What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 134 Stack Exchange communities.

"What have you tried?" comments are sometimes good.


Statistics

The usage of "what you tried" is growing (v2)

In Q1 of 2012 - 0.0134 such comments per question (~1.33%) 
In Q2 of 2012 - 0.0167 such comments per question (~1.66%)
In Q3 of 2012 - 0.0169 such comments per question (~1.68%)
In Q4 of 2012 - 0.0193 such comments per question (~1.92%)
In Q1 of 2013 - 0.0223 such comments per question (~2.22%)

The vast majority of these questions need serious help (see ChrisF's answer above).


Unfortunately, There is a growing trend towards abuse

Along with the good, comes some bad -- as usual in life.

These comments are bad when

  • Posting "what have you tried" multiple times per question is severely obnoxious
  • Posting "what have you tried" when the user has clearly shown that they have tried to solve it on their own

It is becoming increasingly common to see "what have you tried?" comments in these scenarios.

Some examples

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here


Workarounds

Flagging Comments - It is considered a good thing to be liberal with comment flagging -- that helps us clean up after the fact. "Too Chatty" is a no-brainer here.

Unfortunately, that only cleans up after the damage has been done.

All signs point toward the continued increase of the trend of using "what have you tried" comments.

I spend a lot of time editing and cleaning up bad questions. This trend came up on my radar toward the end of last year and it is getting worse. So, I thought at the very least that I'd raise some awareness. The bad case is such a rude welcome to Stack Overflow whereas the good case is very instructive and helpful.

share|improve this question
197  
What have you tried? –  George W Bush Mar 21 '13 at 1:57
76  
Sounds like homework. –  Knoothe Mar 21 '13 at 2:00
11  
You're not hiding much by not whiting out the usernames... –  Mysticial Mar 21 '13 at 2:20
4  
By the way - your query doesn't account for the embedded URL. Here's a slightly more revamped one. –  Makoto Mar 21 '13 at 2:21
2  
Ease off the guy! The incumbent party won last election and he needs a break... –  Cole Johnson Mar 21 '13 at 5:01
2  
I would clarify that this is not abuse per se, but rather, how most people aren't paying attention and just plopping down comments without looking at everything else. It's most definitely a problem though that needs to be addressed. –  casperOne Mar 21 '13 at 11:45
8  
Also, I can't help but wonder how many of these are because of the pro-forma comment generator. –  casperOne Mar 21 '13 at 11:47
1  
Could the Review queues be part of the problem here. They force you to answer or ignore completely - you can't say wait this has a comment that has to be answered show me later, then you would delete if no response or approve/clean up if the OP had made a change –  Mark Mar 21 '13 at 13:22
1  
Well, I've started flagging what have you tried when It's not applicable. So far, i've flagged 2, one flag has been accepted and one has been declined –  Sam I am Mar 21 '13 at 15:10
8  
Would it be useful (and reasonable) to programmatically block subsequent instances of "What have you tried" (and its variants) after there's already one on the question? It doesn't even need to be a penalty at all, just a popup that says "That has already been said; no need to repeat it." –  DiMono Mar 21 '13 at 16:18
4  
Maybe part of the problem is that the comments don't all show up automatically all the time any more, so people don't realize that someone else has made the same comment. If the other comments showed up after the user submitted theirs, maybe they'd delete their newly added duplicate comment. Maybe comments need a 'duplicate' in the list of reasons for flagging? –  Jonathan Leffler Mar 26 '13 at 23:58
4  
@DiMono: Why specifically do this for "what have you tried" comments, and not for any duplicate comments? –  Junuxx Mar 27 '13 at 9:44
    
@casperOne, I wondered that too, but at least they're not in the default comment set... –  Benjol Mar 27 '13 at 12:30
    
@Benjol It's easy enough to add, and it's a common enough phrase. –  casperOne Mar 27 '13 at 12:53
1  
I can neither confirm nor deny that I have or have not received bribes from any individuals mentioned or not mentioned –  George W Bush Jul 23 '13 at 0:41

12 Answers 12

up vote 124 down vote accepted

I agree - these are getting old. If the question's really missing something, either down-vote / close / flag or take the time to explain what is missing.

Starting now, comments that consist of nothing but "what have you tried" are blocked completely, and comments that consist of little more than "what have you tried" can be deleted with a single flag.

Oh yeah - I've re-enabled this block as well, for comments that don't have much in them besides the link.


