Friday, March 8, 2013

A Short Guide to the Essentials of Stack


This guide is intended for users absolutely new to the system and covers the basic UI elements.
For more in-depth guidance and advice, search Meta Stack Overflow for relevant posts.

There are five basic elements of the Stack Exchange user interface that you will be using the most, and understanding how these affect you, and how you affect others' through these, will make your experience much more worthwhile. I will be using this question (of mine) as a reference to explain the basic features. The five basic elements are :


Posts here refers to both questions and answers. Both follow different formats.


You can ask questions by clocking on the Ask Question button available on the home page. Questions have two parts.
The first part is the question title. It is a short description of the problem such that a person reading it should be able to generally understand what your problem is about.
    This is the title.

The second part is the question body. The should contain the complete question along with everything else needed for the problem to be answerable and ideally, even details asked for in the comments should be added to the question body.

The answer with a grey tick sign
The same answer marked as correct


You can answer a question by clicking on the Answer Question button at the bottom of the page of a question. Answers just contain a body.

The body should contain all the relevant details needed for the problem to be solved. If referencing any external sources, make sure that you add the relevant part of the reference to the body itself and then cite the source below it. Link only answers are not considered answers and will be deleted.

As shown in the image, one answer can be marked as the correct answer by the question poser. The correct answer is the one answer that was able to solve your problem. In no other scenario, should an answer be marked correct, even if other users may pester you to do so (which happens quite frequently). An answer can be marked as correct only after a certain amount of time has passed since the question was posted. A grey tick sign appears adjacent to every answer, clicking on which sets that answer as the correct answer. The grey tick sign then changes to a solid color, such as green as can be
seen in the image.


    Upvotes can be cast by clicking on the up arrow button next to a post. An upvote is a sort of acknowledgement that the post is good. The message shown on hovering over the button also says the same thing. 

    There are certain things that you should consider while casting upvotes for a question :
    • Is the question clear and understandable ?
    • Does the question have the relevant schematics and/or code within the body ?
    • Did the person try to solve the problems on his own ? If yes, has the person shown his attempts at tackling the problem ?
    • Is it something that cannot be easily Googled and found ? (This last one is my personal metric and is used by quite a few users within the Network, but its not a standard rule as pointed out by  the FAQs across the network)
    There are certain things that should be considered for casting an upvote for an answer as well :
    • Is the answer clear and understandable ?
    • Is the answer self-contained ? Does it contain the relevant information from any external sources with it ?
    • Does the answer solve the problem ? If not, does it at least, attempt to solve the problem and provide something extra as well ?
    If one of your posts was upvoted, it means that you were able to satisfy some or all of the aforementioned criteria or that someone found your post useful irrespective of these factors. Either way, you did a good job! 

    Lastly, upvotes are anonymous.


    Similar to upvotes, downvotes can be cast by clicking on the down arrow. A downvote is a negative feedback for the creator of the post. It is used to tell the creator that the post has serious problems. Downvotes should not be used lightly.

    There are certain specific factors that you should consider before casting a downvote on a question :
    • Is the question unclear or hard to understand ?
    • Is the problem easily solvable via searching through Google ?
    • Is the question lacking in some way ? Is the question incomplete ? Is the question missing schematics / code relevant to the problem ?
    • Has the person not attempted to solve the problem on his own ? Has the person posted his attempts at solving the problem ?
    Some things to keep in mind before going trigger happy. If the post has only grammatical or spelling problems, then you should first attempt to make corrections and try to make the post understandable. Salvaging a post should be the first action, followed by downvoting.

    There are certain factors that should be looked at before casting a downvote for an answer as well :
    • Is the answer unclear and not understandable ?
    • Is the answer referencing an external source and not providing a solution within the body ?
    • Does the answer not even attempt to answer the question ? If not, does the answer not even provide something useful to the problem ?
    • Is the answer a veiled advertisement of a product without any disclosure ?

    This feature is not available until you are able to gain some experience on the site. However, your posts can be downvoted by other users. If that happens, you should evaluate your post on the basis of these guidelines and see whats missing.

    While casting downvotes, I would advise exercising caution. Downvotes should not be cast without due considerations and after an attempt to salvage posts.

    Downvotes are also anonymous.


    Comments are like meta-posts. They are short messages that can be used to communicate with the different individuals who were a part of both creation and editing. To communicate with any user, you simply need to prefix @ to the username, and then write the rest of your message. The user gets a notification about the message instantly. However, in a comment you can only notify one user.

    Comments under the question body. Only for the serious stuff.

    Comments serve different purposes  depending on where they are. Comments should be used only to seek clarifications from the author, ask for extra details, or to make suggestions to improve the post. Before clicking on the downvote button, it is always better to first inform the user about what is lacking in the post and what changes need to be made. If the user does not respond only then should you downvote the post. Sometimes, they can be used to suggest solutions to the problem, however, that is not recommended, even though many users indulge in this habit.


    Notifications are alerts that you get when a post of yours gets a answer or a comment, when an edit is made or suggested, and when someone makes a comment with @your-user-name. Initially, you also get notifications about any badges that you earn on the site.

    The small StackExchange button on the left serves as the main notifications panel. Clicking on it shows you all the recent notifications, as well some of the most interesting questions from around the network.
    Towards the left, there is a panel that displays your user name, along your reputation score, number of badges. On hovering over it, you get an expanded panel, showing you all your recent reputations changes.

    With that we come to the end of this brief tour of the Essentials. I have chosen to not go into the reputation system and badges system at this point as it is not an important part of the system. It is an integral part, but not an important one. Lastly, some of the features described here become available only after crossing certain reputation requirements. These are site specific and can be found in the respective FAQs. As and when a feature of the site becomes available. you get a notification about the same.

    If you keep the points described here in mind, then reputation and badges are the last things that you will have to worry about.

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