6

This comes as my reaction to a recent question in which the Asker cheerfully admitted to having done zero research. Just recently I came across this GREAT Answer on Meta Stack Overflow, by someone called "user 414076". I am going to quote it here (remember, the question was, How much research is expected [of Stackoverflow users]):

A lot. An absurd amount. More than you think you are capable of. In fact, asking a question on Stack Overflow is the absolute last thing you ever want to do. You want to avoid it at all costs. You want to think of it as a horrible shame* that will forever haunt you and pass down from you to your descendants. You want very much to find your answer some other way.

You want to

  • Search. Like mad.
  • Test your code.
  • Troubleshoot.
  • Read blogs.
  • Find books.
  • Follow tutorials.
  • Anything to avoid adding another question to Stack Overflow.

You never want to hit that "ask question" button and absolutely never do you want to click the "post your question" button.

After you have reached the end of your rope and the pain of not having the answer exceeds the vast amount of shame received by posting your question, that's when you can go ahead and ask. Because at that point, you will have done whatever research necessary to make it a good question worth asking. Because so help me, if your question gets an answer within 30 seconds that has 10 upvotes within 3 minutes, you did not do enough research.

* The terms "shame" and "never" are a tad bit hyperbolic, but the important point remains that we absolutely want you to do your homework. Understand that our time is not free, though we do not charge for it. Answering low quality, poorly researched, or duplicated questions becomes tiresome.

It would need a few minor adjustments to adapt to History Stack Exchange, but the point is clear enough, isn't it?

Now, admittedly, for some reason it is harder to ask a well-researched question than it is to give a well-researched answer. I found this out when comparing my two thoroughly researched Answers (on Roman slavery and Charles the Bold's nickname) with my lackadaisical American Mafia Question, which could have used a good deal more research.

So, for my next question I am presently knee-deep in research. I want to make sure that I've tried all the obvious things first before coming here.

Then again, maybe a majority of you don't care at all for what concerns me. Maybe you're happy to ask a constant streams of questions about something that could easily have been found on Wikipedia, receive upvotes, get a from-Wikipedia answer, give upvotes, and tomorrow you switch places. A parlor game. Like Trivial Pursuit, but win-win instead of zero-sum since everyone's rep keeps growing.

In that case, sorry for wasting your time.

  • Take it up with Joel Spolsky and his "How do I move the turtle in LOGO" question :) – DVK Jun 13 '13 at 15:39
  • @DVK Hm? Closed as not a real question... – yannis Jun 13 '13 at 17:02
  • @YannisRizos - wait, someone managed to win the anyi-Spolksy trivial SO questions war??? I guess I should have been paying more attention to SO :) You just made my day! – DVK Jun 13 '13 at 18:26
5

I think that you need to at least display that you have done enough research beyond Google search, and Wikipedia. You should want to do this level of research because it might: a) answer your question, or b) familiarize you with the topic to the point where you can ask a more pointed and useful question.

Researching to the same level as some of the hard science stacks is really not necessary for this stack. A lot of times people don't even know where it is too look online to find what they are looking for. Google is great, but it is not that good.

3

I'm middle of the way.

  • If the question has a topic devoted to it on Wikipedia, and the asker didn't bother reading that topic, CLOSE. Not enough research.

  • If the question has a set of Google results that do NOT include Wikipedia or EB, this is NOT considered lack of research, since a non-expert may not be in a position to know which linked resources are worth trusting as sources.

  • Having said that, unless you mention that you TRIED to do you research and here is what you found and how it's not enough for you for whatever reason, that should be at least grounds for downvoting.

3

We have had a couple of recent Meta questions about how we can re-phrase my boilerplate comment asking OPs to document their prior research, or a variant on a similar theme, to be more friendly.

Shouldn't we be less harsh with respect to asking for prior research?

New wording for our message: “What research have you done?”

However, I suspect that before we invest too much time and effort in that debate, we should first try to come to a consensus about how much prior research we actually expect. I was going to post a new question, but - as you can see, it has already been asked. But perhaps we do not yet have a consensus?


The requirement for prior research is written into Stack Exchange sites. Every "How to ask a good question" page (including ours) stresses the need for prior research before posting questions.

Evidence of prior research is actually a reason to vote up a question, as stated in the tool-tip for the upvote button:

Upvote tool-tip

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear

While equally, a lack of evidence for prior research is an explicit reason to downvote a question, as stated on the downvote-arrow tool-tip:

Downvote tool-tip

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

So, it is absolutely right that the only question we should be ask is how much evidence of prior research we expect.


I am fairly clear in my own mind about what I need to know when someone asks a question:

  1. Where have they searched

So that I don't have to duplicate any research they have already done.

Note that I don't have any strong feelings here about exactly where they have searched, (beyond the fact that they have at least searched Wikipedia and typed their question into Google - and followed up on any links on the first couple of pages of search results that seem to be 'obvious' answers to their question).

I just want them to tell me what research they have actually done.

  1. What they found

So I don't just post an answer that tells them what they already know.

  1. Why that wasn't sufficient to answer their question

This will generally tell me what they really want to know.

Did they search, and not actually find anything? Or perhaps they searched and found a paper that they don't quite understand (both are perfectly valid questions for History:SE, IMO, but they do require very different answers).


This was the basis for the boilerplate comment text that I developed over time for questions that don't seem to show any evidence for prior research:

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

Now, once we have come to a consensus about the minimum level of research that we expect questions to demonstrate, perhaps we then also need to address some more contentious questions.