Just to clarify: I don't begrudge comments asking for clarification or explanation when they're applicable - I think George made it clear in the OP that these are not inherently bad. However, I'm seeing entirely too many on questions where they make absolutely no sense (and of course, duplicates), don't get any follow-up from their authors, and generally indicate... Well, laziness on the part of the commenter. So I'm gonna say this one more time:

If you don't have the time or inclination to engage in conversation with the author of a post, don't comment - just vote.

Is it polite and helpful to comment when you vote? Sure - if you really mean it. A useless or inappropriate comment paired with a vote is just adding noise to signal; a useless/inappropriate comment instead of a vote is worse than nothing at all. Vote when you have an opinion on a post, and comment when you honestly want to share it. Leave the stupid memes for meta.

share|improve this answer
6  
I know it's nice to encourage users to fully flesh out their vague questions, but HALLELUJAH. Until the next craze catches on. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 21 '13 at 2:27
41  
I dislike this being universal. On the vba I see the "what have you tried?" type comment (or some variant) used quite effectively when people come and post a question which indicates some research or code might have taken place (but is not shown in the question) or there is blatantly no effort on part of the asker. Banning this unilaterally seems to be the nuclear option to stop some people from being jerks. There is no reason to post "what have you tried" many times. Ban those people, or warn them, or something. But don't nuke the entire ability to do this. –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 2:31
4  
Additionally, given how the SE network loads comments quickly when they are posted, there is ZERO excuse other than being a tool to not upvote the first "what have you tried?" and post another yourself. Or at the very least to not delete yours when you see the duplicate. –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 2:32
32  
@enderland: you can still post these, if you take a few seconds longer to put something in them beyond "what have you tried?" If that's too much work, then... Well, probably not a good time to be lecturing anyone else on their lack of effort. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 21 '13 at 2:36
15  
@Shog9 I guess I see a huge difference in someone asking for my free time to help not putting forth effort and that volunteer asking a basic question to initiate the helping process. –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 2:53
11  
So don't waste your time on lazy questions then, @enderland. Or if you're gonna spend a few seconds on them, use it to down-vote or vote to close. Why bother leaving a comment at all if you don't want to put anything into it? –  Shogging through the snow Mar 21 '13 at 2:56
20  
@Shog9 because I'd much rather ask "what have you tried?" and not downvote than just downvote/vote to close? Because random DVs and questions being closed are way less friendly to newbies than comments asking questions? –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 2:58
10  
@enderland You're both on the same side. Just post a more helpful version of "what have you tried?" - It's a small sacrifice for a better community I say. –  George W Bush Mar 21 '13 at 3:01
2  
Good! Hopefully we can also get rid of the equally useless "Show us your code," which is used inappropriately in far too many questions. –  xpda Mar 21 '13 at 3:35
2  
@xpda "Show us your code" is useless in some circumstances, but I would hesitate to say it is equally useless. At least it tells the OP what they need to do to correct the (perceived) problem. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 3:39
3  
This is just going to result in an uptick of NARQ votes. –  Michael Hampton Mar 21 '13 at 13:47
4  
Technical solutions to social problems don't work. The problem is not "what have you tried" comments. The problem is people making those comments. All blocking them does is make people want to drive-by downvote, or move on to some other form of less-than-thoughtful comment. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 21 '13 at 14:22
11  
I disagree. I feel like down voting and voting to close deters users more than a comment. –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:39
9  
+1 for sure. "What you have tried?" has become a thoughtless meme, and its use is getting out of control. And if you're paying attention, it's easy to customize a request for more information to the specific question--there's no reason this phrase itself is necessary. In particular, I've noticed that "Have you tried X?", "What happens when do Y?", or "What does Z look like?" are much more effective ways to engage the OP and eventually salvage the question while also working towards an answer. –  Ben Lee Mar 21 '13 at 21:59
4  
I've just downvoted this answer without telling you why. Now instead of a comment that gives you at least an inkling why someone (and who) disagrees with you, all you know is that for some reason someone didn't agree or like what you said. Now are you really going to tell me that this is better than a simple "What have you tried" with no vote and even no follow-up? Because it's not. –  John Dibling Dec 16 '13 at 21:04

I totally disagree with the ban of this kind of comment. I see many scenarios where this is perfectly legit and as such we shouldn't lose our ability to use it.

Posting "what have you tried" multiple times per question is severely obnoxious

If repeated comments of this type is the issue, why not the current script which stops you posting this comment entirely, instead first checks if the question already has this comment. If no allow it (so 1 instance of this comment can exist).

