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This site seeks to be an expert site; however, it also appeals to those interested in studying the text. Thus, we tend to draw many novice users. Such new users seem to be fairly consistent in the tutoring necessary to bring the questions and answers at least up to par for the site.

Since new users do not have access to chat, I wondered if the system could be programmed to prompt the new user step by step in their first few posts (until they have reached a certain number of reputation points). New users could be informed that these prompts are for the novice and will discontinue after quickly for the expert (so as to not deter the expert)

Prompts for questions would be step by step and each must be done before proceeding to the next. Prompts could include:
1) What specific text does your question pertain to?
2) What is your question?
3) What research have you done already to find an answer to this question?

Prompts for answers could include:
1) In your answer, show your steps logically and stop short of applying the text.
2) Go back through your answer and provide support for your answer--historically, linguistically, textually, contextually, archeologically etc.
3) Go back through your answer and for each statement of fact, provide citations or links to sources.

Perhaps these are too much already or perhaps you will see other prompts that would be more important.

Since the quality of the questions sets the tone for the quality of the site, prompts for the questions could be uncircumventable. Users must respond to each prompt for the question to be posted.

Answers self filter through the voting process and tend to be weeded out more easily. Thus prompts for the answer process need not be so uncircumventable. Moreover, the elements necessary for the answers are dispersed in the body of the answer and are not so easy to monitor electronically. But the prompts themselves would be a constant reminder to the beginner as to what the expectations are. Perhaps a box could be checked affirming each step before the post may be made.

Also, could not new posts remained in que until approved by experienced users?

It seems this would be more easily digested by new users than correction after a post has been made. Prerequisites present the expectations ahead of time and expect them to be met before entrance. Whereas, experience says that correction on posts already made is often met with resistance to change and clinging to old habits, etc.

One more element to this--could we not allow certain number of reputation points be awarded for complying with each step in such a way that their first post provides them access to the library?

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    Do you realize that any changes like this would need to be beneficial for all the sites on the SE network? I'm not saying this is impossible but you should be aware the functionality of this site is inherited from the larger system and we can't just go whipping up our own procedures. Sometimes good ideas DO come from individual smaller sites, but they are going to be weighed against the other sites for usefulness.
    – Caleb
    Feb 10 '14 at 14:13
  • Ah, I did not realize that! thank you. Are other SE sites "expert sites? or operated on the same premise of requiring support for answers, showing one's work, etc or are these unique to BH-SE?
    – user2027
    Feb 10 '14 at 14:20
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    I just learned about this and thought you might be interested (and want to vote): Let's have an explicit triage system for questions from new users
    – Dan
    Oct 28 '14 at 19:45
  • I still think the better way to go is have a more guarded step by step approach to first users on SE. If this was developed such that generally the same steps were followed on all sites, but each site could tailor requirements according to their own unique requirements it would be even better. The more the user does by prompt and the more they are they are prevented from poor posts, the more they will internalize the requirements of the site and adapt. Since these prompts are mechanical it is less apt to be taken personally--more a guided interactive tour that you have to take to post.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 0:43
  • Common errors: QUESTIONS that already have an answer but the new user did not see it pop up; that do not start with a particular passage(BH-SE). ANSWERS that do not connect the dots; do not have credible sources/citations/support; that do not answer the question. PROMPTS Q: 1)type in question. Look at list of existing questions that pop up--is your question already answered? Yes=abort, no= go to next stage. 1)Is your question based on specific passage? no=go back, yes=go on. A--1) thesis. 2)main points. 3) support. 4)check logic. 5) look at question again--do you answer the question.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 0:58
  • @majnemɪzdæn, see above comments. Prompts should automatically take them back or forward so they could not skip steps or neglect them. This way, even if they chose to override them by saying yes when they should have said no or had poor judgement on the matter they still are having the sites standards reinforced for the first how ever many posts and will not get enough rep points to get past this stage until they have posted enough Q or As that are approved.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 1:01
  • @Sarah I think those are good ideas. I just don't see it happening just for us unless it could be justified for lots of sites on the SE network since that kind of programming/UX change would have to be implemented more broadly than just here (as Caleb previously noted).
    – Dan
    Oct 29 '14 at 1:05
  • @majnemɪzdæn Right, but it sounds like the other sites are facing similar problems. That is why I say if a general sequence of common prompts could be programmed in such a way as the particulars of each sequence could be uniquely suited to each site it could work for everyone. Would this be possible?
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:23
  • @majnemɪzdæn, I forgot one question prompt: "what research have you done on this already already?" This should be the second prompt after the question itself is stated and it is discerned that the question has not been asked already. One should not be able to proceed without something entered in this step.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:25
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    @majnemɪzdæn PS thanks for thinking of me and my question. This was a long time ago; you have a good memory.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:26
  • "in such a way that the particulars of each sequence could be uniquely suited to each site" -- that's the problem from a technical standpoint, especially for non-graduated (beta) sites like us. But again, I like the idea - I just doubt SE will do it for lil' ol' BH.SE. But there is a glimmer of hope given that meta post :)
    – Dan
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:45
  • No problem, I immediately thought of you and this post when I saw that so I had to share so you can also vote / chime in so that the whole network sees your idea / hears your voice.
    – Dan
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:47
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Prerequisite knowledge is required

