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I cringe every time I see a question in the format of "how do I do x?" that can be easily be solved by making a search of a language's official documentation (using keywords that the poster themselves used, no less), or when I see a question like "what's wrong with this code?" without any indication of what (if anything) the asker has tried while attempting to resolve the issue.

I understand the attraction and value of having access to a Q&A site where thousands of professional programmers are willing to answer your questions for free, but surely there is a way to (without devaluing the community) encourage those who are using the site as a crutch instead of a tool to do some basic groundwork beforehand? A lot of the attempts that I see now seem to be either ignored or scorned, and even if they aren't, there is always people willing to hand out an easy answer (guilty as charged on a couple of occasions, myself), which doesn't help the asker to grow or learn at all.

I think the value of Stack Overflow as a community could be greatly increased if it became not only a service to answer questions, but a tool to encourage users to become better developers. Thoughts?

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While we're at it, let's do away with Google. We don't need no stinkin' Google. Why when I was your age we didn't even have Google. We had to figger things out on our own. –  Robert Harvey Aug 4 '11 at 19:28
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Vote up the General Reference Close Reason proposal. Remind Jeff that we need this. Call your congressman. No new taxes. –  Robert Harvey Aug 4 '11 at 19:42

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I already see a lot of questions get closed when it's clear (to at least five people) that the poster put in absolutely zero effort before running to SO to post a question, but it's hard to establish a guide that answers the question "how easy is too easy?" We used to say anything goes, but obviously attitudes have changed. To me it seems much easier to allow any programming question to be asked, then just close the really easy ones as duplicates of questions that are already here. Then you don't have to draw the very subjective line between what's acceptable and what's not.

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Isn't there an unlimited supply of "general reference" questions that can be asked that are not duplicates? –  Robert Harvey Aug 4 '11 at 21:00
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@Robert: I think "general reference" only covers part of what the OP is asking about here. Jeff's flow chart and Pekka's suggestion that closing a question as general reference should require a link to that reference solve a big part of the problem, but there are still a lot of very easy questions that require some debugging or other insights that are not as easy to find on Wikipedia or MSDN. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 4 '11 at 21:51

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