Asking Questions on Quora: The Guidelines

Quora CEO Adam D'Angelo
Quora CEO, Adam D’Angelo

Quora is a popular question-and-answer forum that was founded in 2009. It was created by Adam D’Angelo after he left Facebook for a second time, and quickly became a popular site for tech experts to interact with each other and ask/answer questions. In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg acquired the startup NextStop after someone recommended him to do so on Quora. Since then, Quora has grown to have over 200 million unique monthly users. This is quite incredible growth for a website, especially one that is not technically a social media platform (though it has some features that do make it feel like a social network).

I recently started using Quora and fell in love with it. It is so much fun to go onto their website and answer random questions. The four main areas I answer questions are Star Wars, history, marketing, and libertarianism/classical liberalism. I got pretty lucky on the first day I was using Quora when I gave an answer that ended up getting 2.9 thousand views and 168 upvotes. The answer was about the existence of lightwhips in the Star Wars universe, which is a completely trivial and non-important question (but an interesting one).

Though I love answering questions, it takes me a long time to find a good question. I know there is the phrase “there is no such thing as a dumb question”, but I think people only say this so others don’t feel discouraged from asking any questions at all. Go on to Quora for five minutes and I dare you to tell me that “there is no such thing as a dumb question”.

With this, I wanted to provide some guidelines on what I think is a good question on Quora. These aren’t necessarily “rules” that have to be followed, but more guidelines for the kind of questions that I like to answer and that I like to browse the answers for:

Don’t Ask a “Google Question” 

google question
Example of a Google Question

A Google question is one that can be answered in less than 5 seconds with a Google search. These are my biggest pet peeves on the website because it is obvious to me that these are people that are posting questions for the sake of posting questions instead of being genuinely curious. Think of questions like this: “What year was the Declaration of Independence written?” This question has such a cut and dry answer that will show up as preview text on Google’s search results. Just use Google for these kinds of questions.

Have Good Scope for Your Question

Ask a question that can be reasonably answered in 1 – 10 paragraphs. This is not so much for the sake of the people answering, but for the sake of the people reading the answers. A lot of times I will see a question with incredibly wide scope on Quora that ends up being answered in 3 paragraphs. Unfortunately, the answer is full of unproven assumptions and misinformation because it could only truly be answered in an entire book (or even book series). Think of questions like this: “What happened during the American revolution?” This question is so wide. Try to make your questions more concise with a reasonable scope like “what significant events happened in Rhode Island during the American revolution?”

Ask Questions that Have an Answer

ice-cream-2717489_1280
Best Ice Cream Flavor?

This one may seem obvious to some, but just looking at Quora you would know its not. With this, think of questions that are purely subjective and have no resounding answer. I have seen so many people post questions like “What is the best ice cream flavor ever?” Obviously there is no correct answer to this question.

Don’t Ask “What If” Questions

My annoyance with “what if” questions is kind of a combination of the third and second guidelines I have posted above. Since I like to look at history questions, this is one that I see frequently. For this, think of a question like “What if Adolf Hitler was never born?” For one, there is a correct answer to this question, but there is no way a human being could ever possibly know the answer to it (no matter how much research he put into it). Second, the scope of this question is massive, and if a human being could hypothetically answer this question, it would take books and books to answer it.

Be Wary of Political Questions

Politics is actually one of the areas I like to explore in Quora, but I see a lot of questions that I find utterly useless. When writing a political question on Quora, ask something specific and not self-serving. I frequently see questions like “Why is libertarianism the best political philosophy?” or “Who has a better philosophy: classical liberals or modern liberals?” The first one is complete self-service. I have no doubts it was written by someone that wasn’t that curious in the answer because they were already convinced of something. The second one is interesting, but I don’t think you should expect to get a very interesting answer. You will only get partisans on both sides explaining what makes their philosophy best with bad examples and arguments against the opposing side. When writing a political question on Quora just ask yourself a couple things: Are you genuinely curious about the answer? Do you actually expect to get a good answer for it that won’t be partisan talking points?

Most of these guidelines revolve around things you shouldn’t do, but that is because the list of things you shouldn’t do is much shorter than the things you should do. For questions, possibilities are basically endless, but the goal of the question should be being useful!

Here are some examples of good questions:

  • “Are there lightwhips in Star Wars cannon? If so, what are the examples?”
  • “What are some ways Pinterest be used to grow my business’ brand?”
  • “Is Facebook dying? Is #deletefacebook having successful results?”
  • “What are examples of propaganda used in the American Revolution?”
  • “Is Catholicism compatible with Classical Liberalism?”
opinionated
Ask Opinion Questions!

I want to make it clear that the third guideline about “asking questions that have answers” is not to discourage you from asking more opinion based questions. It is alright to ask an opinion based question, and I actually think that is the best part about Quora (rather than just looking up the answer on a search engine). Though, there is a difference between asking the question “What is the best ice cream flavor?”, which is completely based on personal preferences and tastes, and asking the question “Is Facebook dying?”, which certainly has opinion involved but can be informed in-part with some solid information or data.

Hopefully this will help users make Quora a better and more informative place to be! Happy questioning.

Follow me on Quora for excellent questions and answers!

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