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Some questions boil down to "how can/do I do X?" Here's an example.

Sometimes, people leave comments under such questions that ask "what have you tried?" Is it OK to leave comments like that? Should all questions contain snippets of non-working code?

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You're asking the wrong question. 'Is it okay to put minimal effort into asking and expect others to do the research and try for me and feed me the answer with on a silver platter?' – Grant Thomas Feb 21 '12 at 11:55
These days I also link to – Oded Apr 3 '12 at 12:38
Yeah, but some of the posters are newbies and really don't know where to even begin. – code4life Sep 28 '12 at 16:34
@code4life - And that's ok... but then they should list out searches they tried, thoughts they have, and what they're stumbling on. I'll leave a what have you tried if there is clearly no effort visible. If they say "I'm stuck, here's my research and thoughts and problems". Then I don't. Even that shows effort. – Mike Oct 2 '12 at 17:39
I hate the "What have you tried" comments. Mostly because it's a misnomer. I actually don't want to hear about your discarded attempts unless it's relevant enough for me to help you with the question – Sam I am Nov 2 '12 at 14:46
up vote 170 down vote accepted

It's perfectly OK to ask the OP to inform us of what he has attempted so far to solve his problem, in a polite, constructive way.

So many people were asking "What have you tried?" without any useful elaboration about what information would be helpful, that it was becoming rude. As of March 2013 that comment has been outright blocked.

See the message about the block for more constructive alternatives, and consider more specific comments addressing what's lacking in the question:

Please can you show the specific piece of code that's not working.

or even:

Please explain what you mean by "not working".

You should always be polite - remember the rule "be nice". We're trying to "make the Internet a better place" here. In this case it's better to be a little more verbose than you might want to be as it can help to explain just exactly what information you think is missing.

However, it should be pointed out that if you need to add any (or all) of these comments then that's the mark of a bad question. Leaving these comments is hopefully the first step on getting a good question that people can answer.

If there's no effort to improve the post then it's the mark of a question that can be closed.

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You can also link to which gives an excellent explanation – jrturton Feb 21 '12 at 11:27
What about if OPs can't show a code because they really don't know how to solve their problem ? – Zulkhaery Basrul Feb 21 '12 at 11:34
@ZulkhaeryBasrul - in that case they may be asking on the wrong site. If it's a design question then [Programmers](] or User Experience might be a better place to ask. – ChrisF Feb 21 '12 at 11:36
@jrturton I love that post, but did you really expect someone who doesn't bother reading how to ask a question to read all that page? – Damien Pirsy Feb 21 '12 at 13:07
@DamienPirsy hah! No, but the fact there is a whole website might hammer home the point that it's an important thing to us! – jrturton Feb 21 '12 at 13:11
IMHO, hurling witless slogans at people is just lazy, and a very poor substitute for communication. I have usually been flagging these comments, as I think that, at the very least, we should be able to outwit a bad NLP algorithm. Looks like I'm in the small minority on this question though. – McGarnagle May 10 '12 at 3:44
@dbaseman - I was implicitly assuming that the comments were polite and informative. I've updated the answer to make that explicit. – ChrisF May 10 '12 at 9:41
It's not ok anymore:… – Tim Schmelter Mar 23 '13 at 21:36
@TimSchmelter - I think the key here is to be polite. Adding a link to Google, "" (or whatever it's called) is not polite which is the real problem. – ChrisF Mar 23 '13 at 21:38
'What have you tried' isn't not polite. It wasn't impolite with every prior revision of this answer, so why now? The reason So many people were asking "What have you tried?" is because so many people are asking zero effort questions. This simple non-impolite phrase assists with increasing question quality and by extension, answer quality. By my understanding, that is how SO is trying to make the internet a better place, not by artificially bumping up an arbitrary politeness level. Following this, you should add a line in the good question FAQ: Remember to always say please. Yahoo! – mcalex Apr 6 '13 at 6:24
This seems like a topic not worth debating. You find "What have you tried" bad, but "Show your code" is fine? What if you don't care to see the code, and all you need is a quick summary? The two seem as if they could be interchangable. If people are asking confusing questions (most likely due to not taking the tour on how to ask/answer), why should anyone care how impolite "What have you tried" MIGHT be (are you sheltered? this is no where near impolite, ESPECIALLY for the internet)? – Vince Emigh Sep 9 '14 at 16:58

Well in my experience what have you tried? comments quite frequently seem to be a synonym of bad luck.

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I think you mean a synonym of "bad question" – JNK Feb 21 '12 at 13:28
@JNK yeah pretty much so. To me, whathaveyoutried is kind of the last resort when I can't squeeze anything to find an answer or at least to figure that question may be answerable by someone else – gnat Feb 21 '12 at 13:34
To me it's the first thing I ask if the question is of the Plz send teh codez type – JNK Feb 21 '12 at 13:35
@JNK well I just re-checked "bad luck" questions shown at screen shot. Two of three are Plz send teh codez indeed :) – gnat Feb 21 '12 at 13:52

I think I have found a diplomatic solution to this question/problem. I just answer the bad question to the best of my ability and include the link as a side note in hopes that they will better understand all the down votes on their question. -For example

Its often better to lead with a carrot, than beat with a stick.

This was my first answer on Meta, posted back in April of 2013.

I think I should revisit it now that I've spent a little more time on the network... I'm not sure if I've become a little less forgiving or if I just understand the SE culture a little better now, but I would like to recant my previous statement about a "diplomatic solution".

I still believe its often better to lead with a carrot than beat with a stick, but please for the love of all that's good and right about SE don't answer bad questions. My previous view held that bad users could be convinced to be better users with a little patience, which is probably the exception, not the rule.

Call me cynical, but I've come to the conclusion that my previous approach leads to more bad questions. When users get answers to bad question, they are given an incentive to ask still more bad questions. Worse than that, other users see that bad questions get answers and ask more bad questions of their own.

Don't get me wrong I'm still a fan of the article. It is invaluable advice for any one who is new to asking questions online. I wish there was some way we could squeeze it into the help center...

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+1 for the updated answer, specifically the "don't answer bad questions" sentence. I'd upvote that +100 if I could. – Ken White Dec 29 '13 at 5:52
-1; this is usually always feeding help vampires. I've seen a few people on meta ask how they could improve, and that they'd welcome constructive criticism of a question vs. being helped without critique. Otherwise, you're encouraging people to think "StackOverflow is the first place I look for help." – Qix Sep 20 '14 at 0:41

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