Two examples come immediately to mind:

Firstly, how do we get the message that these questions really should not generally be upvoted across to the community? This has become even more important since the recent changes to the reputation that is awarded for questions.

Upvotes should not be a form of "Welcome to the site". Those votes grant reputation which, in turn, unlocks privileges on the site. Poor-quality questions that demonstrate no evidence of prior research should never be upvoted.

(I have recently seen an obvious troll question about the relative numbers of Jews killed by Fascists and Communists get an upvote before it was deleted, which is a matter for concern!)


Secondly, should we expect moderators to preemptively place questions on hold, with a comment asking the OP to document their prior research?

Personally I would prefer that we don't go down this road. It is certainly likely to make our site feel a lot more unwelcoming, especially for new users.

However, many of those questions are eventually closed anyway, and since many of our high-rep users seem to prefer not to get involved in user-moderation this might ultimately be a more user-friendly approach.

At least, a question locked by a moderator super-vote can just as easily be unlocked by a moderator when it has been edited by the OP to include their research (whereas moderators might be more reluctant to overturn a community close-vote). Perhaps this approach would make our process for closing questions less of a trapdoor function?

Obviously, that wouldn't preclude the question being closed again by the community if there are other perceived deficiencies.

  • Vaguely remembering an almost clash between us over priors for this when I had 'ideas: please tell me again the post outlining how we reach any consensus on this site, and refer to it back, when views,tags,checkmarks/voting on meta is no indicator for that at all. The point was when I referred to posts that lookto me like representing site consensus you dismissed it as "never been consensus since I joined". – LаngLаngС Dec 2 at 21:18
  • 1
    One thing I would strongly suggest as a general policy rule now immediately is mods always removing 'no-prior research questions' from HNQ. Intentionally always disregarding answer quality. (Most are at least starting lowQ anyway, too many stay that way, HNQ rewards speed only, never quality. And us leting all that stay on HNQ are rewarding answering lowQ-Qs. I guess a lot of UVs that cause HNQ are from 1) people repfarming by also answering those 2) UVing what they answer (less problematic motivation, but same effect). – LаngLаngС Dec 2 at 21:19
  • 2
    @LаngLаngС Both good questions for the community here. In a comment on the current question about improving the quality of questions on the site I mentioned that (I believe) we can customise the on-topic page in our Help Centre to include links to meta questions that make our expectations explicit. That seems to have been what happened on Skeptics, and is probably what should have happened here a long time ago. – sempaiscuba Dec 2 at 21:28
  • @LаngLаngС My view is that if custom and practice over a prolonged period is at variance with old questions & answers here on meta, then whatever consensus there might or might not have been in the past has clearly been lost. This is why I think it is important to make our expectations explicit (probably in a locked post, as in the Skeptics example), and link to them from our Help Centre. But it still requires the community to abide by and enforce that consensus. – sempaiscuba Dec 2 at 21:34
  • 1
    @LаngLаngС But, before we start trying to enforce those standards and expectations, we should first agree what they actually are. That requires consensus. And that might be really hard to achieve unless we can get more users to be more active on meta. I don't have answers at the moment. I'm just trying to establish where I think we should be trying to go, and hoping the community will agree and come up with some ideas on how to get there. – sempaiscuba Dec 2 at 21:37
  • And I am all for it (even if I thought we had these prolegomena of procedure already). A hard philosophical problem is now that of chicken and egg. That currently looks specifically like this to me: how to reach a consensus about consensus if we do not know how consensus is achieved? In other words, it seems this fundamental must make item1 on the agenda? – LаngLаngС Dec 2 at 21:51
  • @LаngLаngС That is probably the subject for a meta question in its own right. But you might find that a significant part of the community aren't going to support change. Consider the example of the question about usurpers to the English/UK throne. Obviously off-topic (answered by 2 separate Wikipedia pages, both mentioned in comments & OP replied in comments that those pages answered the question. All before any answers posted.) yet answers were still posted by some high-rep users, and the question hit the HNQ list before I removed it. – sempaiscuba Dec 2 at 21:59
  • @LаngLаngС For what it's worth, the question of How is consensus determined on Meta sites? has been asked on Meta:SE. I'm not entirely sure that the answers help in our situation, but it may help you to frame a question to clarify what 'consensus' means here. – sempaiscuba Dec 2 at 22:09
2

This question strikes me as a prime example of poor quality research. The Wikipedia entry is fairly full and explanatory, seemingly well referenced, and includes links to "further reading". I personally would find it an very good starting point for examining the question, and @MarkCWallace offered an excellent critique of the question. I personally, after reading the Wikipedia entry (included in the question!) found myself baffled as to what else the OP wanted to know, which could not be gained by following the links/references found there. I do find (a personal failing, perhaps) questions that leave me thinking "Well, what more do you want?" particularly irritating.

"What is 3 x 4?" "12" "Thanks.What is 4 x 3?" "Excuse me?"

0

Using Google Books, Wikipedia and many other serious online resources one can actually find a proper answer to any question.

So the consequence of strictly applying the user404176's opinion would be the closure of this site whose situation is already critical because there are only 3.6 questions for day.

At the contrary, I think that to ask on this site no research is needed and the questions should be voted only in reference to the fact they are more or less intersting.

StackExchange format, which is derived from Q&A sites regarding 'exact' science, doesn't work in the case of history problems.

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