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I recently posted a question and answer on debugging an Android app. The question is currently closed as "not a real question." I'm confused because this seems like a very good fit for the SO format. I have gathered information that has taken me quite a bit of time to glean from the diverse parts of the Android documentation and consolidated it into a single tutorial. Granted, the answer still needs some polish and work, especially on debugging with the plugin for Eclipse (or possibly NetBeans).

With that said, what can I do to improve the question and get it reopened?

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I'd say this does not fall under the "practical problem you face" header. If I were to ask that question without knowing the answers/docs you are trying to provide, what would you tell me? –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:38
The question is too broad, so it is closed as NARQ. –  nhahtdh Jan 13 '13 at 21:38
"Granted, the answer still needs some polish" Your answer didn't get closed your question did... you've fallen into the typical self-answer trap. You've concentrated so much on the answer your question is (I'm sorry) pretty crap. Even though you're asking about the question you're still concentrating on the answer. –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 13 '13 at 21:38
I'm not entirely sure about the content (nor the Android community for that matter), but might this not be worth transforming into tag-wiki info. I.e. a "If you plan on asking your question, make sure you've followed these debugging steps first" kind of thing? –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:42
Related: Do "reference questions" make sense? –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:49
Related: Should SO host howto-style writeups after all? –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:51
@benisuǝqbackwards I understand that the question was closed, not the answer. I apologize for not making that entirely clear in my OP. Nonetheless, my question here on meta is ultimately how do I improve the question so that other answers can be added to fill in the holes in my own purported answer. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 21:58
There's no need to apologise @Code-Guru; I'm trying to point out where the problem lies. I've been trying to think of ways you can improve it but I can't really, my knowledge of android is non-existent... You can certainly flesh it to be more than 1 line by asking something like _"When my Android app fails to run as expected, how do I figure out what causes the problem? According to xxx logcat is a good way to debug this. I've tried using it by doing yyy but it's not working due to zzz. How should I debug code using logcat?" –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 13 '13 at 22:03
@benisuǝqbackwards When I started Android development several months ago, I didn't even know what logcat was or how to view it. I see the same recurring issue now that I have enough knowledge to start answering Android questions. Thus part of the motivation for a debugging tutorial. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:10
@benisuǝqbackwards This discussion (and in particular your suggestions in your most recent comment) has sparked some ideas for editing the question. I'm still not entirely satisfied, so I'll keep working on it. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:14
@Code-Guru How about going into the Android chat room and having some other experienced users look at this. Perhaps some discussion in there will help. If they are interested, link to this Meta post to inform them what issues we see with the question and perhaps they have some bright ideas. Ben's idea is not bad as a start. –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 22:14
@Bart That sounds like a good idea. ;-) –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:16
I do understand @Code-Guru but a question that's less than a line long will almost always be closed. The shortest that have survived in 2012 are here and quite a few, as you can see, have been vandalised (if anyone wants to help with the fixing)? –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 13 '13 at 22:18
I saw this question come up in the review queue, and my first instinct was to leave it closed. It is a rubbish question - broad and unfocussed. You might be writing an excellent tutorial in an answer, but that doesn't mean that it is a good Question and Answer pair, nor that SO is the right place to post it. –  talonmies Jan 13 '13 at 22:21
Unfortunately, asking "What tools are available for specifically debugging Android apps?" puts the question squarely in the "Not Constructive" category. This is a list question, which is not a good fit for any of the Stack Exchange sites. –  casperOne Jan 13 '13 at 22:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Make Your Question About a Concrete Problem

Reference questions can generate good answers, but to make them good questions they should address either a concrete example or a narrow class of problems. Your question currently reads:

When my Android app fails to run as expected, how do I figure out what causes the problem?

There's really no such thing as a perfect checklist or tools list for debugging. At best, you can apply a general methodology to a concrete problem, and perhaps leverage specific tools to provide a solution.

