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I am reading through Python Documentation or some stand-alone explanation on a website and I get most of what it is saying, except one or two pieces. If I had a competent programmer sitting next me, I could just ask, "hey, what does that part mean." To everyone who knows this language, this is going to be an easy question, possibly invoking a response from SO like: "Oh you will get that later. Just keep reading instead of asking questions like that on SO." (akin to "just Google it")

I will get the answer at some point, but a) really want to be a part of the Community, and b) learn best by doing, so finding that missing bit can free me to go try something in an editor and learn right away (and have more fun).

So the question is: Since I am learning solo, should I think of the Community as a mentor sitting next to me who is willing to answer all my beginner questions, or like the guy sitting next to me who doesn't like to be interrupted by answers that could be found elsewhere (even if it takes a lot more time and energy to find the answer on my own).

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If you honestly expect that anyone who knows the language will be able to answer it off the top of their head, why not just use chat? – user181547 Mar 23 '12 at 20:41
I didn't think of that because I am new here. I'll look into that. Thanks. – Brian Dant Mar 23 '12 at 21:05
Once you find the answer, go ahead and post the question and your answer to it. Answering your own questions is encouraged: you may help other people who have a similar question. – Flimm Jan 4 '13 at 23:01
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Search Google and Stack Overflow for at least 5 minutes. Use variations of your search term. Use the language/tool's built-in help. If you cannot find the answer, then post a question.

We don't mind honest "easy' or "beginner" questions as long as (1) they are not in, say, the top 10 Google results and (2) it looks like you've at least attempted to find or make a solution.

Your question might get closed as a duplicate, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't add value as a search target. (Beginners do not always use the God-given terminology (^_^) .)

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I agree. The majority of well written but duplicate questions are the direct result of someone not quite knowing what they needed to search for in the beginning. That's why chat is so helpful, it's the place where you can ask 'I want to do xyz, what should I search for to find information?' – Tim Post Mar 24 '12 at 10:52

I think, as a whole, we're open to these types of questions, so long as you meet a couple of criteria:

  1. Try and search for the question before you ask/post your question (there's a good chance that it, or a very similar question, has already been posted, and
  2. Try and demonstrate some attempt to find out the answer yourself (whether that's using the book, or site, for a little longer to see if it's explained there, or by doing some Googling off your own back.

I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but, for myself, I'm okay with answering or seeing these 'easy' questions, because at worst I might earn some reputation1, and at best I might learn something new that I never thought to ask myself2.

The thing that brings people to SO is primarily a desire to help other people to learn, and since we're all here voluntarily your asking us a question can't really be described as 'interrupting us.'

  1. Though I'm not a big fan of answering 'easy' questions purely for reputation increases.
  2. Recently: $(document).ready() - How it is being executed? and Why does [5,6,8,7][1,2] = 8 in Javascript
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Good point on interrupting. I was thinking about interrupting other, "better" questions. – Brian Dant Mar 23 '12 at 20:42
I suppose that does make a little more sense that way... =) but even so, as long as you've honestly tried to answer your question first, and communicate those attempts in your question, I think we, as a community, are likely to be okay with that. It's true, I suppose, that too many 'simple' or 'beginner' questions might devalue the site over time, but those over-simplistic questions tend to get closed pretty quickly. And usually because they've shown no research effort. – David Thomas Mar 23 '12 at 20:47

Do spend a bit of time trying to find an answer yourself. If you can't spend at least 5 minutes trying to find an answer, then no one will want to spend the time to help you.

Then start formulating a question. You may find that sometimes the act of starting to ask the question makes you realize the answer—or another aspect of the problem to look at—as described in a recent blog post by Jeff Atwood. In these cases, of course, don't post the question. If trying to research and figure out a solution for yourself fails, then go ahead and submit your question.

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Huh. Interesting blog article, thanks for the link. I guess I've decreased the frequency with which I read Jeff's blog now that I follow the Stack Exchange blog. I wonder why this wasn't posted there in the first place? – Cody Gray Mar 24 '12 at 10:39
He left the company as of March 1st to spend more time with his family, that blog was posted a little after that. – lgaud Mar 24 '12 at 12:05



Which questions and when to ask is heavy community-dependent. In some, there question-answer is kid's game with gifts and bonuses, any noise may be good. In professional communities, where some entry level of intelligence, education and understanding of reality is expected, "lazy" questions are black sign

Long version

Cover of old good phrase: "Do not ask, do you want to be part of community, whether ask do community wants you to be part of it"

In old good times of Net Eric Raymond fix into words existing de-facto long time before it standard of good communications in his How To Ask Questions The Smart Way FAQ. On early 2000's old hacker's culture of Net already begun to experience a strong impact of the new formation of netizens, but the old-time guideliners have had the power to resist - read this FAQ.

You wrote

finding that missing bit can free me to go try something in an editor and learn right away (and have more fun)

but stop! Why I must be interested in freeing your time and having you fun?! You want: I spend my time, attention, work to meet your personal interests. Where my personal interests here, what I'll get back? Answer on easy answerable question (known for me for decades) doesn't add anything to my experience, good mood and even a wallet. Answer on easy answerable question doesn't add anything to you too in long perspective - you got answer, not knowledge or experience of methodology of finding answers in some professional area. You don't know even is this answer immutable or not and which areas of applicability it have.

Die-hard old Tuxmans had only three (ordinary) answers to questions from newbies: "RTFM /source/", "STFW" and "man /what-to-man/" and, trust me, it help in long-time run - you'll know a lot of side details during run ("lost in the links"), you quickly learned to choose the correct keywords in web-search, you trained to quickly read large amounts of information and got good memory. And you got good reputation, because you doesn't seems as lazy, silly, rude and illiterate man.

Spend own time on own games and only when and if you tried all possible ways and still balk forehead against the wall, ask question, showing "What is the task, what you done and why you done, what you got and what you still not reach". Give as much detailed information, as possible, give (preferable) facts, not your impressions - and you'll probably will have help from the side of skilled professionals, not from the first comer, who thinks he knows the decision and wants to celebrate yet another cool response and rating-increase.

Final answer

No, don't ask easy questions, work hard, and do not increase a number of "brain parasites"


Old Netizen and Old-School Admin

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I don't think that's really how this site works... That may be true of "old hacker's culture" communities, but it's not the point of the Stack Exchange network. Even questions at a beginner level are perfectly acceptable, so long as they fit our other guidelines. If answering them is beneath you, feel free to avoid them. Other users will gladly pick up the slack. – Cody Gray Mar 24 '12 at 10:37

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