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I noticed that this question (about basic C# syntax) received a lot of downvotes as soon as I posted it. Is there any specific policy against the posting of questions with "obvious" answers on Stackoverflow? I'm unclear as to why questions with "obvious" answers aren't usually well-received by the community - are beginner questions considered harmful for some reason? ("Obvious" is a relative term, of course - this type of question would be helpful to anyone who was learning c# for the first time, but it wouldn't be helpful to an experienced c# developer.)

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marked as duplicate by Anderson Green, Martijn Pieters, ben is uǝq backwards, Lance Roberts, Flyk Feb 4 at 1:49

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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A lot of downvotes? I only see two downvotes there... –  Yannis Oct 21 '12 at 2:17
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@YannisRizos Should I refrain from asking these types of questions in the future? I get the impression that the community thinks I'm stupid/naive/inexperienced whenever I ask questions like these. –  Anderson Green Oct 21 '12 at 2:19
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One thing you should definitely refrain from is caring about a couple of downvotes. Give me a sec to write an answer... –  Yannis Oct 21 '12 at 2:19
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Of course, it would probably not be desirable for the StackExchange network to be flooded with beginner questions - users should look for duplicate questions before posting new threads. –  Anderson Green Oct 21 '12 at 2:23
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3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

On Stack Overflow, and Stack Exchange in general, we have two review systems for questions:

  • Quality, expressed through up and down votes.
  • Topicality, expressed through close and re-open votes.

Questions that fall short of the site's scope and policies are closed. Questions that don't show prior research, or any other kind of prior effort to solve your own problem before asking, are downvoted. Questions that are problematic in both respects, are closed and downvoted.

There is no policy against beginners' questions, for every definition of beginners, they are welcome on Stack Overflow. However, being a beginner is not an excuse for not putting at least some effort to solve your own problem before asking a community of volunteers. In a recent discussion on Meta Programmers, jmort253 puts it excellently:

Just because you're new to programming doesn't make you an idiot. It just means you're, well... new to programming. I'm not sure why people show up on Stack Exchange and think that just because they're new to programming that somehow reading information in the FAQ or following the rules is somehow beyond them. Programming and reading a FAQ are not related skill sets... at all, and there are plenty of people new to programming who show up and ask really great, researched questions. We hold everyone to the same standard as far as the rules go, and it doesn't matter what you're skill level is.

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I've noticed that questions are often downvoted and closed when they show a lack of research effort, even if they might be potentially useful questions. This one is a good example: stackoverflow.com/questions/15493442/… –  Anderson Green Mar 19 '13 at 13:52
    
Stack Overflow now has a requirement for questions to "demonstate minimal understanding" of questions that are being asked. If I asked a question about a programming language that I was struggling to learn (e. g., Haskell), then would the question be considered off-topic, by definition? –  Anderson Green Aug 3 '13 at 4:55
    
In other words, does the new requirement for "mininal understanding" indicate that beginner questions are no longer allowed at all? –  Anderson Green Aug 21 '13 at 15:39

The question has some issues that could cause people to downvote it.

Remember, downvotes mean: This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful. If you hover over the downvote arrow, that's exactly the text that is displayed.

That question is a shining example of no research effort. If I were to google, "How do I run a C# program on linux." I get a lot of results: Running C# on linux results on Google

Are you going to tell me that none of those answers help?

If you put the effort, or more correctly show that you've put effort into researching your question, it's unlikely you'll be downvoted. However, if you post a question that seems to show that you didn't even search for the answer first, you're going to get downvotes.

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In that case, is there any way that I can close or delete that question (so that all of those downvotes won't continue to sabotage my reputation?) –  Anderson Green Oct 21 '12 at 2:33
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@AndersonGreen Not really. Even if it's closed people can downvote it. If you elect to delete it, it would still count towards a question ban (which is when you've asked enough bad questions that the system says, "No more questions from you."). Your best bet is to improve the question. –  George Stocker Oct 21 '12 at 2:42
    
Does this mean that a user can be permanently banned from asking questions even if the same user has written many good questions? I don't think contributors who continue to write good questions ought to be permanently banned in this case. –  Anderson Green Oct 21 '12 at 3:11
    
@AndersonGreen The exact question ban algorithm is not known, but if you have many good questions and answers, you won't get banned for a couple of sub par ones. –  Yannis Oct 21 '12 at 3:13
    
@AndersonGreen The question ban isn't permanent; it's dependent upon a few factors (number of good questions / reputation / answers ). I don't know the algorithm, just what I've seen to be the case. –  George Stocker Oct 21 '12 at 3:23

They are allowed, but they shouldn't be, because there isn't an objective way to judge what is a beginner question, and what is not. And when a beginner question isn't the right fit for Stack Overflow, there isn't an objective criteria to explain why.

From the FAQ, Stack Overflow is a site for Programming Professionals and Programming Enthusiasts. I believe that this makes it hard for us (pro's and enthusiasts) to empathize with new members and beginner questions.

What is the bar for research effort? It's subjective, and so can't fairly be applied, so instead, just flat out ban beginner questions because they have no relevance to SO.

I think what's more true for every new beginner question, there's likely an applicable duplicate already in the system. So do we prevent beginner questions? No. Do we aggressively close them as duplicates when found? Absolutely. And downvote for poor research.

The problem with this approach is that "poor research" is subjective. Along with closing dupes, and downvoting poor quality questions, I believe we should educate beginners to Stack Overflow. It's very obvious when the dupe shows up, as well as a Google search of the same question returning multiple sources with the solution, to point out they should first attempt to google, or search the site.

But what about when that's not the case? Googling that question doesn't return good results, so at least by the Google test, it was fine. Also, it wasn't closed as a dupe. Instead it was downvoted as a beginner question, for lack of research. The comments (since deleted by a mod) to the OP suggested she should try to have an attitude of learning before asking a question. As a Quote above in a previous answer suggests--that she was an idiot for not doing research.

The problem with allowing beginners is that there isn't a positive way to help them be successful. A deluge of downvotes, comments akin to "RTFM", and closed questions isn't welcoming, and is counter to the spirit of which I believe SO was built.

For what it's worth, I believe beginners should be allowed, and new people to our site should be given a chance to learn how to better use our community. As it stands, we don't have a way to do that.

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"Programming Professionals and Programming Enthusiasts." Neither the fact that you get paid for it nor your level of enthusiasm are indicators of experience or proficiency. Beginners can fall in to both categories. –  apaul34208 Jun 3 '13 at 1:01
    
Begginer questions should be banned. Not beginners. So far, beginner questions are allowed if the asker has shown a basic level of effort in research, and have some value to the site. The latter can be judged by votes. The former is subjective. –  Alan Jun 3 '13 at 1:07
    
Sympathy +1, because I don't altogether disagree. But I think what's more true for every new beginner question, there's likely an applicable duplicate already in the system. So do we prevent beginner questions? No. Do we aggressively close them as duplicates when found? Absolutely. And downvote for poor research. –  Anthony Pegram Jun 3 '13 at 1:13
    
Edited to address your lucid point. –  Alan Jun 3 '13 at 1:25
    
"We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor." -faq –  apaul34208 Jun 3 '13 at 1:34
    
I see your point about people being overly harsh with new users. On the other hand many "beginner" questions end up being highly up-voted and eventually can even turn into great reference questions and community wikis. For example stackoverflow.com/questions/901115/… –  apaul34208 Jun 3 '13 at 1:38

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