A similar question was asked on meta SO (the main meta for the whole SE network), asking for a sort of 'grace period' for new users to help them 'learn the ropes.'

Here was Jeff Atwood's reply (Jeff is the co-founder of the SE network):

If you want to walk into a college Calculus class, you need knowledge of Algebra, Pre-Algebra, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus. If you don't, you should be gently directed to other places where you can learn the necessary prerequisites first.

The problem is not that we need to figure out some way to stop the Calculus class to teach these users Algebra -- the problem is that these users are in the wrong place! It is totally correct to gently, civilly direct them somewhere else, somewhere more at their level.

Even on Stack Overflow, which never really had "professional" in its mandate, there is generally an expectation that someone posting a question will understand the rudimentary mechanics of, y'know, being a programmer. Otherwise they're committing the greatest sin of all -- they are wasting everyone's time.

Nobody expects every student to have what it takes to attend Harvard or Yale, right? Heck, we're more akin to the local community college, and even we have standards. You can't expect to show up on the campus of your local community college and go to class completely unprepared. Nobody is going to educate you K-12 just to teach you a college level topic; asking that of your peers is completely unreasonable.

Thus, if you want to come on our "campus" and learn with your fellow students, we expect users to be armed with the basics and fundamentals of the field. Users who fail to meet the absolute minimum standards of a practicing professional, whatever field that happens to be (think FizzBuzz for programmers), should be helpfully directed to other resources where they can learn these things before coming back.

If you don't enforce some basic standards for participants, you soon won't have the benefit of any experts at all. And God help everyone on your Q&A site then.

The same is true here. When a question asks about the original languages, the folks who answer should know those languages or have access to sources written by people who do (for instance, using the Strong's Concordance isn't the same as being trained and experienced in a language, and reading and citing Wikipedia articles doesn't qualify one to offer a controversial historical perspective on a text, either).

Expert-level answers are the best way to attract interested amateurs

Early on, a user asked "How can we attract high-quality Biblical scholars and still be welcoming to interested amateurs?" The (highly-upvoted) answer that the user received from the Director of Community Development for the Stack Exchange Network, Robert Cartaino, is as follows:

Don't dwell too much about being specifically "welcoming" to interested amateurs, per se. Our mantra is always "be nice." But make no mistake about it: Build a site for experts with great expert answers, and the less-expert users will take care of themselves.

This is right out of the blog post: Asking the First Questions:

Everyone is welcome. But, in these earliest days, we are DESIGNING a site for experts. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Remember, the pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

The earliest questions on a site will set the tone and topic of the site for a long time.

So the reality is that our focus should be on designing a site for experts. Amateurs will tend to be attracted to such a site (myself included), but amateurs should learn the basics of the field and thus learn to offer expert-level contributions (often by doing research and citing experts so that we all can learn from them—there shouldn't be much original research here). Most of us are amateurs (myself included) with various levels of training and experience in the field of Biblical Studies, and no one individual has all of the knowledge in every area of this field. We need one another. At the same time, if all we offer is the same stuff as every other place on the Internet, we really aren't making the Internet a better place, we're just adding more noise.

Does that mean that only experts should participate?

At the same time, does that mean that only experts should participate? NO! In fact, most participants will be interested amateurs. Jeff Atwood wrote:

The idea that you have all these experts waiting in the wings to do stuff is an illusion in my experience. There's really just a bunch of amateurs muddling along trying to do things together. The people that are truly experts are too busy to even help, right? And if the experts are too busy to help, what difference does it really make if there are experts at all. Because the whole point of this endeavor is helping other developers, and whether you're an expert or not, if you have no time to help, you're not really contributing to the solution.

