I have never been too happy with referring new users to our FAQ. Specifically, I feel that the first two sections, What kind of questions can I ask here?, and What kind of questions should I not ask here? fail to cover the very common situation I see where new users may have a great/interesting and on-topic problem or interest, but do not structure their question in such a way that it can be effectively answered.

Some recent examples:

Some items that I believe are sorely missing from the FAQ include:

  • Clearly disclosing any requirements or limitations that answers should adhere to.
  • Using tags effectively (they are mentioned only in passing in the FAQ!)
  • Software environment information such as version numbers, underlying DBMS, etc.
  • Posting code if it's a code question.
  • Using screenshots or illustrations if it's a spatiovisual or cartographic question.
  • Describing the inputs (data) they're working with if applicable and any unusual properties thereof.
  • Describing the desired output or results if applicable.

Additionally the excellent "How to ask" help page is not linked to until 2/3s down the page under the What if I don't get an answer? section. This should be made much more prominent in the FAQ!

What other improvements can we make to the FAQ?

Is it still the case that moderators can not edit the FAQ?

  • 1
    Perhaps additional sections for "What information should I include in my question?" and "What are tags and how should I use them?" would cover these concerns.
    – blah238
    Oct 31, 2012 at 5:58
  • 3
    I've always thought it odd that each SE site's FAQ isn't custom to that site. Is how to ask a question on the Great Outdoors.SE site the exact same as GIS.SE? Nov 1, 2012 at 14:14
  • 1
    @Chad You're right that there's a lot of boilerplate there. However, every FAQ has an initial section, "What kind of questions can I ask here?", that the moderators can edit. Ours has been edited seven times. (It first read, "The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for cartographers, database administrators, geographers, programmers, and anyone interested in or using GIS professionally".) Blah238, we do not however have the ability to add or remove sections or modify anything that follows.
    – whuber
    Nov 7, 2012 at 17:16
  • @whuber Gotcha. So has this ever been brought up with SE, about letting mods edit all sections of the faqs? Nov 7, 2012 at 21:01
  • 1
    @Chad I found this and this as well as this comment. They more or less say that things aren't going to change.
    – whuber
    Nov 7, 2012 at 21:16
  • +1 for "the very common situation I see where new users may have a great/interesting and on-topic problem or interest, but do not structure their question in such a way that it can be effectively answered.". I too tend to avoid referring to the faq. Nov 9, 2012 at 19:54

4 Answers 4


Some of the things you miss are generic and are well-covered in the SE FAQ itself. We can (and probably should) link to that from the FAQ.

Including some of the other items, like how to use tags effectively, threatens to bloat the FAQ and make it less useful. The solution adopted by many SE communities is to address such details within dedicated meta threads. This effectively devolves responsibility for maintaining the FAQ onto the community (which is a good thing). We can link to such threads from the FAQ, keeping it streamlined and short. For example, the statistics faq contains links to meta threads that explain how to answer questions, give links to other sites that can handle off-topic questions, and more.

Thus, you can immediately start improving our FAQ by starting appropriate meta threads and flagging them for moderator attention (to let us know you would like the FAQ to link to them). You could begin with meta questions about how to use tags, what should be disclosed about software versions and runtime environments, how and when to post code, and so on.

  • 1
    to extend to this answer, on Meta there is the tag faq for this purpose, which has at then moment but one entry, Other places for help Nov 9, 2012 at 19:58

Moderators can only edit this text in the FAQ


For a short amount of text it has to cover all questions...

If you would like to contribute to the editing of this text please post an answer on this meta data question. Thanks

The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for questions concerning geographic information systems and science. We welcome cartographers, database administrators, geographers, programmers, and anyone interested in or using GIS.

Please see other places for help for questions which are off topic here (such as general questions on databases, server setup, web services, programming, etc.).

