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I was looking around on the mother meta, and I saw this interesting post. The second answer mentions this page on stack overflow for new users, where they must check the box at the bottom to confirm before asking their question. I know that there have been a lot of discussions on this meta about homework questions and otherwise bad questions. Could we add this page and design it such that it would give some of these new users pause before posting a bad question? Could this possibly reduce the problem?

Update: per Emilio Pisanty's suggestion (see comments below sammy gerbil's answer), I have started to work on a query for the stack exchange data explorer. While it is not yet quite done, there is some data you can see currently, so here is the query.

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  • $\begingroup$ IMHO, there is no bad question. If a question is off-topic, this doesn't mean that that question is bad. I just can suppose spam questions are bad. $\endgroup$ – lucas Jul 29 '16 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ @lucas, right. I suppose by "bad" questions I am referencing poorly formatted, against the help center rules questions. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 29 '16 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ @lucas Would you state categorically that absolutely none of these posts are bad questions at all? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 30 '16 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I meant question is asked by people who want to learn something and I cannot imagine that a teacher (mathematics, physics, etc.) says to a student “Shut up!” even when he asks a question like this: “Excuse me sir! Why isn’t my mom able to make spaghetti well?” However, I agree that some questions are off-topic in this site (according to its policies), but I categorically state that there is no bad question unless its asker is an annoying (ill-will) person whose aim isn’t learning. $\endgroup$ – lucas Jul 31 '16 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ @lucas - A good teacher will indeed tell a disruptive student to stop. It is part and parcel of being a good teacher. There are bad questions. Some of the bad questions at this site hit the perfect trifecta of a having a question that is downvoted, closed, and deleted. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Aug 1 '16 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen A disruptive student is an annoying (ill-will) person whose aim isn't learning. $\endgroup$ – lucas Aug 1 '16 at 12:45
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Yes, this would be a useful feature, in my opinion. Not a check-box as WORDS implies, but an invitation to state (in WORDS!) what steps have been taken to undertake the expected "prior research". Thus reminding the OP of his/her obligations.

I suggested the same feature myself a couple of months ago, but I cannot find where it was that I did so. Perhaps in a comment. (Yes, I know - "answering in comments"!)


Update in Response to Comments

Do you envision this applying only to prospective homework questions, or to all new users' first question? – Emilio Pisanty

I would expect the feature to apply to all questions, irrespective of rep or type of question. I see no justification for discriminating in either case. All users would benefit from the reminder. My understanding is that all questions should show some prior research effort, not only those which are "homework-like". Users who have made the effort will not mind stating what they've done; those who aren't willing to make any effort will hopefully go away!

I would suggest it apply to users with less than 100 rep, somewhere where the users are sort of established.– heather

I suggest that it should apply to all users, because
1. I have seen users with >1k rep post questions without making any internet search - perhaps high reps post so few questions that they need the reminder?;
2. it helps the OP try to resolve his/her own problem and narrow down the difficulty;
3. it lets potential answerers know what has already been tried, so that they do not waste effort doing the same;
4. discrimination should be avoided wherever possible.

Many already provide this information in the question, so it should be no additional burden to them.

What if the requirements decreased for higher rep users? – heather

I think the feature should operate uniformly, the same for everyone, unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. It could include check boxes for "searched this site for duplicates" and "searched the internet," to minimize typing. I think asking them to confirm they have "read help centre info" is too broad a request and too burdensome. The feature itself should remind the OP - as succinctly as possible - of the minimum requirements for "prior research/effort".

A typed description should be mandatory - but with a low minimum of perhaps only 30 characters. Requiring an essay will not be received well. The OP should decide how much is appropriate.

The purpose of the feature is (1) to remind the OP of his/her obligation to ensure the question is "on topic", and (2) to elicit useful information which will guide potential answerers.


Note: I have focussed on the "prior research effort" requirement, but the "appropriate subject" requirement ("asking about a specific concept of physics") should not be forgotten in the feature.


I have opened a ChatRoom for anyone wishing to participate in or discuss R&D towards a proposal for this feature.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you envision this applying only to prospective homework questions, or to all new users' first question? Here is a sampling of all new users' first question; many are bad but there is a fraction that are definite keepers, and we don't want to alienate those users or make it unduly cumbersome to post here. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 30 '16 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ That said, I was initially rather against making it harder for new users to posts, but having seen the results of that query - maybe it is not a bad idea to have a pre-question screen like the one in Stack Overflow. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 30 '16 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty, I would suggest it apply to users with less than 100 rep (association bonus not counting), somewhere where the users are sort of established. I think it's a pain to have it for all users. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 31 '16 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil, interesting points - I think you've made me change my mind! However, what if the requirements decreased? Like, as a new user, you had to search for a duplicate with a small search box, read through the help center information (on the page) and write a short description of what they did, but as a higher rep user, you have to search for a duplicate and write a shorter summary or whatever. The requirements decrease. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 31 '16 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @all: Perhaps my comment wasn't clear: You're meant to go and look at the linked questions. The site is big and it's used by a lot of people for a lot of things, and mechanics changes of this magnitude can affect a lot of people that you might not originally have thought of. Luckily there are tools like SEDE to gauge what many changes will do, and one needs to check there before going forwards. In this instance, looking at users' first posts definitely drags up a lot of fluff (most of which has been well handled), but there is high-quality stuff there, which we don't want to discourage. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 31 '16 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @heather : I have responded to your suggestion in the Answer box. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 31 '16 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty : I agree, we don't want to discourage new users (or old), but we do want to remind them of their obligations not to take advantage of the free help which is available here - it is not a substitute for making an effort yourself to solve your own problem. I also agree that more research and debate is required from us before asking the developers to implement such a feature. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 31 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty, yes, I agree...thank you. I wonder if there's any way to gauge how well the user has done on other forums (if there are other forums they are on) and use that as well to see how good questions will be. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 31 '16 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ While I could see this working for the very first post of a user, anything beyond that is just going to give you a huge population clicking boxes without bothering to read. You see 1k+ users showing behaviour you want to avoid? Then that tells you that making them tick a box will not help, nor indeed will a bunch of other naive approaches. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 31 '16 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty : I see nothing wrong with ticking boxes without reading the text if you know what the text says. I do not follow your reasoning regarding 1k+ users, since the box is not available for any rep at present, so you cannot blame it for not working. All this shows (I think) is that even high rep users forget the basics of site policy and need reminding - not that they deliberately ignore it. We could examine how well such a feature has worked elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 31 '16 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @heather : I like that suggestion - making use of previous activity (eg closed questions) to decide whether the prompt is required. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 31 '16 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil, thanks. I suppose then absolutely new users would get the page (maybe until they have a certain "streak" of good answers?), users with a bad track record elsewhere would get the page, and users with a bad track record on physics.SE would get the page. The question, then, is how many downvoted/closed questions constitutes a bad track record, and how you could fix that track record (maybe based on percentage closed/downvoted vs. upvoted?). We could maybe say 75% or better answers/questions not downvoted doesn't get the screen. $\endgroup$ – heather Jul 31 '16 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil In that case, may I suggest you stop hypothesizing and actually do some data digging? Other than that, I have little to say beyond a complete disagreement with your predictions of how well the changes you're proposing will work. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 31 '16 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty : Point taken. I am not familiar with the tools available but I shall look into them... I think only accessible to those with >25k rep? It may take me a while to reach that milestone. $\endgroup$ – sammy gerbil Jul 31 '16 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ The Stack Exchange Data Explorer is open to any and all. Search on Meta Stack Exchange for the detailed database schema, tutorials, and other help. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 31 '16 at 23:22

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