I hesitate posting assertions/questions like this for fear of offending members who have worked hard to improve Health.SE and Stack Exchange in general. Therefore, please accept my suggestion in the spirit of continuous quality improvement, as I do not intend to criticize anyone for previous efforts.

Our Help Center > Asking section contains some well-written, insightful, and helpful guidance, but, unfortunately, these pearls of wisdom are scattered about 14 different 'articles' (for lack of a better term).

I suspect that the Tour was developed as an attempt to solve this problem, and for newcomers who complete the Tour, I think it does an excellent job.

However, as we all know, most newcomers do not complete the Tour. (I base this assertion on how such things work on most websites - if you have path analysis data proving me wrong, please say so! ... I would love to be wrong on this point.) Some newcomers will never complete the Tour or click on Help, but we can't do much about such malcontents to begin with (other than repeatedly deleting their posts).

Many sincere newcomers though will look to the Help menu for help in understanding the 'forum rules' (guidelines), and it is at that point a streamlined presentation of Rules for Asking Questions will, I believe, prove beneficial.

IMHO we should, at least for now, keep the present 14 items in the Asking section, but put READ THIS FIRST - Rules for Asking Questions (or similar) up top.

And I believe we should call them RULES, otherwise we are being namby-pamby, wishy-washy people-pleasers who simply invite trouble.

This new streamlined explanation of the rules, should be just one component of an overall, coordinated effort to significantly reduce the number of off-topic (and worse) questions. One other important component would be:

  • Before asking a question, require newcomers to click a box--or perhaps even type in their initials--affirming two statements:

1) "I completed the Health.SE Tour" and

2) "I read Rules for Asking Questions{hyperlinked to the Rules}, I understand these rules, and I promise to abide by them."

(HT @Narusan for this suggestion in his answer to Are the questions threating the Health.Se Community?)

Agree? Disagree? Modifications?



P.S. Btw, I will help write a streamlined Rules for Asking Questions, if there is consensus to move forward. I'm not one to point out a problem and then expect someone else to do the work. That would be poor form indeed.

  • 1
    I've just put in some numbers... Shocking, they really are.
    – Narusan
    Aug 1, 2017 at 22:16
  • 1
    Wow. I agree that action must. be taken! Aug 1, 2017 at 23:16
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    I totally agree, but check boxes are simply too easy to skip through. People almost never read "agreements" in anything before clicking confirmation that they read them. I think we need to be stronger in giving them instructions in a way they can't avoid.
    – DoctorWhom
    Aug 5, 2017 at 3:36
  • 1
    Good point @DoctorWhom, and another important variable to test, particularly with regard to what type of 'barrier to entry' is sturdy enough to deter the folks who ask inane questions, but not too difficult such that it deters potentially great participants. Aug 6, 2017 at 4:03

2 Answers 2


Regarding the numbers

In the last 30 days, the query @Erich created for me returned 92 low quality post. The total amount of posts in that timespan were 350. That makes 26% of the posts - simply put - garbage.1

Imagine every fourth email in your inbox being spam. I would have a) activated or upgraded my spam-filter or b) throw my email away.

This is why we need to take action.

What I would do

Being honest, I skipped through the tour. Someone posted the link to the tour in one answer or question I asked, I clicked on it, skipped everything and then just proceeded my way to the site.

This is why one of my first posts was something I wasn't supposed to do: I answered a question that's asking for personal medical advice.

Now, if we had something different than the tour, mandatory to complete, I would still be able to skip everything, enter my initials / click to continue and that's it.

I feel like this change would be a bit more pedantic but not much of an improvement.


Why not make this message pop up when a post is about to be posted?

The pop up message could still be skipped, but users are reminded of site rules immediately before posting. Also, because there were some sort of misunderstandings what questions are off-topic, we could include the thumb-rule

Welcome to Health.SE. We would like to inform you that if you have a question about you and your health, it is probably off-topic. You can try to rephrase the question to make it more general and apply to everyone.

Similarly, before answering this message could pop up:

Thank you for your effort! We would like to remind you that every answer must be backed up with references. See this list of reliable references.

and additionally, if there are no links in the answer, simply prevent an answer from being posted. (If one has books as source, one would need to link to the ISBN then or something).

These messages are so short that with a timer of somewhat 10s before being able to proceed, it is very difficult not to read them if they are printed in large letters on the screen.

When should the message pop up?

We should not make this based on reputation: Users with reputation of >100 might just be trusted users from somewhere else who have not had much contact with the site.

In fact, that should be the cutting edge: How much contact one had with the site. I would suggest this message to pop up if the user currently has < 2 posts in this area (for questions: 2 questions; for answers 2 answers).

