6

On this site, there have been large numbers of questions which show little to no apparent research effort, often with the question body containing little more than the actual question asked (perhaps even just the title repeated).

I'm not talking about beginner questions here — not even general reference questions — which have been discussed before. I'm talking particularly about questions which don't even show a token effort to find the answer themselves, or that any thought at all has gone into it at all.

As Jeff said in the seminal blog post "Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand",

It’s true that you can’t have Q&A without questions, but having the wrong sorts of questions is far more dangerous. The fastest way to kill any Q&A site is to flood it with low-quality questions.

For this reason, downvoting is free for all questions. Despite this, there has always been a strong disinclination to downvoting on this site. Many of these no-effort questions have actually ended up netting a positive score with no downvotes to offset it; this, I feel, gives the mistaken impression that we actually want and encourage such questions.

Keeping this in mind, and especially considering the recent tightening of our scope, how should we be dealing with these questions going forward?

3

While not exactly the same, this situation strongly parallels the long-standing "homework question" situation on Stack Overflow. Of note are the following two principles in their homework FAQ:

  • Make a good faith attempt to solve the problem yourself first. If we can't see enough work on your part your question will likely be booed off the stage; it will be voted down and closed.
  • Ask about specific problems with your existing implementation. If you can't do that yet, try some more of your own work first or searching for more general help; your professor is likely to be a better resource at this stage than Stack Overflow.

According to the Stack Exchange philosophy, "you should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." But the actual problem faced should at least be somewhat more complex than "I don't know the answer," which is pretty much a given for any question ever. Otherwise the bar ends up set ridiculously low, the site gets flooded with low-quality questions, and nobody's happy.

Maybe such questions actually come from a real concern or a real roadblock in research, or because of an interestingly complex problem that other experts would appreciate. But without any indication of this in the question body itself, these are wholly indistinguishable from questions which are only asked out of mild passing curiousity with no actual investment in the answer or, even worse, just being too lazy to try.

Our site is currently scoped for an academic interest in Islam, and I think it is fair to expect that questions show at least some semblance of academia, which is to say actively trying to learn. This would exclude most questions in the mild-passing-curiousity and outright-laziness categories, which are liable to discourage actual experts from participating; regardless of intent or import, such questions tend to read as "do my research for me."

Just as a student wouldn't just go up to a teacher and cold demand the answers to a homework assignment (at least, not if he's expecting a useful response), questions on this site shouldn't be encouraged if they don't suggest some willingness to find or work out the answer themselves. Ideally, every question that's asked, even if it's not answered by the community, should have a chance of being self-answered from the questioner's own off-site efforts.

The onus is basically on the questioner to prove that their question is actually worth the time or effort they want the community to put into it. Fleshing out a question is (or at least should be) easy: When the questioner has tried and failed to solve the problem, either due to their own limits or unforeseen complexities in the problem space, simply include those details.

And if the questioner doesn't actually care enough about the answer to work for it, or at least to present a compelling case, why should anyone else?

As such, I feel that the type of low-quality questions mentioned in OP, those which don't suggest anything at all except the fact it's a question, should not only be downvoted, but also be considered off-topic for this site, and closed as such.

1

At math.SE:

We experienced this at math.SE, and we as a community ended up closing no-effort questions as off-topic. We called them "problem statement questions" and they were so common, we used the acronym PSQ. As the site's traffic grew, we raised the question quality.

The current necessary minimum standard for a question on MSE is very low right now. In my opinion, it is too low. -- mixedmath ♦

There was a lot of debate about this at the time. However, now there's an off-topic close reason for this:

This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

It wasn't a clear-cut win:

  • Lots of questions were closed, often by relatively low-reputation users.

  • Some long-term users preferred to guide new users through comments. However, questions from new users were rapidly being closed as off-topic.

  • We ended up with close/reopen fights.

  • We ended up with people rapidly answering questions before they were closed.

  • We ended up with answers in comments.

  • It's not fully clear that declaring no-effort questions as off-topic is beneficial. Sometimes low quality questions receive high-quality answers regardless. See also Meta.SE's post Embrace the non-Googlers.

At the time, I was sure it would help, but was taken aback after it's implementation. It's weird closing on-topic questions as off-topic:

Proposal: ban proposals that ban valid mathematical questions. -- Math Gems

Now things seem to have settled down, and flicking through some questions closed in this way seems like it is now helpful.

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I think firstly they should be commented as no research effort question. They if no action was taken by poster then they should be brought in meta (or declared for other users) to if any user can work on it to match the site standards do so. If no user taken any action in improving it. Then it can be deleted.

Also in many cases such questions have some valuable answers that the answerer has spent a lot of time for writing them. And it is not fair to their answer be deleted because of a problem in question. Specially while their answer has no problem. It is like to tear up the book of a writer. What is the problem of who answered the question? His efforts should become waste?

I think deleting them without any kind of notification to other users or writers of answers to that question who may be interested in editing and improving questions is not fair.

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  • 3
    The whole point of downvoting and/or closing a low quality question quickly is so that other users don't waste their time writing answers to it. The longer a bad question is open and visible, the more likely it is to attract answers that may well end up deleted along with the question.
    – goldPseudo Mod
    Apr 7 '14 at 22:12
  • 1
    @goldPseudo so it can be closed quickly and declared in meta with a suitable time for other users who may be interested to work on them. Apr 8 '14 at 3:22

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