Posting "what have you tried" when the user has clearly shown that they have tried to solve it on their own

This is no reason to ban it. I see MANY patterns of things similar, such as poor advice, pointless answer or comment, all of which happen just as many times as WHYT on a decent question.

This issue is just the same as all other issues - the spam, bad question, bad answers, bad comments of a different nature, trolling, gibberish, poor info, etc, etc, etc.
There's always something wrong kicking around, and all banning this comment (WHYT) does is blanket policy removing something which also has its uses.

Let's ban kitchen knives because many criminals are using them. No, I use them for cooking. Sodd off!


A poster has made no effort, so why should we?
Why not "What have you tried" as a quick way of prompting them to do some more effort to help us help them?

So I have to now give the lazy questioner more of my time writing a comment which means the same thing as "What have you tried"?

A downvote is just not enough without a comment. People who do not try and/or who are lazy, either do not care about downvotes, or they just get peeved they got downvoted and don't know why.

The same can be true of comments which they do not like, but with a comment such as "What have you tried" other users can see someone has basically told the questioner they've not provided enough info, and they are free to move on, and/or downvote, but importantly not waste their time on a poor question someone has already responded to adequately.

I'm not talking about using this whenever anything is wrong with the question, of course, but it has its place, and blanket policy ban because it also has its annoyances is not the answer, ever.


Q: "How do I write a PHP script for a web form to email me when visitors fill it in".
A: "What have you tried?"

Oh surely it's a perfect response to the above question, and those CONSTANT ones like it? They make no effort, have no code, want code from others, they get a plain simple "What have you tried".

Makes perfect sense to me.

I'm not going to spend my time writing up a "useful" comment to someone who hasn't tried, only to see my time and comment wasted when they either:
Don't return, ever; Close the question; Respond to the comment moaning they've read all of the internet without finding a resolve; Other shit;

share|improve this answer
1  
The whole premise here seems to be "I can't be bothered if they can't be". That's fair enough, but then just stay quiet. WHYT most certainly is not the perfect comment to the example question you've give. Not even close. –  Bart Apr 20 at 5:01
    
How does "staying quiet" help them know what they did wrong? The point of my being able to comment is to tell the user "Hey, you need to provide us with more info". My argument is why not "What have you tried" - WHEN it's appropriate. Again, not saying WHYT should be used when it's a bad question, but when they've "not showed in the question what they've tried". I.E. the response is appropriate, useful. I see no reason to ban "What have you tried" when there are many scenarios when it's very much a decent comment to someone. –  James Apr 20 at 11:08
    
If it is ever a decent comment, you should have no problem at all to rephrase it into something more clear. –  Bart Apr 20 at 11:11
    
@Bart, You argue it can be easily re-phrased if it is a decent comment, but please tell me why I should have to re-phrase a decent comment? This is thought and time spent on someone who has not spent time and thought before posting. For example, people with a brief question with no code, and where the answer is 10 pages of results in Google from a basic search. Why should I re-phrase what is a quick and simple phrase which was already ok? –  James Apr 20 at 11:19
    
Because it isn't really a decent comment. It is void of specific information and routinely abused by plenty of users to say "go away", to a point where it has a poisonous effect on the site and the impression it gives to other visitors. The only reason to want to keep using it is stubbornness. "They didn't spend time" is not an excuse for you not to do so. Even in the example a simple "Searching for X I found this result on Google. Does this address your concerns? If not, could you extend your question with relevant information about your specific problem" would be so much better. –  Bart Apr 20 at 11:24
    
@Bart Q: "How do I write a PHP script for a web form to email me when visitors fill it in". A: "What have you tried?" Why is that not a perfectly adequate comment to that question? What else should I put? More text would surely only explain the same thing? "Hi, please can you provide us with some examples of code, what you have tried so far, & what your results were"? No, not for them to never return, close the question, or someone answer with all the code they want anyway. Why should I or others waste time? The point of the WHYT is I am still helping Stack and the user, and it's descriptive. –  James Apr 20 at 11:50
    
"What have you tried" is a perfectly concise and is most certainly not void of specific information. How else can you say "what have you tried" when someone has not provided "here's what I have tried"?? It's a direct response to a question with no info of what they tried, in which upon answering the questioner either gives the code and details of "what they have tried" - we can then help them with it, as per Stack's setup. Or they say "nothing" and we can tell them that Stack is not a request for code site, they need to "provide something they have already tried". –  James Apr 20 at 11:53
    
I fear we're at a point where we'll have to agree to disagree. –  Bart Apr 20 at 11:56
    
I disagree! (:P) fair enough. I understand the arguments of it being abused, and used incorrectly when not relevant, but I don't agree with blanket policies of "it has A B problems so get rid of it" when it also has "X Y uses". Cheers for your opinion. –  James Apr 20 at 12:03

How about we treat comments like we treat questions/answers.

