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I'm well aware that a certain amount of research effort is expected of Stack Overflow users before they post any new questions, but I'm not sure just how much research effort is considered adequate.

Recently, I've noticed that there's been some controversy about the issue of how much research effort is considered necessary. I asked a question about the syntax of the Go programming language because I had found no search engine results that offered a clear answer, even after searching for almost an hour.

Nonetheless, one Stack Overflow user was apparently dissatisfied with the amount of effort that I had put into this question, and they replied to my question with the following comment:

What's your point? You think it would take you hours? Well that's just sad. It was clear in the google results if you took more than a few seconds to look. It's just really very poor to go running to someone for help instead of at least trying on your own. I can see it from a small child, but from an adult, it's really just obnoxious. Now you're whining about it. Seriously man, grow up.

Should I take this advice seriously, and refrain from asking for help even when I am not able to answer my own question with a reasonable amount of effort?

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The commenter was being rude, not just with that comment. I am wiping the comments and seeing if anything further needs to be done. –  Andrew's a Unitato May 30 '13 at 2:24
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This question is just fine. Don't worry about the comments. –  ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 30 '13 at 15:41
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@returnPhaDaPhunk I would somewhat disagree, one would better worry about rude comments, not deeply mind you, but sufficiently enough to bother flagging these for deletion. After flagging, yeah, it's probably time to stop worrying :) –  gnat May 30 '13 at 17:30
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@gnat Totally right. We don't want such comments here. –  ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 30 '13 at 17:33
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@AndrewBarber I'd remove the squint comments as well, personally. –  Dave Newton May 30 '13 at 21:05
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@DaveNewton: I took care of it. –  Robert Harvey May 30 '13 at 21:07
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FWIW, it took me < 10 clicks on the Go website to see how to define the parameter types, total time ~30s. While rudeness is sub-optimal, if it's that early in the language's website's live tutorial, there wasn't enough effort. IMO asking questions about a language before having spun through even the first few screens of their live tutorial is borderline irresponsible: if you're trying to learn a language, actually try to learn it, particularly when there are live examples showing precisely what you're asking six clicks in. –  Dave Newton May 30 '13 at 21:10
    
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I wouldn't be overly concerned with that user's comment as it is borderline slander. –  Paul Renton Aug 7 '13 at 15:51
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We should faq this –  Cole Johnson Dec 5 '13 at 6:52
    
Research type questions are not important. They were subject of debates. The questions without research too. The right answer is "offtopic" or "we don't know the answer". My answer to +500: Do/do/do: code research search... and 500 other things - and spend your entire life for the benefit of mb obsolete idea and community that is hostile for beginners: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/189301/… , blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/08/… And finally you end up with 2 yr old question ,lost –  Xsi Jan 4 at 7:11
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do not worry about your problems with research, assure you that mine are far greater on tcs.se & mathoverflow :p –  vzn Feb 2 at 19:13
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4 Answers

up vote 148 down vote accepted
+500

A lot. An absurd amount. More than you think you are capable of. In fact, asking a question on Stack Overflow is the absolute last thing you ever want to do. You want to avoid it at all costs. You want to think of it as a horrible shame1 that will forever haunt you and pass down from you to your descendants. You want very much to find your answer some other way.

You want to

  • Search. Like mad.
  • Test your code.
  • Troubleshoot.
  • Read blogs.
  • Find books.
  • Follow tutorials.
  • Anything to avoid adding another question to Stack Overflow.

You never want to hit that "ask question" button and absolutely never do you want to click the "post your question" button.

After you have reached the end of your rope and the pain of not having the answer exceeds the vast amount of shame received by posting your question, that's when you can go ahead and ask. Because at that point, you will have done whatever research necessary to make it a good question worth asking. Because so help me, if your question gets an answer within 30 seconds that has 10 upvotes within 3 minutes, you did not do enough research.


1 The terms "shame" and "never" are a tad bit hyperbolic, but the important point remains that we absolutely want you to do your homework. Understand that our time is not free, though we do not charge for it. Answering low quality, poorly researched, or duplicated questions becomes tiresome.


