I want to mention that this is not part of the series regarding refining of the guidelines for questions and answers. This is about how to write Excellent questions, regardless of the topic.
Over my years as a moderator (OK, it's only beeen a month so far), I've seen a lot of questions that are very poor quality. The questions they ask are interesting, useful, and on topic, but the quality is lacking. There have even been questions that are well researched, but the impression that they leave is that they are low quality.
Usually when I run across a question like this, I'll just ignore the lack of quality. On occasion, though, I'll post a link to Jon Skeet's blog post on how to write the Perfect Question. While that post is an excellent, well written post, it's not on topic for Christianity.SE or many of the other StackExchange network sites. The post is geared specifically for StackOverflow, Jon Skeets home turf, and is only useful for StackOverflow or other similar StackExchange sites.
Therefore, I decided to use his post along with Eric Raymond's How to Ask Questions the Smart Way and my own observations to come up with a new guide that will be useful for these network sites. Hopefully this will serve you well and help you improve your questions.
How to Write a Perfect Question
With all the advice out there on writing questions, it seems that Jon Skeet's Golden Rule summarizes all of this advice the best. So, I'll start with that:
The Golden Rule: Imagine that You're Trying to Answer the Question
The most important thing you can do is to reread your question and examine it as if you were attempting to answer the question that you just wrote. Try to approach the question with fresh eyes and ask these questions:
Does it make sense?
Is it clear what's being asked?
Is it easy to read?
Are there any assumptions being made that you should specify?
Use common sense on whether you think the question is well worded and intelligible. If you are having a hard time understanding any particular aspect of the question, then people who don't live inside your brain will really have difficulty!
Ultimately, make sure your question is one that others want to answer. If reading the question with fresh eyes makes you desire to answer the question, then others will probably want to answer it as well.
Build your question like a house
When you write a question, you need to proceed in a certain order: Foundation, architecture, completion.
General format of a question:
1. State your problem (foundation) 2. Explain your problem (architecture) 3. Ask your question (completion)
You must do this in the proper order for a question to be intelligible.
Your problem statement is usually just one or two sentences describing the question in general. For example, "I'm having a hard time understanding X." or "I'm curious about a topic X that I found" or even "I always thought that X was Y. However, that doesn't seem to be the case." Regardless how you word it, you want to state the problem that you are having.
After your problem statement, you want to explain the problem more precisely and give details. You want to add as many details as you feel are relevant. However, if you think that a detail is not relevant, don't include it.
Finally, ask your question. This may seem obvious, but the last statement in the post should be the question you want to ask. It even helps if you put this question on a separate line. No further explanation should come after the question (since they are really the architecture of your question).
If you follow this format, it will improve the quality of your questions and increase the readability and understanding of the question.
Use correct grammar and spelling
On the Internet, no one can see your face. But everyone can see your grammar.
It's crucially important to make a good first impression. If a question is well worded and if it uses correct spelling and grammar, people who view the question will think that it comes from someone who is intelligent. If, however, there are many spelling mistakes, poor grammar, or incoherent thoughts, the readers will presume that you are either unintelligent or too rushed to care.
See also: the Golden Rule (at the top)
Use Meaningful Titles
The question you use in the title should be meaningful to the topic. Also, it should clearly and concisely ask the question you are seeking. Finally, if possible, make it an actual question, not just a topic. "Purpose of X" isn't as good as "What is the purpose of X?" Asking a question entices people click on the link to open the question.
Use links for support, but include relevant information
When you are adding your support for the question, you want to make sure to include all relevant material. If you're asking about a verse in the Bible, for example, you should include that verse, not just a link to it. If you are asking about the text on a given site, include a snippet of that text, not just a link to the site.
You have to remember that sometimes sites go down. If you are relying solely on a link to explain your question, your question may end up being unsupported! Therefore, you should never rely solely on a link. A good philosophy for this is to presume that every link you paste will go down two seconds after you post your question.
Another way to look at this: If your link broke, could the question still be understood?
Be precise, but concise
It's important to be precise in your explanation of the problem. Use details that support your understanding and explain the question. A precise, well researched question is a much better question than one that is broad and general. It will garner more votes and more answers.
On the other end, it's very important to not post too much information. Overwhelming the users with endless details will turn people away from the question. You have to find that happy balance where people will want to read the question, but they have enough information to answer it correctly. (See also, The Golden Rule)
Don't post homework-level questions (Not too concise)
This is related to being concise, but the opposite end of the spectrum.
You want to be concise, but questions that contain less than three or four sentences start to look like homework. This is particularly true of questions regarding more philosophical or theoretical ideas.
Double Check Google
If the answer can quickly and easily be found with less than one or two minutes of research, the question is too easy.
See also, Jeff Atwood's post: Some questions are too easy!
A question can be interesting but poorly written. A question can be useful, but completely unsupported. A question can be on topic, but completely unintelligible.
These guidelines aren't trying to help you write a "good" question. They're here to help you make a good question excellent. I hope that you find these guidelines useful.
Jon Skeet's Writing the Perfect Question
Eric Raymond's How to Ask Questions the Smart Way
Some Questions are Too Simple
It's OK to Answer Your Own Question
Real Questions Have Answers
Good Subjective, Bad Subjective