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I've recently (and also not so recently) met questions commonly in this form:

How do I make an admin module that would be able to do X Y and Z? I have no code, and I'm just looking for the right approach on how to do it.

Are questions like those acceptable? Or do they fail the "specific, practical programming problems" criterion? How would you answer such a question?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The question in your title in not the same as the question in your body.

Your example question you've given is bad because it is vague and is soliciting a design for a system rather than instructions on how to perform a specific, well-defined task. But just because a question begins with the phrase 'How do I...' does not mean it falls into this category.

For example, something along the lines of:

  • "How do I find a substring X of a string Y case-insensitively and ignoring punctuation in Java?"

starts with the phrase "How do I" but is a perfectly decent question. Of course there will be multiple possible answers, but the scope of the question is limited enough that there will be only a small number of answers that are sane and significantly different from each other, and those answers can be both complete and concise. There's some subjectivity left in choosing which is the best answer among the several that will likely be given, but that's what voting is for.

On the other hand, something like

  • "How do I write an operating system?"

is clearly bad because it is too broad; nobody could reasonably give even one full and concise answer to this, and what's more there are a multitude of possible answers to give.

Some questions are good because they are specific and answerable, and some are bad because they are not. This is as true of the subset of questions that begin with the word "How" as it is of questions generally.

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Yes they are.

In fact many of the top questions are exactly of the type, "How do I do X?"

Just to pick a few:

I see what problem you're trying to solve since many of such "How do I do X?" questions are very basic and lack research effort.

However, they are also most likely to be commonly asked questions that attract search engine traffic.

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