Noobs everywhere

Ok, so we have people new to programming, poor English speakers, and sometimes their intersection asking questions here. Their questions aren't always the best, but sometimes there is an opportunity to throw their question on our back and carry it over from no-man's land into a place where it can get help and contribute to the value of the site.

My model of question quality

I view question quality on a continuum. Some place between marginal and closable, I think, "man, this one's not worth it," and vote to close.

closable          marginal         better          high-quality

However, if we can get questions from close-worthy to marginal, we can sometimes then continue improving them in terms of quality.

I've seen this myself, where I'm not sure what the overall question is, but I'm able to fix utterly atrocious spelling and grammar, and then someone else realizes exactly what they're asking and straightens the question out into that. But I don't think the second edit would happen without the first.


Once we get questions over the revulsion hump, we can write good answers that are solidly on-topic for the site. If the question is still marginal, but has strong on-topic answers, that's a sign that we should improve the question to eliminate the problematic part.

My approach to editing

I sometimes find such an opportunity to salvage the impossible, and this week I was able to do it again. Here's my approach to fixing the apparently unfixable:

  • Redact meta-info like:

    • My English not so good. I'm from a non-English-speaking country. (Don't forget to fix the spelling and grammar problems if you can.)
    • I'm a noob to the programming language, computers in general, or some particular aspect of OOP or software architecture.
    • Other hand-wringing, mitigating personal details.
    • thanks, and Here's my name (We already know to delete this, right?!)
  • Redact or modify parts that will get the question closed:

    • Requests for resources.
    • Requests for a finished product, debugging, or opinions.
    • Requests for aspects that make the question off-topic.
    • Turn a "do this for me" into a "how do I" ?
    • Turn a request for thoughts into a "what's important about X?"
    • Cut down questions that ask too much into a manageable amount.

Edit mercilessly

The bottom line is that the asker doesn't own the site's presented state of the content they provide, the site does*. If they are uncooperative with a post-saving mega-revision, (i.e. rolling back your edits) then absolutely let them have their way and vote to close/delete the question. But they are noobs to the site, and chances are they're afraid to click anything, and don't have the slightest clue that you have an edit pending or how to approve it.


We can ask them to try to figure out how to approve a post-saving revision, but reviewers of such a revision should fast-track it - not protest that it changes too much and force the noob asker to approve their own rescue. After all, the asker can always roll it back to close-worthy.

Celebrate, mission accomplished.

I was a little stoked at my recent success, and made a Success Kid meme pic to celebrate. I think it would be cool to see more of these:

Success Kid

It was the question that was at +2, if I recall correctly.

* As content is under CC-BY-SA, they do own their content, but the site owns the presentation, and has the irrevocable right to post and adapt the content so long as it follows the terms of CC-BY-SA - such as attribution, notice of edits, same license...

  • 1
    I just wrote this answer elsewhere here which I think applies here too.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 14:32
  • 1
    I've taken this approach and think it will help to resuscitate more content.
    – Snoop
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 19:30
  • I suggest we post examples of our best successes here for others to see, much like that meme you included (although including e.g. the before and after). That way, everyone can see how this works in practice. (Idea borrowed from ELL.) Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 6:55
  • 2
    @NathanTuggy here's my most recent - link to comment thanking me for gutting and rewriting the question.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 14:34
  • I did this way after the fact, but feel that it helped improve the readability of the post... programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/64600/…
    – Snoop
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 21:45
  • 1
    Another success story - programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/312680/…
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 14:02
  • 3
    Awesome! This is the kind of thing that should be happening all over SE, because it sure beats chasing away anybody who looks new and doesn't ask a perfect question. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 1:39
  • One of my concerns is communicating this to the question asker, because what we're doing is answering a version or a part of their question. For instance, if someone asks for a finished product, debugging, or opinions, the question technically needs closing to send the message that these questions are not allowed on programmers.SE, but if we spot something answerable in that question and remove bad parts, we still need to communicate to the OP that 1) why their question was unacceptable, and 2) we're not going to answer your original question, but only its redacted form Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 7:00
  • 1
    success story (so far..) - programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/313819/…
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 13:29


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