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So prior to becoming a mod, I really wanted to update the help center. Unfortunately, we only have access to the on-topic section for free editing by default.

We had a brief chit-chat amongst the mods, and had a few thoughts on what we could do to work with the tools we have (including community feedback, as you guys are awesome) to make our help center more fantastic.

Uses

During the discussion we came up with the following 5 ways we often use the help center:

  1. For people who clearly don't understand the site scope (this could be tour)
  2. For people who are asking a question a bit wrong
  3. For people who have their question closed (what the reasons mean, how to fix it)
  4. For people answering (don't repeat others, back it up, longer not shorter, etc.)

The first was taken care of with our updated about page

Suggestion

That's a lot of information to shove all in one page, and it's a bit unwieldy to read if all the information is in there. So rather than shoving it all in and making it menacing for our new users who we are most likely to point to it, we can add links to meta posts describing each of the various sections. That way we can keep the help center brief, but add additional information for folks who want to click through and read more about our reasoning in logic.

After all, a lot of what we are about isn't blindly following rules, but rather sharing what our thought process is as a community on what makes us work, and letting people use common sense to apply that to their experience here.

More Concrete Suggestion

So here is what we are thinking may be a good way to go about this:

Create a meta-question for each off-topic section of the help center

  • "I need advice on...", "What should I do?", or "Which job should I take?"
  • "Is it legal..."
  • "Please review my resume/CV"
  • "How do I learn to be a..." / "How do I perform the job of a ..."
  • "What salary/hourly rate should I look for? How much should I charge for X?"

We should be able to clearly explain to a new visitor (or old veteran alike) exactly why these types of questions are off-topic. If we can't create a nice convincing reason that people shouldn't ask for us to review their CV's, then we should ask ourselves why, and then either remove it from the help center as a verboten topic, or come up with a darn good reason and add it.

Eeeek! My question is on hold!

We should have a meta question that explains what you should do if your question is put on hold. This should explain the basics of each close reason, and link to resources (like the above) giving more detail on why things are closed for that reason.

But most importantly, it should explain how to fix the question. We should explain that people can edit their posts at any time, and that questions put on hold can be reopened after editing automatically by the community (so no need to delete and repost, etc.).

We should have a FAQ for answerers

When an answer gets downvoted and/or negative comments, we should have an article we can use to point out why. This should go over the reasons that answers get downvoted, from Good Subjective, Bad Subjective to Back it Up and Don't Repeat Others, etc. Again, we should explain how people can improve their answers.

Then You Do the Hokey Pokey Edit It All Together

Then we can arrange this in to a nice short comment-friendly magic-linked ([help/on-topic] in a comment will automatically link as 'help center' in the comment) to a veritable vault of knowledge. With links. To useful references. That will help new and existing users alike.

But We Need Your Help!

We are but three mods, and the community are the ones who decide what is on/off-topic, and are the ones who write a bulk of the meta content we have. We want your help in putting together these . And we want to know if you think we're missing the forest through the trees. Please use this as a discussion to let us know if this makes sense, if it doesn't, if something needs to be tweaked, and then in a week we can start making some of these FAQ drafts for anyone and everyone to contribute to and make our site more understandable to new and veteran users alike.

