Over on the Stack Overflow blog, Jeff Atwood wrote a thoughtful post about the right and wrong ways to ask a question, drawing from the lessons learned by two of the Web's most successful Q&A communities -- Ask Metafilter and Stack Overflow.
What kind of questions should I not ask here?
You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …
- every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
- your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”
- there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
- we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
- it is a rant disguised as a question: “______ sucks, am I right?
I was interested to see what the other Q&A giants offered their members for guidance, so went poking around:
- Quora cofounders Charlie Cheever and Adam D'Angelo offer advice in the official topic for Quora question guidelines, explain why they recently banned survey questions, and what makes a bad question.
- Yahoo! Answers frowns on chatty questions, with several examples of poor questions, though it seems like this is barely enforced, if at all.
- Fluther separates questions into a General and Social Section, allowing for both types of questions with different guidelines for each.
These communities have almost universally arrived at the same conclusions, developed after years of moderating hundreds of thousands of questions. For anyone using ThinkUp for conversation tracking, it's remarkably practical advice for crafting meaningful, answerable questions to a wide audience.