In case you missed it: this blog post is currently featured on the right-hand side of the page: Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.

In a footnote, the author says:

This post focuses on Stack Overflow, but most of it applies to the broader Stack Exchange network as well.

In the post, this was proposed for Stack Overflow:

Let’s make it easier for new users to succeed. No, I’m not shifting the blame. We set them up for failure, and our power users have been asking us to help them for ages. We’re planning to test a new “beginner” ask page that breaks the question box into multiple fields – one for each of the key things answerers need to help:

  • “What did you want to happen?”
  • “What actually happened? (Include any error details)”
  • “Paste the shortest block of code that reproduces the problem. (We’ll format it!)”
  • “Describe what you’ve tried so far (including searches, etc.)”

Let's think about working up some guidelines that we can point people to, and think about what we'd like to see if this rolls out to the main SE sites.

"Describe what you've tried so far" translates directly to what we do, and is something I wish they would implement right now.

For the three things that SO is asking about coding, what would our equivalent be?

See also MetaStackExchange: Can we tinker with the "beginner question" multi-field format for other sites too?

  • 3
    I wish we could have a beginner 'answer' page as well. Sigh.
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 12:14

2 Answers 2


My first thoughts, which I may refine later, are below with some brief example text for a sample question (based on Where was Matthew Nettell, of Illogan, Cornwall, for the 1861 Census?):

  • Please provide some background to the question you wish to ask?

This is what I know of the life of my 2nd great grandfather Matthew Nettell from his birth in 1846 (Cornwall) until he emigrated to South Australia in 1865 ... and includes the detail that his birth family members are easy to identify in the 1861 Census. However, Matthew who should be aged 14-15 is not with them.

  • What is the specific question you seek to have answered by our volunteers?

Where was Matthew Nettell for the 1861 Census?

  • Describe what you’ve tried so far (including searches, etc.)

I've found his family in the 1861 Census but not him. I've looked for apprenticeship records because he was a blacksmith ...


While any specific field wording is great for certain kinds of questions, it may not work as well for other categories.

The Stack Overflow suggestion equates to

  • what is your goal or purpose; why is this important to you
  • summarize the current status of the problem or the project or your knowledge of the subject
  • identify the specific problem or discrepancy or missing information you want to ask about
  • what methods have you used, or what records have you accessed, or which websites may be applicable

(Somewhere) we were told that we should write the body of the question before choosing a title. I think that ties in with the question-writing process idealized in the Stack Overflow suggestion.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .