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I sometimes get comments like this on my questions:

Why would you want to do this?
I can't think of a scenario where you would need this.

Does this mean I am not asking good enough questions? I try to not go into the boring details of what I am working on, preferring rather to focus on the technical issue at hand.

Here is an example of what I am talking about: Fun with casting and inheritance

First comment: "Why would you want to do this?"

Do I need to start giving more background?

Am I the only one getting comments like these?

Just curious what others think.

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Why are you asking this? I can't think of a reason to need this information –  Bob May 25 '10 at 22:23
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@Bob I agree. This question is irrelevant. The asker should just drop this and try jQuery where the answer is already given. –  Earlz May 26 '10 at 0:44
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Often, I don't feel motivated to accept a burden shift from someone who begins by telling me he isn't imaginative enough to understand why I would ask a certain question, as if that were MY problem? Sometimes it's a hostile pushback, sometimes it's genuine curiosity, sometimes it's a well-meaning attempt to get clarification. In all cases, it shifts the burden back on the questioner. –  Reb.Cabin Aug 24 '11 at 4:52

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I always hate people who question the reasoning behind my choices. The focus is suddenly moved from my problem to why I'm having my problem, and after half an hour of explaining they question the problem that caused the problem.

4 hours later when I finish explaining to them the architecture of my entire application in every small detail they usually agree that in this very particular case doing what I want to do is acceptable, and then give me an answer they could have given me 4 hours earlier.

So no, whatever reasoning you have you shouldn't have to explain it in order to get an answer, it's just a waste of time.

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+1 First answer the question. Then supply the caveats, warnings, possibility of injury..up to and including death. –  Rusty May 27 '10 at 18:00
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Exactly right -- rather than answering a question, they shift the burden back on you to justify your question. Sometimes this is just hostility -- certain "support engineers" are trained to deflect work by doing exactly this burden shift. Like the little kid who keeps asking "why," -- they slow you down indefinitely and hope that you just give up and go elsewhere. Sometimes, it's genuine curiosity, and the deflector does not realize he's done an annoying shoveback. My advice: there are enough good answerers on SO that you don't need to get caught up responding to the shoveback. –  Reb.Cabin Aug 24 '11 at 4:45
    
It also feels like they are making a Renee Zelwegger scrunch face when they ask you "Why would you want to do this?" –  puk Nov 22 '11 at 16:56
    
I am having the exact same problem right now. My vim question got twisted into a Mysql/PHP/javascript problem –  puk Nov 22 '11 at 19:53

There are often questions by people new to a language/technology/... who don't know what they are doing. In these cases it is often better if the question is not just answered literally, but if a generally preferable way of solving the problem is shown.

People don't know if you know what you are talking about and they will ask for reasons if you put unusual constraints on your question, since in general the real problem might as well lie in faulty assumptions on the OPs side.

If you know what you do and that you do it for the correct reasons you should make this clear in the question, else people will try to solve what looks to them as the bigger underlying problem.

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I'm very glad that someone argued about Regex and HTML –  Earlz May 26 '10 at 0:45

Unfortunately you can't guess the OP's background from the question itself. Therefore you don't know if you are talking to a beginner, or an expert.

Asking questions that help one better understand the true nature of the problem is one method of solving a problem.

I need to find the remainder of a number, so I'm successively subtracting but it's not working. It appears to be an off by one error in my loop counter, but I'm just scratching my head.

Could result in two responses:

Yes, you have an off by one error, change your loop as follows...

or

Are you aware that the Frob language has a modulus operator?

Both are valid because the OP did not post enough detail to demonstrate the need to take the long route.

To assume the OP knows what they are doing can be worse than questioning their assumptions. One only need to look at all the examples of "professionally written code" on thedailywtf to see that not everyone understands enough about their problem to write the right question.

If you find this happens a lot to your questions, a better tactic is to head them off at the pass:

I need to find the remainder of a number, so I'm successively subtracting but it's not working. It appears to be an off by one error in my loop counter, but I'm just scratching my head. I can't use the modulus operator due to CPU limitations (compiling to a 4 bit processor) and this method, should it work, does a better job than the compiler's built in math routines.

This demonstrates that you truly understand the problem, and prevents the inevitable clamor for more information about why you are skipping the 'obvious' answer.

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With few exceptions the problem does not lie with the question. It would appear as some have lost sight of whole "knowledge sharing" idea and that an answer should be rooted in fact. There are plenty of homework kiddies and other bone heads around that can be obvious targets of scorn. But have no idea who I am, what I do, my level of skill or intellectual ability. So a little decorum is in order. (at least until figure out I am a chucklehead).

Three points to remember before you post that answer or comment:

[1] Don't answer a question with a question unless you are asking for a clarification on the question.

[2] NEVER answer or comment "You don't need to know that."..EVER. That is just stupid.

[3] Answer the question first. THEN supply caveats.

i.e. "What's the most exact datatype I can use to represent [floating point] position...in c# ?"

There is exactly one answer, one...Decimal. There are many caveats in using Decimal..speed, size, etc. Those caveats belong in the "But.." or "Warning.." or "Never.." section of your post..not at the top..the top is for answers.

The lead in on one answer was "Unless you are doing rocket science..."...grrr...It is not unresonable that some questions come from graduate students well versed in theory but clueless in practicum...they might very well have a rocket science project that they are using 32 bit floats on...shoot me.

{Rant Off}

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There will always be one or two people who question your motives. Give enough detail to indicate you have thought about what you are attempting, but don't feel that you have to justify yourself all the time.

Sometimes they are just trying to help and perhaps offer you advice on better ways to do something, so offer a small amount of reasons why, as you may gain an unexpected alternative, but if it's a complex app, don't feel you have to explain the whole thing.

Sometimes they are the kind of people who just like those fixed rules and don't understand that very occasionally it's good to break a guideline.

Sometimes it's enough to just say something like "I understand this isn't good/effcient/neat/..., but I'm just interested in how things work".

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I, personally, am the kind of person who has seen a large number of ignorant developers do crazy things due to lack of understanding, so I will ask, in order to learn whether or not they understand. Give me some reason to believe you've thought it through and I won't question you. –  John Saunders May 26 '10 at 13:17

All I have to say is You Are Not Alone (tm).

Some of us like answering "The Question", others like to attack the "Root Cause". When attacking the root cause a lot of times the reason for doing something is absolutely critical.

Quite often I will answer a different question which happens to be the real question the asker was asking and did not even know she was asking.

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Lots of reasons this can happen:

  • They don't understand the context
  • They didn't read the whole question
  • They don't know / haven't heard of this thing
  • They think it's a bad idea/practice in general
  • They can think of a better/easier way
  • If it is usually done differently
  • They would like more details about your context to better their answer/feasibility
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