We commonly have new users mistakenly posting questions as answers. (I haven't counted, but as a mod, I think this is the most common not-an-answer that I delete.) This isn't that surprising, given the unregistered user UI. What can we do about this?
Before you answer, have a real look at how the site appears to everyone else. Today I am playing the part of the Unregistered User. Bear with me - I know this is a bit long.
I enter via a search engine, managing to find a related question. This is the first thing I see:
At this point, I'm hoping the answer to my query is here, so I'm unlikely to pay much attention to the boilerplate at the top of the site. I skim down the page, eventually scrolling through several answers. It becomes clear that this is some kind of forum-like site - a bunch of people posted replies.
I get to the bottom, not having found an answer. But this isn't my first time on the internet. I know I can post things too, and aha, there's a box at the bottom of the page. Let's go!
Okay, great. There's some stuff at the top, sure, but I know how to post stuff. And it's a little weird that this forum says "answer" instead of "reply", but those mean pretty much the same thing. Maybe I notice that it says not to ask for help, but I don't know, I want to reply on this thread so I may as well try, what's the worst that can happen? I write out an answer, and scroll down to actually post it.
Whoa. I just want to ask a little question, not get yet another account, I'll post as a guest. I'm just going to come back later and see the answers. Done!
Okay, so now everyone's thinking "why didn't you just use the Ask Question link"? There was even another copy at the bottom! Well, look where those links are. I even highlighted them to make them really easy to find:
Let's ask Unregistered User me what he thinks.
Wow, those are really far from everywhere I looked. I never even saw the first one - those are just the site navigation links, I skipped those when I was going to read all the posts. It's at the far right, too, the last place I'll read.
The second one is all the way at the bottom. I didn't even scroll far enough to see it at first, and when I did, it's at the end of a not too promising sentence. Try other questions about food safety? Meh.
As a footnote, when Moderator Jefromi comes along and explains and deletes, Unregistered User Jefromi does get notifications, if he happens to see that red circle pop up at the top (as long as his cookies weren't cleared). But at that point, the people who run the site are saying "you're doing this wrong, I deleted your post" so he's not too happy, if he even sees them.
So what can we do about this? Are there any simple changes we could make to make it more obvious how to ask a question? Keep in mind that we need to also not make it any harder to post answers, something we're trying to encourage with the existing UI. Also remember that people don't read too carefully (we know how to post on forums!) so modifying the "your answer" popup above the answer box is not the most promising approach.