I know we have discussed this on numerous occasions, but this question and the responses suggest to me that we still have a problem. I admit, it is one of the worst phrased questions ever, but later comments from the OP indicated they had done everything we suggest/expect questioners to do - Google, Wikipedia, etc. However, the querent, who said at least twice it was her first foray onto the site, was left, in her own words, "feeling stupid".

Even from a self-serving point of view, this is surely the last thing we want? If the OP's experience is "Exit, pursued by a bear", they are unlikely, to put it mildly, to recommend the site to colleagues!

I somewhat departed from the SE format in trying to offer help (and am frankly surprised my answer was marginally up-voted rather than down-voted!), but suspect it was too little too late. The OP has not returned and I suspect will not. Frankly, this is not the way to grow the site nor, IMHO, is it any way to treat people. We all fell over many times before we learnt to walk unaided.

I don't have a remedy, but I still think we need further discussion on this issue. Would welcome any further thoughts.

  • 6
    I took at look at the question just now, and I felt several of the comments are less than ideal. It's unfortunate that a totally new user was greeted in this way. If you see this recur in the future, please flag the comments ASAP for deletion, and if you can, please try to phrase the issues raised in a more friendly way.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:33
  • @Semaphore Thanks, I'll do that, if there's a next time - hopefully not!
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 13:38
  • With reference to the original question I would just like to thank @JAsia for his excellent answer (which I intend to study myself! ) and for rescuing the question. Apropos, I have a linguistic problem with "school". In the UK, this means up to 18 - post 18 is usually university, and I would strive to be gentler with a 17 Yr-old than, say, a 2nd year (sophomore to my US colleagues) undergraduate. I know there's no solution to this, but I do find it confusing. :(
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 13:33
  • To be honest I thought this was unusally good natured for a StackExchange Q&A exchange.
    – Stumbler
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 21:41

4 Answers 4


I couldn't have said it better, and I'm glad you raise the issue. I want people like that poster to feel welcome, I just don't know quite how to do it.

I'm still striving to find a way to say "You haven't demonstrated the preliminary research we expect of questions here", without sounding like I'm saying "You're stupid". That is not my intent, but I need to understand the question and the research that has already been done.

Someone has proposed, and I support, the notion that we require demonstration of prior research for all questions. (other SE do this). If that is a stock answer, then we're not saying, "You're stupid", we're saying, "Questions on this SE have this format...."

I'd be thrilled if there were a community wiki answer with a stock response that I could copy and paste. (Hat tip to @T.E.D)

  • 3
    @MarkCWallace Thanks, I'm glad I'm not completely off the map here! And yes, it is difficult to request clarification /prior research without it coming over as "Read a book, Dumbo." ;) I totally support the idea of a stock response; a one size fits all would, hopefully, feel less personal to the poster. Is there anything in the pipeline?
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 12:29
  • 4
    @TheHonRose - Perhaps a community wiki answer here with a stock response would be helpful?
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:44

While badly phrased questions need to be improved, it should be done a lot better than what happened in this instance. I am not the most intuitively friendly person, and these are just some personal feelings, but I think a lot of issues can be phrased in a way that's more welcoming to a new user.

For example, instead of implicitly insinuating or, worse, accusing the asker of not doing preliminary research, ask them to edit and explain why the reference resource didn't answer their question or what specific questions they have the resource.

So don't just comment "sounds like you haven't even read it" or just a "(link)". Even if you think the answer is fully explained by a link, ask them if the link solves the problem first, and be sure to welcome them to come back with specifics if it doesn't.

Tied into the above, I also think it's easier to make a comment feel less hostile and personal if you include a suggested course of action, rather than just criticism. This way it feels more like trying to be helpful than putting their efforts down.

  • 1
    I said in my original post that the question was admittedly badly phrased, but am thinking now that those are precisely the questions that require the most careful handling. I see it as a variant of the "not even wrong" concept, when someone hardly knows how to explain their difficulties. I'm not suggesting we become teachers, that's not our role, but I suspect most of us have at least once stared at an exam paper, and thought "I don't even understand the question!"
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:11
  • 1
    @TheHonRose Yes, some people don't necessarily have the right context to be able to figure out the right question to ask, and its difficult to research when one doesn't know where to start. I think it's these questions are good candidates for more experienced users to leave "answer in a comment" type comments.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:38

I've been working on a form of words to welcome new users. It's still very much a work in progress:

Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, [ask].

Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Speaking personally, I agree with @LangLangC about the impact of immediate down-votes and close-votes, although I'm more concerned about the close-votes which seem to be something of a trap-door function here. Where I have down-voted questions (not just from new users) I try to make a point of retracting those down-votes after the OP has improved the question by editing.

  • 2
    Welcome to HistorySE, [USERNAME]! What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and the help center. You may improve your question to comply with site guidelines with an edit and the help of How to Ask. Thanks! Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:23
  • 1
    Obviously, whether this or another boilerplate, this needs to be adapted case by case. – I do not know if there somewhere a feature request to notify (u/**d**-)voters after an edit? Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:25

Long term users on StackExchange (not so much, thankfully, on HistorySE) very often have two characteristics to them:

  1. when they started they went through the baptism with fire on SE in that they needed to adapt to the format, read a lot of help.
    That is quite fascinating and also sometimes quite frustrating, especially on beta sites where sometimes the documentation is not very evolved. But it can be like that also on matured sites where in certain subgroups of users a special in-group herd mentality is guiding many actions that do not really match the available documentation. Way too often one reads that "SE is degenerating" or "a toxic environment".

  2. being a regular on a many SE sites is often an endless tiring stream of bad questions. Users (signing up and) posting without reading the rules/help. Newbies not having read the help docs is perhaps especially aggravating to regulars, not the least because of 1) but also because it is felt as "so exhausting".

How to get better quality questions and stay friendly and welcoming?

The first message a new user sees should be from a review that comments a real "Welcome message", reminding them to read some documentation, like tour and ask. (This is designed to be not mandatory. A system design flaw in my opinion.) Additionally concrete problems of the question might then be added to this comment. Criticising new users is necessary, but with a certain relaxed attitude and a little bit of patience.

Immediate downvotes and close votes are a very harsh experience and in my opinion neither really appropriate for improvable or even salvageable questiona really needed on that scale witnessed almost daily. (Of course, this does not apply to really bad questions, spam or rude posts etc.) This immediate action approach is amplified in its bad effects if the comments are unthoughtful, borderline insulting or somehow arrogant.

The first comment should be strict, but friendly, welcoming and helpful, if there are any problems, then these should be addressed in that comment, if possible. If there are no problems with the question, and this is in my experience very rare, network wide, that a newbie signs up and starts posting perfect questions, the welcoming comment might be optional.

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