This is the question edition of What is required for an answer to be high quality?
One of the key problems that I see Software Recommendations having, is people asking extremely vague and simple questions that ultimately boil down to one of the two close reasons we see on the rest of the network:
- too broad
- unclear what you're asking
To aid the future of this site and to clearly define what we classify as a high quality question containing enough information to actually provide suggestions that will be useful to the asker, I feel that we need to discuss exactly what "enough information" is.
Note: since it's possible to customise close reasons, my intention is that this post is referenced in a (as of yet to be defined) close reason that states something along the lines of "Not enough information has been provided for this software recommendation to be answerable or meet our quality guidelines, please see
<this post>for information on how you can improve your post" (or something to that effect).
I feel that high quality software recommendation requests (questions) should follow guidelines on both formatting/presentation and content.
The content provided in the question needs to clearly identify the use case for the software. What are you going to do with it? What is it for? How are you going to use it? These are all important questions and I feel that these should be required for a question to be on topic here, to reduce ambiguity and ensure that this doesn't just devolve into a guessing game.
Are there any other key things that you feel questions should include in order to meet a minimum quality level and fulfil the requirement of "containing enough information to be answerable" in addition to the below? (Answers in the answer section below)
What kind of application are you looking for?
This is pretty fundamental, without it, there isn't a question to begin with. What kind of application are you looking for, what is the purpose of this application? Are you trying to create an image file? Edit audio? Looking for an IDE for
<some language>? This should ideally include an outline for the intended use case. The more you tell us about the kind of application you want and how you're going to use it, the higher quality the answers you're going to receive will be.
If you're looking for a replacement application for something you're already using, it would be helpful to tell us what application you're currently using and what it already does/doesn't do - and most importantly, how you would like our recommendations to differentiate themselves from what you're already using. Not including this information could result in us spending time recommending something you've already tried, or with features you specifically don't want.
What operating system do you want the application to run on?
In a world dominated by Windows, we could make an assumption, but that assumption wouldn't always be popular. I feel that in the event the asker is after a desktop application, the operating system(s) the application is intended to run on should be clearly stated. If they're after a web application, this should also be clearly stated.
What budget do you have?
Would you agree to pay money for the software, and if yes up to how much? Are advertisements or usage fees OK?
What features must the application have?
This starts to get down into where our area of expertise will be. It's easy enough to type "replacement of notepad" into Google and get some answers, but I feel that we are here to recommend software based on a set of features, in addition to an intended purpose. These should be listed in order of importance from "must have" down to "these are optional but would be nice". Tell us what the software has to be capable of doing and we will recommend software that does it.
How a software recommendation request is presented is just as important as the content it contains. Each request should be formatted in a way that makes it clear what the requirements are, makes the post easy to read, etc. Formatting is important.
Titles should be clear, concise, and avoid being subjective
"What is the best product for
<this thing I want to do>?" - we should actively avoid this kind of title. Best differs from person to person and provokes discussion in the answers and comments below - something we need to avoid to maintain quality levels. Instead of "best", try using "good", or, don't qualify for the product in this way at all.
Feature requirements should be listed in order of importance
Every question should contain a list of features in order to keep the scope of the question from becoming too broad. These should be listed in order of importance from "must have" down to "these are optional but would be nice". Using Tim Post's examples:
- Must run on OS/2, with 128 MB of RAM
- Must not be pink
- Ideally takes less than 2MB of disk
- Big plus if it plays music
Listing in order of importance allows us to quickly see what the asker views as the "killer features" and allows us to tailor our answers to meet these requirements a lot easier than if the requirements appeared in the post in any other way.
Some further reading:
- (A lot of the groundwork for this post came from here) My instincts are all wrong