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How to Ask Questions in Stack Overflow

How to Ask Questions in Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow (SO) is the biggest platform for developers' questions and answers, yet one-third of the questions remain unanswered. Most often, the feedback I get from people who are answering for the first time is that they are afraid to ask questions or get a lot of downvotes. As a contributor at SO, I feel biased toward the contributors as I see many questions on the platform which are not up to the mark. In actuality, the quality of the questions is declining. Although contributors' attitude has improved over time, the questions' quality also needs improvement. Here are some tips on how to get attention or get the most out of the Stack Overflow.

Do a little google search before asking

If you are a beginner at a new technology, the problems you are likely to face are common problems. If you can google the errors, you might end up with a SO link with the solution to your problem.

Put a proper title

A SO question title should contain what the exact problem is. For example, in case of an error, if you face a problem with “ImportError,” mention it in the title. On the other hand, if you want something but can not do it, then say in the title, “How to solve ?”.

Put error stack trace with the question

You should put your error stack trace with this question; it allows the answerers to know where exactly the problem is. It would help if you did not put a screenshot but rather the actual logs. You can copy the error logs and paste them into the question within the fenced code block.

A screenshot and a line are not enough

Often people just put a screenshot and ask how to solve it. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is impossible to guess the solution from a screenshot. Thus it is better to back it up with the code where it is causing the issue, also not use the screenshots but the actual lines of errors (as mentioned in the last step).

A bad question as an example
An example of a bad question

Put actual code as much as possible

You should put as much actual code as possible in your question unless they contain business logic. It is easy to pinpoint problems in real code with which the problem is associated, not in some made-up code.

Explain where you are running the code

It is better to explain in which environment (version of the libraries, what OS, and so on) you are running the code; it will help answerers replicate the error in their machine with your code.

Do not put hypothetical questions

You should not put hypothetical questions or conceptual things such as how you would design the system, what database you should use, etc. You can do your research and draw your conclusion. If you need consultation regarding that, try mentoring websites or put it on other platforms like Reddit or Twitter.

Put enough relevant details

You should ensure that it is easily readable for the answerer or anyone who reads your question. You should put as many details as possible that might help pinpoint the problem. But do not put too much information irrelevant to the question. For example, if you have a big piece of code, rather than putting it whole in the SO, but parts of it. Like this:

class A:
   x = 0
   a = 0
   b = 0
   c = 0
   d = 0
   y = 0

Can be conciser to:

class A:
    ...
    c=0
    ...

Do not post duplicate questions (if you do not get an answer the first time)

It is better not to post the same question twice if you do not receive any answer in the first few days. Instead, divide the question into smaller chunks and post the most significant bits first. Also, share the link to the questions in other forums and social platforms. If you still do not get a response, consider putting a bounty. If your question is good, you should be able to recoup the reputation points you lost if you are worried about losing your points. If you do not have enough reputation, you can always ask others. Many SO contributors, especially moderators, will be willing to put a bounty for you if your question is good.

In conclusion

Asking the right question is a significant contribution in itself, and I would say asking questions is keeping the SO community alive. Hence, please ask questions with the proper information to get answers. More information about asking questions can be found in the SO help section: https://stackoverflow.com/help/how-to-ask.

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Last updated: Jan 16, 2023


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