Stack Exchange, in general, should be a place where experts in a particular field can provide each other with mutual support, and a place where people who are not experts can received help from experts who enjoy sharing their knowledge. Stack Exchange History shares this attitude.

Regular SE History participants are mostly aware of the components of a good question; sometimes new participants are not. This Meta question asks experienced users to provide a template for what goes into a high quality question, and gives some idea of what research is required prior to asking.

Other Stack Exchange sites, for example, SE Mathematica, require that any question is accompanied by an attempted answer. This shows that you are willing to put in the initial research before an expert takes the time to help. It also vastly improves the quality of questions, and makes SE more enjoyable for everyone.

SE History is similar; it requires that good questions put forth evidence of preliminary research.

I am requesting that experienced users provide examples of good questions. Of course, all these questions should include:

  1. A clearly defined question
  2. Evidence of prior research

It is hoped that new users can use the examples here as templates for their own questions.

More resources for asking questions:

How to Ask has the specific rules for question asking.

A meta question Why did I get a downvote? provides an expansive reference about what to avoid.


2 Answers 2


(I'll have to provide examples incrementally; apologies for the draft answer).

A good question

  1. Has a clear, identifiable question. Ideally the title of the question should be a question. The more difficulty I have in identifying the question, the less likely I am to research the question and the more likely I am to downvote the question.
  2. Provides attribution for every non-trivial assertion - The question is predicated on rumor or on counterfactuals, or is based on belief, not evidence. 30 years after my mother stopped smoking, she still believes that smoking is healthy; if she asked a question that began, "Since smoking has been proven to be beneficial for the lungs.....", no matter what follows, that is going to be a bad question.
    • Counterexample: What is the largest mutiny in human history. This question is actually a counterexample and an example. This question was closed because the term "mutiny" was ambiguous. This wasn't that bad a question; if OP had defined the term early before the "close-momentum" built up, the question would probably have survived.
    • Did CIA actually play a role in altering the end result of 1971 Indo-Pak war? Although there is a question in the title, the text of the question says, "Expose by defected KGB agent do indicate the presence of a CIA mole in Indian govt., whose actions led to US interference by exerting pressure on India to pull out." What is the real question.
  3. Demonstrate preliminary research - Just like it says in [ask], H:SE supplements google & wikipedia, it doesn't replace them. When you ask a question, you're asking me to put forth effort on your behalf. Please don't ask me to google things for you or to look it up in wikipedia. If I am in doubt, I copy the question and paste it into google; if I find the answer in the top five results, I vote to close the question as trivial. It is trivial to defend yourself against this downvote/vote to close - simply insert into the question some evidence that you did a search but the results were not satisfactory.
    • Example Where can I find clean maps of colonial America? - not a perfect example, but OP indicated that he had searched and found only contemporary maps, which is not what he wanted.
    • Example Who created the Korean Unification flag? - OP references the relevant wikipedia pages, but is looking for specific information beyond what Wikipedia provides.
    • Counterexample Did CIA actually play a role in altering the end result of 1971 Indo-Pak war? This question shows no research. It alludes to conflicts and events that are not supported by even the thinnest reference to wikipedia. It also refers to KGB information that is not presented or referenced. I am strongly disinclined to do research on this question, because OP is making me do all the work. OP provides numbers and facts that indicate that OP (probably) has a reference open in another tab - but doesn't provide any citation for that reference material. So OP is either making the data up wholecloth, or concealing from me the preliminary research. Then OP cites a KGB source; all sources require context; intelligence sources in particular reflect sources, methods and political agendas. It would take me significant research just to get to the point where OP starts the question; my time is more valuable than that.
  4. Ensure there is the possibility of an authoritative answer. Meta contains multiple discussions of the advisability of list questions. It should always be possible to identify the answer to an H:SE question, and for everyone to understand why that answer is selected as the answer. Aaron Kurthzals suggested that H:SE questions should always have an authoritative answer. "Give me a list of the rulers of England" is a list question (and trivial). "Give me a list of the Plantagenet rulers of England" can probably be answered authoritatively. - everyone who researches that question will come up with an answer that is at least 80% similar (I haven't done the research, so I don't recall how many edge cases there are.). An authoritative answers is one that is difficult to challenge - that means it is supported by research (not just opinion) and that most reasonable (non-fringe) researchers would come up with the same answer.
  • Is there any reason not to just paste entire well asked questions with commentary to this page, and then vote the best ones up? Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 15:24
  • Not sure I understand.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 15:53
  • My thoughts were to provide a variety of templates here. Then, when someone posts a weak question, we can point them here where they are spoon-fed a few templates. However, perhaps this isn't that good of an idea. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:11
  • Requires more thought - One of the things I like about your proposal is that it is positive. I tried something similar. In later entries I tried to provide suggested corrective actions, but I think yours has more potential.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:28
  • I've read that one before. I will add it to the question above. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:37

An example template for a basic question, with 3 sections:

The Question:

To what extent did the bureaucratic structure of the state that were required to sustain the Ottoman’s wealth and power undermine the foundations of the Ottoman state in the late 19th and 20th centuries?


The Ottoman Empire was a huge, long lasting empire. It lasted more than 400 years, and ruled over a large, diverse population. Its system of administration was simple: different ethnic groups were given a high level of autonomy if they paid taxes and acknowledged the Ottomans as the ruling power. This formula meant the more the Ottomans invaded and controlled their neighbors, the stronger they got.

However, in the 1800's, the Ottoman Empire lost land, population and power to Western European entities like France and England. The bureaucracy that worked so well in 1500 wasn't effective in the 1800's and 1900s.

Initial Research:

As I asked in my question, I want to know how much the structure of the Ottoman empire is responsible for its own downfall. I started by reading the Wikipedia page Decline and Modernization of the Ottoman Empire, and it speaks about the rise of nationalism and the failure of the Tanzimat reforms. However, I can't figure out to what extend the problems were caused by the Ottoman bureacracy, or if these problems were largely caused by other issues, for example foreign intervention or economic problem.

I think it is nice to have the question in one spot, a background to explain the basics of the question and perhaps why it is being asked, and a section speaking about what the OP found in Wikipedia, and why it was unable to answer the question.

  • This is not a challenge, but a sincere question - How to Ask discourages providing theories, and SE has a long discussion of the X:Y problem and the wrong hypothesis problem. How do we help the poster to distinguish between the proposed "initial research" above and the X:Y problem?
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 15:57
  • @MarkC.Wallace How else can I improve this template? Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:09
  • I think the template is probably good; the example you've chosen has an implicit X:Y problem that is difficult to clarify.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 13:43

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