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Recently on SO, I've been noticing a lot of link-only comments on (admittedly bad) questions.

The typical comment looks like this:

What have you tried?

Now, my first instinct is to flag the comment as "not constructive" or "too chatty", but the fact is that the blog post linked to is actually good advice.

On the whole though, the way it is being wielded like a blunt instrument comes across as—at best—lazy arrogance in my opinion and is not adding anything to the network.

Can we ban "What have you tried?" links like we did with LMGTFY?

An example:

What have you tried? comment, posted by <anonymous> 22 minutes ago, with 1 vote

To be clear, I'm not proposing that we stop people asking for clarification or expecting askers to explain themselves properly. I just don't think comments like these are particularly constructive.

share|improve this question
Sometimes a blunt instrument is appropriate, though. Specific examples where it's inappropriate can always be flagged - are you saying there's a widespread pattern of inappropriate use (as there was for lmgtfy?) – AakashM May 2 '12 at 8:35
Humor fail. He says he has already tried to flag these comments as "not constructive" or "too chatty". (Well, he says he's "considered" it, but in the context of this type of question, that obviously still counts.) – Cody Gray May 2 '12 at 8:50
The alternative for most bad quesionts is voting to close or downvoting without a comment, both of which seem less popular than a link to a resource on how to ask good questions. – Flexo May 2 '12 at 8:51
Although I'm not convinced I agree with the feature request, I almost posted a discussion question about these links just the other day (because I see them more and more often, and perceive them as rude, so I was curious how the community felt about it). So +1 from me. – jadarnel27 May 2 '12 at 12:37
Oh, and FYI my flags on these comments have been declined the couple times I actually did flag. – jadarnel27 May 2 '12 at 12:39
possible duplicate of Is it OK to leave "What have you tried?" comments? – Michael Petrotta May 2 '12 at 14:48
From the author of the article (Matt Gemmell) on Twitter: "My stackoverflow referrers are about 50% for my code, and 50% to my "What have you tried?" article ( )." – Brad Larson May 2 '12 at 15:19
@MichaelPetrotta This is specifically talking about the website link comments, I believe. – jadarnel27 May 2 '12 at 15:42
I don't see much of a difference, @jadarnel27, but hey. – Michael Petrotta May 2 '12 at 16:12
@awoodland why is one alternative "downvoting without a comment" and not "downvoting with a comment"? – Aaron Bertrand Jun 6 '12 at 13:05
@AaronBertrand - My point was that people regularly complain about down votes with no comment left to explain. This link fills that gap, suggests constructive ways to improve the question and/or future questions and doesn't require typing an essay by hand for every single bad question. It's far better than lots of anonymous downvotes or silent closure. I wouldn't post the link personally, but it's not unconstructive and I'd be inclined to assume good faith most of the time in which case it's fairly constructive. – Flexo Jun 6 '12 at 13:37
The short of which is I suspect a lot of people posting the link would simply not bother writing a comment at all if the link were banned. – Flexo Jun 6 '12 at 13:45
@TheEstablishment, no He not says he has already tried to flag, he said having thinked to but not having tried anything. So James Didzun' joke stay acceptable I think ;-) – F. Hauri Jan 2 '13 at 13:19
I like how this is negative 12 and yet what have you tried got banned. haha oops. only if you forget the link =) – FlavorScape Jul 9 '13 at 22:52
This is currently the lowest score status-completed:… – mhlester May 6 '14 at 16:46
up vote 79 down vote accepted

Of all the unconstructive comments I've seen posted on Stack Overflow, I actually find these the least objectionable. Why?

  1. They actually ask a useful question, and one that the asker should speak to in his question. If the link were not included, the comment would still be reasonable. In fact, it seems that the community has already agreed on this being an OK question to ask.

  2. As you mention, "the blog post linked to is actually good advice". So if people do click on it, they stand to learn something useful. And if someone doesn't understand the point of the comment, then all they have to do is click on the link for more information. It's even better than just asking the question alone.

I agree that these types of comments are wielded like a particularly "blunt instrument", and that they come across as a little bit harsh. But honestly, the questions I usually see them get posted to deserve a bit of harshness.

