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I have a young site which I intend to be an informational blog, by which I mean I want all of the posts to follow a certain format. The format I am going for is:

  1. Keep the posts short enough for the average reader to digest in 5-10 minutes
  2. Have all posts follow the format of idea -> problem -> research -> solution chosen + why
  3. Use decent grammar and punctuation

Currently I have it set up so that only I and people I personally give permission to can post articles, but eventually I'd like to open this up to everyone because other people have wayyy more and better information that just me and the few people I have time to review. Before I do that however, I'd like to know they are going to follow the format of the site. The end goal is to categorize problems and solutions for a hobby which can be particularly hard to find that kind of information for.

I think information is easier to find and understand when it is served up in a consistent format. Is giving a good example of the format enough reason to leave the input free-form or should I add more rigid controls to ensure people follow the format?

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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Mar 23 '11 at 20:33

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

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There's a "format" here on stackexchange sites, and yet questions are closed pretty regularly for not adhering to the format. I think its a trade off, close review means content just the way you want it, but limited as you're one person. Open it up, content you may not like, but you'll get more content. –  Andy Wiesendanger Mar 23 '11 at 13:57
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7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Is giving a good example of the format enough reason to leave the input free-form?

I would say definitely not. Joel Spolsky has a post about Designing for People Who Have Better Things To Do With Their Lives. (He explains it better than me.) The main point is that you need to strive to make your UI foolproof and intuitive to the users instead of trying to teach them how to use it "right".

You need not look further than SO. There are zillions of posts whose authors obviously haven't even bothered to read the FAQ, or proofread their own post before pressing Submit.

or should I add more rigid controls to ensure people follow the format?

Absolutely. You could e.g. add separate edit fields for each of the parts you listed above.

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1) Technically, limiting post size should be pretty easy.

2) Having places to put:

format of idea -> problem -> research -> solution chosen + why

can't be that hard. The entries are fairly sequential.

3) Promote moderators.

Before you decide to get too rigid, keep in mind, that your initial ideas for this site will probably not last. You'll probably get some valid feedback that I suggest you consider but not follow blindly.

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No, an example is not good enough. If there are no controls, people can do whatever they want. End of story. You can try to find ways to persuade them not to, and if the core audience is good it might work well enough, but it's always possible some 13-year-old will find he can post anything and will post naughty words copied and pasted over-and-over-and-over just to get a chuckle. Then you will have to clean up after. The other way is to have manual controls where you approve all posts, or have some sort of machine-intelligence system that tries to determine the worthiness of a post, but that could be hit-and-miss and I'm not aware of products currently out there that can do it (but it would make for an interesting programming project).

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Is giving a good example of the format enough reason to leave the input free form...

An example is useful, but unlikely to be enough.

or should I add more rigid controls to ensure people follow the format?

Yes. Here are some specific suggestions:

keep the posts short enough for the average reader to digest in 5-10 minutes

  • Set a limit on the number of characters a user can type.

Have all posts follow the format of idea -> problem -> research -> solution chosen + why

  • Have 4 text boxes, one for each of these sections.

Decent use of grammar and punctuation

  • Allow users to edit and improve each other's responses — somewhat like a wiki.

You could go further: encourage peer review by having a system of points that users can earn based on the quality of their contributions, and give the highest scorers the moderation rights. If you're really keen, you could introduce a system of badges for different kinds of contribution...

Actually, I think that there is a popular Q & A site that works something like this ;-)

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You never know - if this takes off you could even make "overflow" sites for all kinds of topics ;-) –  Kramii Mar 23 '11 at 14:10
    
Which I work for an have no intention of copying. :) –  NickLarsen Mar 23 '11 at 14:11
    
@NickLarsen: You know I was kidding, right? Although the principles are good ones... –  Kramii Mar 23 '11 at 14:30
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First off... Good luck! LOL

When dealing with people there is one truth. They will never always do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it. There will always be someone (usually many someones) who will go against the directions either because they don't understand them, skipped past them, or just plain ignored them.

Here's what I would do to accomplish what you've outlined. I would create an instructional page which after they have created an account they must first read before they can post. Forcing them to view the page at least before posting is pretty easy... the hard part is the reading part! You might toy with the idea of after viewing the instructional page having them complete a short quiz showing they understood the main points.

After that you'll most definitely need some sort of flagging/moderator system like what is setup on the SE sites. Even after reading the instructional page there will still be lots of people who just don't get it or want to do whatever the heck they want. I don't think you can escape the moderator system at all... this is a must IMHO.

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This is a human problem, not UI. Ultimately, you need people taking on editor roles. Content needs editing and curating. Humans are the right tool for that.

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Use a modal window that explains what you want before the user begins. This should solve your problem. Here's a look at some best practices Modal and Modeless Windows Best Practices

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The problem here is that people just click through these before reading. Even on Stack Exchange you get people ignoring the modal dialogs warning you about answering your own question and posting a second answer. –  ChrisF Mar 24 '11 at 10:12
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