It was suggested that this answer be started as a separate meta discussion. Your thoughts on building up the SE IQ of new users without scaring them away?


To avoid scaring off new users while still setting the bar for quality, I suggest doing the following:

  • Edit and improve questions and answers if you see a way to fix problems with them. This shows new users how to approach asking questions or posting answers.
  • If you don't see how to edit, then leave a polite, constructive comment with suggestions on how to improve.
  • Downvote low quality content. Stack Exchange ranks answers based on votes, so it's important that other new users don't show up and see a bunch of low quality posts sympathy-upvoted to the top.
  • Vote to close questions that don't fit the site and that you can't edit.
  • Leave comments encouraging editing of closed questions to fix the posts. You can even offer to help the person fix the problems!
  • Vote to reopen closed posts that have been fixed. You can even flag them for moderator attention if there aren't yet enough close/reopen voters.

  • If a user fixes the problems with a post you've downvoted, consider removing your downvote. You can change your vote on an edited post.

When leaving comments, consider the following guidelines:

  • Don't criticize or say things like: "-1 for posting link-only answer". Offer solutions and helpful advice instead. Also, welcome the new user to the site.

  • Use comments to help a user improve his/her post, but don't use comments to discuss with other users whether or not the question is on/off-topic. Use a meta post instead. The new user just sees a bunch of people arguing and talking about how bad their post is. Instead, post the meta link in the comments under the question.


Here's another way of putting our actions in perspective:

New people who come to this site are our customers. Our goal is make them repeat customers.

Behavior that makes us look like look unwelcoming is not likely to serve that goal. Engaging and educating newcomers is a much better strategy than rapping them on the knuckles for not obeying our obscure rules.

  • Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you berate people, I discourage that, but it's important that we guide and teach. You wouldn't let someone walk into your store and knock everything off the shelves, making it look bad for others who come into the store, and we shouldn't do that here either. Poor quality content will scare away the new users who will show up and actually take the time to write good, clear, detailed content. See my post here for more details. – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 6:14
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    @jmort253 Perhaps we can agree that any question from a user with rep<50 and certainly first questions NOT BE CLOSED within 24 hours, if another user has noted its deficiencies and offered assistance. We must allow time and space for modifications to occur. My reaching experience suggests that children standing outside the room rarely learn to improve. – Fortiter Oct 26 '12 at 6:30
  • @Fortiter - That's not bad advice, in most circumstances. If someone had your vision and foresight to edit that post like you did, it wouldn't have been closed at all. If you can continue to convince other users like yourself to help edit posts before voting to closing them, then I'm sure we can significantly reduce the number of closed questions, welcome new users, and keep the site looking awesome! :) – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 6:55
  • "but it's important that we guide and teach" - I disagree. It's important we answer people's questions. If you understood the question, then it doesn't need improvement. If you are going to set a limit on closing questions, please make it at least high enough the person can vote to reopen (500). Note it is highly unlikely any question will get reopened (see discussion on meta overflow). "your store" - it's not your store - it's theirs! 90% of hits to this site are supposed to come from non-members. – Duncan Nov 19 '12 at 12:32

A few minutes before reading your original comments in meta, I added the comment to this "angry" answer https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/1470/70

In hindsight, the bare link to the faq is probably not a great idea but the character limit on a comment demands some clever writing to catch the correct tone.

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    Linking to the 'how to ask' was a great move! I think that we maybe need to be encouraging this portion of it: Make it relevant to others "We like to help as many people at a time as we can. Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it." – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 17 '12 at 5:26
  • I went ahead and flagged that answer as "not an answer" and left a comment letting the user know that meta is the place for discussions about the site. – jmort253 Oct 17 '12 at 7:06
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    @CanadianGirlScout - Just fyi, if you type [ask] or [answer] in comments, they'll automatically be converted to links to those resources, like How to Ask and How to Answer. :) – jmort253 Oct 17 '12 at 21:46

For a case study in HOW NOT TO encourage new users, take a look at the comments and the edit trail on How to make Gramps show more than 5 generations in the pedigree view

It is fortunate that @Luke has been in since the beginning, but if I were a new user who joined the public beta and was looking for examples of how to frame my question, that would drive me away forever.