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    GREAT suggestion and should hopefully remedy a lot of situations. I was thinking it might be beneficial to also link to some of the better questions and answers within the site in order to give an example of how things should look. Explain what makes them high quality and such. I think linking to poor questions and answers would be great too but to put certain people on the spot like that would be bad, possibly just create examples in Meta of bad questions and answers with explanations as to why. – Paul Muir Apr 14 '14 at 13:45
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    I think we should limit each meta post to a question per topic, and mo more than 3-4 paragraphs. Less is more. Of course, all of them can be linked together with a master table of contents. Putting them in as answers is problematic since they randomize themselves each pageview. – jmort253 Apr 14 '14 at 14:19
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    @jmort253 have you seen this post at Prog meta? meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/6483/… - in my experience it turned out quite convenient to communicate for askers and close voters – gnat Apr 14 '14 at 14:39
  • And you thought that other people might be more worthy of being a TWP mod? Tsk... Tsk... ;) – Jim G. Apr 14 '14 at 16:08
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    @gnat thanks for that link. That seems like a great way to organize the content, and hey, prior art to learn from. :-) – Monica Cellio Apr 14 '14 at 16:16
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    @MonicaCellio worth noting that there are somewhat similar attempts drafted at our meta, maybe we can build from these: Why was my question edited/closed/downvoted? and 'On-Topic' and 'Off-Topic' sections of the help center. Content wise these look pretty much there, but presentation feels somehow not quite convenient to me – gnat Apr 14 '14 at 16:27
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    @gnat, mind tossing together an answer on what works and what doesn't? The programmers post doesn't look much different from the ones you linked, but since you have experience using the programmers' version, sharing what works about it would help us out here. No sense in reinventing the wheel! – jmac Apr 15 '14 at 0:13
  • @jmac there you go - an answer you asked about – gnat Apr 15 '14 at 11:44
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As suggested in comments, here's a brief analysis of an example at Programmers meta that seems to be efficient in communicating close reasons:


What works well

Convenient to use in comments. Open the post, and you can immediately copy link related to specific close reason as these are positioned near the top and conveniently grouped in a structure resembling close dialog.

Convenient to overview and maintain. Details for all close reasons are located under a single question, each in own separate answer. Reader / editor can study them all or pick particular one for a deeper dive.

Convenient to read for question askers. Each close reason is addressed in a separate answer, so that asker lands straight in the relevant position when referred to from question comments. Each answer is 15-40 lines long (think of half page / one page resume), formatted for easier reading.

I regularly have to retract close vote (now that's a real pleasure!) after referring asker to "their" part in comments, following improvements made in the question after my comment.

"Related reading" sections at the bottom - can't tell if it's of much use for askers (except for maybe giving them sort of assurance that there is a solid foundation behind each close reason) but when closure discussion goes beyond a single comment, I tend to refer links in this section for supplementary, more thorough posts.

What doesn't work

"Quick links" like Why was my question closed as too broad? First issue is, titles of these look more appropriate for already closed questions while I found these really useful as early as possible (see my note regarding retracted votes above), sometimes even without casting close vote, go figure. Another thing I noticed is, people seem to better follow neutral looking meta URLs instead of loaded link titles - http.../a/6490 reads less scary than too broad.

Double-reasons - when question has more than one problem, referring in comments to explanation of single "prevalent" problem regularly leads to only that single issue being fixed. When this happens, I honestly feel like stuck because repeating trick with posting comment referring to next issue doesn't feel fair. Luckily, in most cases when I saw this happen, some other site regular chimes in and explains remaining issue to the asker.

  • Thanks for your response gnat! In the question, I suggested 3 different FAQ (one for askers explaining the off-topic reasons stated in the help center, one for askers who had their question close, and one for answerers). Can I take your suggestion to mean that each of these should be a single question, with an answer for each variation of why you'd direct someone there? Also, could you clarify the 'quick links' comment you made? Are you saying we should try to post bare meta URLs in the comments? – jmac Apr 17 '14 at 3:49
  • @jmac from what I learned, it feels like it would be more efficient to have a single FAQ "umbrella" question for askers, with each answer focusing on single off-topic/close reason. As for FAQ for answerers, I am not certain, as there is no similar success story at Programmers to learn from (generally, answering culture and guidance seems to be richer here, so maybe Programmers just can't make good example). I feel like it would better be in separate meta question, but I wouldn't bet on that – gnat Apr 17 '14 at 3:54
  • The 'off-topic' reasons in the help center don't really match the close reasons though (some do, some don't). So trying to play mix and match would be confusing which is why I think they should be separate. But I've got the drift of your suggestion, thanks! – jmac Apr 17 '14 at 3:56
  • @jmac that was an issue at Programmers too, until it was recently resolved by editing Help Center per this discussion to make a better match. Programmers, in turn, followed example of SO where edit like this was done earlier and seems to work well. I think it is worth considering for Workplace. Side note wrt FAQs for answers and questions, on a further thought I think keeping them separate would substantially benefit readers, as topics differ way too much – gnat Apr 17 '14 at 9:24

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