I’m new to the UNIX & Linux site and I would like to ask a question. There is some guidance in the Help Center, but what are other actions I can take to make my question well-received and improve my chances of getting answers?

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    Looks like a FAQ in progress, would you tag it as proposed-faq? – Andrew T. Sep 27 at 7:07
  • @AndrewT. why? What is that tag for? – terdon Sep 27 at 7:44
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    Possibly to tell us how empty faq is. (-: – JdeBP Sep 27 at 9:50
  • The irony of an FAQ label is that the people who could most benefit from this Q/A most likely won't see it until much later, much less Ask about it. Here's hoping, though! – Jeff Schaller Sep 27 at 11:01

Welcome to our site! Interesting questions and answers about UNIX & Linux are what this site is all about.

Let’s get some basics out of the way; skip ahead if you’ve already covered these.

  1. Register an account - New users sometimes skip past the sign-up page and post as a guest. If you register your account, you’ll have an easier time editing your own post with updates and clarifications, commenting on your question, and commenting on Answers to your question.
  2. Take our tour - Take a minute and read through our tour page. It’s a quick introduction to the site (and to Stack Exchange) and it earns you a badge! If you’ve been to other Stack Exchange sites already, it will look familiar. Pay particular attention to the section that’s unique to UNIX & Linux, the "Ask about…" and "Don’t ask about" section.
  3. Browse the help pages - Right at the end of the tour, there’s a link to our Help Center; there’s a lot to read there, so poke around the links that you find interesting. Since you’re interested in asking a good question, pay particular attention to these:

Next, see if your question already has an answer. You might have searched this site directly or via a search engine, so skip ahead if you feel confident that you have a unique problem. There are over 100,000 questions on the site, though, so it doesn’t hurt to double-check!

  1. Write down the main verbs and nouns from your problem in the Ask a Question title box. You have no intention of submitting this as your question, yet. As you start typing, a list of Questions that may already have your answer will appear directly below the title field. Let the search engine automatically show you questions that it thinks are similar. Open any of them separately to see if they pertain to your situation. Take note of any questions that look as if they would solve your problem, but do not, for one reason or another; you might refer back to them in your question and explain why they do not solve your problem. This will prevent well-meaning reviewers from finding them and proposing your question as a duplicate of those.

  2. If very few search results came back, look back at the on-topic page to confirm that your problem fits the on-topic list. If your question is not on-topic for the site, it may be closed for being “off-topic”. On the other hand, you may have a unique situation or combination of technology that hasn’t been asked about yet.

Before we continue, let’s avoid three very common pitfalls that result in questions being closed:

  • opinion-based, or
  • too broad, or
  • unclear

Are you asking for people’s experiences with a certain piece of hardware or software? Are you wondering if something will work? Are you looking for guidance, or for opinions on how to proceed? If so, stop and re-think your approach. Questions should have concrete answers; instead of the “best” way to do something, are you actually concerned about limiting memory use, or network traffic? Do you need something that’s cross-platform?

Are you asking for an architectural-level solution? Something a consultant might be paid to spend several weeks on? You should have made some attempt at solving your problem; share those commands and any specific error messages or confusion before asking a question; otherwise, your question risks being closed as “too broad”.

Lastly, take a step back from your problem and ask yourself: “What would an answer look like?” Your question should give enough guidance about what’s specifically needed and what’s specifically excluded so that you don’t have to constantly guide answerers towards the solution that you actually need. Think of your question as if you had to explain it to an intelligent friend; even if they didn’t know what “grep” was, could they understand what you were trying to accomplish? If potential answerers (or reviewers) can’t figure out what you mean, and you don’t step in to clarify, your question risks being closed as “unclear what you’re asking”. If you have textual input, don’t provide it in a graphic! That’s a pitfall that’s become common enough to warrant its own PSA.

Yet another way trap to avoid is to ask what’s known as an “XY problem”. Keep your eyes on the goal; mention the things you tried and the errors you received, but be flexible if your approach isn’t the one that others take.

