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When I review questions with close votes, I invariably come across some very poor ones.

  • Some appear to be from non-native English speakers.
    • I still vote to close these questions, but in my mind I give the OPs a pass because English isn't their first language.
  • But others imply a total misunderstanding of the problem space.
    • And I wonder if these "joke" questions are from:
      • Spammers
      • Disgruntled employees
      • Or people who earn a wage writing software

  • Has the Stack Exchange community formed an opinion about these low-grade questions?
  • Where do they come from?


...Ultimately though, I'm not convinced it matters where they come from, either. – Makoto

  • Perhaps for practical purposes here on Stack Exchange, it may not be of immediate importance.
  • But if they are from people who earn a wage writing software, I think that has some sort of ramification.
    • For instance, do carpenters who lack a basic understanding of a hammer and nails build houses? Do they build dog houses?


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closed as not constructive by Andrew Barber, Michael Mrozek, Ben Brocka, jonsca, yoozer8 Sep 27 '12 at 14:04

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Instead of voting to close questions with imperfect English, why not improve them? Not speaking English as a first language does not (a) make them a spammer, (b) make them a bad programmer, or (c) mean that the underlying question deserves closure. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 1:30
@AaronBertrand: In general, I agree. I'm referring to the ones that are so unclear that they are unsalvageable. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 1:31
Ok, so next question: do you think any of us have any insight into whether any (never mind all) are bad spammers, bad programmers, or completely unintelligible? Can you show some examples? Does the source matter, anyway? If it's a bad question, vote to close, wipe your hands, and move on. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 1:33
Again, whether someone earns a wage doing something doesn't make them elite. Do you know any bad doctors or dentists? I do. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 1:58
So for the example you posted, which category do you think this falls into, and why? Now explain why it matters... – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:00
@Aaron Bertrand: I've never met a doctor who didn't know about the circulatory system; and I've never met a dentist who didn't know about molars. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 2:00
@Aaron Bertrand: Upon reflection, it's probably a high school kid. Fault me for my blind spot. I forgot what it was like to program for the sake of programming before any formal education. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 2:01
I think you're purposely subverting my point. Getting paid to do something is not the same as being formally trained to do so. A lot of people on StackOverflow are probably neither. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:02
@AaronBertrand: Getting paid to do something is not the same as being formally trained to do so. A lot of people on StackOverflow are probably neither. - And that's totally fine. Are you faulting my for my curiosity? – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 2:03
No, I'm not faulting anything. I'm curious about what this question aims to solve (e.g. the "why it matters" I keep asking). – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:04
@AaronBertrand: I'm wondering if such questions indicate an abundance of hobbyist programmers, poor professional programmers, or spammers. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 2:06
I don't think anyone here (or all of us) can possibly answer that question. There is probably a good mix, and it may be weighted one way or another on any given day. There is probably as much relation to the phase of the moon as anything else. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:06
@AaronBertrand The question is answerable objectively. I agree that there's no single reason, and I think you're right about the moon having a big influence - but over time you do start to see patterns and connect dots. – Tim Post Sep 27 '12 at 2:30
@AaronBertrand I once saw my high school science teacher extracting what looked like venom from a very creepy spider. I asked him what he needed that for and he said "I don't know yet." While quite silly in this context, there is information that is simply interesting and potentially useful, as long as you understand the nature of it. The question boils down to "How can the UI keep a lazy non English speaking 14 year old from asking low quality questions?" Turns out, it can't - at least not effectively. But the patterns are still there and remain interesting and potentially useful. – Tim Post Sep 27 '12 at 3:55
You might find my answer to a related question interesting. In short, yes there are people who don't know what they're doing at all. And sadly they're not just building dog houses: see for example this question, the implications of which are frankly terrifying. – AakashM Sep 27 '12 at 8:34
up vote 20 down vote accepted

This began to interest me shortly after I was elected because all of the poor quality questions were presented to me in a neatly organized list. There are age and language gaps to take into consideration, but I have seen lots of poorly written yet well asked questions. The information provided in them clearly shows that the OP has a vested interest in getting a good answer, they just struggled with English (as you noted).

What I think it comes down to is a matter of culture. You can offer a web site in many different languages, but offering it to interact specifically with many different cultures is damn hard.

In some cultures, especially in Asia, it's not extremely impolite or rude to impose on others. They are more than free to turn you down (and will), but don't get very upset simply because you asked. That's something I noticed traveling around, and I think it (partly) explains what you see.

The other part is, especially in the mobile device related tags - you have a lot of self taught individuals attempting to learn on their feet after being hired. So, take the extremely heightened sense of urgency and combine it with a weak at best imposition barrier and .. there you have it.