You can improve the question greatly by devising a concrete problem where some methodology and tool-chain will prove useful in providing a solution. Presumably you have personally faced some issue that exemplifies the usefulness of your chosen solution; go with that, as long as it isn't too contrived.

Ask "How" Instead of Polling

When you ask questions like:

What tools are available for specifically debugging Android apps?

you are intrinsically asking for a shopping list. That is, by definition, a question that begs to be marked as Not Constructive. However, asking questions like "How can I debug an Android App that automatically sends out pictures of my cat whenever I press the menu button?" at least has some scope to it, and gives you a concrete problem to address.

Personally, I'd remove the tools sentence altogether to avoid making your question a polling question. The question should instead focus on defining a concrete problem, and any parameters that might limit the solution. As an off-the-cuff example, you might ask:

How can I gather a stack trace for an Android App that has closed without a user-visible error dialog?

Now at least your question is focused on finding solutions for a specific class of problem (e.g. gathering a stack trace) under some subset of possible circumstances (in this case, when the close dialog isn't intrinsically useful). Obviously, the more detailed your sample scenario, the better your question will be, but IMHO this is at least a start in the right direction.

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Thanks a lot for the suggestions. This is the most helpful answer so far. I especially like your second suggestion. I will likely use that and tweak the wording (say with the exact error dialog that Android commonly displays). –  Code-Guru Jan 14 '13 at 0:48
Also, it seems to me that ""How can I debug an Android App that automatically sends out pictures of my cat whenever I press the menu button?" could be construed as too specific and be closed as "too localized". Of course, that probably depends highly on the exact text in the body of the question. –  Code-Guru Jan 14 '13 at 0:50

Voting to reopen. This looks like an attempt to create a reference question to point people to. Seeing as the Android tag sees about as many... budding developers as the PHP tag, that is a totally necessary effort to improve the community and any such attempt should be applauded, not closevoted. Instead of doing that, how about adding your feedback how to improve the question.

That kind of content doesn't fit the Q&A format, you say? Here is official confirmation from none other than Shog9 that this is okay practice:

Fortunately, "HOWTO" articles fit very neatly into the Q&A model - so posting one in response to a question works just fine. If you can't find an existing question, ask one yourself.

If you're concerned that folks might get hung up on some part of this process, I am looking for suggestions on how to ensure such things are more effectively moderated...

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The OP should then make sure however to make it a good question fast. Voting to reopen before the question is good is risky when it might just as quickly be closed again should it still be a bad question. –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:50
@Bart I'm not really sure it is a bad question. I'm trying to get the same kind of question for the CSS tag here: Does a "how to debug CSS" reference question exist? that doesn't necessarily make the practice right, but when you want to explain to a newb how to debug their Android app, what more is the question about? (I guess it could be more elegantly worded, but it wouldn't add much substance...) –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:56
@Bart What suggestions do you have for improving the question? –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 21:59
Well, I've made the point before, but what if I had simply asked that question? I have no Android experience. What would people have most likely told me? I'm not expecting Shakespeare here, nor some contrived bug scenario. Just something that can stand up to the bare minimum scrutiny. And this can't imho –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:59
@Code-Guru I'm thinking about that one.... ;) –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:59
@Pekka Thanks for the support. Personally, I think my own question is rather weak, since I spent most of my effort on the answer. I'm not entirely surprised that it was closed. Now I'm looking for suggestions on how to improve the question. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:00
Unfortunately, that edit makes it very much "Not Constructive"; it's a list of tools and how to use them. A list none-the-less. –  casperOne Jan 13 '13 at 22:55

Your question was not a good one, thus it was closed.

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

Your question was very vague, and extremely broad. Your question was:

When my Android app fails to run as expected, how do I figure out what causes the problem?

Watch this question degenerate:

  1. When my Android app fails to run as expected, how do I figure out what causes the problem?
  2. When my code fails to run properly, how do I find the problem?
  3. When code doesn't work, how do I debug it?
  4. How do I debug code?

Notice that all the above effectively mean the same thing. The word Android can be cut out without losing meaning because you've already tagged it as such. Thus, this question is applicable anywhere with a different tag.