If you’re not sure what an objective, specific, and clear question might look like, you could do worse than to browse the top-voted questions or top-viewed questions. Many of those “top” questions rose there because of their canonical nature, and so generated many views and votes; they may very well be broader in scope than your question. To get a more targeted list of questions, head over to the tags page and enter some key words from your question, one at a time. When you find a matching tag, click on it to get a list of questions with that tag, then sort the questions by “Frequent” or by “Votes” to see what well-received questions in that tag look like.

Now let’s begin formulating your question. Go to (or stay at) the tags page and take the major nouns from your question and find at least one, but no more than five, tags that relate to your question. Tags are one of the two elements of your question that active users of the site will see first when looking for questions that they want to answer, so choose the ones that appear most pertinent to your question.

Now write a first draft of your question, either directly in the Ask a Question form or in your favorite editor. Set up each of three sections:

  • The title: create a sentence from your nouns & verbs that indicate the pertinent software, operating environment, goal, and any errors. You have a limit of 150 characters; this translates to approximately 20-25 average English words.

  • The body: start with an outline of: a re-worded summary of your goal and operating environment; representative (sample) input and output; any commands that you tried in pursuit of your goal and their output/results.

  • The tags: from the previous step

Now take another look at the body, particularly at the first 200 characters. This can be a third preview of your question beyond the title and tags, depending on the particular “view” a person takes while browsing the site. Rewrite the introduction to put as much of a “hook” as you can into the first 200 characters. This should describe the problem and the surprising result you got instead of the expected result. Think of a person who’s knowledgeable in this area; how would get them engaged with your problem in one or two sentences?

Be thorough and pertinent in the body of your question; explain what you think you know, up to the edge of where you were surprised or stumped. Be as clear as you can in describing any translation between input and output. If possible, demonstrate how people can set up similar environments for them to test their potential solutions. Show the research that you’ve already done. As you already saw in How do I ask a good question?, tell us what you’ve already found and why it didn’t meet your needs. Another method that was experimented with on Stack Overflow is a question template, so if the following questions help you to frame yours, use them!

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is some sample input, if applicable.
  • What would be the desired output, based on that input?
  • What happened instead? Include any errors, verbatim.

Take one more look at your question’s title and body. Have you presented the question as well as you can? Before posting the Question, particularly if English is not your strong suit, run a spell checker on the title and body. Many browsers will underline words that they think are misspelled. Capitalize proper nouns such as “I” and “Linux”. Feel free to ask for help in the Unix & Linux chat room or even with a post on English Language Learners. Make sure you have an actual question in your Question! It would end with a question mark and should act as the entry point for any answers.

Now – finally – post your question!

But you’re not done! Stay tuned to the site after posting for as long as you can, in case there are immediate requests for clarification. The active users of the site may read your question and enter comments requesting clarification. If they do ask for clarification, respond by editing your question using the “edit” link towards the bottom of your question – assuming you registered your account – DO NOT clarify your question in the comments! Comments do not support all the formatting options, may be deleted or collapsed together, all of which make it harder than it needs to be to piece together the correct question.

Finally, while you’re waiting, it’d be a good time to read What should I do when someone answers my question?. The main point is to up-vote (if you’ve earned that privilege, at 15 reputation points) and/or accept Answers that solve your problem. Do not feel any pressure to accept an answer immediately; it’s fine to do so, but it’s also OK to leave a question out there for a couple days to see if anyone else has other ideas or approaches to your problem.

