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When a user clearly states that they are a newbie, people should be encouraged to give an interpretation of the documentation, not just a link to the documentation. Increasingly, Stack Overflow is the goto place for many people on coding courses, and although many may think this is a bad thing, for the community it is a good thing.

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The documentation is the very first source of information any developer should look at. Why should we stop pointing at it? If it's done rudely or non-constructively, that's another issue. But the link itself is valid. –  Bart Aug 21 '12 at 16:03
How would one implement such a feature, exactly? –  Robert Harvey Aug 21 '12 at 16:03
If a user needs help understanding the documentation they've already tried to read, they should say so and explain which bit they're having trouble with - at which point I'm sure such help will be provided. If the user expects the community to take the place of documentation, that's an appalling expectation. –  Jon Skeet Aug 21 '12 at 16:10
Welcome to Meta, Chris! To preemptively respond to your next question, nothing is wrong with the way you wrote this request. By convention, voting on this site often represents opinion. –  Pops Aug 21 '12 at 16:30
Arg. This actively encourages people to not read the proper documentation and discourages people from helping people access it! –  Ben Brocka Aug 21 '12 at 18:32
As a newbie who is not afraid to say so and ask, yes, some of my questions have been related to simple stuff that -in hind sight- the documentation answers. However as a newbie, I search this site and ONLY ask the question if the documentation is confusing OR –  Chris Hardaker Aug 22 '12 at 17:10
oops - newbie at this also..... OR the link only answer in the answer points to a really interesting sounding answer in a place that no longer exists. And saying that this is a forum for experts does not make it so. Too many coding schools have picked up on this and it is now pushed as a place to find your question previously asked and "hopefully" answered. –  Chris Hardaker Aug 22 '12 at 17:19

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This principle holds even when it's not a newbie asking the question. Posting a bare link to the documentation in lieu of an answer is rarely if ever a good response.

We actually block answers that consist only of bare links, and automatically flag answers that consist of little more as low-quality. If you come across such an answer, don't hesitate to encourage the author to expand on it.

See also: Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really "good answers"?

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I assumed the OP was referring to comments, not answers –  Flexo Aug 21 '12 at 16:33
I think posting a link as a comment is fine. However not all answers that are little more than a link are off-limits, apparently. I flagged this answer and it was rejected. I didn't think the "answer" was very helpful without a code sample, and thought it should have been converted to a comment instead. Other answers pointed to the same documentation and posted a relevant code sample. <shrug> –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 21 '12 at 16:36
It's a tough call, @Aaron - that may not be a great answer, but it at least does provide enough information to retain whatever value it has should the link break. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 21 '12 at 16:38
I disagree - "use the PIVOT command" on its own is not very helpful, especially relative to other answers on the same page that said the same thing and included code samples that give the user some help on how to use the PIVOT command. I could post answers all day that say "Use CROSS APPLY" or "Use table partitioning" or "Use a GUID" - even with links, how are these helpful? They sound more like comments than answers to me. An answer shouldn't just name the technology to use. –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 21 '12 at 16:41
So down-vote it then, @Aaron. There's a difference between a bad answer and an answer that, once MSDN is restructured, won't be an answer at all. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 21 '12 at 17:00
I think this one is both. And I have down-voted it. My point in commenting is exactly what you stated - it's a tough call. Different moderators (or maybe even the same mods on different days) may not always find the same link-only or largely link-only answer to be "not an answer." –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 21 '12 at 17:05

There needs to a check on users who want to use Stack Overflow as a proxy for doing their own basic research. Otherwise, the site becomes flooded with basic questions, many of which are not very good questions because the OP didn't get a basic education on their craft.

A site filled with poorly-worded basic questions is a turnoff for the experts, which is who we want to attract. No experts, no answers.

Consequently, embellishing a link-only answer to a basic question that's easily answered by reading the documentation is the moral equivalent of polishing a turd.

If you really want to be helpful to the OP, provide a link to the appropriate documentation in a comment below the question. Then, vote to close as Too Localized.

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I have no problem with basic questions, but basic shouldn't mean "I can't be bothered to even try reading docs." –  Jon Skeet Aug 21 '12 at 16:10
@Shog9: tl;dr: "No, thank you." –  Robert Harvey Aug 21 '12 at 16:12
I had to read this twice, but I think Robert is saying that there's nothing wrong with encouraging people to look at documentation in some cases. (In accordance with politeness rules and such, of course.) @Shog9 –  Pops Aug 21 '12 at 16:13
I added a paragraph (or two). Hopefully, this clarifies my position. :P –  Robert Harvey Aug 21 '12 at 16:16
Ok, sure. Linking to the documentation is good, always. But I still don't like link-only answers. You've no idea how many broken MSDN links I've cursed over the years - maybe they did originally answer the question, clearly and completely, but without any explanation of how, that link benefited only the ("turd"-posting) OP. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 21 '12 at 16:20

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