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We often encounter questions (or comments/edits to questions) that are nothing more than PHP syntax errors that have not been properly debugged. (e.g. "I tried that, and my site went blank"). Here's one example from today:

https://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/118988/displaying-posts-in-different-category-problem

The normal expectation is that people asking questions perform normal debugging, which implies some required minimum competency with WordPress, PHP, etc. Regular members operate under that implication, but new members aren't always aware of it, which can lead to frustration for everyone.

My question is: should we state that requirement explicitly somewhere in our FAQ?

(Related: I still hate the reformat of our FAQ/help)

  • 3
    +1 and totally agree with reformat of our FAQ/Help "Center" – kaiser Oct 15 '13 at 23:13
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    Yes we should, but better still, when posting a question, there should be more contextual help that alerts the user "check the obvious" and... the FAQ. That might prevent some of the questions being asked in the first place. Fact of the matter is that people don't always read the FAQ. – userabuser Oct 16 '13 at 0:42
  • Walling off the garden only serves to dry up the place. There is already a method to handle questions that do not belong here. – BryanH Oct 24 '13 at 21:06
7

I know it isn't the SE model, but I wish there was a minimum competency requirement to be allowed to post a question in the first place. No one reads voluntarily reads the FAQs and a lot of people just want their work done for them. You should have to read the FAQ and/or a doc on how to compose a proper question before you can pose a question. For example, if a minimum rep of 10 was required to post a question, but you could get 5 points for reading the FAQ and 5 points for reading how to write a good question, that would force people to read the FAQ first.

Any one who legitimately wants help shouldn't be turned off by such a minor barrier to entry, especially as helping a new user ask a better question helps the user get a better answer and overall improves her experience.

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    +1 I was pretty close to proposing almost the exact same thing. Reading some lines (it's not that you'd have to spend half an hour on this) that can help you get help is something no one searching for help should run away from. – tfrommen Oct 17 '13 at 9:26
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    I like the idea of points for the FAQs and "how to write a good question", but how about going a step further and making one or both of them required before posting the first question? I've just seen two basic PHP questions from a first-timer that probably would've been posted on another SE site had the author realized that just because the code is in a WP plugin doesn't mean it's WP-related. – Morgan Estes Oct 17 '13 at 18:10
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    That was pretty much what I was getting at. If you have to have a minimum rep of 10 points to post but you can get those points by reading the FAQ, etc, then the FAQ is all-but-required. You could answer a bunch of questions first to win rep, but a new user who is itching to ask a question will probably choose the path of least resistant, aka reading the FAQ. – helgatheviking Oct 17 '13 at 19:39
  • +1 and would give that one a try as well. Not sure if it would work out or if the people would just say TL;DR and scroll down the page to get their rep. – kaiser Oct 17 '13 at 21:58
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    Maybe a simple quiz then? Pass a quiz on the FAQ, get 5 points? Because, you're right, otherwise it could be like 'terms and conditions'. We all accept them and have no idea what we're accepting, though to be fair the FAQ is a lot more concise than most T&C. – helgatheviking Oct 17 '13 at 22:58
  • Please edit your question. I like the idea of a FAQ for reputation. Maybe finalized by a shortened list showing the next reputation targets to get people "on the game". – kaiser Oct 18 '13 at 5:39
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    Also, what if that first question was more "guided"? Instead of a title and a text area, what if it was a few steps across multiple pages, asking things like: "is this really WP related?" > "is this on topic?" > "is this a duplicate" > "have you debugged?" > "what are you trying to do?" > "what have you attempted?" > "how is what you've attempted different from what you want?". That could go away after your first few questions. – helgatheviking Oct 18 '13 at 9:52
  • I think this answer extends the scope of the OP beyond what WPSE can control, into what must be implemented as a SE network mechanic. – Chip Bennett Oct 18 '13 at 12:54
  • To become an author on a Envato network you have to answer a short questionnaire, which only can be answered if you read the basic rules for uploading your "product" ( licensing, rates, basic quality requirements). Both are really short and take less than five minutes to read / answer. But you can't say "Didn't know this" afterwards. – ungestaltbar Oct 18 '13 at 19:14
  • Damn, I'm not even original then. :) @ChipBennett is it worth reaching out to the SE mechanics to improve question quality? – helgatheviking Oct 18 '13 at 19:30
  • Lol… Funny how this idea seems to be a recurring topic, that always, always gets rejected: meta.wordpress.stackexchange.com/a/255/1208 – Denis de Bernardy Oct 29 '13 at 16:27
  • I just read that post of yours a little while back.:) I think I got shot down with this idea once already too. I don't think we need to go as elitist as you described, but there is definitely a middle ground to be had. I mean if you can't take a 5 minute quiz the odds are you are only here to get free work and we're going to have to spend time deleting your question. – helgatheviking Oct 29 '13 at 22:15
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Stack overflow has two custom close reasons for this:

