I sadly notice there are plenty of questions which are nothing more than some random uneducated curiosity, about which the asker hasn't even tried to do any kind of research.

This, paired with the similar problem of "wikipedia-questions", i.e. questions which the most basic research in Wikipedia would have answered, is hurting this site IMHO.

I think promptly and mercilessly closing such questions could help better shape this site.

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    I'm inclined to agree, but it is up to the community to shape the site. If you don't feel a question is appropriate or that it doesn't meet a certain standard, then you have the option of voting down the question. If a question is voted down enough, the poster will usually close it. Another option is to vote to close the question and see if enough of your peers agree. As a moderator, I won't go and make those decisions alone. The community needs to make them collectively. – Steven Drennon Feb 10 '12 at 12:39
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    Same here, unless it's an obviously badly framed question I won't close unless I see others on the site vote down on the question. – MichaelF Feb 10 '12 at 14:07

Unfortunately that is going to happen, and it's been going on - though I suspect you are referring to this question on opium selling to China by the British, the question is not a good format and I think we have done a good job of closing those. Some questions may be suspect but overall I think we have done a good job keeping on top of those, asking them to be edited and why - as I did with the Opium question is a better way to get people more familiar with the site. Especially since there was an issue with questions being closed early on without any rationale as to why, that helps grow the community more so people get a better understanding of what kinds of questions we prefer to have.

The wikipedia answering has picked up as of late, but much of that needs to be monitored and noted to people that we need more than just wikipedia copying and pasting. I have made notes on questions to that effect a few times and keep an eye out.

Random curiosity is fine, if it enriches the site and people get a source to look afterwards, which overall we do well at, citing sources so people can look them up for more information. I am unsure about the research we might ask of posters, some may be new at research, and some have no idea how to look up answers to questions. That I agree we need to keep an eye on.

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    I think posters have to do some research because this is a question&answer site, so if you have a question and you care about the answer, you'd better try to find it before asking it... – o0'. Feb 10 '12 at 13:56
  • Talking about Wikipedia I have to stress I think it really is a question problem, and not an answer problem. – o0'. Feb 10 '12 at 13:57
  • Some people just don't know how to go about researching a problem, or they don't have the ability to find the answer so while I would like to see more I wouldn't penalize if the question is well framed and noted. Unlike programming questions where I expect someone to note what they did before some History questions may be questions on understanding and that is not as easily researched. – MichaelF Feb 10 '12 at 14:09

With all due respect, while it's a somewhat valid concern, I think the site is hurt a lot more by people who don't post good content and merely criticize others. Let's see what OP posted so far:

  • Zero good (or any) questions to serve as examples to inspire other users.

  • 4 answers, of which:

    1. One was a trivial Wikiable answer to a poor question that was since closed (not referenced to any historical information, to boot - no explanation for historical role of the person, no primary references to the reason of death).

    2. One decent answer which was already answered on English SE, so the answer was just copy/paste from there with no primary historical or dictionary references.

    3. An answer which did NOT answer the question (the answer was a one-liner stating results of revolutions, whereas the questioner asked about the comparison of the causes). As appears to be the pattern, not referenced either.

    4. An answer about recent events (debatable if the question is of good quality or even good fit on History.SE as any answer is too localized for now due to recentness of events). Again, not referenced at all, and totally incomplete (2 countries out of at least 5-6 affected by "Arab Spring"), with zero attempts to analyze what was different between the two countries that led to different outcomes.

So, I think that the solution to improving this site is to have users who post GOOD content which will attract users, and not baseless criticism of any and all questions that don't meet the exacting standards of "can not possibly be found via 1 hour of Googling and 1 hour of dredging through poorly written Wikipedia article".

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    Oh, the ad personam, so cool. – o0'. Feb 26 '12 at 13:34

I often have "random, uneducated question" regarding history. See, I am not a historian and would not even know where to start search for some questions.

Google may not be helpful: the question will not be "how to split a string in python" - which has plenty of answers because this is a tangible, technical one. It will be about something which is possibly documented in Tome XV of "History of the Lithuanian Monarchy", which I will have no idea to check.

What is a "random, uneducated question" for you is not for someone else. I am pretty sure that some of the questions you may have regarding physics are "random and uneducated" for those who work in the field, but as an ex-physicist with a PhD I would still be happy to answer it as it may be interesting for others (and possibly reduce anxiety)

I believe that history is prone to such questions and it would be a shame not to let people ask them, just because they did not research it themselves - often because there would not know where to look.

  • I grant that you are right. But I find it frustrating when I see a question that could be answered by the first result in google. How to Ask says we're to augment wikipedia not replace it. If we want to change that cultural norm, then we can discuss it on meta, but if we have documented that cultural norm, then we should all follow it. If OP shows some effort to research the question, define the terms, exclude the obvious, then I'm on board. But unless our culture shifts, I'd rather not answer another round of pub questions. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 8 '15 at 16:54
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    Certainly, questions which are one Google query away should be dismissed. I would like to retain the ones which could be tagged with no-research-cause-i-have-no-idea-where-to-search-and-google-has-none-either – WoJ Jun 8 '15 at 18:08
  • Agreed - although I still request that you document the research because sometimes it turns out that the key to answering the real question is to understand why the research isn't returning answers that make sense. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 8 '15 at 18:11

Asking a good historical question requires skill and research simply to ask the question. As a humanity, and a social science of human discourses, history requires an awareness of context. This is both the immediate context of the question's circumstances, and the scholarly context surrounding the question. Wikipedia is the first good point to research a question: wikipedia is particularly poor at exploring full and proper contexts, and very poor at seating articles in their scholarly context. A good question will tend to ask towards limited causes and meanings. Not "Why do all Xs Y?" but rather "Why, given the social importance of X did Y in this society and age?"

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