People on Stack Overflow are remarkably good at seeing through superfluous wording, and are (usually) decent at seeing exactly what you're asking. In this case, people read your question as the last degeneration.

That question qualifies as ambiguous, vague, incomplete, AND overly broad. That is why the question was closed.


You pointed out in your comments that your question was about improving the closed question.

What I think you're looking for is a good question to your answer, but it needs to go the other way around. You've written an answer: a generally all-encompassing solution to debugging Android apps. Unless you want to change your answer to match a more refined question, I'm unsure there's a way to proceed.

This, posted in the comments by Pekka, is a very relevant question to this situation. Note the tag.

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"How do I debug code" is exactly what the question is about. It is meant as a reference question so people don't have to explain to every newbie who comes with a "halp my code doesn't work plz fix" the same steps. –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:54
That is true. However, it is not good for the Q&A format of StackOverflow as set within the bounds of the FAQ. At the very least, this should have been posted as community wiki. –  Emrakul Jan 13 '13 at 21:55
you can't post questions as CW any more; he could (and should) flag for moderator attention and ask them to make it CW, that's correct. Re the FAQ, we have official encouragement to self-answer questions like this, see the quote from a SE employee in my answer –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:57
@Pekka That it's a reference question is great. But that does not mean we can simply let the question quality slide. If anything it's a bad signal. "Yep, your question got closed. That one? Oh, that one doesn't matter. It's a reference question. That's different." I'm all for useful info, but the content as a whole should be good. –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 21:57
@Bart true and point taken, but then the experienced users of the Android tag should actively work on it, not close it. IMO. –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 21:58
@Pekka It's awfully difficult to expand on a question when it has no focus. The community can't edit his question to change its meaning - only the owner can do that. –  Emrakul Jan 13 '13 at 21:58
@Pekka You know as well as I do that it can be reopened. Have some community editing, make it a good question, and I'll gladly put in my vote. That's not a big deal. –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 22:00
@Telthien but adding focus defeats the point of having a good reference question. There must be a way to improve it while letting it be as broad as it need be... I don't know Android so I can't judge this with finality, nor really contribute something, but I imagine stuff like this is needed in that tag. –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 22:01
@Bart yeah, cool. (I don't really dare contribute here as I know nothing about Android... but I have the same quest before me in the CSS tag, so we'll see how that works out :) –  Pëkka Jan 13 '13 at 22:02
@Pekka, my only question is this: Does this question qualify as ambiguous, vague, overly broad? If it does, it should be closed. Questions need to fit within the scope of the FAQ. That, or we need to add a user-guide tag. –  Emrakul Jan 13 '13 at 22:03
@Telthien I understand that the community thinks my question doesn't fit the SO format. In fact, I don't like it myself. I wanted to post something to start because I had much of the answer in mind. So now I'm asking for suggestions on improving the question, which IMO is at the heart of the SO paradigm. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:04
@Pekka If you have a start to that question, let me know so I can close it. :p Unfortunately my Android experience is next to zero, so on that front I can hardly contribute. But I'll see if I can come up with a better phrasing. –  Bart Jan 13 '13 at 22:04
@pekka I agree that tutorials such as this is needed for the Android community at large. The official documentation is either lacking in certain areas or information is scattered between many documents. The later is the main issue here and why I wanted to create the post. I understand that my focus has been on the answer. Now I'm asking for suggestions how I can improve the question to make it more appropriate for SO. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:06
@Telthien I see how my question can be considered as "ambiguous, vague, or overly broad." My question here on meta is how to improve the question, not why it was closed. –  Code-Guru Jan 13 '13 at 22:08
@Code-Guru I'm struggling to find a way to do that. What you're looking for is a good question to your answer - it needs to go the other way around. You've written an answer: a generally all-encompassing solution to debugging Android apps. Unless you want to change your answer to match a more refined question, I'm unsure there's a way to proceed. –  Emrakul Jan 13 '13 at 22:16

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