How to get your questions answered?

May 2, 2011 by . 3 comments

Sometimes, when you pose a question about a problem that you have for which you are dying to get a solution, you seem to barely get attention. You are about to give up on your problem… Wouldn’t it be a good idea to do a small effort to get a lot of attention to your problem? Examining how top questions get a lot more attention will learn us how to get attention.

First off all, we need a bad example and a good example of questions in order to do some comparison. As the active questions result in a mix of good and bad examples, we will be looking at the hot questions and month questions instead.

Two hot questions that look bad just by looking at the exterior are these:

I’m really sorry if your question is listed here…

Two hot month questions that look very good and received much attention are these:

Don’t the differences look interesting? You can really tell them apart, so there is something we can do about the first questions.

How to draw attention by pimping the exterior?

In order to get your questions a lot of views which basically is the attention (if people stay long enough, handled by pimping the question body), votes and more important an accepted answer it seems that you can see two things in the above examples:

A well chosen title

So, we have a question about Windows 7 and Firewire, what does that tell about the question? Not much! Thus that title doesn’t really interest me, I’ll move on to the next question. And this is where you are losing your views.

In the question, the sentence “I connect my Canon HV20 to it but it won’t show up as if it’s connected.” is mentioned. So, that’s what the question is all about! Let’s see if we can come up with a title that invites more people: “Why doesn’t my Canon HV20 show up as connected?”

Now I will pass along and wonder what this is all about again, but don’t worry as our next thing will handle that. This now sounds as a question and I might have a Canon HV device, so I’m way more likely to check out the question to see if I can jump in and help.

As for “Excel 2007 cannot open file”, the question body lists “because the file format or file extension is not valid” so we can call it “Why does Excel mention that the file format or extension is invalid?”. Run it through our thought process again and you’ll see that it invites more attention…

Well chosen tags

Apart from the title, people also get to see the tags of the question. In the case of our “Why doesn’t my Canon HV20 show up as connected?”, the tags [windows-7] and [firewire] really help to tell what it’s all about and we could add along something like [device-manager] or [connection] or [interface] to even tell more about it.

As for the tag, the question body mentions something about corruption and permissions so it might be handy to add the [file-corruption] and [permission] tags.

How to draw attention by pimping the question body?

When people do visit your question, you will want them to stay long enough in order to understand your problem and be able to give an useful answer to your question. A question that consists of one big paragraph of content that hasn’t been written well and consists of a side story is unlikely to get you any good useful answers from most of the people that visit, so let’s look into the different things we can do to. Read how to ask a question and read the FAQ to make sure your question doesn’t get down-voted or closed and starts well…

Formatting

Make sure that your question is easy to read, split up your text in carefully chosen paragraphs and accompany them with links to relevant things, images (instead of visual descriptions), proper quotes in quote blocks and so on…

You can check the formatting help for more information how to apply formatting to your post with simple Markdown syntax, or use the handy buttons at the top.

Content

Describe your problem as detailed as you can without adding any subjective feeling (like a side story) and it will be easier for people to answer your question:

  • Add relevant pictures of things you see.
  • Quote things you’ve found while researching in quote blocks, so we know what you are talking about. Link instead if it’s too much information to quote…
  • Details and specifications of your computer, warnings/errors or your overall situation help to shape a good view on your problem for the reader.
  • Look into our previous post about shaping problems into solutions, it shows how important details and steps you already took and could take are for solving your problem.

My question is a masterpiece now, what can I do more?

Check back regularly

Make sure you set up e-mail reminders or regularly check back on the recent activity, as people will be leaving comments requesting for more information and answering your question.

You now have the power to guide them by improving your content and telling them why their answers were or weren’t helpful. Up-voting the answers that are useful and be sure to reward the person that helped you fix your problem by accepting his answer, this keeps them motivated to continue their effort and keeps your accept rate up…

Improve your question

When you make more discoveries yourself, make sure you update your question along. Forgetting to mention something can make you lose time if you need to mention it at a later moment, editing your question body and adding additional information at the end is really helpful in making progress, it could even give you a nice overview when you are trying to solve the problem yourself too…

Help others and award a bounty

When your problem is harder than the average problem, or when you really need a faster solution, it might be worth it to share a slice of your reputation. This can be done by announcing (and later awarding) a bounty so that you question gets listed on the ‘featured’ tab which is very often checked by experts that are looking for a more hard challenge to solve.

If you don’t have much reputation yet, consider helping out others by answering their questions, that is what keeps the Stack Exchange sites alive after all… :)

3 Comments

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  • [...] to get blocked out of asking questions, it might be a good idea to have a look at Tom’s guide to “How to get your questions answered?” And if you see anyone complain about getting their questions blocked on Meta, be sure to point them [...]

  • Great post, but I’d love to mention Eric Raymond’s How to ask questions the smart way. http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html While it comes off as elitist, it’s very much applicable here – give people a reason to help you, and they will do everything they can for you. Show yourself to be too lazy to even properly state the question, and you’ll be ignored.

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