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Do we need templates for new posts?

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We have some posting tips on the "ask question" (or "create post" etc) pages, and we plan to add better contextual help in the future. Another way to guide people would be with templates, a "proto-question" (or proto-blog-post or proto-challenge etc) that you get in the editor. A template could be a mix of content (like headings) and instructive HTML comments.

I got this idea when I saw this request for better recipe formatting on Cooking. Most recipes follow a particular format -- introduction, ingredients, equipment, instructions -- but people have to create that structure by hand, each time. Over on SE, on some sites people asked for such templates to help people ask decent questions (particularly on SO, as I understood it). On GitHub, a feature request is similarly populated with some instructive comments.

Should we have (optional) templates for posts? I'm imagining that a template could be defined per category and per post type -- so articles in the Recipes category get that special recipe template, but it wouldn't affect questions or other categories. On Judaism, the Challenges category supports both articles (to announce challenges) and questions (to collect suggestions), so articles in that category could have a template without affecting questions in that category.

This approach would not help with finer distinctions, though. One could imagine feature requests on Meta having a template and bug reports having a different template, but that would mean either having several buttons ("create feature request", "report bug", "request support", "discuss something") or adjusting the editor contents after tags are chosen, which seems hard to do robustly. Alternatively, we could let the author select a template (or not) if templates are defined for that site (or category?), but this might mean newer users would be less likely to use them, defeating one of the purposes.

Should we do something like this? If so, how should we structure it?

Why should this post be closed?

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2 answers

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I would like templates for the photography contests on Outdoors and Photography, the questions and the answers follow the same format and it would save some time when creating them.

A template for the top level contests already exits, however it lives on Notepad++ tab on my computer and it would be helpful if more people than me had access to the template.

Sometimes people submit answers to the contests without all the requisite information and others get annoyed, hopefully templates would cut down on that.

The other place I can see them being helpful would be the gear recommendation categories.

However, I don't currently see a use for them on the main sites, unless it would be possible to link a template to a tag like identification which has a more specific format.

Also, if someone doesn't want to use a template, they can always CTRL-A + Backpsace and remove it entirely.

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I don't know what problem you are trying to solve with these templates. I am familiar with the contests on Outdoors and Photography, things seem to be going fine. Let's keep the nannyware off the site unless there is a really solid demonstrated need. Olin Lathrop 20 days ago

@OlinLathrop I don't know how a structured way to enter data is nannyware? The thing is that (at least) for recipes on Cooking it would be nice to have recipes structured so that you can quickly review them and see what's important and what's not. I can't talk about Photography, however, I do see advantages as it's ensured that entries follow the formatting rules laid out without needing someone supervising it. Can you please elaborate on how templates "nanny" you? Thanks in advance. Zerotime 20 days ago

@Zero: Nannyware is when the system nags you to do something, but it's really optional. It's a bunch of other people deciding what your choice should be, or second-guessing that choice. Perhaps cooking recipes need to follow a format so strictly that it's worth nagging others to follow it. I don't know. I'm not on Cooking. This would not be appropriate for any of the places I am, which include Photography and Outdoors. It's not a problem, so drastic solutions are unnecessary. Olin Lathrop 19 days ago

"Also, if someone doesn't want to use a template, they can always CTRL-A + Backpsace and remove it entirely." Wouldn't it be better to have it be the opposite case? Start blank, then let the user pick a tempate if they want to. Especially if there's gonna be more than one template on the site, it'd be better to choose from a list than for there to be a default. Moshi 16 days ago

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Please no, except perhaps for unusual form-like posts.

I have never experience seeded text to be useful. It's actually a negative because it distracts and I have to delete it. Seeded text is never what I want to say. It also feels like an intrusion on my author's rights, and nannyish in general.

If a post has to conform to some very specific formatting, then it might make sense. That would be very rare, however. Perhaps recipes on Cooking fall into that category. I am not familiar with them. Even then, you have to be careful that it doesn't stifle creativity in those cases where an unusual approach benefits the post. I don't think this feature would be appropriate for any of the places I have been here (which is pretty much everywhere except Cooking and Judaism).

By all means, provide lots of documentation. In the end, though, it's up to each author what to write. Then it's up to the community to judge that writing.

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I did say "optional". I'm asking whether it should be available, meaning whether it's useful in some places. Where it's not useful, don't use it. Monica Cellio 20 days ago

@Monica: The question then becomes where it is useful. My point is that it is so rarely useful that I'm worried about people thinking it's a cool feature and turning it on in places it would annoy me. Olin Lathrop 20 days ago

"Even then, you have to be careful that it doesn't stifle creativity in those cases where an unusual approach benefits the post." is definitely a thing that would need to be thought about - I just posted a recipe with an intermediate 'chill-in-fridge' step that can last from 30 minutes to overnight - is it possible to implement that in a way that works in the form, while being useful and searchable etc.? Mithrandir24601 20 days ago

Templates should always be treated as starting points -- suggested text, but not a format enforced by the UI. That way if you need to adjust the presentation for a recipe, you can. For example, sometimes it makes sense to treat a thing and its sauce as two mini-recipes within a recipe. (@Mithrandir24601, I would think that "chill overnight" is just one of the steps.) Monica Cellio 20 days ago

@Monica: I remember some things on SE having seeded text (voting to close for "other" reason was one of them, I think), and it was never ever useful. It was always something I had to delete to say what I wanted to say. If anything, it had the reverse effect from what was intended. Having to delete the text first fostered a sortof screw these assholes attitude, which resulted in less detail and handholding of the user. Olin Lathrop 19 days ago

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