Around SE the team has been known to sponsor a variety of contests to encourage quality content on the different Q&A sites. For example Seasoned Advice has a topic of the week contest where one question asker chosen at random gets a cookbook as a prize. On Philosophy they do a philosopher of the week.

We could certainly use a question drive like this. Would you be interested in something topical? Perhaps one week we could designate , another /, another , another , etc. Or we could focus on a number of quality questions that have to be met by a user in a week, with quality defined by some set criteria. Or what are your suggestions?

Also what would be a good prize for a contest like this? A book on writing related to the topic of choice (if we do a topical question)? A promise of free marketing on Writers of your book when we become a site? Other?

Let's come up with a great proposal for generating quality questions and we'll send it off to the SE team to see if they'd back it.

  • 2
    Please also see this blog post from the main site blog, about how we've done these in the past and what they're meant to encourage. :)
    – Aarthi
    Jan 27, 2012 at 21:36

5 Answers 5


The advantage of a weekly topic, as opposed to just something like top-rated new question, is that if you choose the topics well you can get the "oh, that reminds me..." effect leading to more questions. Judaism.SE has a weekly topic challenge (not tag, though there can be correlation); I can't tell how many questions get asked "fresh" and how many because somebody made a mental leap while reading another question, but I know some of the latter happens. (It's happened to me, for sure.) Choosing themes/topics that facilitate this kind of thinking should lead to more questions overall.


To be entirely honest, I've often wracked my mind for more questions for Writers.SE. I usually come up empty. I have trouble imagining a question drive helping, unless the topics themselves are thought-provoking and encourage me to think of something new.

So "poetry" or "tech-writing" would get nothing from me, but even my own comfort zone tags like "science fiction" or "plot structure" or whatnot probably won't get much of a response from me. If I had questions on these - if I could think up questions on these, which I think would be a good match for Writers.SE - I would've come up with them ages ago. I kind of assume most of the other regulars here are in similar situations, because the regulars are quite devoted, but hardly ask any questions at all.

So, I would wonder if we can find more... creative topics. Something accessible to all, but not relying on them having questions they could get to if they just brainstormed for ten minutes.

A random example off the top of my head. If we could somehow use a specific popular book, movie, TV series, etc. as a springboard for questions, maybe we could get writing questions that'd pop up by considering writing within that setting. Say, if we were to ask writing questions relating to House, we might get a spate of:

  • "How do I make my readers like my misanthropic character?"
  • "I'm finding the formula I'm writing in too restrictive, what can I do?"
  • "How do I shift focus from the main character over to other characters without upsetting balance?"
  • "How can I pull off earnest romantic subplots when my overall theme is overwhelming cynicism and dysfunctionality?"

None of these are questions I'd ask on my own. Even if House inspired me to come up with such questions, the detail I'd need for a full question would come from House, not from my own work. On the other hand, if I tried to pull such questions from my own work, they'd need a ridiculous amount of detail and explanation, because you'd have to get across a ton of information to explain the issue you're trying to address and why you're having difficulty with it - nobody else knows the piece or anything about it.

I'm not saying "let's ask about writing TV shows," I'm saying that IMHO a promotional question drive would really need an inspiring topic in order to be of much benefit. So that's what I'd like to see discussed if we propose such a promotion.

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    I really like this idea - more focused and interesting than just tags. If we get the go-ahead from the team for a question contest like this perhaps we can start a separate brain-storming meta question.
    – justkt
    Jan 30, 2012 at 15:12
  • This is FABULOUS. I would upvote this three times if I could. Jan 30, 2012 at 16:00
  • Glad you like :D I think something on these lines would need some careful phrasing. Like the question that gave me this idea, I'm kind of assuming all questions would have an explicit/implicit intro saying "I'm not actually writing this, but I think this question about writing this type of thing would be valuable." Something to keep this from being really really confusing.
    – Standback
    Jan 30, 2012 at 20:50
  • @Standback - I'm not sure it needs to be assumed that the topics won't relate to something people are writing. After all - what if you write an awesome question and that gives you an amazing story idea?
    – justkt
    Jan 30, 2012 at 20:57
  • I just feel like I'm not sure the questions I suggested are on-topic. Does that make sense? Because they combine the writing element with review, critique, and pop-culture - to the extent that they don't really stand on their own without those.
    – Standback
    Jan 31, 2012 at 5:00
  • Oh, and I'm callous enough that it's occurred to me that questions with major references to popular pop-culture search terms can't be a bad thing for us...
    – Standback
    Jan 31, 2012 at 10:34
  • Would it be a bad thing if people who want to write TV scripts start coming here? or movie scripts? or if we discuss how GRRMartin keeps his behemoths straight? As long as there's some legitimate question being posed and answered, I'm fine with review, critique, and pop culture being part of the responses. Analysis can be a useful learning tool, and just because something is popular and current doesn't mean it's without artistic value. Jan 31, 2012 at 12:03
  • Well, basically, I'm seeing a potential muddying of the waters between us and, say, SciFi.SE or Lit.SE. I'm not sure that's a bad thing (I'm not a huge fan of those sites as SE concepts; I don't think their trivia-and-recommendations focus holds up well). I'm saying it needs some careful definition as to how we present it. Here's a trick for you: try writing up that last question (romantic relationships) as something appropriate to Writers.SE. I don't care if you reference House or not. But it needs to be (a) on-topic here, and (b) easy for an SE regular to answer well. Doable, but not easy.
    – Standback
    Jan 31, 2012 at 12:47

It's a good idea, although I think your suggestions have some flaws.