And the quoted comment in the OP was indeed rude. Let's get that out of the way. But to be frank, you've asked 36 (visible) questions in May. That's rather a lot. I won't review all of them, because I haven't the time, but it's fair to say that you probably do want to consider spending more of your time and less of ours. We do not mind helping, but we're not a replacement for either personal training or paid support.

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@Antony, Indeed I have. In all seriousness, I'm right embarrassed by one or three of them. –  user414076 May 30 '13 at 15:51
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This is an excellent answer. The portion above the horizontal line needs to be in the FAQ. –  Jack Maney May 30 '13 at 17:21
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I see what you did there. –  Robert Harvey May 30 '13 at 21:04
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When I started reading, I wasn't sure I liked this answer. The more I read, the more I liked it. (I, myself, have been shamed 12 times - one that was deleted.) Only one suggestion, and I'm not 100% sure it's necessary: perhaps indicate in some way that you were using just a tad bit of hyperbole, for those who are sensitive. (or, insensitive) –  Andrew's a Unitato May 30 '13 at 21:32
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@user414076 If everyone did this wouldn't this suggest a negative growth rate for SO. –  Some Helpful Commenter May 30 '13 at 21:36
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@SomeHelpfulCommenter Yep, and it would hugely increase the ratio of good/bad questions as a result. –  Dave Newton May 30 '13 at 21:40
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I will admit to a tiny fraction of hyperbole. Mixed in with a lot of "no, for real, keep searching." –  user414076 May 30 '13 at 21:55
    
@DaveNewton doesn't appear to be what's actually happening though –  Some Helpful Commenter May 30 '13 at 22:02
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@SomeHelpfulCommenter, your own words were "if everyone did this," which we know everyone isn't. –  user414076 May 30 '13 at 22:42
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter Hmm. Apparently the week of Christmas is the only time of the year that people post less questions on a weekday then on a weekend. Interesting. –  Servy May 31 '13 at 3:10
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Blankman has shamed himself 1,846 times –  apaul34208 May 31 '13 at 8:00
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"You want to avoid it at all costs" - in this case, it's necessary to add a well visible banner "don't ask questions here" on the main page, so people won't be mislead. –  user626528 Oct 24 '13 at 4:25
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@user160319: There's a big difference between "don't ask us unless/until you have no other option" and "don't ask us". The former simply requires that you do everything you can for yourself first. Frankly, it's disrespectful to expect strangers to work for free doing stuff you could easily have done; it shows how little you value other people's time. But once you've tried all you can and still need help...your question is more likely to be (a) non-trivial, (b) complete, (c) useful, and (d) interesting enough that many of us would spend time working on it just to understand it for ourselves. –  cHao Jan 1 at 18:23
    
I think i might be the only person that COMPLETELY disagrees with this. Yes, the members are all volunteers; but it's important to remember what you're volunteering your time towards. SO is not just a programming Q&A site, it's THE programming Q&A site. IMHO, if there exists an on-topic, well-written, question that has not been asked on here yet, it SHOULD be asked--no matter how novice it is. A few minutes of your time to save (future) askers hours/days/weeks/etc. of theirs. Isn't that what this is all about? –  Noob Saibot Feb 28 at 23:01
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A difficulty here is that individual persons have very variable 'google-fu'. For some questions, a very slight change in the approach to the search engine can make a very large difference in the quality of the results. So we do get situations where someone has, in fact, made a nontrivial effort, and still ended up asking a question that an expert can find the answer to with three clicks.

On the other hand, there are some warning signs(tm) that should indicate to you that you're missing something simple, and you need to go talk to the rubber duck about how you are searching. Here we have a non-esoteric programming language. Here we have, indeed, what looks like a very simple question about this programming language. It should really bother you that you can't find an answer to your question.

If you can't think of anything else to search for in a case like this, searching for a tutorial can't hurt. And in this case, 'searching' includes 'visiting the mother-ship web site(s) of the topic,' as per some of the comments and answers.

Now, really, if you've tried a, and you've tried b, and you've looked for a tutorial, and you've taken a walk around the block, and spoken to the rubber duck, and you still have come up empty-handed, ask a question here. You might get the occasional snide comment, which you should flag.

