Update: The customized site-specific guidance is live now. To see it, go to https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/ask after logging out (or use a incognito/private window).

There seems to be some interest in customizing the message to users (registered or not) asking their first question ("modal pane"). These first-time questions represent a large proportion of questions asked. StackExchange suggests discussing this on meta before making a formal request. I suggest we follow our decision-making policy, specifically give everyone three weeks time (that would be until September 12th) to think about this, add proposals and give feedback/votes on the proposals.

For reference, here is the current, non-customized modal pane:

enter image description here

As an answer, I posted a proposal put together from ideas folks have expressed so far. Feel free to post other proposals as answers, as well. You can upvote proposals you like and downvote proposals you don't like. You can also vote on whether to go through with a change by voting on the question. Of course, you can also comment.

After there is sufficient feedback (the suggestion is to plan for at least three weeks of discussion), we can ask for the changes to be implemented (if there is community support).

  • $\begingroup$ How does this work? Allowing for edits means that I can edit the answers you've posted?? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ @SafdarFaisal After talking to others and looking at other metas and re-reading the guidance from SE about this process, I changed the organization. Now each answer will represent a separate proposal, allowing us to vote on them. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 0:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Rather than post my own answer, I will just comment on an important omission: posts are often closed as homework as a proxy term for poorly researched or "lazy" questions. I think you save a lot of the communities time if you can convince new (and even older) users to search carefully through the site for existing answers to their questions. Also, I recommend thinking a little about the various reasons why OPs often don't bother to do this. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ @SafdarFaisal I edited the post to talk a bit more about process, and also cited our policy: Meta: too much talking, too little action, and a proposed solution. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 19:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This issue's been added to the Community Management Team's backlog, and you can expect an update once someone picks it up. $\endgroup$
    – JNat StaffMod
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 14:41

4 Answers 4


Asking a good question

Welcome to Chemistry Stack Exchange! To get you the best answer, we provide this guidance for first-time askers.

Before you post, search the site to make sure your question hasn’t been answered.

Follow our policies when asking homework-like questions (questions about problem sets, exam items, etc.). Carefully write your question, using clear language, technical terms and formatting as best as you can. Give sufficient context (what you understand and where you need help). It helps us and helps you.

  1. Summarize the problem
  2. Provide details and any research

[Start writing]


enter image description here


Potential impact

About 40% of questions asks are first-time questions. In the last 90 days (as of 9/17/2022), 609 questions were closed, about half of all questions asked during that time. Better guidance could result in higher quality questions posted, and low-quality questions not posted (because the potential OP realizes that the question would be a duplicate or is off-topic or blatant homework). This might have a slight positive impact on the site (less work closing questions, more time for answering good questions or editing questions to turn them into good questions).

The bigger potential impact is on what happens to users after they ask their first question. If the OP's question gets closed, voted down or receives unflattering comments, this might be the last question the OP asks here. This is fine for OPs that have little or nothing to offer to the community, and are not interested in learning about how the site works. However, there might be one or two first-timers who would mature into valuable high-impact members of the community if their first question is of higher quality and gets received better (good answers, helpful comments, up-votes).

So while the impact on the quality of the questions might be minimal, there is an impact on retaining members of the community who learn how the site works and become valuable contributors of questions or answers. The way the community is structured (many users with little reputation, few users with high reputation answering a large fraction of questions), having just a few first-time question askers mature into experienced "regulars" would make a significant impact.

Addressing common weaknesses

The modal should address the most common weaknesses of questions asked. The four most common close reasons are lack of detail or clarity (45%), homework-like (33%), duplicate (10%) and lack of focus (5%). This is for the same 90-day period. Less common reasons to close are personal medical questions, migration to other site, opinion-based and other (all less then 3%).

The three points in the modal combined with the bold sentence at the end cover the four common close reasons, with links to relevant information on how to write good questions.

The first point addresses researching existing questions before posting. This reduces duplicates, allows the OP to learn about good questions by example, and ideally results in a higher quality question overall. It also could prevent some off-topic questions from being posted.

The second point encourages good writing. The formatting takes effort, something the community values. Good writing, especially combined with the research from point 1, makes the question easier to understand.

The third point helps to understand the question as well. If the OP does not know much chemistry and is confused about fundamental concepts, it is likely that the question will be confusing as well. Adding context, sources, and communicating the OP's thought process often makes it possible to give a meaningful answer even if the question still needs work.

Lastly, the bold sentence at the end addresses questions in the realm of cheating or letting others do your work. Those are questions that the community could do without unless the OP puts in some extra work and isolates the conceptual difficulties they would like some help with.

Format and length of the modal

To be effective, the modal should be short, and the links to more information should also serve as visual landmarks for skimming over it. This proposal has 5 links to sources of additional information. Ideally, OPs will skip over those that don't apply and look into those that do. Again, it is expected that many will ignore the guidance, but if a few get something out of it, these changes will have potential positive impact on the community.

Follow-up when OPs ignore the modal

Having a set of five relevant links allows efficient comments for questions that show promise but have basic problems. Linking to the topics that should be improved (to avoid down-votes, to get the question to be reopened, to write higher-quality questions in the future) would be straightforward and give OPs a second chance to read the guidance.