If there are duplicates, flag them.

If there is one but the OP shows what they've tried, flag it.

How to set row back color on certain row in SlickGrid.

Why should I not use this comment?

Showing what you've tried is vital to the questions/answers success. If someone doesn't show what they've tried, and the viewer coming after them tries the solution and it doesn't work. Then the viewer's only option is to ask what will become a duplicate question, which will receive even more negativity than not showing effort. If both questions show what they've tried, then they are not duplicates.

So, it's not just a measure to make the OP work towards an answer instead of being spoonfed, it's vital to the answer being useful for everyone.

share|improve this answer
    
So the solution is to block a particular phrasing of that question? That's not a solution, even if the consensus was that this type of comment is always invalid. –  Lee Louviere Oct 18 '13 at 16:20
    
WHYT, what tried have you, can you show what things you have done so far, show your work please, etc. –  Lee Louviere Oct 18 '13 at 16:26

I'm the author of the original "What Have You Tried?" article, and it was also me who flippantly registered the domain and pointed it to the specific article on my blog.

The intention of the article was to talk about the need to make an honest effort to solve problems. It was my hope that it would be the beginning of a dialogue, rather than the end of one. Most people use it constructively, but of course there are also those who use it sort of like a door-slam, with no intention to participate further. When used as a bare response, the link does have a snarky, sarcastic "let me google that for you" sort of feel to it.

I've watched all the many thousands of referrers coming in from Stack Overflow over the past few years, and seen how their destination has drifted from originally being mostly to my source code, to now being mostly to What Have You Tried. I've felt some guilt about it, to be honest, even though the article itself stands and is (I think) a useful discussion.

I'm 100% in support of the idea of banning bare (or not-significantly-adorned) WHYT links, or even just banning such links entirely (it'd be sad if that was necessary, but I'd have no problem with it). I just wanted to make my own position clear as the article's author. If you've had the link used as a door-slam against you, I regret that (even though it wasn't my fault!). Likewise, if you've been irritated at seeing the links sprinkled around too much (even if it was by mostly well-meaning people), then I regret that too.

I'm not in the habit of removing published articles from my blog, and I'm not going to remove WHYT. I also hate to break existing links, so I'll keep the domain up and running too. For what it's worth, if I had the chance to go back and write the article again, I'd probably:

  1. Make it shorter. It's a bit too long to be useful to the kind of person who's given a link to it.

  2. Try to make the tone a bit more constructive, somehow. I don't think the tone is too bad, but there's always scope for improvement.

  3. Perhaps make it a bit more example-based, rather than taking the high ground about the nature of learning. Reading it again more than four years later, it feels a bit arrogant in places to me.

Well, I've probably said enough now. Stack Overflow is an excellent community, and all tech communities do have an issue with "do my homework" style questions, and some people's lack of motivation to learn the core skill of problem-solving . WHYT was my own attempt to comment on that issue, if not quite to address it.

I'm on twitter and ADN if you should want to get in touch personally, and there's further contact info at my blog.

