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At the risk of suggesting a topic (such as politics, religion or sex) that is better left discussed in a private forum...

When do you post a question to Stack Overflow?

  • Do you RTFM first?
  • Check Google?
  • Talk to your friends and colleagues?
  • Rack your brain for days and days before posting to Stack Overflow?
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migrated from Jul 21 '09 at 1:51

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19 Answers 19

I think it's okay to ask questions even if you can find the answer by Googling, or on Wikipedia. Web sites change quite often, and finding an answer today doesn't mean it will always be there. One of the stated goals of the site is to consolidate programming knowledge in one place. To that end, check to see if the question has been asked here before, and if it hasn't, post the question and the answer that you find elsewhere. Make sure you cite your source. :)

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I personally don't care about question-reputation. I would try finding the answer hard myself. If i don't have any success, then i would ask in here. It's always good to be trained to find information himself.

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I feel that asking questions helps build up the SO database. And it's not wasting a "scarce" resource to ask here. Quite the opposite, the more questions and answers here, the more people come here and the bigger the community. In fact, I've even encouraged another user to post a question here after the answer was found elsewhere ... simply to bring the topic to SO.

OTOH, I try not to ask a question which is too close to one that's already asked, unless there is an interesting difference. I'd like to see SO cover as much as possible, but not too much redundancy here.

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I post a question if I think I have a deep and hard question, however I have a few times used SO to answer questions that I definitely could have figured out on my own...but why not ask on SO, go back to work, and recheck in 5 minutes and see your solution...It's almost addicting.

The main point is that even asking stupid questions seeds data into SO, which further increases its value.

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I usually post a question when I've noticed that my reputation chart is levelling off... :)

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I am a noob to this site, so interested in seeing the answers. I am still avoiding asking many questions until I have a feel for the community.

Different places have different cultures - so I think the most important thing is to wait a little until you feel that you have an understanding of the mood. Stack Overflow is new, so it seems to be still finding its mood. Think about all the people around you that you go to for advice. They all have different moods as well - you likely have learned what types of questions you can ask different people without frustrating them. Same goes for websites like SO.

No one likes annoying, repetitive questions - but SO looks to be designing itself well to avoid this. It is so fast, and so instant in its pattern matching. If it keeps doing such a good job with search results, tags and instantaneous matching while typing questions I think it will be amazingly self regulating.

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I will Google for an answer first. However, sometimes making the query return the results your looking for can be difficult. Sometimes the results aren't quite what you need. Or the answers are out of date and have been superceded by updates so they don't answer your current needs.

I also search on SO for answers. Usually it's hit or miss. I have the same problems I do with Google: making the query return something useful. I don't know how many times I've asked a question and had someone tell me it's redundant.

However, that's the beauty of SO. You get responses quickly and even redundant questions can have answers. This is good because there are new people here all the time who many not have seen the older posts.

In general, I post questions to SO when I have worked on the problem for a day or two and either can't figure it out on my own or can't find an answer on Google. I will also resort to SO when certain web sites are blocked by the command's firewall (I work for the military and many blogs, forums, etc. are blocked).

Finally, SO is a good, central repository of knowledge. There have been many times I have found an answer here or gained some knowledge that I didn't even know I wanted. Due to the variety of questions being asked, I never know when I may find something that will prove useful later on.

As a "payment" to the community, I provide answers when I can and I try to ask questions that others may find useful.

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I try to find my own answers first and post only when I can't find them. The more I struggle, the more I learn. However, if I need an answer fast I may consider posting a question before doing a lot of research.

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I would also say that if you spend an extended period of time googling a problem and you finally find the answer. Then it might be worth posting a question and self answering just so that the problem will be here for others in the future.

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I do all of what you suggested. Googling, RTFM, racking my brain, trial-and-error, racking my brain some more, googling again. Consequently, I find it hard to ask a question on SO.

I think this site is about learning. Letting someone else do your work because you are too lazy to try and learn yourself does not feel right for me. If you can't do it, you can't understand it.