But if this keeps happening to you over and over, you really need to introspect as to whether you are being honest with yourself about how hard you are looking.

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I often ask questions about programming languages that I'm not familiar with, so I get a lot of downvotes from people who have more experience with these languages than I do. I know much less about C++, Go, Bash, Haxe, and Python than about Java and JavaScript, so my questions about these subjects often reflect my relative lack of experience with these other languages. –  Anderson Green May 30 '13 at 21:01
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In addition, unless Google knows you and your search preferences, it may take a few searches/etc. to seed it with the knowledge required to find what you're looking for more easily. –  Dave Newton May 30 '13 at 21:04
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@AndersonGreen, when you're new to a language, your first thought should be "how likely is it that I am the first person to have this question?" The answer should immediately be "not bloody likely." Stack Overflow has 5,000,000 questions. The idea that anyone is the first to ask anything is quite small just on this website, let alone the internet at large. Search. And when that doesn't work, search harder. Rephrase your question and search a third, fourth, and fifth time. (And find a good language resource that will help you.) –  user414076 May 30 '13 at 21:11
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Searching for information about the Go programming language is particularly problematic, since "go" is a very common English word that rarely refers to the programming language itself. For languages with entirely unique names (e. g., JavaScript), it's often much easier to find relevant information, since search engines don't need to distinguish between multiple meanings of the same word. –  Anderson Green Oct 7 '13 at 21:00
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@AndersonGreen: You're basically admitting that you didn't try very hard. When i googled for "Set function parameter types in Go" -- the very title of your question! -- the top 8 results were all Go-language-related, and the Go language spec (the official description of Go syntax) was #5. The top 4 were all SO questions; one of them was yours, and two others had been around a year before you asked yours. While the other questions themselves are not duplicates, they do include sample code that'd answer your question. –  cHao Jan 1 at 20:55
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From how to ask, emphasis mine:

Sharing your research helps everyone. 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 above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

Doing research is only half of what you need. Your question did not explain what you found and why that wasn't helpful to you.

Sharing your research can also help you in the following ways:

  • Searched using the wrong terms? If you post the search terms you used, someone can help you with better search terms.
  • Spent a half hour on a website that had your answer, but you didn't see it? Someone familiar with the website can help.
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This is saying why it's important to do research, but that's not the question, the question is how much research should be done. This post doesn't answer that question. –  Servy Oct 7 '13 at 16:55
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No, but it addresses the implicit "why did I get a snarky response?" question, so it is useful even if slightly off-topic ... –  Ben Bolker Oct 7 '13 at 20:42
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I think that the power behind this answer is not obvious, and I think that it is very on topic. I can't count the number of times I have started writing a question, and by the time I was done researching and drafting the question, I had found a satisfactory answer. I think that there is a lot of power in taking a perceived problem in your head and framing it in a way that you can explain it to someone else. –  nispio Oct 18 '13 at 19:18
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Should I take this advice seriously, and refrain from asking for help even when I am not able to answer my own question with a reasonable amount of effort?

I guess it depends on what you care about?

Do you want to avoid getting made fun of

Do a lot of research and include it in your question. Alternatively you can just start out your question with "I googled but..."

Want to get a quality answer?

Amount of research doesn't actually matter. What matter's here that you provide enough info to make the question answerable plus be somewhat lucky.

Anyone who says different is talking about a ideals and hopes and personal perspectives and isn't talking about the reality of the current situation.

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Note that if you follow this advice you have a dramatically higher probability of being question banned due to asking a large number of very low quality questions. You're also likely to run into problems with the rate limiting in the number of questions that the site will let you ask. Oh, and that's not to mention the fact that if you're not capable of solving routine problems on your own that you're unlikely to be successful in the field; getting a lot of help from SO can only help you skate by for so long. Having said all of that, the sad reality is that the post is largely true. –  Servy May 31 '13 at 3:14
    
@Servy the sad reality is that the post is largely true Yep –  Some Helpful Commenter Oct 7 '13 at 18:38
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