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    Great answer. Show the research that you’ve already done deserves highlighting. – jasonwryan Sep 27 at 2:54
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    Very good advice indeed. Regarding responding to comments requesting clarification, it might be useful to recommend both editing the question to clarify it (without adding “Edit” sections at the bottom...), and also responding to the comment with a comment, so that the user who requested the clarification gets notified. – Stephen Kitt Sep 27 at 7:12
  • Thank you, @StephenKitt! It'll sound odd after I wrote so much already, but for the purposes of this Q/A, I'm more concerned about getting the Question right than of notifying an inquisitive answerer of updates. It's certainly good/nice/smart to notify people who have already expressed interest, but I think there's also those who only want the question to be better. I think I need to tighten that section up just a little bit so that it's dealing with "how are the columns delimited?" comments and not conversational comments -- of which I'm failing to find a good example at hand. – Jeff Schaller Sep 27 at 10:44
  • Yes, I agree with you — and it’s the Stack Exchange priority too — this is about questions and answers, not about the people involved. I have some examples of conversational comments but we shouldn’t encourage them! – Stephen Kitt Sep 27 at 11:03
  • <del>and it earns you a badge!</del>. "skip ahead if you’ve already covered these" - you kind of have to read them to know if you have though :). "nouns & verbs that indicate the pertinent software, operating environment" - maybe I'm mis-remembering, but don't you get nagged to not duplicate tags into the question? – sourcejedi Sep 27 at 22:21
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    <del>Is your best foot forward?</del> - maybe avoid idoms if your next sentence is "particularly if English is not your strong suit" :-). – sourcejedi Sep 27 at 22:33
  • What is the importance of capitalizing proper nouns, with respect to the question title? I'm thinking the lack doesn't usually create ambiguity, so it's not hard to correct by those of us who like the full clarity :-). Is this something that creates a problem, which at the same time can be prevented by including a one-sentence reminder inside a long English answer? – sourcejedi Sep 27 at 22:42
  • Thank you for all your feedback, @sourcejedi! I'm pretty sure that reading the tour earns you a badge; are you saying that the statement should be deleted? I mention it as additional motivation to be exposed to the "on-topic" list. You have a good point about the reader knowing what they've read before I've listed it. I'll highlight those points so that's it's obvious by skimming what they're about. Re: the tags & the question, my best recollection is some guidance regarding unnaturally including tags in the title; I don't recall any about the body. – Jeff Schaller Sep 28 at 1:12
  • Re: all the English idioms; another excellent point; "toe hold" is another I struggled with but let through. I'll revisit those to see if there's a clearer way to express them. Re: the proper noun capitalization, call it a pet peeve of mine; I've ranted about it before and felt it was appropriate to include here ("how can I make my question be better-received?"). – Jeff Schaller Sep 28 at 1:15
  • @JeffSchaller wish I had something more constructive :). I'm not sure mentioning the badge is likely to help, so I'm a bit worried it's going to have an overall negative effect from sounding patronising. If it was rep, maybe :-). – sourcejedi Sep 28 at 9:42
  • @JeffSchaller Yes, sorry, my thought was about the question title specifically. I don't know whether it calling it out in advance will help anything or not. It just struck me when I saw "The title: create a sentence from your nouns & verbs that indicate the pertinent software, operating environment". If it's just guidance then it's not as weird to think about, but I thought there was a check that comes up and stops you from posting. – sourcejedi Sep 28 at 9:47
  • Fabulous work! I made a minor edit (mention Questions that may already have your answer and link to Accept help page) and hope you consider it to be useful. I personally find that when asking a question, I sometimes struggle with the very first step, coming up with a good descriptive title. It's not until I've typed the body of the question that the title becomes clear to me. That could well be a purely personal thing so I decided to omit that advice. Your advice of jotting down verbs and nouns makes more sense (the search engine often does show useful duplicates). – Anthony Geoghegan Sep 28 at 9:54
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    @JeffSchaller I can't discount the work you put in editing and so on. I was seeing if I could find shorter ways to write this, and capitalisation looked like a low priority. If it's worth keeping in, maybe it's worth a link to an approved English lesson on this? - and if that seems too intrusive, maybe it's because it is. – sourcejedi Sep 28 at 10:22

Question:

how can I improve my questions to get more answers


Answer:

use interrogatories ( interrogation techniques ), who, when, where, why and what have you tried

Views are due to the subject, but the body is what causes down votes usually because it doesn't contain enough information, vague questions are not well understood.

  • This is a good and concise answer. Conciseness is important here. People who most need advice on asking are least likely to read long answers in full. – Wildcard Sep 28 at 19:40
  • That's what I thought, but my first vote was a down vote. haha, all good ! – hello moto Sep 28 at 21:30

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