As far as the comparison to LMGTFY, I think it's a bit of a stretch. There's absolutely nothing constructive about LMGTFY: the entire website was designed to chastise and insult. It's inherently disparaging, regardless of the usefulness of the search results it (eventually) produces. In other words, the process subverts the ultimate goal. That's not the case with these comments; neither the presentation nor the result is intended primarily or exclusively to insult.

At some point, the asker is going to wonder why the question got closed. These comments can serve as their explanation, in lieu of an extended Meta discussion.

TL;DR: I think these are OK. They're nothing like LMGTFY because they actually provide something useful. If you see one that is particularly useless or unconstructive, just flag it as usual.

share|improve this answer
Personally, I do think they are a bit too harsh. Something like "Please include what you have tried so far when asking technical question. See this blog post for more information: [What have you tried?]" would be more constructive, although I suppose that's more effort than the OP's that receive these comments really warrant. Very good summary of the good points about these links, +1. – jadarnel27 May 2 '12 at 12:35
While I agree with the spirit of your answer, I think @jadarnel27 has hit the nail on the head - it's largely the execution that I think can be improved. Personally, I typically downvote and move on unless the question looks like it can be salvaged. In the interests of encouraging better questions (since a link only comment could be discouraging) and answers, isn't it better to help make the community a little more welcoming? – RivieraKid May 2 '12 at 12:58
You're right that a comparison to lmgtfy is a bit of a stretch - to be honest, I linked that question more to show that it wouldn't be too great a burden since there's already a system in place, rather than to suggest they are the same kind of problem (real or perceived). – RivieraKid May 2 '12 at 12:59
I never remove WHYT comments. I always delete LMGTFY links and contact the user to tell them to not do that. – Won't May 2 '12 at 15:56
@Riv Okay, so the execution/form of the comments can be improved. But we're agreed that the link itself isn't the problem, so what good is it going to do to ban it? You can't solve a social problem with a technical solution. If you really think the comment should be phrased as jadarnel has suggested, we need to write a regex to convert "What have you tried?" into that instead. That seems silly to me. – Cody Gray May 3 '12 at 1:23
The best writing for a technical site is suscinct writing. Why would you write out "Please include what you have tried so far when asking technical question. See this blog post for more information: [What have you tried?]" when the last four words are the only important ones? – meagar May 3 '12 at 15:49
@meagar The only reason I go for the longer form is that it's more polite and helpful (in my opinion at least). I know that's not a huge priority, but it's something that hardly takes any additional time, and could make a positive difference in the OP's attitude regarding the comment and how they respond (probably not; but, as I said, not much additional time investment for the possibility). – jadarnel27 May 4 '12 at 12:25
@jadarnel27 But Stack Overflow isn't about polite. Not being rude is certainly important, but we specifically edit things like "Thanks in advance" and "Eagerly awaiting your responses" and "Dear Stack Overflow friends" from questions. This is not a forum or social network and you are not writing correspondence. Your Stack Overflow writing is technical writing, it should be clear, concise and accurate. – meagar May 4 '12 at 13:47
@meagar I certainly agree that junk like that should be moved out of questions and answers (for exactly the reasons you stated - not a forum / social site, importance of conciseness and clarity in technical writing, etc). I don't think the technical writing guidelines really need to extend to comments, but I'm perfectly alright with our opinions differing on that point. I guess it's just a matter or taste, I'm convinced now that the 4 word link is not really rude. Thanks for your feedback =) – jadarnel27 May 4 '12 at 14:48
"There's absolutely nothing constructive about LMGTFY" I absolutely disagree; it points them to a source that will solve their problem. – Thomas Eding Dec 20 '12 at 2:08
Well unfortunately What Have You Tried is also banned. Sad day. – rohan-patel Mar 23 '13 at 10:53
So the link is banned. Big deal. Now you have to actually use words and explain yourself in your comment. Why should you get to be lazy when you demand otherwise from the asker? – Cody Gray Mar 29 '13 at 22:09
"Excuse me dear Sir, I am having some difficulties in my process to understand what you have attempted to resolve the problem you seem to be experiencing. Please, can you gracefully add some more detail about the action you have already taken so that I can narrow the issues you may have?" Yeah, right..... Especially if the question is the standard "I have this homework for tomorrow, anyone wants to do it for me?". Most of the time that answer was already a nice attempt to savage something that should have been downwvoted (or deleted) without further notice. – SPArchaeologist Mar 25 '14 at 8:42
To be clearer: I am totally with Cody here. I don't get why the ban... "What have you tried" is not the problem. Maybe it also isn't the cure... but surely not the problem. – SPArchaeologist Mar 25 '14 at 8:44

"What have you tried?" is the single most valuable question you can ask somebody while trying to help them.