Even googling is a skill that can (and should) be learned. When googling and RTFM does not yield anything useful, then SO is the right place to ask. Shortly after that, Google will return the SO page for the problem in question, and then that's one problem down that can't be solved by googling.

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I'm also a fan of looking for answers myself instead of asking questions on websites or forums. It's really good to be able to find information and solve problems on your own.

On the other hand, especially if u're investigating a problem not in your true field of expertice, the comments on SO and forums can really point you in the right direction. That's why I value answers with links for further reading the most.

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I was about to post this question:

"Why do people ask questions on SO instead of googling?

I see many questions which are so simple such that I can get the answer by googling just two or three words in the title. And I refuse to believe that there exists programmers who do not know how to use the search engine.

What is your opinion of this?

Is this actually a good thing since the set of unique questions in SO grows with time, making it the one-stop place to ask/search for questions?

Or does it reek of a laziness to google for it? It doesn't seem right though as googling takes less effort in my opinion."

when I decided to google my question lest I contradict myself.

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This issue is discussed here:… – Joe Schmoe Jul 21 '09 at 11:07

Just before I leave work after I spent the day trying to figure the problem out myself, which includes googling and asking friends on ICQ.

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When I ask questions it's usually when I need advice not an answer that I can find elsewhere. For questions where the answers are hard to find on the internet -- like with newer or rapidly changing technologies where the answers you do find might be conflicting or apply to a different version -- SO can be a very good resource to help filter out the chaff.

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I tend to Google/check MSDN first, but sometimes answers are hard to find. For instance, I hate doing a web search for any related to Access simply because it's such a generic word especially when coupled with other certain keywords like "data."

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To address the question: I like to pose a question on Stack Overflow when I want to "bounce an idea off other programmers" or find tips and tricks I hadn't considered.

Sometimes I might pose a question if I'm roadblocked and can't think of a logical way to solve a problem. As usual, the answer is: it depends.

I usually ask colleagues first, then try a Google search (on an error message perhaps), and fall back to Stack Overflow if no one else has asked a question on this issue before.

Why Stack Overflow and not a Google search (etc)?

Many of the questions asked are homework style questions (or simple questions), but often the answers supplied here speak more closely to guidance or, in some cases, pose additional questions (perhaps to define additional scope). You just can't get that kind of a response from static content.

Secondly, as others have mentioned, good questions and answers can be updated over time to represent a community consensus on a topic which is singularly unique by comparison to individual searches or blog entries.

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  1. Online help, manual, F1 etc
  2. Google
  3. Forums (through google of course)
  4. Ask a colleague
  5. Search more thoroughly on SO what there is on the subject
  6. Ask SO

However my view on this tends to change now... Old habits die hard but I would change the above to the following :

if time spent on 1-4 exceeds 30 minutes skip directly to 5 for 10 minutes then 6.

Of course this depends on the information I am seeking. For basic stuff the time limits will be shorter, for more complicated stuff it will be longer. However I would bet that doing it this way I would end up SAVING time using SO... who would have thought this possible !!!

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I try to figure it out on my own, try a few different things.

Google is always the first place to look. Make sure to use the language name when searching. "Cocoa NSString Pointer" Will give you better results than "NSString pointer". Try to avoid actually asking the search engine a question. It isn't a human. Give it a few words about what you're looking for "NSString Cocoa Error Pointer Objective-C". That might be overkill, but it's only to make sure you get the idea.

Oh man I just found this, and it's more than you'll ever want to know in the art of Google-Fu.

In many cases Google links me to Apple's awesome Dev books, but there are quite a few good cocoa resources. I never restrict myself to just one, I always google and open each one in a new tab and go through each.

I try to avoid bothering fellow coders at all costs, they're usually busy, and people notice that the only time you talk to them is when you have a code problem. I tend to fall back on my coding buddies when I need something explained to me, like "what is the purpose of doing it this way over that way?"

Searching SO is always a good idea, but only after you've done the above.

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I usually ask a question if I can't find it by quickly googling(as in, not having to go past the first page of google). The problem with most of my questions though is that a lot of them require discussion or are very localized.. so it sometimes does take days for me to formulate a good question to ask so that it isn't localized.

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