Getting More Of Your Community’s Questions Answered

In a mature community, the challenge isn’t getting more questions, but getting better questions.

You have to tackle several challenges at once:

  • Repeat questions.
  • Questions with terrible headlines.
  • Poorly tagged or categorized questions.
  • Questions which don’t provide enough detail.

Mature communities should make it slightly harder for non-veteran members to ask a question, not easier.

StackOverflow is a good example of this process. If you want to ask a question, you can either go through the wizard or traditional mode. Let’s use the wizard.

First you have to highlight what kind of question you have:

If you select hardware recommendations, you’re taken to a separate site where you can get hardware recommendations.

This immediately prunes a lot of the bad questions which will appear in the community.

Next you highlight what topic your question is about.

Notice the power of sharing good and bad examples. This tackles the problem where members are bad at tagging their posts (or reluctant to tag their posts).

Next it’s the question title.

Again notice how useful it is to provide examples of real titles in the community. Specific examples make it a lot easier for members.

The fourth step is to check there are no existing solutions to the question.

Forcing people to check for existing answers before asking a question is a powerful way to eliminate duplicate questions. It also helps members find answers to questions they were not able to formulate themselves.

Only now, after jumping through these five steps, can you write your actual question.

In every step, you’re guided to create the best possible question. This is a lot of practical advice in a short amount of time. You’re told to explain your goals (with examples), provide background context on what you’ve tried, highlight code you’ve used, and describe the results you’re getting compared with what you want.

Only after completing all these steps can you ask a question.

The power of this should be obvious. Not only does it help members get better responses, it also excites veterans with new questions they can solve.

If you’re trying to increase the percentage of questions which are solved, the secret isn’t to get more experts to answer questions, but to provide fewer, better, questions for them to answer.

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