share|improve this answer
1  
Well said, just curious: how did this discussion come to your attention? Did you notice less referrers coming since the change and started investigating? :) –  Shadow Wizard Apr 7 '13 at 11:06
3  
Actually, I noticed the referrers specifically pertaining to WHYT. Some people from SO also kindly got in touch to let me know the issue was being discussed. –  Matt Gemmell Apr 7 '13 at 11:07
11  
"if I had the chance to go back and write the article again" -- I understand you don't want to change that specific blog post. But is anything stopping you from pointing that domain to another article? I understand you might not have the time to write a new post. That's fine, of course! But if anything else is stopping you, then I'd say: it's your domain, make it point to content you think fits best. –  Arjan Apr 7 '13 at 11:30
2  
I've thought about rewriting and linking the new one from the top of the original article (and certainly from the domain). Maybe one of these months. –  Matt Gemmell Apr 7 '13 at 11:36
7  
I honestly hope you don't rewrite your blog post, it's excellent. The problem here is that we overused it and it became "too much of a good thing". We over-relied on an (excellent) resource and stopped bothering to actually talk to people and explain what the problem(s) with their questions was. No one is blaming the manual for RTFM comments ;) Welcome to Meta Stack Overflow, hope to see you on Stack Overflow and the rest of Stack Exchange as well. –  Yannis Apr 7 '13 at 12:42
5  
Hey, Matt - thanks for chiming in here! It's a great blog post - I wish folks wouldn't use links to it in lieu of relevant comments, but that's hardly the fault of the post itself. FWIW: direct links to the post aren't blocked at all, just the ones using the WHYT redirect. –  Shogging through the snow Apr 8 '13 at 2:37
4  
I think that's sensible (blocking the redirect domain). Retrospectively now, I can see that the mere existence of the domain kind of encourages hasty, ill-considered and perhaps mean-spirited use. I don't really remember my thoughts at the time (more than 4 years ago), but I do vaguely recall that the article was something of a hit on twitter (most of my followers are devs, so it's understandable enough). I was probably just a bit carried-away with how damned clever I felt, and rushed to grab the domain. Not hugely proud of that, but I do think that the article is decent enough. :) –  Matt Gemmell Apr 8 '13 at 16:40
1  
You wrote "willingness and desire to learn". That's not your position to expect. A question is all there is. If you don't want to answer it because you think it's doing their work for free, then don't do it but don't hide behind trying to "help" people when in fact you just resent them for wanting(and sometimes getting) something you had to work hard for. –  Gewinn Nov 30 '13 at 22:35

I think that part of the reason why so many people comment with this message is that the first WHYT comment can often count on a few comment upvotes, and commenters might believe this to be the easiest way to earn the Pundit badge (Left 10 comments with score of 5 or more).

And the thing is, they might be right about this. Maybe it would be better if Pundit was easier (so that most people would get it quickly) or harder to obtain (so that WHYT spamming wouldn't help).

share|improve this answer
1  
This is a good point, though I do think the fad nature of WHYT is a bigger contributing factor. –  George W Bush Mar 27 '13 at 12:06
    
You could block the comment if there already is one. But that doesn't solve it as I'm just going to do this, WHYT –  Lee Louviere Oct 18 '13 at 16:23
    
@LeeLouviere Shog9 re-enabled the ban of that site. But, please, don't go to lengths just to circumvent the ban. If you do want to request what they've tried, put some extra time into the comment so they know what you're looking for? (These comments are after all banned because people were just throwing it out thoughtlessly) –  doppelgreener Nov 22 '13 at 0:08

I'm relatively new to SO, but first started programming in the mid-70s. A bit of a dinosaur relative to most of the SO community, so I suspect my opinion on this may come off as 'old school'.

That said, I'm a bit turned off by the obvious cheating going on by so many students using this site as a free homework service. They don't even try to hide it in many cases, they cut/paste their assignment text into a question, and post it, and within a couple minutes you have half a dozen rep farmers giving complete solutions to the problem in the hopes of an accepted answer. At the same time, a wave of down-votes and "What have you tried" responses in the comment section.

I have tried to interview programmers that 'grew up' in this climate, using google, wikipedia and sites like this to get instant answers, rather than a actually learning how to code, using a debugger, some good sources, and some personal effort. The signal/noise ratio with new grad candidates is constantly getting worse.

Let me be clear though, I like helping people, especially when they obviously are making a real effort and putting in the time and energy and are genuinely stuck on something that isn't obvious. It would be good to try and work with that sort of questioner, and lead them along a path to finding a solution, without just instantly helping them break their educational institution's policy on cheating and/or plagiarism.

That's difficult though when there is a drag race going on to grab the rep points. I'm torn on whether this site is good for the working developer community by helping more programmers to learn, or if its just helping more people that don't want to learn at all pass a class, without absorbing anything of value.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the main issue, I have recently begun responding to vague questions (or questions with no actual question) by prodding them in the comment section to be more specific, show some working (or almost working) code, ask a direct question etc. Then, if they edit their question to take care of that, I usually delete the comment. So the clutter is removed, once they have resolved the issue.

share|improve this answer

Posting "what have you tried" when the user has clearly shown that they have tried to solve it on their own

The problem is that you're taking the message literally.

"What have you tried?" comments do not mean "I want to see the limited, failing research that you have sort of done, because you forgot to add it to your question and I feel like browsing through it".