LMGTFY is a smart-ass way to tell somebody to go away.

The two are not comparable.

share|improve this answer

These are not banned in the same way that LMGTFY links are banned, because as The Establishment notes the blog post itself is actually rather good.

However, comments consisting of little more than a raw link to are banned, and the threshold for deletion on comments like the one you use as an example has been lowered considerably: if you find them unhelpful and flag them, there's a good chance they'll be removed quickly.


share|improve this answer
Recently the plain text "What have you tried?" has started being banned (it wasn't before)... why is this? – TylerH Aug 13 '14 at 18:44
It's been blocked for well over a year, @TylerH... – Shog9 Aug 13 '14 at 19:23
The comments I've seen recently must have been abusing spaces or something to get around, then. – TylerH Aug 13 '14 at 19:30
Probably. Flag them if they're problematic / inappropriate. – Shog9 Aug 13 '14 at 19:33
Will do, but it's unlikely I'll do much flagging; I fundamentally disagree with the decision to ban the text, since it's the most fundamental question to ask someone seeking help with programming. I think the spamming should be dealt with ex post facto. – TylerH Aug 13 '14 at 19:35
The question is absolutely appropriate in a great many situations, @TylerH. And absolutely inappropriate - indeed, down-right silly - in many others. If folks stick to asking the question in contexts where an answer is useful, then I could not care less if it stays. – Shog9 Aug 13 '14 at 19:36
I think the fact that people don't ever ask the question in a context where an answer is useful weighs against that view. The question is asked in comments, not asked as an answer. – TylerH Aug 13 '14 at 19:42
If "what I tried" isn't going to help anyone answer the question, then asking is noise, @TylerH. If "what I tried" has already been asked - or answered - then asking it is noise. That's what I mean by context - folks blithely posting "WHYT" as though it were their culture's way of asking "How ya doing?" and as though such pleasantries weren't routinely discouraged here - in other words, contexts where it is pure, unhelpful noise. – Shog9 Aug 13 '14 at 20:11
@Shog9 I realize I'm bringing up the dead with this. Are you suggesting that someone's culture to ask a question and not attempt an answer takes higher priority than someone commenting with "whyt?" That's a more fundamental question of whether you think SO should be a strict question/answer database as opposed to a helpful forum with community interaction. I agree with Tyler, I don't always ask that question, but someone showing what they've tried does give context to their level of knowledge and their effort to receive my time to answer. I will help those that deserve it. – vol7ron Feb 17 '15 at 15:14
No, I'm suggesting precisely what I wrote @vol7ron. WHYT is a fantastic bit of advice for folks who are writing vague questions and clearly out of their depth, but it quickly loses all meaning when used as a stick to beat folks over the head with, or - as I said elsewhere - treated like some magic incantation to be recited upon viewing a new question without regard to what the question even says. I've caught folks defending this practice who never even read the post they were linking to, which is... really just sad. Be helpful or don't, your choice - but don't be a cargo-cult nag. – Shog9 Feb 18 '15 at 0:55
No, that is what you're suggesting, meaning to or not. And now you're making things harder on people that do comment. Alienating innocent users to treat a troubled few does not seem like the course of action we should take. It shames me to think that's the reason that this was implemented and that a site about programming couldn't implement something maybe a little more amiable. Then again, the comment system could use some refactoring in general. And it's generally new users who are asked this question, and again, seeing what had been tried gives valuable context. – vol7ron Feb 18 '15 at 1:17
If you've already decided that what I'm saying has no connection to what I'm writing, then why even bother discussing it? I have better things to do, and I'm sure you do as well. Cheers, @vol7ron. – Shog9 Feb 18 '15 at 3:04
Because you're a smart individual and the contention (with follow up) might make you question it and think how it could mean. And I think my use of "suggesting" was incorrect and possibly harsh, so my apologies. The idea I was trying to get at is that what you've written may have other implications, that you may not have considered or intended. @Shog9 – vol7ron Feb 18 '15 at 3:28

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