Although the scope of questions appropriate here is wide, befitting the range of GIS applications, please make an initial effort to research the answer before you ask a question. That will help you write a great, focused question that gets excellent answers. Questions that are too basic (meaning the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information) will be closed.

We aim to create a lasting record of great solutions to questions. Providing references to peer-reviewed literature or links to on-line resources is warmly welcomed. You can also incorporate the work of others under fair use doctrine, which particularly means that you must attribute any text, images, or other material that is not originally yours.

  • Is there any sort of character limit for this section?
    – blah238
    Nov 1, 2012 at 6:41
  • 1
    There does not seem to be any limit - not tested the actual commit on the edited post. This might flag up.
    – Mapperz Mod
    Nov 1, 2012 at 14:15
  • 1
    I have been involved in editing other FAQs which are substantially longer than ours and have not run into any length limitations.
    – whuber
    Nov 7, 2012 at 17:18
  • The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for questions concerning geographic information systems and science is rather vague. Some sample questions are in order, I think. Or at least a clear setting of boundaries as to what questions and topics we should tackle.
    – R.K.
    Nov 9, 2012 at 13:09
  • 1
    @R.K. I have always seen that vagueness as having merit (and reflecting the genius of our site's founding fathers and mothers), given the broad background of GIS practitioners and even broader scope of their interests and applications. Unlike most other SE sites, we accept highly specialized questions (such as "where do I find such-and-such kind of data?") that are difficult to categorize, except they might sort of eventually in somebody's imagination be related to locations. Trying to set clear boundaries is noble but, I believe, ultimately doomed.
    – whuber
    Nov 9, 2012 at 21:07
  • The problem is that almost everything can be related to locations if you look hard enough. I fear that the site is overextending itself. I know we might not be able to get a clear enough boundary but I think we should try. Otherwise the site would become too diluted as to be useless. We have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise the site will try to include everything and in effect will be good for nothing.
    – R.K.
    Nov 27, 2012 at 6:38

We could use something like the one at the Android StackExchange's FAQ

Android Enthusiasts - Stack Exchange is for enthusiasts, power users, and regular people who use the Android operating system.

If your question generally covers...

  • Using your Android device
  • Using a particular app on your Android device
  • Trying to solve an error or other issue in using your Android device then this is the right place to ask. Basically, what problem (with your Android device) are you trying to solve?

It's rather short and to the point. Though I'd admit that it's rather hard to do for our field.

Another example would be the Web Apps SE FAQ

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Web Applications - Stack Exchange is for expert and advanced users of web applications.

If your question generally covers …

  • Using Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any other website which behaves like an application
  • Bookmarklets
  • Browsers and their features relating to the use of a web application (Greasemonkey scripts for a web application, etc.) … then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

What about other Web Application related questions?

Please note that the following subjects are considered off-topic here:

  • Desktop software
  • Applications for mobile devices such as the Android or iPad
  • Hosted scripts such as Wordpress.org and phpBB
  • Web applications containing adult content
  • Developing web applications
  • Browsers and their features
  • App recommendations unless prior research is shown

For desktop software and general browser questions please ask on Super User. For software development questions please ask on Stack Overflow. For managing and maintaining your own hosted web application please ask on Pro Webmasters

  • 1
    Thanks for the link. What I thought was most interesting is that they were able to add a new section to their FAQ: What about other Android-related questions?. It would be great to have a "What information should I include in my question?" section.
    – blah238
    Nov 7, 2012 at 9:23
  • Blah238, it is interesting that they managed to add a section. I don't know how they did that--it might be as simple as adding heading markup. Because you have pointed out this is possible, I'm sure we'll figure it out. Thanks!
    – whuber
    Nov 7, 2012 at 17:17
  • 1
    That's what it looks like; if you click one of the links on the right to the first two sections, both are highlighted, unlike the boilerplate sections below.
    – blah238
    Nov 7, 2012 at 23:46

I don't recall when this happened, but the FAQ has been replaced with a much-improved Help Center.


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