They mean "I am trying to be polite about this: we are not here to do your work for you, and you have not taken this as far as you can on your own before resorting to asking for free help on the internet".

share|improve this answer
3  
Right, but what is even the point of it then? Is this jibe your revenge for having your time wasted? The comments are there to ask the user for things or provide information relevant to the question when it isn't quite an answer. They're not for discussing the quality of a question. The voting interface is there to let you express your opinion on the quality of the question. –  Asad Mar 27 '13 at 1:29
1  
@Asad: The comments are there to ask the user for things, yes, including writing better questions. Downvoting a question doesn't help the author to understand how he can improve it. It is encouraged to explain a downvote and, well, this is often seen as a subtle (if borderline passive-aggressive) way to nudge the comment thread in that direction. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 27 '13 at 1:33
    
Also no it's not "revenge" - read my answer above to see what it is. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 27 '13 at 1:34

I think it's pretty ironic how a "What have you tried?" comment criticises lack of effort, while simultaneously epitomising lack of effort.

Suppose you see a question with zero research effort. After downvoting and/or close voting if merited, you have two options:

  • Leave a helpful comment that explains how the user can demonstrate research effort, i.e. what the question is missing. This information should be in the actual comment (no, linking to an article that explains it very well is not good enough).
  • Do nothing; there are other users with time to properly evaluate and address the problem. Worst case scenario, you can favorite the question and come back to it later.

This one liner does sound pithy, but it shows that you're too lazy to actually identify or help correct the problem.


As a matter of personal preference, I don't vote on questions when I don't have time to leave a comment, because it usually means I haven't had time to read them fully either. That said, it is entirely your prerogative to down/closevote even when you can't leave a comment: the task of helping curate content is just as important as trying to help the OP.

share|improve this answer
9  
No, throwing a driveby downvote/close vote show you are too lazy to actually identify or help correct the problem –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 3:00
17  
@enderland Throwing a "driveby" downvote/closevote is fine if there is a problem with the question that has already been identified. I usually upvote the comment that identifies the problem too. If the problem hasn't been identified, either I'll point it out myself or avoid the question entirely if I don't have time. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 3:04
4  
All this is completely irrelevant to the utility of "What have you tried" comments, of course. They're useless. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 3:05
2  
Eh, it's more useful than downvoting with no explanation. But I guess I don't really feel like arguing this point. Perhaps my experience in trying to actively shape a relatively new site causes me to prefer helping users make their questions better than just downvoting/deleting them –  enderland Mar 21 '13 at 3:07
2  
@enderland You're battling a strawman here. I never advocated downvotes with no explanation, and explicitly mentioned how to bring more attention to comments that explain what the problem is. If there are no comments explaining the problem, I will explain the problem myself. Failing that, I won't vote on the question at all, since if I don't have time to even leave a helpful comment it is probable I've only skimmed the question and am not in a position to properly evaluate it. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 3:11
3  
@Asad: "I never advocated downvotes with no explanation" Sure you did; it was item #2 in your two item list. As you said, "After downvoting and/or close voting if merited...". So you are saying that it's OK to downvote with no explanation. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 21 '13 at 14:26
1  
"linking to an article that explains it very well is not good enough" It's more than good enough for me. –  Jack Maney Mar 21 '13 at 18:20
    
@JackManey So you asked a question, recieved a "What have you tried" comment, then immediately proceeded to read the entire article and realise how it applied to your specific question? –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 18:26
1  
@Asad - I have asked very few questions on SO and none of them received a "what have you tried?" comment (more revenge downvotes than anything else, sadly). However, if I had received such a comment, then yes, I would read the article in full and then use it to be more explicit about attempts that I've made to solve the problem in the question at hand. –  Jack Maney Mar 21 '13 at 18:28
    
@JackManey When you're trying to fix a problem at work, an entire article about improving your question asking technique is much less useful than a comment specifically pointing out something you forgot to include in the question. There's nothing stopping you from adding the article to comment that tells the OP they didn't include function XYZ that they reference in their code. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 18:37
1  
@Asad - In many of these questions, what the OP has forgotten is to specify what he/she has tried. Hence "What have you tried?". In many cases, no more specificity is needed than that. –  Jack Maney Mar 21 '13 at 18:39
    
>This one liner does sound pithy, but it shows that you're too lazy to actually identify or help correct the problem. No, it shows you're willing to engage in conversation if they're willing to try to help themselves. –  mcalex Apr 6 '13 at 5:30

When I hover over the "downvote" button the first words in the tooltip are

This question does not show any research effort

The first section on how to ask is

Do your homework

What should we do when we see a question that lacks "research effort" or "homework"? Is a barrage of downvotes or close votes really more helpful than a barrage of "what have you tried" comments?

