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As noted in this question, some questions have no documented preliminary research and should probably be directed to Google or Wikipedia. This is particularly true of new users, to whom we wish to be more welcoming and polite. On the other hand:

  • It is not a prudent investment of time and effort to replicate research that is already available.
  • It can be very difficult to distinguish between "I'm too lazy to do research" and "I'm hampered in my research by English as a Foreign Language" or "I lack the contextual underpinnings to do research successfully", or "I've tried to do research, but I can't find an answer and "It never occurred to me that you needed to know the sources I've already checked."

Please provide answers that we can copy and paste that communicate:

  • We need to know what research you've done to know how to answer the question
  • We respect you, but we need to know the information in order to help.
  • A lot of this is already set out in the How to Ask section of the Help centre. – sempaiscuba Feb 16 '18 at 0:19
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    @sempaiscuba most new users aren't going to read it though. – Semaphore Feb 16 '18 at 0:34
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    @Semaphore That's why I always try to point them there first. The layout is much easier to read than a comment, and it is part of the 'official' documentation for the site, rather than just a comment from someone they don't yet know. :) – sempaiscuba Feb 16 '18 at 0:37
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    @sempaiscuba No, I'm not saying they don't know where the help page is (although they probably don't). I'm saying many people aren't going to bother reading a lengthy help page to get a question answered. When posting a question, the links to the help pages are already shown in the side bar. – Semaphore Feb 16 '18 at 0:46
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I think the reality is that most people haven't done much or any research worth documenting. There are exceptions of course, but in many cases a user doesn't even know what to search for. So I believe our template should be guiding them into starting on the process.

My suggestion is that if there is a Wikipedia article on the subject, we should have something like:

Hi [user], welcome to H.SE. Does [relevant links] have what you are looking for? If not, please edit your post to explain what you find missing or questionable with the article. This helps other users understand the issue, so as to better answer your question.

In my mind, this accomplished several goals. Its a unassuming suggestion for all users to read wikipedia if they haven't done the research. It's a useful pointer foe the user didn't know where to look on wikipedia. And if the user has already done the research but simply neglected to mention it, it's a gentle reminder to document their research.

I believe this would be better received and more likely to encourage desirable activity than effectively giving someone looking for help the "homework", so to speak, of reading help pages to get help. The reality today is that most people don't bother reading manuals and so I think it's more useful to offer concrete, practical steps.

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    I think using @ in follow up comments is enough to communicate that to the user. Since somewhat unintuitively the @ autocomplete hints won't show until there's a second commenter. If no one else has commented, any reply from the OP will notify the first commenter anyway. – Semaphore Feb 16 '18 at 0:33
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    "in many cases a user doesn't even know what to search for" - I think this is a big problem for many newbies. There's a big difference between 'too lazy to try to find' (should be politely but firmly told to do some research) and 'don't know how to find' (should be guided and not immediately punished with downvotes / closing). – Lars Bosteen Feb 16 '18 at 6:03
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    @LarsBosteen yes that's why I feel very strongly that suggesting wikilinks where possible is important. We don't want people to feel like we are simply adding to their frustrations of being unable to find information. – Semaphore Feb 18 '18 at 9:59
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I think that it's important to get new users to read the documentation in the Help Centre. The key points about why they should research first, and why it is important to document that research in the question are set out there, and in a form that is much easier to read that a comment!

The documentation in the Help Centre also has the benefit of being the "official" documentation for the site, which helps avoid the "Why are you asking me about my research ..." arguments we've seen in comments before now.


The basic form of words that I've been using is:

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] and, in particular, [ask].

(The system renders [tour] into [tour](https://history.stackexchange.com/tour), [help] into [Help Centre](https://history.stackexchange.com/help) and likewise [ask] in a comment intelligently as a hyperlink to the How to Ask page in the Help Centre.) That saves a lot of typing.


Obviously, any boilerplate text should be tailored to the situation where required, but I've found this to be a useful frameowrk.

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    To be honest if they aren't reading the links when it's shown to them on the ask page, I'm not sure they'll be much more likely to read it when it comes up in s comment from a stranger either. – Semaphore Feb 16 '18 at 1:04
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    @Semaphore Perhaps, but the comment is reinforcing what they should already have read. :) – sempaiscuba Feb 16 '18 at 1:11
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    I think a link to How to ask is paramount. It's brief, to the point, friendly and supportive. Yes, new users should read all the introductory documentation, but people are notoriously bad at reading instructions; the How to Ask is a quick, digestible starting point. – TheHonRose Feb 16 '18 at 5:28

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