community September 26, 2019

Research update: Improving the question-asking experience

Hi, my name is Lisa. 👋 I am a Product Designer on the Community Product team and I’m excited to provide this month’s UX research update! If you’ve asked a question recently, you may have noticed some changes to the question-asking form. This is the result of months of research reviewing the question-asking experience on…
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Product Designer
Hi, my name is Lisa. 👋 I am a Product Designer on the Community Product team and I’m excited to provide this month’s UX research update!

If you’ve asked a question recently, you may have noticed some changes to the question-asking form. This is the result of months of research reviewing the question-asking experience on Stack Overflow. Regardless of how much reputation users have on Stack Overflow, they have told us that asking a question on the site can be an intimidating experience. And following the success of the Ask Question Wizard—our guided ask question form for users with less than 111 reputation — we decided to take a step back and look for ways we could make a more unified, positive experience for everyone.

Objective

The goal of this research project was to understand people’s experiences and perceptions of asking a question on Stack Overflow. We took a look at the question-asking experience more holistically and examined the current state of Stack Overflow to understand how people were solving their programming issues on and outside of the site. 

We focused on these research questions:

  • What are people’s experiences asking a question on Stack Overflow? 
  • What information do users need before asking a question on Stack Overflow? 
  • How does Stack Overflow fit into people’s problem solving workflows?

Methods

This research project used multiple methods of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. We conducted data analysis on the behavior and characteristics of our current user base, dove deep into the performance of the Ask Question Wizard, gathered insights from 1:1 interviews with low-reputation lurkers to high-reputation veterans, and studied other sites in UX teardowns.

Results

Based on our research, we were able to generate a better question-asking flow that unifies the traditional and guided (Ask Question Wizard) modes and works equally well for users of all reputation and experience levels. Here are some of the insights that informed our designs:

Writing a good programming question takes time and effort

The Ask Question Wizard was originally intended to help first time question-askers learn how to write good programming questions. Despite their level of experience, users agreed that writing a good programming question was a challenging, learned skill that takes instruction and practice. 

The Ask Question Wizard has proven to be impactful in assisting new users in writing better quality questions, so we decided to take what we’ve learned from this update and make it available to all of our users.

The new design offers upfront guidance and a more approachable design. Users can focus on drafting their question without distraction and are provided instruction all in one space with less need to navigate away from the form.

Users anticipate negative interactions when asking questions

Users expressed that the post-publishing experience caused anxiety and frustration. Concerned with how the Stack Overflow community would receive their question, users wanted to make sure that they were not posting a duplicate question and that their question fit into community standards and expectations. As part of user interviews, when participants were asked to review a sample of existing Stack Overflow questions they noted how certain questions were likely to receive snide remarks from the community.

We want all of our users to feel confident in asking a question. To assuage these user concerns, we have plans to include a single “review” interface that consolidates error messaging and provides suggestions to help improve question quality.

It’s not clear what happens after submitting a question

Most participants mentioned the importance of an eye-catching title, but were otherwise stumped as to how or why certain questions seemed to solicit answers. We heard a lot of questions around what to expect after a question is submitted. Many users were uncertain about what happens after a question is submitted. Additionally, not receiving an answer also caused anxiety. Users wonder, “Is there something wrong with my question?” 

To give users a greater sense of awareness of what happens once they publish a question, we introduced an informational modal that appears once a user submits their first question.

What’s next?

Since releasing the design on Stack Overflow to a sample of users, we have been collecting feedback and monitoring data in A/B tests. We plan to take your thoughts and suggestions alongside our analysis of the quantitative data to make continued improvements on this design. We’re excited to work towards a single question-asking experience which helps all users ask questions with confidence and we’ll continue to provide updates on the blog as our work progresses.

If you’d like to hear about opportunities to participate in future user research, join our research list (you’ll need a Stack Overflow account).

Thank you everyone involved in this project so far: Jane Willborn, Brian Nickel, Jon Ericson, Jon Chan, Donna Choi, Dr. Julia Silge, Aaron Shekey, Meg Risdal, Sara Chipps, and many others.
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