I'm leery of "topical," just because not everyone is going to be able to participate in every topic, unless we have a few topics going at once or they rotate regularly. There just aren't enough "poetry" questions to generate a lot of interest, and the question "What the hell is a real-estate novelist, anyway?" has been answered elsewhere.

Maybe a random drawing of the top-rated questions of the week?

Re prizes:

The promise of "free marketing once we become a site"... well, that requires (1) that WritersSE get out of beta (2) that I have a book to market. Not much incentive. Right up there with a boss who said to me, "No, we don't offer health insurance, but the day we do, I promise you'll be the first one to get it." (yes, that was said to me with a straight face)

Cash or cash equivalent (a book, could be a book about anything) is always good.

How about something as straightforward as a Question of the Week Badge? Make it bronze, and one you can win multiple times.

  • I don't think they'll make badges just for us, but a book is well within the realm of possibility. What would you suggest as guidelines for how to win it instead of topics?
    – justkt
    Jan 27, 2012 at 18:37
  • Fine, we don'need no steenken badges. :D I did provide a suggestion: random drawing of the highest-rated questions of the week. We could do a popular vote, but I thought that was against general SE etiquette. Jan 27, 2012 at 18:39
  • top rated questions - I like it!
    – justkt
    Jan 27, 2012 at 18:40
  • I don't see the problem with "topical"; not everybody will participate to the same level every week, but that's ok. Jan 27, 2012 at 19:05
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    @MonicaCellio - I can see it being an issue because, while we have many registered users, we definitely have a strong core of very active users and the rest are not nearly so active. It would be good to regularly involve our active users in asking and not just answering questions!
    – justkt
    Jan 27, 2012 at 20:46
  • What? Where? Asking questions? You can't do that to me, @justkt ;) - Lauren, I want to mention that gifts (cash equivalent) are much more effective than cash. Cash means you got paid, gifts mean you get involved and people are thankful. Like bringing flowers when your mother-in-law invites to dinner, not money. Jan 27, 2012 at 22:17
  • @JohnSmithers: yeah, but I can't buy groceries with flowers the way I can with an AmEx gift card. And if I bring cash, then I don't have to hear my MIL tell me for the next two years how the rose bush I brought is "having babies, hint hint." Jan 28, 2012 at 14:45
  • @justkt, are there topics that will engage almost all of the active users, while also drawing in inactive ones (which we need for the site to grow)? I think everyone has areas of focus and in any given week some people will be more engaged and some less; I suspect the only way around that is bland, general weekly topics, which is a different problem. Jan 30, 2012 at 15:47
  • @MonicaCellio - I actually think that a contest that has topics that actually lead to questions like the answer Standback posted might work best for engaging everyone.
    – justkt
    Jan 30, 2012 at 17:25
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    @justkt, yeah, I regret that I have but one up-vote to give to Standback. :-) Jan 30, 2012 at 23:09

Another point to consider is that Meta is even slower than the Main page. So a Meta-fueled question drive might be lacking in participants, unless we can get the word out. I'd suggest two things:

  1. We should see if we can get a mention in the StackExchange blog. Other sites' promotional drives have been referenced (I think I remember getting some kind of heads-up regarding Lit.SE's first question drive, outside of the site itself). I'm sure that's a huge boost to initial traffic, which we definitely need.
  2. We should check with the site regulars and veterans, and make sure they know about the drive. There are members who used to be active or who helped out with the beta a while back, but currently probably aren't following Writers.SE. I don't know if the mods have a good way to reach these people, but it could be immensely helpful if they could pitch in, and a one-time effort might be really good for that.
  • Also, when posting questions (especially early ones) as part of the drive, add a comment saying "motivated by (link to post about weekly topic). Feb 2, 2012 at 15:26
  • I can create a Writers-wide banner that announces the question of the week for the first one or two. First we have to get SE's approval for this, though. This is more the "gauge interest/get ideas" thread.
    – justkt
    Feb 2, 2012 at 18:08
  • Sure. I'm just saying when we go ahead with this, then we should take the time to recruit participants. No rush at the moment.
    – Standback
    Feb 2, 2012 at 20:27

So it appears that while we cannot get any funding for prize money (yet! maybe some day), the suggestion is to organize our challenge along the lines of what Judaism did. I'll put up a call for topic proposals shortly.

  • Awww... no spare change? Even a modest Amazon gift certificate would be nice. Ah well. Competing for a prize sounded like fun...
    – Standback
    Feb 2, 2012 at 20:27
  • @Standback - I think if the drive seems to be rustling up enough questions then there will be a prize...but even on the sites where there are prizes they are usually random drawings from eligible questions.
    – justkt
    Feb 2, 2012 at 20:55

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