  • $\begingroup$ Mm, I'm hesitant to post too much on meta because I want to take a break. But since not many people have chipped in... I think I generally prefer your version over Safdar's, but with some minor edits (especially the first sentence which is a bit .... odd). I could post it in the comments, but thought it'd be easier to just edit: feel free to rollback if you'd like, and accept/reject the changes from there. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I still dislike the phrase 'homework policy', because - just as BT said in the comments - it's a terribly lazy name for a policy which is really applied to whatever people feel like applying it to. I'll leave it be, since there's no better description which we've ever agreed on; but I'd still really like to see it be updated one day. How about the 'no free lunch policy'?? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol Take a break but wear the shirt ;-). Thanks for the edit - that verbiage was left over from what all the sites are using, but I like your welcome better (reminding folks that it is about chemistry). "No free lunch" policy is great - I hope everyone knows the expression or looks it up. It could say "check out the 'no free lunch' policy before you ask a question that looks like you are asking us to work more than you". We could just say "policy" here so we don't have to revisit when we actually rename the policy. I'll implement that. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 14:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yup! I realised it was inherited from the default, I didn't mean to imply you wrote it. Er, we don't have to rename homework now, it was mostly a digression on my part, haha. But yeah, I like this now! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ You should also explain how "to search for answers on our site". There are so many answers on the site !! The reader may be discouraged without having started this task. $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Maurice Could you elaborate. The proposal links to chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/searching. Do you think we need a different document (more tutorial, more about search strategies rather than syntax)? For some of the other links, we point to questions in Meta, which can be edited and added to. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ Personally I don't know how and where to search answers on "our site". Where is this site ? $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Maurice I would love to have a suggestion for revising the second sentence of point 1 so it is clearer and has fewer links. The best solution might be a new meta post with search strategies, and a single link to that meta post. This way, it could be updated by the community, explaining how to figure out efficiently if the question a new user has is already answered, or maybe if other answers make the question moot (because it was based on some misconception the other posts cleared up). $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Maurice I wrote a draft of a meta post on searching: How can I find out if my question is already answered on Stack Exchange Chemistry?. This would also be a good link for questions that show no attempt to search the site first (i.e. those with a lot of potential duplicates). $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Maurice this is the meta part of the site. "our site" in this case refers to the main section, not meta. You can search existing questions in the bar atop the page, showing a magnifying glass (at least on my page). $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ This is live now! $\endgroup$
    – SpencerG StaffMod
    Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 19:04

Asking a good question

Welcome to Chemistry Stack Exchange. Before you ask your first question, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Have you searched if your question has already been asked?
  2. What kind of question do you have in mind? Is it a homework problem? Or are you just asking for validation on a proof?

Once you've answered these questions, time to start writing!

  1. Make sure you tell us what you know about the topic. It helps us and helps you.
  2. Be clear about what you want to know. Don't expect upvotes from just a copy pasted question.

If you have any queries regarding the formatting possibilities, feel free to look through the looking glass in the formatting sidebar.

Enjoy the experience, learning is fun.


The quick and dirty guide to mhchem and MathJax can be found here
For a more detailed and comprehensive guide, check out the Math SE post here
What should be italicized and what shouldn't


enter image description here

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I love " It helps us and helps you.". I'm not sure the two lists fit into SE's template. I like how you remind folks that "learning is fun" after giving them more work than the average first-question writer anticipated. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for asking about the formatting constraints on mother meta. I could not find much information other than that the formatting is very basic, like in comments. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ I posted an answer using your answer as a template, and making edits to emphasize points I feel are particularly important. Please let me know what you think, and/or make edits to your own answer if you see edits there as appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 16:01

I reviewed the submitted proposal, and unfortunately cannot be accepted in its current state.

This modal is quite limited to what we can change at the moment. You can see a more detailed breakdown of what can be changed here: What site-specific changes can be made to the Ask Question page to help askers on that site write better questions?

To be brief, we cannot edit the text of the three bullet points other than to remove the 3rd one. Regarding text edits, we can only do so to the first paragraph and add text before the bullet points.

Please refer to the meta post to see some examples of how that would look and make your suggestions from there.


I reviewed Karsten's changes and we now have them live.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I changed the formatting to conform to constraints. The content Is unchanged. Could you take a look at it and check if this would be possible? $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 2:18

This is a version based on existing answers with some edits to emphasize the points where new questions often run into trouble.

Asking a good question

Welcome to Chemistry Stack Exchange!

Before you post a question, please check the following:

  • Search whether your question has been asked and answered on this site.
  • Are you asking whether your answer to a problem is correct? If so try to identify a question that requires more than a yes/no answer.
  • Is your question a "homework" type of problem? Such questions are ok if formulated properly. Don't copy and paste a question, show your attempt to answer it.

Follow the links above to understand common issues to avoid to make sure a question will be well received.

Once you're ready with an appropriate on-topic question:

  • Describe the problem and what you have attempted in your own words. Be sure to explain clearly and in detail. Check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Focus on one problem, don't ask too much at once.
  • Check guides on how to format math equations or chemical formulae.

Following these steps helps avoid confusion and should provide an answer faster!


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