Lastly, there have been incidents of people writing on topic (but poor) questions and answers just to find a way to spamvertise, but those are the minority when it comes to the low quality posts we receive.

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+1: The other part is, especially in the mobile device related tags - you have a lot of self taught individuals attempting to learn on their feet after being hired. So, take the extremely heightened sense of urgency and combine it with a weak at best imposition barrier and .. there you have it. - AWESOME answer. I thought this may have been one of a number of root causes. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 2:20
Also note (Just in general, not directed at anyone), a poor quality 'do my work for me' question is not SPAM. The SPAM and OFFENSIVE flags are special; they get the highest priority in our queue, and come with automatic penalties. Please only use those flags if you see blatant advertisements, swearing, ethnic slurs, threats, etc. – Tim Post Sep 27 '12 at 2:25
@JimG. I'm sure there are other factors, but that seems to be the one most of them have in common. It's interesting to understand better, because a better understanding leads to changes to help keep more of it out. – Tim Post Sep 27 '12 at 2:27
You have a point with "different cultures" -- I had a Brazilian friend, and there's this given that if he asks you for something, like a car ride, it's pretty much normal, and he found it confusing when I got irritated when he asked for favours. But does this really apply here? This site was made to ask questions. I don't think culture comes into play so much as personality when it comes to low quality questions. A person with a high work ethic will not ask "do my work for me" type questions. – bobobobo Sep 27 '12 at 15:53

You haven't given any examples, but you're forgetting one other category: high school kids.

Some of them are 14 or 15 years old, and really don't understand the problem space, yet.

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+1: That's very plausible. I hadn't considered that one. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 1:50
Also, nonprogrammers being taught programming topics (e.g. MATLAB, mentioned in a related question on Meta.) – Robin Green Nov 16 '13 at 19:15

The criteria I see being valid for a poor question (and one that's worth closing) would be this:

  • Is the question too narrow of a scope as to be of benefit to anyone else?
  • Is the question a veiled attempt at "show me the codes please"?
  • Did the OP fail to make an attempt to answer their question, or did they not provide an SSCCE?
  • Is the question unclear and unintelligble, and can it not be saved through edits?

I don't look at native language or experience as factors into whether or not a question is good. I only look at the content. I'm not sure where bad questions come from, but then again, I'm not sure I need to care.

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I don't look at native language or experience as factors into whether or not a question is good. - Neither do I. Sorry, maybe you misunderstood my question. – Jim G. Sep 27 '12 at 1:41
What I suppose I'm trying to say is, who knows where so-called "bad questions" come from. Ultimately though, I'm not convinced it matters where they come from, either. – Makoto Sep 27 '12 at 1:44
@Makoto: If we understand where they come from well enough, we can look for solutions and choose to do something about it. – walrii Sep 27 '12 at 2:02
@walrii let's suppose for a moment that all of the bad questions are from high school kids or disgruntled employees. Can you suggest what you might propose to "do about" either case? – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:03
@AaronBertrand IF (notice it's a big if), we can adequately categorize questions from any group, we can work on solutions. In your example of employees, ban or honey-pot them. I'm not advocating a solution, just that more knowledge enables us to look for solutions. – walrii Sep 27 '12 at 2:09
@walrii my main point is that identifying a group of questions to be from a particular group - the first step - is pretty much a no-op. And even if it were possible, I don't know how you could possibly ban all experts-exchange employees or high school kids. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:14
@AaronBertrand I suppose I have more faith in our ability to solve problems. 1st step: partition the problem until some chunks are solvable. 2nd step: imagine solutions. 3rd step: Do it. If we can automatically categorize some questions as bad, and categorize some of their OPs as experts-exchange employees, then we can imagine/invent a process of handling those questions/OPs. – walrii Sep 27 '12 at 2:27
@walrii you forgot 4th step: profit! Seriously, I understand the approach you might advocate, I just fail to see how it could constructively solve anything. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 27 '12 at 2:29

Agree with some of the other answers. The bulk of the bad questions I've come across are:

  • Younger question askers (high school/college age) that are looking for homework help
  • Questions posted to the wrong SE site (lack of awareness of the SE ecosystem)
  • Failure to check for duplicate questions

A lot of the bad questions I see are from high school or college-age kids that are used to posting questions to forums. Their lack of familiarity with SE's Q&A system results in relatively poor quality "homework" related questions. Other bad questions are people that are only aware of one SE site and don't post their questions to the right SE site. Finally, there are some members that don't check the SE site(s) for possible duplicates.

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