  • Questions concerning problems with code you've written must describe the specific problem — and include valid code to reproduce it — in the question itself. See SSCCE.org for guidance.

  • Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist

But syntax errors are already off topic here, so we don’t need that.

I don’t see a good place to add a better explanation. The don’t ask page is not editable. Maybe the on topic page (that deserves a rework anyway). But I don’t think anybody reads those pages.

We could at least delete such questions faster.

  • Can we add those close reasons to WPSE? (Or, rearrange them as part of "Too Localized"?) – Chip Bennett Oct 16 '13 at 12:22
  • The number of custom Off Topic reasons (which should be named Custom Close Reasons) is limited per default. We might get more, if we ask the SE team and provide a good reason. Or we extend the existing ones. – fuxia Oct 16 '13 at 12:30
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    I think "Too Localized" should be promoted to its own close reason, with the above two clauses added to the current description. – Chip Bennett Oct 16 '13 at 12:34
  • "which should be named Custom Close Reasons" - I #headdesk whenever I notice the percentage of front-page questions that are [on hold] – Chip Bennett Oct 16 '13 at 12:35
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Proposal: Meta Tags

As I've seen that there're help tags used on SO (constantly pushed in their PHP chat), I could imagine that we use something similar, but a bit reworked:

enter image description here

A list of new meta-tags, that have a tag wiki, explaining what's wrong. Imagine a new user visiting her/his question again and finding out that there was an edit. Hopefully the new user clicks the tag and finds himself on a page where the tag wiki gives guidance on what to do next. (Maybe along side a downvote as a reminder).

  • Please provide additional information. A task alone is too less.
  • Please show us what you've tried so far and where you struggle.
  • Please show us the code. If you posted a link to your code, etc.
  • ...

I think we could give this a try. Instead of commenting the same thing over and over again, we can file tag edits. Users will see that there was an edit when they visit the question again (new avatar, edit time, etc.) and maybe click the link. The tag description might be a nice reminder that we can rework over and over again without the help of the SE team.

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    I support this idea, primarily in order not to have to repeat ourselves continually. But I have zero confidence that they'll communicate better with those who need that communication most. – Chip Bennett Oct 16 '13 at 15:47
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    Support = +1 in here on meta :) Maybe there's a better solution, but I think that this in combination with a down vote might be worth a try. – kaiser Oct 16 '13 at 16:08
  • I like the tags, but it still seems like it is up to the mods to do something after the question is posted. Is there any way to improve the question before it is posted? – helgatheviking Oct 17 '13 at 19:41
  • @helgatheviking See update. – kaiser Oct 17 '13 at 21:55
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    Definitely better than repeatedly writing "Please read the FAQ" and hopefully points people to the most relevant info about why their question is unacceptable as posted. Whether they take advantage of the info is another thing. – helgatheviking Oct 17 '13 at 23:03
  • @helgatheviking just found some nice shortcuts, which I constantly forget about. – kaiser Oct 18 '13 at 5:38
  • @kaiser which is the shortcut to how to ask a question? – helgatheviking Oct 24 '13 at 12:34
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    @helgatheviking Here're even more shortcuts than that one as well as a rant by Chip that they're too well hidden away. – kaiser Oct 24 '13 at 12:51
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    Thank you! I would have to agree they are way too hidden. – helgatheviking Oct 24 '13 at 13:26
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    @kaiser if I'm not good for a rant every now and then, then what am I good for? – Chip Bennett Oct 25 '13 at 12:28
  • @ChipBennett The same question was asked to war. They even made a song out of it. ;) – kaiser Oct 25 '13 at 13:07

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