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I been on Stack Overflow for about two years and am wondering if I am using it correctly (if there is a correct way to use it.)

The way I use/view Stack Overflow is a place to search for answers. I know you can provide answers, but by the time I find the information I am looking for, there is nothing new to add most of the time. All I tend to do is favorite a question and upvote comments and answers that helped me find my way to what I truly needed.

Am I missing a part of Stack Overflow or am I just fine in the way I use the site?

Maybe someone could suggest a way I could better be a part of the community. Do I really need to be a part of the community (but then I feel like I am being a leech). Are there other ways one can contribute by the time you get to the questions that already have good answers?

I don't ask even 1/20th of the questions I have, because a good search does turn up the obvious fact that I am not the first person ever to have the same issue. So contributing questions probably is not the best way.

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Want an honest answer? You sound like a model citizen. :) If you feel like it, you can try getting into answering some questions, or editing posts and closevoting and flagging, but there's absolutely no pressure. What you are doing sounds just fine and is doing the site a great service, even though you're not collecting many points and badges that way. –  Pëkka Feb 16 at 1:48
After reading the post I had an answer, then I read the comment by @Pëkka and that sums it up nicely. I would just like to add that you are contributing by upvoting the answers you find helpful because that makes it easier for other people searching to see the more helpful answers (and of course helps the person who answered by giving them rep). So, no leaching going on there. –  codeMagic Feb 16 at 2:08
Thanks codeMagic (and all) the advice is appreciated. –  mpop Feb 16 at 4:19

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Stack Exchange sites are designed to be used. Read them, get good information from them. The point is to make the web better, so that people can do exactly that!

The easiest things to do would be to vote on good and bad stuff. From the comments, it seems you're doing that already. Other administrative tasks like tagging and editing may not be as sexy as asking and answering questions, but they're important. You could do those.

If you still want to do more and can't think up questions to ask or manage to answer questions others ask, keep in mind that you can ask and answer your own question.

Last, Stack Overflow is just one site in the Stack Exchange network of sites. You might be interested in the Android site, since I see on your blog that you're an Android developer. Blogging... that's on-topic at the Writers site. There are many you could contribute to.

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Thanks. And thanks for the pointer to the android site (stupid me did not know that existed, but I am sure I will be making use of it) I am going to go ahead and mark you as the answer, you said the same things as those above but the only one marked as an answer, plus the android site is a bonus to me. –  mpop Feb 16 at 6:05
Great answer, I'd also add that sharing questions and useful answers via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc is a good way to give back to the community as it helps others with similar problems find good answers. –  jmort253 May 18 at 18:47

As you are already using the site to search for answers, I suggest using the opportunity to look for duplicates.

Track them down

Often a Google search turns up essentially the same question asked in different ways (or in nearly the exact same way). Example: high-resolution timing on Windows (asked over, and over and again). Decide on the canonical question (usually the oldest).


Add comments to the other questions suggesting they are duplicates of this canonical question (I am not sure about the official policy for users under 3,000 reputation points using the flagging system for closing questions, but if it is all right they can be flagged as well). The comments will very much help in the future when users decide on casting close votes or not.

Some users don't like their questions being closed, so a little courtesy may be in order. Therefore I will not suggest the exact phrasing of those comments; find your own style that works best for you. A starting point may be the (neutral) text that is usually automatically inserted when the first user with closing rights votes to close a question*1:

Possible duplicate of XYZ.

Make it awesome

Now turn the attention to the canonical question:

  • Suggest (comprehensive) edits to the question

  • Make the best answer (often the accepted or highest-voted) the whole Internet's definite answer for this question.

    Make the answer comprehensive - often an existing answer may be vague, missing details, be missing (working) sample code, only be a pointer in the right direction (not really operational without a lot of effort on the reader), etc. Synthesise all the answers, including from the duplicates, into the definitive answer.

    Make the answer easy to understand: add annotated screenshots, avoid the wall of text, pay attention to formatting (but don't overdo it), etc.

    Either make the change by:

    • Suggesting an edit to the answer, or (as the change may be too drastic),
    • Provide your own answer

While the answer should be comprehensive, it should also be succinct. You may consider using the inverted pyramid.

Getting reputation points should not be your main concern, but you will get it immediately from suggested edits and for the longer term from your own answers (there is little attention on old questions, but Stack Overflow users, who find the great answers through Google Search, will often upvote).

*1 Source is (replace with the real title and the real URL): Possible duplicate of [*XYZ*](http://stackoverflow.com/questions/ABC).

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Adding to existing or providing your own: When should one edit someone else's answer vs. adding your own? –  Peter Mortensen Feb 17 at 23:51

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