  • Hi Fortier, I agree that example is a bit noisy. I suggested before that we not get into debates on the question itself as it can be a bit scary to a new user. :) Instead, if you wanted to help, you could post a meta question and drop a link in the comments. That would at least take the debate/discussion away from the face view of the post and be less intimidating to a new user. I suggest using comments just for helpful advice, and meta for debating with other users about whether something is on-topic/off-topic, etc. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 6:04

I just noticed that a recently-asked question by someone new to the site was closed by Robert Cartaino, who is a moderator by virtue of his other stack exchange experience.

For all the reasons stated in other answers in this thread, I suggest that we vote to re-open this question. And @RobertCartaino, would you please refrain from scaring away people who need encouragement rather than punishment?

  • I heavily edited the question and posted the first reopen vote a couple of hours ago. I heartily endorse your pro-active approach. – Fortiter Oct 26 '12 at 4:49
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    Gene, just to be clear, Robert is a Stack Exchange employee with years of experience in building new online communities. His comment also had lots of constructive advice about how to fix the problems with the post, which was lack of detail. You can still be nice to people while at the same time maintaining quality, and Robert's post is actually a great example of how to do that. – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 4:53
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    [cont'd] - Lastly, closure isn't punishment; it's a way to put the question on hold to give the asker time to fix the problems so it doesn't get answers that won't fit the question once it's been turned into something awesome. Hope this helps! Also, it looks like the edits made it a much better question, so I flagged it for reopening. The system works! ;) – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 4:54
  • @jmort253 I agree with you that the system works, and that Robert was acting well within his capacity and expertise. My problem is that how the system works is not clear to newbies, and if we do things correctly but send the wrong impression, we help neither ourselves nor the new person. I think this is an issue of perception, and, in my opinion, the perception that is created when someone's new question is closed is that they are not welcome. – Gene Golovchinsky Oct 26 '12 at 5:06
  • No the system was "worked around"! I edited the question (not the OP) because it appeared to me that (after 12 hours) an inexperienced user might walk away rather than respond to the comments made. "Standard SE procedure" applied rigorously will have the effect of driving SOME beginners away. – Fortiter Oct 26 '12 at 5:07
  • While on the subject of "moderation" by staff. Could @RobertCartaino extend the same "gentle approach" to first posts on Meta (such as meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1214/…) – Fortiter Oct 26 '12 at 5:09
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    @Fortiter - I'm afraid you're missing the big picture. Editing that question was awesome! It's now has at least one reopen vote, and I flagged it as well. Keep in mind that what makes Stack Exchange so successful is the content. It's what will make this site be #1 in search engines. So if some people who write not so great content are going to be scared off by a little constructive advice, then I'm really not sure we can help them, and we probably don't want them in the community. We should definitely be nice, and be encouraging, but none of this means we should lower standards. – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 5:57
  • @GeneGolovchinsky - This is where you come in as an almost 2K rep user. Teach those users how to use the site by leaving comments like Robert did. Since you and Fortier are pro-genealogists, you can also edit and maybe avoid closure altogether. But letting this site get overrun with low quality posts isn't going to make this site popular. You can still be nice and still maintain high standards. ;) Hope this helps! – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 6:00
  • @jmort253 I think I get the big picture precisely. You summed it up in "and we probably don't want them in the community". Sometimes people that you regard as "desirable" will view what happens and wonder if they want to be part of your community. – Fortiter Oct 26 '12 at 6:23
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    @Fortiter - If you hired me to work with you, you'd train me to do the job, right? You wouldn't just let me run rampant, untrained, and do the wrong things and hurt your business, right? Hopefully, you'd train me and be patient with me so that I might eventually get what's expected of me. You might even be patient enough to give me some time to catch on. But ultimately, if I don't work out, are you going to keep me on as an employee? – jmort253 Oct 26 '12 at 6:30

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