Therefore it is expected that most participants will be interested amateurs. With that said, that doesn't mean that we want amateur-level answers. Amateurs are capable of learning more by the use of expert sources and reproducing expert knowledge.

As Jeff explained in the meta post initially cited, you are expected to learn the prerequisites of a field before contributing to answers about that field. If a question asks for linguistic information, you probably shouldn't answer if you don't know the language. If a question asks for historical information, you probably shouldn't answer if you've never studied the pertinent area of history (that doesn't preclude you from reading books to answer the question, but if you can answer the question by reading a short Wikipedia article, it probably wasn't a good question to begin with).

The reality is that amateurs who do not yet know how to find and evaluate expert sources should probably ask more than answer on a site like this. It's worth letting a question remain unanswered for a longer period of time if it means getting an expert-level answer in the long run rather than a bunch of low quality responses.

Allow me to close by citing an answer to the question, "Am I supposed to be an expert?":

The goal of Stack Exchange is to become an expert resource of knowledge for years to come, focusing on very specific topics.

However, this doesn't mean that every question asker needs to be an expert in the field. However, you do need to be serious about the field. People who are merely curious will likely try to post questions that they can find the answers to by digging in and spending some time doing some research. In order to become better at something, one must invest time in learning about that activity....

In other words, I don't need to be an expert ... to first do some research on my own, try out an example, and then ask a question indicating where I'm stuck, what I've tried, and listing any error messages I've found....

However, if your question shows you're not serious about the subject, then it's not beneficial. Another goal of Stack Exchange is to make the Internet a better place, so posts that don't show effort from the asker tend to involve things that have already been asked and answered countless times before. You don't need Stack Exchange for such questions, you just need to spend some time doing some research. :)

In general, some community managers have said they'd prefer to see fewer questions of higher quality instead of more questions with lower quality. Quality is key to building a strong community.

As a last and final point, your skill level in the topic has nothing to do with how serious you are about learning that subject. It's the seriousness and commitment that make great questions. Hope this helps!

Amateurs will learn the most by hearing expert-level answers and learning more about how to find these types of sources. But this site can't replace a good education in the basics. Amateurs need to take the initiative to learn more about this field before answering. This is a place to help them when they get stuck or encounter questions in that learning process, it is not intended to be the sole source of that learning.

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  • My point exactly!!! If we filter out poor questions BEFORE the get posted and corral them into good posts from the start by prompts early on we automatically set a tone without hurting people's feelings. Plenty welcoming, plenty of opportunity for growth! Using your above example--an entrance exam, ACTscores SAT scores, etc, OR a worthy portfolio.
    – user2027
    Feb 10 '14 at 16:18
  • @Sarah gotcha, well - we'll see what happens. I just don't see SE changing the system (the first meta post cited was Jeff's reply to a similar request as this one)
    – Dan
    Feb 10 '14 at 16:19
  • Jeff responds to the idea of a grace period that allows for interaction that would be less apt to discourage new users (no loss of points or DVs) until members are acclimated. I suggest we assure their success. Ones first endeavor to post on any SE site is prompted step by step so the OP corralled through the general requirements of the site in order for their post to even progress. If they do not enter the appropriate data in one step they cannot progress to the next. Thus, their first post actually trains them in at least the standard operating procedures for all sites.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:44
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    I'd love to see this go even further: "Hey, I noticed the question asks for an analysis of the Greek text, but there are no Greek characters in your answer. Perhaps this is not the question for you" :P (I'm being facetious)
    – Dan
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:49
  • But seriously, your recommendations might cut down on a lot of well-intentioned but misguided posters. At the same time, the ones who are going to ignore all guidance will do so with or without the training.
    – Dan
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:50
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    LOL! to be sure! This happens so often. I think mostly when folks read other replies before they answer and engage in defending or attacking an existing position rather than addressing the question itself.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:51
  • But with my system, it would be difficult to get through without complying. Least wise they would have been well exposed to the standard operating procedures in such a way as they almost can't miss them, to have even gotten through. If they manipulate past the guided prompts then they can expect the community to then reject their submissions and they will recognize the grounds on which they are rejected. If contributors at least endeavor to comply though they might misunderstand some element, that should be fairly easy for members to discern.
    – user2027
    Oct 29 '14 at 6:56

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