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in werner's thorough answer to Why does TeX.SE exist?, the summary of results accepting tex.sx after the area 51 beta states that

Eventually, 90% of a site's traffic should come from search engines.

okay, a noble goal. but when it results in questions like this one, Why the the format look like this?, the only reaction is serious frustration.

there's no way to reliably get back to the op to get more (necessary!) information, and if that isn't provided, this is going to end up as an unanswered, closed question, which doesn't do our statistics any good.

i've just revisited the "tour" page, and i think it's a pretty good introduction. but when i searched for two words on the page, "detail" (three instances) and "example" (not there at all), i could see that maybe newbies aren't getting all the guidance that's needed. maybe something could be added about providing a "mwe"?

not sure who'd be responsible for making such an update, or indeed that this is what a newbie coming from google actually sees. (never mind that it might not be read, even if seen.) but if we don't say what information we need in order to give a good answer, then everybody loses, and we've only ourselves to blame.

how can we fix this problem?

  • 2
    Good observation, It was already pointed out earlier at in a comment to this MWE meta Q meta.tex.stackexchange.com/questions/228/… by Clement, may be Mods could update the page with MWE info and tour page. Other minor issues with newbie or users: Some of them may not be native english speakers(communication/expression)and some may not even be willing to provide MWE even if they know tex.sx may need MWE due to last min documentations and others don't even care to read tour page, but thats life everywhere in the world. – texenthusiast May 28 '15 at 19:18
  • @texenthusiast -- the language problem can't be solved completely, but surely taking care to express things clearly, in "plain english" can cut down on misunderstandings. i think what's on the tour page already is very good in that respect. the problem of "i don't read documentation" is harder to counteract, but if someone is taking the time to come here, i'd think they'd already be a bit chastened. seems like it's a good time to take a new look at the tour page and see if anything else is "missing". – barbara beeton May 28 '15 at 19:57
  • With regard to the example question, a Google search for "latex theorem proof spacing" produces a full page of answers from this site. I would hope that someone who did that search and read through some of those answers would either find an answer or figure out from the other examples a little bit about how this site works. – musarithmia May 28 '15 at 20:45
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    A search engine does not only scan the title of the question. I rarely use TeX.SX own search but instead I put into google <whatever TeX stuff> site:stackexchange.com possibly and if I'm looking my own answers add percusse somewhere. Hence people would probably end up there if the answer has the buzzword that is sought after. Hence I also frequently end up here from a search engine. In that regard it doesn't reflect the user experience. – percusse May 28 '15 at 21:34
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The first thing to remember here is that the site exists to help people use TeX. In the end, provided that happens other factors (such as stats) are not so important. At the same time, of course, we want to make it as easy as possible for people to find the information they want.

In the StackExchange model for a site, the idea is that good questions should be kept open and answered whilst poorer ones are closed but can be edited and improved. There is a question of timing: whether it is better to leave poorer questions open pending edits (as we've tended to do) or to close and await edits before reopening (as on the main StackOverflow site). However, in either case the situation is you need the original poster to clarify the question in order to improve it, or you need someone to take a guess as to what they mean. The latter is obviously more risky in terms of helping the OP but may make the question more useful to more people! What is certainly true is that while we can ask the OP for more detail, there is nothing we can do if they ignore such a request other than possibly close the question.

What's notable here is that closing questions isn't supposed to be a 'negative' outcome (in terms of site stats). What it's supposed to do is mean that open questions are good question, whether or not they are answered, and it's these open questions that hopefully should be searchable.

I think it's worth noting here that the classic difficult-to-search question type is the 'How do I draw X?'. These very often don't have any text giving away the nature of the diagram required, and are often very focussed on the needs of the OP (lacking generality). However, we've tended to tolerate such questions, partly as answers are often possible and partly as there is an assumption that we first want to help the OP, and only then worry about the wider audience.

In terms of what we can do to help users ask 'better' questions, we are somewhat limited. The mods can edit some parts of the Tour page but not all of it (we can edit the intro and what to ask/not to ask). The way the Tour page is set up it does not feel to me as if detailed 'How to ask a question' ideas belong there: I'm struggling to see where 'Consider adding a MWE' would fit in.

We can also edit the first part of the ' What topics can I ask about here? '. You'll see that in the latter there is already a line about providing a code example if possible. What it doesn't say is that one is required: there was a suggestion from the Powers that we might want a custom close reason saying more-or-less 'Off topic as there is no MWE' but that seemed far too prescriptive. I'm sure we all appreciate that there are some excellent questions with no code in them at all. Moreover, I'm pretty doubtful that most people sit and study these help pages before asking questions. My usual impression (certainly my own experience on other StackExchange sites) is that you (hopefully) do a quick search for what you want, and failing to find it post what you think makes sense and hope for the best!

  • Perhaps worth noting in this regard is that there are nowadays a series of badges for editing questions you've answered, with the idea being that this encourages improvement of questions with answers so making the information easier to find. – Joseph Wright May 29 '15 at 7:26
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    thanks for considering adding "consider adding a mwe" (possibly with a link). i don't think any more would be appropriate for the tour page. regarding closing reasons, "off topic: insufficient information to understand what is being asked" would cover either variety of question -- no mwe, or one for which just a verbal clarification would suffice. might the powers accept that phrasing or something like it? – barbara beeton May 29 '15 at 13:07
  • i have no problem editing a question if i'm sure i'm not changing the meaning. but there are some, like the one i cited, where any attempt (other than correcting spelling or grammar, which would be meaninglessly absurd) is simply impossible. information content is what's important here. badges be hanged. – barbara beeton May 29 '15 at 13:10
  • @barbarabeeton Custom close reasons are down to the mod team (we are allowed up to three without having to ask the Powers). We've never used any of the slots, but have some text that was suggested (cont.) – Joseph Wright May 29 '15 at 13:14
  • ... : Questions on a problem encountered while writing code must include a Minimal Working Example. For help in doing so, see: I've just been asked to write a minimal working example, what is that? and Questions must clearly state a specific problem and include only the code necessary to reproduce it. Large amounts of irrelevant code makes questions harder to answer and less likely to help others. See: I've just been asked to write a minimal working example, what is that? Both of these were I think from one of the staff, but we can use/edit as we like if felt useful. – Joseph Wright May 29 '15 at 13:15

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