This is a hard one, and I think every SE site struggles with it. When a site is so large that it has a broad user base and gets many questions a day, closing and downvoting occur quickly enough to encourage better questions in the culture of that community (on SO, they don't accept "gimme teh codez" questions (or so I'm told; I only understand spoken languages); on EL&U, we quickly close questions where basic resources haven't been consulted, etc. Questions like that tend to exasperate a significant proportion of the regular users and decrease morale on the site.

There are questions here that, although I'm very certain that they are being asked for good reasons and with good intentions (one of them being to provide questions), are not particularly good for this site.

Examples I would consider to belong to that group:

  • What is Dengue Fever? (too basic)
  • How many Scabies mites do I need to come into contact with before I become infected? (This is much less useful information than, say, can I get scabies from shaking hands with someone who has it? In other words, it might be interesting, but it's esoteric.)
  • I just noticed a red rash on my back (I don't look at my back that often, so I have no idea how long it's been there.) What can it be? (We need a whole lot more info, and it's probably OT for being personal medical question.)

Does anyone have any suggestions on how we can encourage better questions at this early stage without also discouraging people?

One suggestion I made on another post about answering the wrong question was to ask people to define what they are asking about before they state the question. I think that would help.

For example, in the above examples, they would need to state

Dengue Fever is virus transmitted by mosquitoes in the tropics. (Can't ask the original question.)

The second one does not meet the criteria of "Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced." No one that I know has actually had to choose between exposing themselves to 5 or 50 scabies mites.

If someone googles "what is a rash", the first page of the first hit already states numerous possible causes after it defines a rash.

Having said all this, I don't know how to implement this unless many of us commit to one thing or another, comment requesting further information, and respect the comment under the OP's question. Is this even possible?

Does anyone else feel that the quality of the questions can use some improvement?

  • I don't believe we should restrict questions to focus on problems people actually face, as this would encourage questions relating to personal medical problems rather than questions on more general medical knowledge. I think the second question listed should be rephrased as what is the relationship between mite exposure duration/number and the probability of being infected. If no studies have been done, then an answer can simply state this.
    – Kenshin
    Apr 22 '15 at 3:31
  • @Mew - "I don't believe we should restrict questions to focus on problems people actually face..." I am with you there, within reason. What I mean is "how many mites..." is not really anyone's actual problem; a person gets scabies or they don't. Phrased as if it were an actual question someone might face ("My boss has scabies and he shook my hand today. [brief explanation of scabies] Do I need to get some medicine?" - To me, that's a valid question. Apr 22 '15 at 4:53

Yes. I feel like some poster are throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. I understand their agenda, that is, to build up enough questions so we can move to public beta. However, the site doesn't have to move at the speed of light, the speed of sound would be acceptable.

How can we get people to ask better or smarter question? That is a tough one in general. We could use a close reason similar to math and bio no research effort close reason. This will shutdown a lot questions that are trivial, and in order to get the question re-opened, the OP will have to edit in relevant information to show that they have something of value to add to the topic. If they don't want to improve their post's quality, it will go from hold to close to community deleted.

On math, the close reason states:

This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

and on bio, it states:

Homework questions are off-topic on Biology unless you have shown your attempt at an answer. For more information see our homework policy.

However, I am not a fan of the bio's reason since it can cause a debate in the comments when the OP is not asking a homework question since they may not be in a scholastic setting.

  • SO gave up and IIRC, they allow homework type questions now.
    – JohnP Mod
    Apr 22 '15 at 3:57
  • @JohnP I am not saying give up and allow them. I am saying require a higher standard from the OP. Instead of a PSQ (problem statement question), the OP would have a PS and then relevant details or information.
    – user139
    Apr 22 '15 at 4:03
  • @JohnP - They do? Hmm, I didn't know that. Apr 22 '15 at 4:54
  • 2
    Fully agreed. French.SE states: "Please look up the meaning of words or expressions in a dictionary first. If you did so and found nothing satisfactory, mention that in your question. Do give context for where you heard or saw the word.". Quite close to what Math does
    – Shlublu
    Apr 22 '15 at 6:43
  • @anongoodnurse - From the SO help: Questions asking for homework help must include a summary of the work you've done so far to solve the problem, and a description of the difficulty you are having solving it.
    – JohnP Mod
    Apr 22 '15 at 20:10

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