I've been ruminating on what is a 'good question' and I'm not yet totally convinced that Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand neatly answers the question. I don't think a question being interesting defines whether it's good or not.

I can break down somebody else's question into one of three categories.

  1. It is a super easy question for me to answer because I learned it last year. Good because I'm the first to answer, I can get points and I want high score!
  2. This is a complicated question requiring abstract knowledge that is way out of my league, perhaps a year from now I'll be able to answer it.
  3. This is an interesting question. I don't know the answer but I have enough knowledge to piece together the parts, I'll load up the Views UI and test my solution before submitting my answer. Answering this question brings me the same pleasure as doing the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen or today's Sudoku.

Nevertheless, what makes an interesting question is completely subjective. I'm sure that whatever the modern day computer science equivalent to the question, "Is cardboard the proper material for a light bulb filament?" which was asked in 1879 would get nothing but down votes for being a ridiculous notion.

I will never ask a question that Mark Trapp thinks challenging or interesting. Does that mean all my questions are not good?

Putting the subjective aside since one expert which this site wants to attract might have a different idea of interesting than another expert. Is there a blueprint diagram of a properly formed question? Is there data to back this up?

I can't speak for questions but I have tested what makes a good weekly email newsletter for a newspaper, publishing website. I can also back up my arguments with data and facts since MailChimp tracks these things. First, putting body, lead or teaser text is a good way to get people to ignore the email. Second, using artsy, creative, wordplay headlines in links does not get people to click through to the website. (This, by the way, is something that will never be able to be explained to an editor coming from print.) I have data that shows writing plain headlines that describes exactly what the user will find on the other side is the best way to get people to click through.

This might be true for Stack Exchange questions. Having a clearly writen title that is neither too long nor too short that describes exactly what the question will be might be the best way to get people to click through to read the question.

What are the other elements of a question and the body of the question that get answers? Can a good question be diagrammed, with all the elements that make it good, labeled demonstrating the pattern? Is there evidence or data that can back up these conclusions the way I can back up my assumptions about the anatomy of a good email newsletter, one that gets a lot of people onto my site?

1 Answer 1


We've been discussing how to improve/ask better questions on How can we teach/animate the users to participate more on this site?

While posting that question, I stumbled over https://drupal.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-ask. I think that link has very good points; I was more or less thinking about similar points, but I couldn't explain it that well (and short, my questions/answers always get long).

As you said, a good title is important. One tip to write good titles is IMHO to think about how you'd search for this problem on Google. (I guess you will never search for "Why doesn't this code work?".)

Jeff's answer is actually really good. You could ask the perfect question, do everything right. If there is nobody who can answer your question, because there is no expert on that topic coming to this site, it won't get answered. And if it is not answered, it's not useful to anyone.

I personally like specific questions, that are however not about a certain piece of code, are therefore also interesting for many other people and which you/I can actually provide a good answer to. Some examples:

To both of these questions I've linked to in other answers/comments already, because they were also relevant there. If you look at the most up-voted questions, you will notice that a large part of the questions there are similar.

  • What I'm asking is what do all the good questions have in common. Of course, they must have great answers because that's how we defined that they are good in the first place. However, there are patterns to the good questions. Can you create a template for a good question? I am sure the template for a good question begins with thoughtful and proper grammatical structures and correct spelling for two reasons. First, although not necessary proper grammar usually communicates better. Second, poorly written questions show laziness and nobody wants to help a lazy person.
    – Adam S
    Jun 18, 2011 at 10:45
  • 3
    There is no template to write a good question. There are only guidelines and tips. As I said, you can do everything right when asking a question when there is nobody who can/want to answer it then it won't be answered. And, by Jeff's definition, then it's not a good answer, as it not useful to anyone ;)
    – Berdir
    Jun 18, 2011 at 14:10
  • If you laid out a printed copy of the best 500 questions and using colored markers started circling elements the questions share, a pattern would emerge. Saying 'there is no template to write a good questions' isn't useful either especially since like everything else in life there is always a pattern. If the case is doing everything right asking a question and nobody can answer it then we have to accept the fact answer speed shouldn't be a criteria -- as I argued somewhere else -- in defining a good question as some questions will be before their time.
    – Adam S
    Jun 18, 2011 at 18:45

You must log in to answer this question.

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