I would like to leave some sort of helpful tip for the asker, but I do not think it would be a good use of my time to write a personalized message on every question I read that lacks evidence of research. I would rather spend my time answering good questions.

In the interest of being helpful and friendly, for new (less than 30 minutes old) I leave a comment instead of a downvote/flag if I believe that a question can be "rehabilitated" (but needs input from the OP).

I never link to whathaveyoutried.com because I do not think that post is helpful to askers.

As an example, what about this question? It has been closed, downvoted to -4, and has an accepted answer. (Note per edit history that the original question lacked the source code.)

Here's another question that I eventually downvoted.

EDIT: I have been persuaded. From now on, if I see a question that shows lack of research effort, but I have nothing more specific to add than what is already on "How to ask", I will simply downvote the question.

share|improve this answer
9  
To answer your first question: yes, voting is a hell of a lot more helpful to the rest of the community than a trite comment. Unless you can reasonably expect the comment to result in the question being fixed, it's not doing much by itself. If you want to down-vote and add a comment... great - but the voting is the more important part of that equation. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 21 '13 at 15:38
6  
The system is designed to accommodate any number of up/downvotes on a post. This is how content is indexed by quality. The system is not designed to accommodate half a dozen comments that uselessly parrot the same thing, and neither is the average human being. A single comment that says "Do you have any code we can start with?" or "Have you tried searching for XYZ on Google? The first few search results contain an answer." conveys as much and more information about the lack of research effort than a series of "What have you tried" links, which are likely to be promptly ignored. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 15:56

Being on the side of usually answering I am biased towards asking

What have you tried?

I can understand the argument that this site is supposed to be helpful and welcoming but frankly, I didn't feel like I had that experience recently when asking a question. Instead, I felt like I couldn't get help until I satisfied the requirements of how the question must be properly formatted. This was quite frustrating having a rep of 10k+.

From a high level, it seems like each "niche" or tags have their own "format it this way," or "what have you tried?" Last year I proposed that the "Ask Question" screen be enhanced to include such a feature but the feedback seemed like it would deter the user because of more form elements. But where does the line get drawn for quality? How likely is someone to go through Jon Skeet's guide on formatting a good question?

Yes, seeing several "what have you tried" comments is obnoxious. I see voting down and voting to close as more negative and deterring to the user then posting that comment. While it may be frustrating, it forces the user to actually try something and improves the quality of the question. The only problem I see with this is some rep-hungry user will go ahead and answer it anyway. I personally feel this just lowers the quality of the content and that's why I ask, "what have you tried?"

Update

I've made a gist that compromises the gist (no pun intended) of the "Do your homework" section for no effort questions to supplement a downvote.

This question does not show any research effort. It is important to do your homework. Tell us what you found and why it didn't meet your needs. This demonstrates that you've taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer. FAQ.

share|improve this answer
4  
"This was quite frustrating having a rep of 10k+." Yes, it's frustrating when the rules still apply to you regardless of your rep. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 21 '13 at 14:32
3  
@NicolBolas It wasn't my first question. It's frustrating when you think you think appropriately asked the question only to be told that this "tag" has a different way of doing it. I feel like there needs to be a more consistent "standard" for questions. –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:36
    
@PolishPrince I'd add another sentence or two to your canned message, perhaps explaining to the (probably) new users why research effort is important. Slapping them on the wrist and saying why will get you X, but slapping them on the wrist and convincing them why will get you 4X –  George W Bush Mar 21 '13 at 15:42
    
@GeorgeWBush Perhaps something along the lines of "-1 This question does not show any research effort. It is important to do your homework. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer! FAQ." –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 15:55
2  
@PolishPrince You're misunderstanding the problem. The problem isn't that "what have you tried" doesn't have enough words in it. It just doesn't identify the specific problem with each post, which is a problem no amount of boilerplate comments will solve. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 16:00
    
@Asad Then what do you propose is done to remedy these types of questions? –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 16:04
4  
@PolishPrince Just take five seconds to state what the specific problem with the question is. Is there any code you would like that isn't present? Can the answer to the question be found from a simple search? Is there too much missing context to be able to answer the question? It doesn't need to be a whole essay on how to write good questions; just give the user something they can fix immediately. –  Asad Mar 21 '13 at 16:09

How about a macro that replaces "What have you tried" with "Thank you for your question. However, we need more information to be able to assist you. Could you expound upon the nature of your problem as well as explain what course of action you have attempted and any bearing those steps had upon your problem?"

