Although it isn't strictly necessary, I think it is important to recognize very well constructed questions. SE recognizes good questions with votes, but as others have pointed out, votes are a relatively imprecise way of conveying approval. Votes also don't recognize patterns. I'm going to answer this question with examples of types of questions and techniques of questions that I believe are particularly well suited for H:SE. I hope that identification of good patterns will help all of us to improve our questions, and as editors to improve marginal questions. Please feel free to provide your own examples.

  • 3
    This question might benefit from a title that makes "upvotes on questions" explicit? And if you want a more positively phrased approach here, then I think another post titled "Why did I get an upvote for my answer" would be a nice complement? Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 9:40

4 Answers 4


Questions that rely on perception and experience

One of the places that H:SE can really shine is when we provide answers to questions that are fiendishly difficult to research in traditional sources. Sometimes this invovles


  • What color are tracer rounds I'm not sure where you'd look this up, but H:SE provides not only an answer, but details that would help to interpret the source. Note that OP has provided a source, asked a precise question, and implicitly has considered how the question could be answered.
  • How far could an English War Bow Shoot This is the kind of thing that can be found in books, but once again, interpretation of the source (credibility, completeness, etc.) is greatly facilitated by a practitioner of the art. OP has supplied a source (and implicitly has consulted others) and clearly expressed the reservations about the source. Not a perfect question, but IMHO a good fit for H:SE.
  • How long to forge a sword - another question where there are sources, but sources tend to neglect to mention critical details, or assume that the researcher has background skills & knowledge that are not common. OP clearly identifies some of the terms that are making interpretation of the answers difficult (and again, implicitly demonstrates that research has been done.)
  • How were swords worn in the 18th century? OP specifies the constraints that are confusing, the experiments that have been tried and the resulting confusion. OP also implicitly recognizes that there are those of us who wear swords and can speak to the issue. I suspect there are textual sources, but any costumer will tell you that textual sources require a wealth of experience to interpret.


This is an example of a pattern that doesn't have a lot of implications, except to feel free to ask H:SE unusual questions.

Ask H:SE questions where it is difficult to interpret the source material without background that is non-trivial to obtain. (few of us have the ability to shoot tracer rounds or forge a sword, and even if we did, it wouldn't really be meaningful without years of practice).

If you see an H:SE question that relies on unusual expertise, refer the question to those who might have that expertise.


Questions asking for confirmation and primary source information about interesting and important quotations attributed to important historical figures, particularly something that has been attributed to more than one person.

Although many quotations can be sourced using various internet sites, not all of the material is reliable, often primary sources are not cited, contradictions in the exact language and who actually made the statement are not reliably dealt with, and if they are, the conclusions are not necessarily reliable.

Case in point (not particularly relevant to H:SE): Most professional programmers know the quote:

All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection.

But who said it? Did anybody in particular at all say it? Is it just oral tradition? Is that the entire quote? The exact language? Wikipedia attributes the quotation to David J. Wheeler, a noted computer scientist.

But recently I was reading Bjarne Stroustrup's The C++ Programming Language and there in the preface I found this:

All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection, except for the problem of too many layers of indirection. – David J. Wheeler

Wheeler was Stroustrup's Ph.D. advisor, so Stroustrup can be considered a primary source. Lo and behold, we find that what Wikipedia cites a secondary or tertiary source, and omits the final and very important clause: "except..."

IMO H:SE is the right place to come for such questions, which often have great historical import.

- Questions about long standing, accepted customs whose origin is unknown or very murky:

I love this question:

Does the forearm grip/handshake have a historical basis?

And this one:

What is the earliest known account of the modern military salute?

Things that we do or see all the time that may be very old, and have important historical roots and implications - often very difficult to determine their origins, as is demonstrated by the difficulty we're having in getting good answers to these questions.


Questions based on images

I realize that there are image search engines, but I haven't found them mature yet. The best image recognition engine is still the human mind. H:SE is a good place to crowdsource questions that rely on images.


  • What is this photograph? One of my favorite H:SE questions & answers. Even though OP didn't cite prior research or provide a context, the truth is that sometimes we're provided with evidence & sources out of context, and we don't know how/where to start the research. Not only did OP get two answers, but they provided context and identified some of the reasons why research was challenging.
  • What is the cable in this image? - OP provides source and a very specific question. H:SE provides multiple answers that rely on both photo interpretation and subject matter specific expertise.
  • What uniform is this? - I don't know how else to get an answer to this. Note that OP has provided the source of the image and enough context to help researchers to evaluate the answer. But also note that I think the answer is provided by not by image search, but by people who are experts in what is arguably an obscure subject.
  • What are these shoulder straps? - I'll grant you this was solved with google image search, but I think it still fits within the category.


H:SE is a good place to ask image based questions, but you should provide as much context as possible, link to the source of the image as possible and list any research you've done previously.

  • I also like questions based on images. Somewhat problematic however, is "photo-shopping".
    – user2590
    Commented Sep 14, 2013 at 19:07

How to get an upvote

I admire this answer from another site, and I'd like to construct another positive description of the characteristics of a good question.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .