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I'm a new developer, and a lot of my questions at this stage of learning are conceptual--eg. I want to know if the way I'm planning to approach a task is smart, or the result of a beginner's level of experience.

I've asked a few questions that receive up votes and good answers, and even a few favorites--but I don't see many conceptual questions on Stackoverflow. I know it's pushing the boundary of subjective questions (which are too prone to opinionated debate,) but I learn so much more when an experienced developer shares his paradigm... rather than a specific fix to my code, or sharing an esoteric method.

So Stackoverflow--sharing your methodology, or just syntax and debugging help?

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if you ask a conceptual question, most probably you will end up like this. -7 down voting… and -4 down voting… there are many other forums to ask these types of question. who are more dedicated to help as compare to server faults who most of the time criticize rather than providing solutions. – user157851 Nov 30 '11 at 9:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's perfectly all right to ask a conceptual question on Stack Overflow, so long as the question has a specific correct answer. See the six guidelines for subjective questions for specific criteria you can judge your question against.

You may also wish to look at Programmers for broad conceptual questions on the following subjects:

  • Software engineering
  • Developer testing
  • Algorithm and data structure concepts
  • Design patterns
  • Architecture
  • Development methodologies
  • Quality assurance
  • Software law
  • Programming puzzles
  • Freelancing and business concerns

copied from the Programmers FAQ

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@waiwai933 - Thanks! – jlmakes Feb 25 '11 at 0:54
"so long as the question has a specific correct answer" -- and, according to the FAQ, "so long as the question is practical and based on an actual problem that you face". – ChrisW Feb 25 '11 at 1:00
@ChrisW I would say that's more of a guideline to prevent some of the subjective/argumentative questions. In any case, if you have a theoretical question, then isn't it an "actual problem" if you can't answer the question? Of course, we'd have to see the specific question before saying yes or no, but the OP hasn't said anything that makes me extremely wary at this point. – waiwai933 Feb 25 '11 at 1:02
For example, IMO, a theoretical/conceptual question like "What is inheritance in OOP, and why and how should I use it?" is not a good question for Stack Overflow. – ChrisW Feb 25 '11 at 1:06
@ChrisW Well, what about this question? I'd personally say it's a good question. Remember that the ultimate goal of Stack Overflow is to be the complete programmer's guide to everything under the sun. – waiwai933 Feb 25 '11 at 1:11
That's not too bad and it's fairly specific: it's asking, "what does it (actually) do?", rather than "how should I (theoretically) use it?". Not necessarily "everything under the sun": see for example "Are Some Questions Too Simple?" which suggests that we shouldn't be trying to create/transcribe encyclopedia-style general reference topics. Is "a 'general reference' topic" synonymous with "a 'concept' topic"? Is a practical/applied/applicable question inherently more 'interesting'? – ChrisW Feb 25 '11 at 1:36

Conceptual or specific?

I suggest you learn and ask about 'concepts', by applying them to and extrapolating them from specific problems:

  • For example you might ask, "Here is (a problem/situation), and I think I should use (concept) to solve this problem, but I don't understand (specific detail about applying the concept to the problem)?"

  • Or perhaps you could ask, "For (this problem), which of (either of these two concepts) should I use, and why?"

The FAQ says, "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face".

If I try to answer a theoretical question, I mightfind it difficult to know where to start, and when to stop. In contrast, when it's a practical question, it's easier (I can stop when I've said enough about the concept to solve the problem; I don't have to go on and try to say everything that might theoretically be said about the concept).

Also, text books (etc.) might better at explaining concepts. Whereas developers (Stack Overflow readers) might do better at applying concepts to specific problems (perhaps preferably, practical problems, though people will answer homework questions too).

I learn so much more when an experienced developer shares his paradigm?

I really don't know, what you're talking about: "shares his paradigm"?

Some specific examples (!!) would to help to explain/illustrate that.

Methodology, or just syntax and debugging help?

I sometimes like "software development process" questions: for example here or here.

I'm not sure where that fits on the conceptual-versus-specific continuum: maybe it's quite conceptual.

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For example, some developers use objects where another developer may not. That developer sharing why he uses objects, is enlightening... rather than just being told one way to achieve my goal. – jlmakes Feb 25 '11 at 1:45
@Julian - I agree it's nice to be told 'why'. In fact, explaining 'why' helps to generalize the concept, because knowing 'why' helps you to recognize the other/general situations in which a technique is applicable. It can difficult to understand 'why', however, without at least one specific/practical example. – ChrisW Feb 25 '11 at 1:53
@Julian - Also you should certainly feel free to ask "Why?" as a comment to any answer that you don't understand. – ChrisW Feb 25 '11 at 2:36

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