Our top tag is story-identification, with nearly 6000 questions, many of which are new users' first posts to the site. Many of these new users need some guidance on how to ask a story-ID question well (include as many details as possible), and established users often need to leave comments along the lines of:
When did you read this book/see this film? How old was it? What language was it in? Can you remember anything more about it? Any little detail might help us to identify it!
The purpose of this meta post is to give us a single page to link these users to, for guidance on how to write a good story-ID question and what to think of and include.
As one of the site's top answerers of story-identification questions, I'd like to offer the following suggestions to anyone thinking of posting a question in this tag:
No detail is too insignificant. You might think it's ever so obvious that your characters are white or teenagers or whatever, but you still need to tell us. If you don't tell us, we don't know it.
Try to offer unique details. That means you need to think about character names, details of any incidents that occurred in the plot, any dialogue that you can remember, any words invented by the author, etc. Anything that can help distinguish your story is key to finding it. Thus, don't refrain from revealing "spoiler" parts; somebody else might remember the same thing you did. If you want, you can partially hide them by preceding the spoiler with >!. For example >! but he dies at the end.
Be available to answer questions about it, and answer them in a timely fashion. Story Ident questions will often lead to comments asking for more details. Those users who enter into a dialogue about their ident are almost certain to get more interest than those who post and run away, never to be seen again.
What is it? It may seem obvious to you that your question is about a book/film/TV show, but harking back to "you need to tell us", if you don't say what it is, you've hurt your chances of having it identified. If we have to spend ten minutes puzzling that out, that's ten minutes less time we'll spend actually helping you.
When did you see it? It's absolutely no help to know that you saw it when you were younger. Be specific. Tell us when you actually saw it and whether you think it was new or old when you saw it.
Tell us what made it memorable. I've noticed that very generic ident questions can often become answerable when people share why they remember it so vividly. This can also lead to further details emerging about the way that the story was portrayed, the audience it was intended for or where you saw it.
Tell us what it isn't. If you've already spent years posting the same question around the internet, make sure you tell us. There's nothing more frustrating then thinking you've found a mention of the story only to find a post from 2007 on Yahoo Questions that's identical to the one that was just posted. If you've ruled anything out already, let us know so that we don't waste time following the same lines of enquiry.
What did it look like? Some questions have been answered through the askers describing the appearance of the cover of books or through rough sketches of the work they are describing, such as this one.
You've never finished asking. After posting, come back and review what you've put. Try to add at least one extra detail, no matter how measly. The more you edit, the more likely you are to remember something else. Don't forget that each quality edit will mean more attention for your question when it gets bumped back to the top of the front page.
Oh, and if someone posts the right answer, remember to be polite and accept the answer, even if that means having to spend a few minutes finding your login details!
Questions must have as much detail as possible, including, but not limited to:
Media (short story collection, magazine, novel, TV, film, animated, website) Was it part of a series?
Original year of publication/airing, or at least when you read/saw this work of fiction."Read when I was a child" is not as useful as "Read when I was a child (early 1980s)". Similarly, qualifications like 'a long time ago' are not very helpful. Many teenagers think five years is "a long time"; some of us find that laughable (no offense).
Plot (as much as you can remember), including details of technology (e.g., people had a matter transmission capability, but they pretended that it was FTL travel. Were there robots or other artificial intelligences?)
Tone (adventure, horror, serious / light-hearted / tongue-in-cheek)
Characters (names, descriptions)
If live action (TV or movie), do you remember any of the actors?
If animated, were any of the voices performed by celebrities?
The language you read or heard the story in
In what country?
The language the story was originally written in (if different),
and any information you might have about translations into other languages
Details about the cover, if applicable
Target audience/age group
Color or black & white, if applicable
Gameplay mechanics, if applicable
A sketch of a book cover, or a scene, or a character, could also help jog someone's memory
Ideas that you have already ruled out (for example, if you know the story was not written by Asimov, then tell us so that we can save time)
If the question is too vague (and so could match dozens or hundreds of stories), then it will probably be closed. If this happens to your question, please add more detail and flag it for re-opening. Add the details relevant to the question by editing your question, rather than by commenting.
I think the most important tip for asking about a story is composing a concise title and first paragraph.
The title issue has been discussed Consensus on Story Identification titles? and the quality of titles is better than it was a year ago, but I'm not sure how much of that is people reviewing questions vs people writing them well in the first place.