As bad answers and question do get deleted, this means that the message will pop up until 2 quality posts in each category have been made. This seems fairly reasonable to me.


Now IANAPP (I am not a professional programmer) but this should be relatively easy to implement: an if-check for questions and answers, and the pop-up message itself.

Where to go from now?

I would strongly encourage us to do the following:

  1. Agree whether we would like to have this feature implemented. (Let the mods have the final say)
  2. Be nice to SE so that this feature gets implemented.
  3. Starting a query a) how many first questions were deleted and closed and b) how many first answers were deleted and closed over the last month.
  4. Implementing the feature for a month as trial and compare the query at the end of the trial time to the query before.
  5. Either accept or reject the implemented feature

1: I simply defined a low quality post as either being deleted, closed or having a score of -2 or less. In my eyes, this seems quite reasonable.

  • 3
    Excellent ideas! Naturally, we should test everything so that 'what works' is based on actual user behavior as opposed to what we think will work. Aug 1, 2017 at 13:30
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    We definitely need this or something even more stringent in order to post a question, at least for now when we so badly need to teach posters what the purpose and scope of the site is!
    – DoctorWhom
    Aug 5, 2017 at 3:34
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    Perhaps we should open a separate Meta question to discuss proposals of how the popup will work and exactly what it should say.
    – DoctorWhom
    Aug 5, 2017 at 3:42
  • I have some programming background, and there certainly must be a way for the system to recognize when someone uses "my" and "I" in a question and provide some form of pop-up or forced revision before accepting the question.
    – DoctorWhom
    Aug 5, 2017 at 3:43
  • @DoctorWhom Sure, go ahead. I'm currently on holiday and won't be able to do anything on this site (in fact, I'll probably be gone for a few weeks soon), but you have my approval and my +1 for any proposal.
    – Narusan
    Aug 6, 2017 at 16:42

A pop-up does sound like a good idea, and other forms of repetition of the rules may help some of the issues regarding first checking for duplicates, researching a topic themselves before posting, etc. However, regarding people asking personal medical questions, I think it will mainly stifle posting of what otherwise could be made into quality questions.

I have a suggestion. Instead of just saying that personal medical questions are prohibited, show people how to rephrase these types of questions in the "right way", and how to determine if their question is even appropriate to be reformatted this way.

Here's my reasoning. Why do many people come to this and other SE sites in the first place? Because they have a question that needs answering. And why do they have the question in the first place? Because the question has relevance for themselves. Whether in Stack Overflow, Bicycles, or Chess, people primarily ask about something having to do with their own lives. We have a name for people who sit around and think up questions that probably have nothing to do with themselves: scientists. Most people are not scientists, so it will be difficult and perhaps misguided to suppress people from asking health questions that in some way impact their own lives. I understand that this SE site has an inherent restriction that most others do not, in that asking for and providing medical advice in this format is verboten, but that shouldn't stop us from helping to channel these relevant curiosities into a more general form.

I suggest a separate help page under the "Asking" section titled something like: "How to rephrase your personal medical question into one that has broader relevance." Link directly to it from the pop-up, if you like. As it currently stands, the only similar guideline I could find was the two sentence section "Make it relevant to others" on the page "How do I ask a good question?" At a minimum, adding a page like this should help cut down on the number of necessary edits of otherwise good questions that were just phrased in a self-referential manner. It should also help to weed out questions that conscientious people realize can't be generalized and therefore shouldn't be posted, like "I've tried Bactrim and I.V. Vancomycin for my MRSA infection but it's still there. Which one(s) should I try next?"

Corresponding information could be inserted in the Answering section that instructs people first to make sure the question they would like to answer is phrased generally and even strongly encourages them to edit the question to the preferred format themselves before attempting to answer it. This would help create a "second wave" of question format checkers (after the original poster themselves) who in many cases would get to see the question before the site administrators have a chance to flag it or fix it.

DoctorWhom, you seem to be quite good at reformatting personal health questions more generally. Could your method be put into algorithmic form? I would also be happy to contribute.

  • Regarding the method of reformatting questions: a) take out every sentence about a personal medical background. This means that all that is left from a question is How can I overcome anxiety. b) Change I to One. c) Try to include general information instead of the personal medical background. I have fear of written exams changes into if they fear exams. Or, even more general: if they fear events that will significantly affect their future life opportunities. Either d) Hit "Submit" or e) Realise that this changed the question too much and that the edit won't get accepted. f) Close
    – Narusan
    Aug 15, 2017 at 15:56
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    Sorry I missed this - I like your idea a lot, @Fonebone. I did something like that for the revision of our How To Ask page (health.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/761/…) , and maybe I could do a more in depth version at some point that we can link from there.
    – DoctorWhom
    Sep 7, 2017 at 7:09

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