The Question and Answer functionality in Community Server (introduced in Community Server 2008.5)  is very useful in support scenarios where users come to your community posting questions because it provides a means of tracking whether questions have been answered or not.

Below is a screenshot of a sample Question and Answer thread.

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Understanding Q&A

A Question and Answer thread contains four types of posts – the original question, normal responses, suggested answers and verified answers.

The original Question

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The original question appears at the top of every page in the thread. This helps users who visit a page within a thread from an external link (e.g. a search engine) to know what the original problem in the thread was. It also reminds viewers of the original question as threads get over a page in length.

Normal Responses

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Some responses to the question will have no special status. These may be posts trying to diagnose what a problem is before providing a solution, or posts which had been suggested as answers but did not solve the poster’s problem.

Suggested Answer

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A suggested answer is a response which a member thinks will solve the original poster’s problem. These answers can then be verified or rejected. Suggested Answers are highlighted in yellow so they stand out.

Verified Answer

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Verified Answers appear in two separate locations within a Thread.  As well as appearing where you’d expect them, Verified Answers appear on each and every page (just under the Original Question). This helps users who follow an external link to your community (e.g. from a search engine) quickly see what the solution to the problem is without having to trawl through lots of posts to work out the solution.  Verified answers are highlighted in Green to make them stand out from the other responses in a thread.

Verified Answers can be rejected as answers if the answer was verified by accident, or the solution only worked temporarily. This can be done by the poster of the original question, or by users with the Mark as Answer permission.

A thread can have more than one verified answers. This is useful in scenarios where two very different solutions have been posted to a problem which both work. Both authors will receive points as a reward for their suggestion, and any other person who comes across the thread can see both solutions and decide on which is most appropriate for their needs.

Using Q&A

Starting a Q&A thread

A question and answer thread is started in exactly the same way as a normal thread.  Just go to the forum you want to post in and press the “Create New Post” button.  You will only see a difference in the experience between creating a new discussion and a new question if the the forum you’re posting to allows both Discussion and Question threads.  In this case you’ll be asked to specify if your post is a Discussion or a Question.

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If only Question threads are enabled, a user’s question will be automatically marked as a question when they post.

Suggesting an Answer

There are two ways an answer can be suggested.

  1. Respond to a question by pressing the image  next to the question at the top of the page.
  2. Clicking the image button on an existing response to a question (This can be done by anyone apart from the user who posted the question).

Verifying an Answer

To verify a suggested answer, click the Verify Answer button.  This can be done by both the original poster, and users with the “Mark as Answer” permission.  Normally this is used to verify a suggested answer, but it can also be used if a response is posted which solves the problem but was not marked as a suggested answer.

When an answer is verified, the author of the response will receive points as a reward for helping the original poster.

Rejecting an Answer

To reject a verified or suggested answer, press the Mark as Not Answer button  to reject the response and demote it to a normal response. Any user who has the “Mark as Answer”  permission, and the original poster will also be able to Reject a suggested answer.

When an answer is rejected, the author of the response will lose any points they received for suggesting a validated answer..

Monitoring Questions

When viewing threads in a forum, you can see at a glance which posts have been answered, and which have not.  Posts which have been answered have a green tick (Verified Answer) next to the thread name, posts with suggested answers have a yellow tick (Suggested Answer) whilst questions which haven’t been answered have a red question mark (Unanswered).  Discussion threads have no icon next to them.

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The Unanswered posts list has also been updated to include questions without answers, or with suggested answers, in addition to non question and answer posts which have not received any replies.

Reporting with Harvest

Whilst this goes slightly beyond the scope of this article, I thought it was worth pointing out that Harvest Reporting Server provides a number of reports around Question and Answers.

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(If you click on either of the screenshots above you’ll be taken to the relevant pages in the Harvest demo to have a look at the Questions and Answer reports Harvest provides..)

Managing Q&A

The question and answer functionality is not appropriate for all scenarios so it’s possible to turn this functionality on or off both forum wide and on a per forum basis.

Globally Enable / Disable Q&A

To globally enable or disable the question and answer functionality , go to Control Panel, open Forum Administration and click on Global Forum Settings (either link from the Forum Administration homepage, or under the Configuration section). Under the General tab find the “Enable Thread Status Tracking” and change this to Yes or No as required.

Enabling / Disabling Q&A per forum

(N.B. the following options may not appear if Thread Status Tracking is globally disabled. To check if this is enabled, follow the instructions in the “Globally Enabled / Disable Q&A” section above.)

To enable question and answer on a per forum basis, open up Forum Administration section of Control Panel then go to the Forums page under Forums and Groups. Find the Forum you want to change and press Edit. You can now chose whether question and answer is enabled under the “Allowed Thread Types” option.

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If you want to force all threads to be Questions, you can untick the “Discussion” option.

And that was a whistle wind tour of the Community Server Question and Answer functionality.  If you have any questions about some of the features you can add a comment below, or create a post at http://dev.communityserver.com/forums/ .