I think we need to be pretty straightforward here and educate people, and set the tone ourselves.
What makes Stack Overflow (my constant reference point) so great, in part, is that it's a fine balance between a Q&A mentality and a knowledge base mentality. It's not a knowledge base in that we shouldn't try to actively seed the site with questions. But it's not simply Yahoo Answers either, in that the case is closed as soon as the person asking the question is happy with it.
While I don't think actively seeding the site is the way to go at all, I do think we need to go to some length to let people know that the reason we're putting in all the effort is not only to help them, but because the answer can potentially help a lot of people, a lot later. I think it's important that we communicate this clearly. A simple comment "Hey, you're question's too short/not very clear" won't do. It's likely to be perceived as hostile, and quite off-putting to new visitors. They'll figure that "oh, come on, you understand what I mean," and you probably do. So they'll only think you're not interested in helping. This is where we need to show that we do want to help, but only on the premise that we can create a helpful answer for everybody. There are several aspects to this:
- Simply answering "Nevermind, I found the answer myself" is an absolute no-no, of course.
- Providing a link to an external site as a key part of understanding the question will make the question prone to become useless as soon as that site changes or disappears.
- Relying too much on external context clues can be a problem as soon as context changes. Everybody right now might understand what you're talking about, because of world-known current events, but will anyone a year from now understand the question?
When people do any of these mistakes, we shouldn't just ask them to expand the question, but we should point to exactly what the problem is, and explain why it is a problem, because there might be no problem at all from the mindset that all you want is an answer to your question.
I think right now, in the upstart of things, is the time to be very polite, and treat these matters delicately. We should encourage and help people to create better questions, with helpful comments and concrete suggestions as to what they might add.
It is not obvious that this should always be the case. The SO community is not always very polite. A mindset have evolved which is similar to that of, say, a torrent community. "Hey, we're all making an effort to help here, people." In file sharing, there's the concept of hit and run (it's got many other names), for those who download stuff from others, and then immediately shuts down their client, without offering others the opportunity to download from them. Such behavior is openly fought, and those who engage in it are considered the lowest of the low. I think you'll see this in any climate where people are putting in a voluntary effort. Those who leech off the system entirely are treated with hostility. I see this in SO as well. Everybody is working hard on good answers, and then suddenly somebody drops in with a one-line question that completely reveals that he's asking here because he couldn't be bothered to google it. In those cases, well, we can't be bothered to help. The effort of those answering will always be greater than that of those who are asking the questions (for any given question, obviously not always on a site-wide level), so I think it's entirely reasonable to expect that those asking the question put in as much effort as possible.
I'm not very fond of the hostility I sometimes see on SO, towards those who write such questions, but I think it's a natural reaction to something that's working very well. It reveals that those people actually feel abused when somebody is trying to use up all their effort without putting in any of their own. If the attitude on Skeptics gradually fades into this, I think it is a by-product of something else we're doing very right, but at this moment, I think we should definitely try to be as polite as we can.
The issue of what's OK to edit is a very delicate matter. Edits should of course always be done with the highest respect for the author. In SO, it is very commonly accepted that you edit anybody's question or answer to correct grammar or code formatting. I think we can get away with that, too, and also edit titles so that they better describe what the question is about. When somebody is referencing a link, I'd say it's OK to pull in the relevant quotes, while keeping the link. Other than that, I would suggest that the author edits the text, rather than edit it myself, I think.