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Our scope in terms of topics is very broad, and covers things from the most accessible to obscure. The field also has many misconceptions, false beliefs, and pseudo-questions. This makes it very difficult to formulate a good clear question that has a hope of being answered.

How do I ask a good question?

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For me, these are the qualities of a good question.

  1. Reading the question teaches me something. A good question is interesting, an interesting question is one that educates me even when I don't know the answer. Take the time to formulate your question with enough initial research such that a non-expert (or maybe even an expert) would learn something from simply reading your question! If you are asking about a common phenomena that you have experiences, then before asking take some time to learn first and list some of the common theories on this phenomena that you have come across, and why they don't satisfy you.

  2. The question is clearly motivated. Explain to me why you care about this question. SE is made for questions that you are actually dealing with. If you have an idle curiosity, then satisfy that on wikipedia (as you do the initial research for point 1) and once you get stuck then you have a motivation. You were learning how to answer you idle curiosity and were puzzled by the following theories. If the question is related to your professional activities, then explain to us how your professional activity will benefit from knowing the answer, etc. Make it clear to the reader that you care about your question and the answer to it.

  3. The question is clearly written. Edsger W. Dijkstra once said: "if you can spend 20 minutes to save each of your readers 1 minute, then it is polite to do so if you expect at least 20 readers." Try to be polite to your readers. Take the time to distill the essence of your question, and format it cleanly. If there is background information that you don't expect the experts to need, then put that in a separate section. Format your references clearly and try to use clear English. Clear writing (combined with point 1 and initial research) also means using standard terminology whenever possible. Obviously, the tag is an exception. Sometimes you might not know the standard words used to describe a phenomena, in that case you should consider asking for the terminology. Your motivation? Being able to use the right terminology in formatting a follow-up question ;).

  4. The question does not presume its answer. If you already know the answer, or will only be satisfied with a specific answer then you are not asking a question. You are appending a question mark to a statement. If you are 100% sure of your view and just want a pat on the back, then SE might not be the right format. There are certain cases, like where you know the answer to a question, but don't know an authoritative (or original) source. These are alright, since your question becomes "I know X is true, what is the standard reference for this?" However, before you ask a question like this, make sure to heed points 1 through 3. Do the initial research and explain to us why the statement is true, why you care about the original reference, and do so clearly.

I will add others if they come to mind.

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    "Reading the question teaches me something" ... That's overly strict in my opinion, and even unfeasible. If every question teaches you something, which ones are you expected to answer with 100% certainty? The Q&A format SE adopts is asking questions which have objective correct answers. – Steven Jeuris Apr 3 '12 at 21:49
  • 2-4 are very valid points! Thank you for describing them in detail. – Steven Jeuris Apr 3 '12 at 21:53
  • As a possible quality it's great. However I wouldn't consider only questions which teach me things to be good. However when I learn something, it's usually a good question. – Ben Brocka Apr 3 '12 at 21:54
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    I included point 1 as evidence of a 'good' question, if you lack point one, it doesn't make you a 'bad' question... but probably just an average question. For me, good questions are something to aspire to. But maybe I should rephrase point 1 as more optional. However, I think it is possible to learn a little something from every question. – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 3 '12 at 22:12
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Be clear. If it is hard to understand your writing or the specific question you have, it's a bad question. This is the first and most important criteria all questions should be judged by. The merit of the question itself is not apparent unless I can understand it. Use proper, clear English and bold important points to help readers follow your meaning.

Remember you're phrasing a question for experts. Write your question as if you're expecting a professional to read it. You don't have to make it knee-deep in jargon, but be respectful and concise. Read your question yourself aloud to get a feel of how clear and logical it is.

Do your homework. If you want to know what a Saccade is, take a moment to Google/Wiki search the term. Ask a specific question and give some evidence that you understand what you're asking about. If it looks like you're just asking us instead of asking Google we're not inclined to answer you.

Don't Expect Mindreaders. Just because you did your homework doesn't mean we know that. Tell us what you know about your question, tell us why you're asking. If your question has no motivation we might suspect it's not a real question. Don't get mad when people ask for clarification, and instead avoid that by providing clarity from the start.

Be specific. Answers should be answers, not books, novellas or discussions. Questions aren't so we can tell you the whole history of a term or concept, but rather how X concept interacts with Y, ect. Your question doesn't have to have a Yes or No answer, but it should have an answer.

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    The problem with "Be clear" is it's very difficult when writing something to assess how clear it is to others. Evaluating your own question as if you know nothing about it can help. – Steven Jeuris Apr 12 '12 at 14:56
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    @StevenJeuris expanded on that – Ben Brocka Apr 12 '12 at 15:00

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