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Sometimes I see questions that make me think the Original Poster hasn't even attempted to figure it out on their own. Often this overlaps with homework questions, but that's not really the core issue. I want to feel like the original poster has at least made a good-faith effort to solve the problem themselves (via Google search, etc), and ran into some kind of roadblock that is keeping them from progressing, or that they just want general guidance on how to approach a given problem. The specific question that inspired this post is here, and deals with a specific combination of LINQ operations. For someone familiar with LINQ, it's like asking, "How do I multiply two numbers, add the product to a third number, and then square the result?"

The SO FAQ states:

if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • matters that are unique to the programming profession

… then you're in the right place to ask your question!

Does this sort of question fit the bill? What's the best way to answer it? You could just give them a code sample, but how does that help the OP (or anybody else) when their next question is to square the first number and subtract two numbers after that? Were people out of line to criticize the original poster? Is there a rule of thumb we can use and refer to, to ensure that SO questions and answers are helpful for more than the specific circumstance of the OP?

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1  
I got you covered: (xy+z)² –  XMLbog Aug 10 '10 at 16:06
    
this is in the same line as meta.stackexchange.com/questions/56817/… –  James Aug 10 '10 at 16:07
    
@James: It's related, but that discussion seems more focused on how to prevent poorly-constructed questions. I'm talking about questions that are perfectly clear, but which the OP apparently hasn't tried to figure out themselves. And I'm asking whether this sort of question should even be considered a problem, or whether it's perfectly legitimate for a site like StackOverflow. –  StriplingWarrior Aug 10 '10 at 17:08
    
@StriplingWarrior they directly reference the case "•users who don't do the most basic kinds of research themselves" –  James Aug 10 '10 at 17:14
    
@James: Good point. Even though that question discusses users who show a pattern of this sort of thing, can we extend that to say that any question that the user hasn't done basic research on first is a poor question? If so, what sort of feedback do we give? "Google it"? –  StriplingWarrior Aug 10 '10 at 17:20
    
How about hinting at the usual hourly rates for doing someone else's work? ;) –  Georg Fritzsche Aug 10 '10 at 21:03
    
@Georg: I'd be afraid to get flagged as spam. ;-) –  StriplingWarrior Aug 23 '10 at 17:39

4 Answers 4

How to answer “do my work for me” questions

Easy: don't.

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Why not? (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8891/…). What sort of feedback is appropriate to help them improve their question? –  StriplingWarrior Aug 10 '10 at 16:51
    
@StriplingWarrior Very harsh feedback, something like "HEY WHY DON'T YOU DO IT YOURSELF YOU LAZY BUM" is what usually runs through my mind when I see this kind of post. Of course, I just keep scrolling. –  Tom Dignan Jun 8 '11 at 13:23
    
@TomDignan they see my scroll'n they hate'n... –  Eonasdan Oct 11 '11 at 14:33

How about we have a new flag, one for No Apparent Work Done, when the question is closed and the OP visits the page, it should redirect to google.com .

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Somehow, I doubt it. –  Pops Aug 10 '10 at 17:33
    
It's more tongue in cheek then anything else. But it is a way for the community to tell you that you need to put in work before we put in work. –  James Aug 10 '10 at 17:37

In my experience this is usually an issue when the problem is relatively complex and so little information has been given that it's difficult to create an answer that is anything short of a complete (and long) solution. If that's the case you have a couple of different options: (1) ask for more clarification on what exactly the problem is that needs to be solved or (2) downvote the question and move on. Which option I'd take would depend on whether it seemed like the OP was abusing the system or merely failed to adequately narrow down the scope of the question to something other that the full development effort. Generally, I try to give the benefit of the doubt and ask for more info.

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These sorts of questions absolutely are legitimate. I've definitely run into problems, eventually managed to solve them myself and then — well after the fact — thought "wow, that would've made a good SO question." Why bother including all the missteps and complications when asking that sort of question? Sometimes, OPs aren't asking for themselves; they're just trying to increase the general fund of knowledge out there on SO/the Internet.

Now, if the OP has an established pattern of asking poor questions, other measures may need to be taken. But those other measures should deal with the OP's behavior, not the questions themselves. In the absence of such a pattern, give the benefit of the doubt.

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