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In response to voretaq7's comment on an answer elsewhere, I'm here proposing some adjustments to the help and other text. I was looking for the following material, and managed not to find it, though the locations and titles do make sense in retrospect (but only, I think, in retrospect).

The idea of a 'canonical answer' is probably more descriptive than the traditional 'frequently asked questions (with answers)', but the latter is, well, traditional, and people are primed to look for it. For this reason, I think, I missed the significance of …a list of the most common questions with links to the “best” answer we’ve identified on the on-topic page. This might be better phrased as "...a list of Frequently Asked Questions with our canonical/best answers". If the letters FAQ can appear close to there, it's pretty much impossible to miss.

That page might be usefully titled something like (again) "Frequently Asked Questions (with answers)", so that it appears more meaningfully in the faq tag list.

That page starts off These questions clarify points in the ServerFault FAQ but I still haven't found the actual FAQ. Perhaps this text could link to it.

On the help page it would be useful if the first heading under 'Asking' was 'Read the FAQ', with a link. Come to that, it would be useful if there were a FAQ link on the front page.

The 'canonical answers' page should perhaps make clear that these are deemed bad questions, partly because they've already been answered, but also because they're open-ended, can go out of date, etc etc, and so they should only be asked if they are labelled within the question as creating a canonical Question/Answer, and are accompanied by a draft answer (from reading the nominal 'question' on this page, I'm taking it that this is the approved procedure; if not, this is the place to spell out the correct one).

I hope this is useful.

  • I support the idea, but I would advise you not get your hopes up. We rewrote our FAQ a while back, and it was the mother of all clusterf*ks, on top of taking *forever to get approved from the SE folks. I believe that rewriting the help pages and such is the same process, so there's not a whole of enthusiasm for going through that again among the people involved in the FAQ rewrite (and who would probably be the majority of the pool of candidates to spearhead a help rewrite project as well). – HopelessN00b Jun 24 '14 at 16:27
  • @HopelessN00b We no longer require intervention from the Stack Exchange team to edit (most of the content in) the help center. They get notified of changes and review them, but the process is MUCH more streamlined than it was back when we did the initial rewrite. – voretaq7 Jun 25 '14 at 3:11
  • @HopelessN00b I was merely asked to log the issues in a question rather than in a comment. What happens with them is up to you – it's your website. – Norman Gray Jun 25 '14 at 9:22
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Bear in mind that the purpose of the tag on Meta is to clarify questions about the site and how it works - It is "Frequently Asked Questions ABOUT Server Fault", Not "Questions Frequently asked ON Server Fault". To that end it's not somewhere we generally want to send people unless they're looking for information on how Server Fault operates.

Re: the canonical questions/answers collection, I do agree that this should be featured more prominently. If there are no objections I'll re-title that topic and alter the language in the help center as described above...

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The idea of a 'canonical answer' is probably more descriptive than the traditional 'frequently asked questions (with answers)', but the latter is, well, traditional, and people are primed to look for it.

That they might be, though they depressingly infrequently do so. But that's not my point.

To me, canonical questions are different from FAQs in one important respect: they're one level up. That is, canonical questions tend to be quite general, and the questions that get closed as duplicates of them are often specific. Moreover, the specifics of the question aren't handled in the canonical answers, and this sometimes gets questioners' backs up. They feel their question isn't a duplicate because, say, the ipv4 subnetting examples are all based on RFC1918 addresses, but they want an answer about some 114. addresses.

I have to explain that, as I understand it, canonical questions cover broad areas where to the extent that the individual's question is interesting, it isn't specific to their usage case; and to the extent that it's specific, it isn't interesting. So we've decided, as a community, to solicit answers that answer in the general sense all the generalisable bits of any given question on that subject, and then declined to provide any further specific answers on any aspect of that topic.

And to that extent, which I find important, I don't think canonical questions are the same as FAQs.

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    Sir Humphrey Appleby, GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) would be prod of this :) – Iain Jun 25 '14 at 10:28
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    <grin> why thank you, Minister! – MadHatter Jun 25 '14 at 10:31

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