eric Raymond's "How to Ask Questions the Smart Way" should be required reading for everyone over the age of 10. Learning how to formulate a question that could be answered, is just as important as learning how to use internet search engines effectively.

Could we instead add these text to the existing How to Ask box so that the hints are always seen, regardless of whether the asker adds a useful tag. The FAQ is a good reference, but it's too far removed to help new users who don't know to go looking for it. The How to Ask box sits in the most valuable real estate on the screen, that's where we can reach those marginal askers who could benefit from some guidance.

mockup

Obviously nothing will prevent bad questions from ever being posted, but at least this advice should help save a few comment cycles on those questions that can be salvaged.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your thoughts, I'm just not sure how many people actually see the 'how to ask' box. When the message pops in when you do something, it draws more attention. \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 Jan 8 '15 at 22:13

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