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What are the techniques, tactics, and procedures necessary to make my question valuable for the community?


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Executive summary

  • A great question is non-trivial.
  • A great question doesn't necessarily sound non-trivial.
  • Make sure it hasn't been asked already.
  • Check out obvious sources.
  • If a question seems trivial, it may still be a good question if no good answers exist yet, but your research should be shown in your question.
  • Check your grammar and spelling.
  • Make your title ask a question.
  • Match the title to the central question in the body.
  • Use correct formatting.

Choosing a non-trivial question

There's no simple recipe. First, one should use search engines and Wikipedia to look for answers.

Second, large conferences often publish powerpoint presentations which succinctly describe the state-of-the-art.

If it is easy to quickly find the answer to the question this way, then the question doesn't really need to be asked here.

Even if it isn't easy to quickly find the answer to the question, this process will often help refine the question. Any information related to the question can be linked in the body of the post. This helps others know where to start looking.

Writing a question that sounds straightforward

A: "Storage location of the M-D5-900 gimbo-widgets in the aft of the ARTOM module?"

B: "Where are the widgets kept in the back of the science module?"

Question A may sound smart; but if Question B means the same thing, it is a much better question.

Adding technical terms is good only when they are necessary for clarity. If something can be just as easily stated in simple terms with no loss of clarity, simple terms should be used.


  • Though it's not exactly scholarly, Wikipedia is the first stopping place if you don't know the subject matter well. It usually shouldn't make up the bulk of your source material, but sometimes Wikipedia can help you find technical documents. Check the resources and links sections at the bottom of the Wiki page.
  • Technical reports are often available at NASA NTRS. Recently, NASA has been forced by the Congress to take many reports off-line. Don't despair: if you happen to know the old address of the PDF file from somewhere, use Wayback Machine to recover it (add the pdf file name to the following link http://wayback.archive-it.org/all/20090605195626/http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/ to try).
  • Scientific articles are often paywalled. But abstracts aren't. Use Google Scholar to find them.

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