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How should we handle questions that are essentially a one-time troubleshooting request? I've seen quite a few questions that seem to boil down to "why isn't my stuff working"?

Examples:

(I answered one of these - because I could, and for the rep - but I felt a little guilty doing so.)

The thing that bothers me about these questions is that most of the time they're not useful to anyone but the OP. Some of these questions contain have an external link to the problem; so that when resolved, the question will be missing any information as to what the actual problem was. Sometimes these questions do get down-voted, but they still hang around in the system.

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כל המציל נפש אחת, כאילו הציל עולם מלא "Whoever saves one life, saves the world" –  belisarius Mar 27 '11 at 6:33
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Without looking closely at the examples presented: OPs with one-time troubleshooting requests usually need to be taught debugging. That happens much too rarely on SO - debugging advice doesn't get upvoted much, partly because it comes across as condescending and RTFM –  Pëkka Mar 27 '11 at 15:25
    
@Pekka: you're right about debugging, but they also need to be taught where to find the proper specifications, documentation and tools. They are often the "I copy-pasted this code snippet from a forum/blog, help me make it work for my situation" kind of users. –  Konerak Mar 27 '11 at 16:12
    
@Konerak yup, agreed. Dealing with these things is part of becoming a programmer. They can be tiresome, but we've all had to go through it. That is a fact that SO's availability of easy answers sometimes distorts –  Pëkka Mar 27 '11 at 16:29

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Some questions are really too localized, that's why the corresponding "reason" exists to close a message.

I myself try to answer these questions first in a specific way to help the user, and then in a more general way to help future question viewers. If afterwards you edit the question itself as well, especially the question title, sometimes you can turn a specific question into a more generic question.

In your example question of the xhtml search form, you could answer in a more generic way by explaining the user how to find the invalid pieces using the validator, and the specifications so he knows how to write correct xhtml (w3c).

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In addition to flagging too localized questions, I'll also put more effort into seeing if the "bad" questions might be duplicates of other questions. (And if salvageable, I'll propose edits to the question.) Also, it seems that old questions with low votes and less than two comments are automatically deleted, so I'll avoid adding a second comment. –  KatieK Apr 3 '11 at 21:19

I tried to do the right thing, and ask how to debug ruby scripts that use win32ole. I only got one useless answer.

I often try to post answers that not only answer the question, but show the OP how to work it out for themselves. They don't fare any better than competing answers that don't show how to work it out for themselves.

Recently, there was one person who asked for troubleshooting three separate times, all involving the same problem! :( Making part of the regex optional

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I feel like those questions are general and self-documenting enough that they would be useful to future users. –  KatieK Apr 3 '11 at 21:15

This is inevitable after one and a half million questions. Stack Overflow is on the long tail of programming questions, all the obvious ones have been asked and have excellent expert answers. Closing duplicate questions is falling out of fashion, even poll questions are making a comeback. They just aren't being answered better than the original. Yawn. One-time troubleshooters, why not.

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Why not? Because one time troubleshoot requests aren't good questions. They're the same boring old-hat questions that clutter up the other sites that I used to visit. –  KatieK Mar 28 '11 at 20:43
    
Well, not sure where else you are going to find questions that you like. It is in the eye of the beholder. Have you checked-out the other stackexchange sites? –  Uphill Luge Mar 28 '11 at 20:55

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