For variety, wordsmith N permutations of that response and let the RNG handle which one is picked.

We want to improve people's experience on here for questioners and answerers. Clueless n00bie asks question, sheep respond back 'what have you tried" gets us nowhere. WHYT is a symptom of a question showing low effort and a desire of answerers to spend their energy in the most beneficial way. Instead of flat out blocking WHYT, let's help them better their question.

share|improve this answer
6  
So given the cases above, we're giving the user a larger wall of text? –  casperOne Mar 21 '13 at 14:20
8  
@casperOne Yes, friendlier walls of text that address how the question should be improved/what's missing –  billinkc Mar 21 '13 at 14:23
    
@casperOne Perhaps a picture book example is friendlier? –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:29
    
@billinkc I proposed that an extra form element be added but it seems like more form elements deter users, which in turn turns away potential traffic; which I think SE wants. –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:42
5  
The point is, just blindly replacing "what have you tried" with more text doesn't help, it just increases the noise in that area. We want to decrease noise. –  casperOne Mar 21 '13 at 15:20

I confess. I'm part of this epidemic.

But there's a good reason for it! I swear!


So, I'm of two minds.

On one side, I see the view of the software developer who's interested in lending a hand to someone, and who's happy and eager to contribute. I also feel the huge emotional drain that comes with someone posting hundreds of lines of code with a description that boils down to, "This is broken, can you help me find the bug?"

I feel that it's important for a programmer of any walk to approach a problem and give it the ol' College try. Just because you're unfamiliar with the problem or don't understand the problem doesn't mean that it's acceptable to just ask it here and hope that someone will be benevolent enough to lead you to The Right Thing. This is why I'm not too shy about asking "What have you tried" whenever it seems like there's minimal effort involved.

On the other side, it does get very frustrating to look at four or five comments asking "What have you tried" or looking for an SSCCE. Even the comments that come off as asking "what have you tried" without saying that verbatim can grate on a person's nerves every now and then.

I feel that the above opinion may come from the more aggressive users of the term and associated links. It kind of feels that the comment is made as a knee-jerk reaction to a question that could be saved, if it were made a little clearer and a little bit of effort were shown.

The ultimate question to ask would be, "What is truly gained from using this one liner?" If it were worked into your comment in a more organic manner, not only would I be okay with it, it would come across as less condescending. The way it's being used is no different than the older times of, "Is this homework?"

We have to draw the line. I'm personally working to better myself and work this in more organically now. If a question is truly beyond salvation, downvote/vote to close and move on; no need to post something like that.

share|improve this answer
    
"This is broken, can you help me find the bug?" isn't that what code review is for? –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:41
18  
@PolishPrince No. Code Review is for reviewing and improving working code. –  Anna Lear Mar 21 '13 at 14:53
    
@AnnaLear So where is it appropriate to do debugging? I was under the impression SO is not a debugging service. –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:56
8  
@PolishPrince None of our sites are debugging services and likely to stay that way. –  Anna Lear Mar 21 '13 at 14:57
    
@AnnaLear Do you advise that we down-vote and close the question as too localized? –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 14:58
4  
@PolishPrince If someone just pastes a wall of code without much else, it's probably safe to say it's either a NARQ or too localized. Other cases may be less clear. Use your best judgement. –  Anna Lear Mar 21 '13 at 15:00
    
@AnnaLear Got it! Thanks :) –  Kermit Mar 21 '13 at 15:02
3  
I'm constantly pushing for the SSCCE Not only is it easier to work with than actual production code, but it is a way to protect your privacy too. Normally, when people ask to see code or an SSCCE, they're actually information gathering. This is not always case for What have you tried, which normally looks more like a dismissal than an attempt to gather information –  Sam I am Mar 21 '13 at 15:38
2  
@SamIam: On a vendor's forums that I frequent, they won't even entertain your issue until you produce a self-contained, working example of your problem. –  staticx Mar 21 '13 at 15:56
    
Now no longer allowed to post that comment! –  mplungjan Mar 30 '13 at 13:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .