7 things you can do to improve your Q&A posts, get valuable feedback, and contribute to the ResearchGate community

If you are in research, you have probably come across the notion that a well-defined problem is half the solution. Not only because it enables you as a researcher to clear up thinking pathways and help determine a possible solution to your problem, but also because it helps facilitate collaborative thinking with others.

At ResearchGate, we encourage this collaborative thinking via the Q&A feed.

The Q&A feed is one of the oldest and most active features of our platform. In 2020 alone, our members created more than 160,000 new Q&A posts, covering topics from experiment troubleshooting, result interpretation, and publishing issues, to learning and career advice and help with navigating everyday life as a scientist.

At ResearchGate, we have learned a lot along the way about what is helpful for our members, and we want to share some of those insights with you here. We hope we can help you to create Q&A posts that are acknowledged by the community with valuable answers which not only help solve your questions but others’ questions too.

1. Look for shortcuts and timesavers

Given the vast numbers of researchers that are connected at ResearchGate, we often see highly similar issues being raised on the Q&A feed. Widely used biochemical methods like PCR or Western blots for example have been extensively discussed on ResearchGate. Maybe the answer you are looking for is already there! You can search for existing discussions here.

(By the way, if you have any questions on how to use ResearchGate, set up your profile, or interact with the community, you can check out our Help Center, Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.)

2. Be on topic to facilitate a focussed discussion

Often when sorting out blockers on your work or scientific questions that come up throughout the research process, thoughts and questions can go in all different directions. The more precise you can be, the easier it is for others to provide relevant answers. We therefore encourage you to use a “one question–one topic” rule to formulate questions and discussions. This way, the thread is more likely to be focussed on solving one particular issue, and stays easy to follow and doesn’t stray into less relevant side issues.

3. Structure your question effectively to enhance readability

In many ways, providing readability on scientific questions can be hard due to the complexity of scientific topics. However, this can be greatly enhanced by following a few simple structural rules:

  • The title should be specific to the problem

  • Supporting information (context and details) are necessary and belong in the body of the question

  • Using paragraphs improves the readability of a post

(If your question doesn’t need any supporting information to be answered, it may be the case that the problem can be solved by a simple content search on ResearchGate.)

4. Overcome language barriers and reach a wider audience

Language is still a barrier in the global science community. On the ResearchGate platform, we found that the best way to reach a high volume and diversity of people is to use English. We also encourage using spell checking and grammar tools before posting a question to make it easier to read.

5. Provide context so others can understand the ‘why’ and the ‘what’

We see from the vast number of Q&A posts on the platform that giving context to a question helps the community understand it better and thereby drives the creation of valuable feedback. Without context, other users are usually not able to decode why a problem exists in the first place, or what the specific problem is. Some types of context that help people understand are:

  • The circumstances in which a problem occurs, and a description of your current state of solving the issue.

  • The nature of the post: is this a technical question (troubleshooting, help with data generation, interpretation ...), a scientific discussion, or a question that concerns everyday life as a scientist (journal and publication issues, career advice, mentorship etc.)?

  • The problem outline: the kind of experiment, the intended result, and where you are stuck.

6. Provide details to help the community identify how they can help

When describing the details of a problem, your first instinct might be to follow the idea that “I don’t know what I don’t know” and just outline the problem as described above. However, we do see that the better the details of a problem can be defined, the easier it is for the audience to identify how they can support you in solving the issue, including “outside the box” approaches.

Details can mean for example the specifics of the protocol you have followed in an experimental setup. Ideally you add where it failed specifically, pictures of the result, relevant code snippets, or machine settings as supporting documentation. You could also link to the protocol, if it’s available.

7. Stay respectful and acknowledge diversity

The member community of ResearchGate is global. It is multicultural, multi-gendered, and multilingual, filled with people coming from diverse backgrounds. Q&A exists to help this diverse community of scientists and researchers, all of whom are working hard on their respective topics. It also makes Q&A a great place to see the world from a whole range of perspectives.

With that in mind, on the Q&A feed we see that the most valuable answer threads evolve out of questions that are posted with the honest intention of seeking help from the entire scientific community and which honor diversity of the community.

With every online forum like this, there is the potential for misunderstandings, especially given language and other potential barriers, so we recommend always giving others the benefit of the doubt in their intentions, and that you remain respectful in all interactions. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with our Community Guidelines and Q&A Guidelines.

ResearchGate is a home for researchers to meet and exchange ideas about their work. We are not a hobby site, a personal blog site, a place to air grievances, nor a dating site. That means that our Q&A forum is reserved for research-related questions only. Q&A should help researchers be more productive, not less — so avoid asking questions unrelated to your work, or getting caught up in off-topic debates. And remember, you can always disengage and get back to your research!