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There is a certain amount of questions that are absolutely trivial in nature: How to format a date, how to concatenate a string, et cetera. Questions that could be solved by taking a look into the manual.

Random examples from the tags I frequent:

What those OPs need is a link to the right manual, which we should give them. But the question serves no purpose. They don't even have a use by being searchable, because any sane search query would lead to the actual manual as the first hit.

Jeff discusses the possibility of introducing a new close reason for this over at Scifi.stackexchange.com. According to Robert's suggestion there, it could go like this:

general reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

Please please implement this.

Add a field (like the "enter duplicate ID here" popup) for users to suggest the correct manual link:

The suggested links would then be shown in a block in the top section of the question, like duplicate links.

Also, the amount of reputation earnable from these trivial questions is appalling. I'm sure a great portion of most high-rep users' points (including mine) is from answering "what was that function for replacing a string again?" type questions. This dilutes the value of reputation as a measure of true expertise a great deal.

I would suggest that answers to questions that get closed as "general reference" are made community wiki retroactively, taking away any reputation earned.

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+2 if I could. We really need this. –  Tim Post Apr 5 '11 at 14:40
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This has one major flaw: Google it is specifically banned on SE. –  Time Traveling Bobby Apr 5 '11 at 15:09
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@Bobby there is a category of questions for which that rule needs to be reconsidered. –  Pëkka Apr 5 '11 at 15:16
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@Bobby: Well, there was a blog post about it a month ago; since then, silence. blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple –  Piskvor Apr 5 '11 at 15:19
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@Pan yup, that's why I'm asking. Key quote from Jeff in that post: Do we really want to spoon-feed (or even encourage in any way) users so lazy they can’t find obvious Wikipedia pages? Or do even the most basic research before asking? –  Pëkka Apr 5 '11 at 15:22
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-1 for suggesting weaponizing Community Wiki –  Lance Roberts Apr 22 '11 at 19:03
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The last sentence is a very bad idea. Some good answerers who may not know that something will be closed as "general reference" will get hosed, and then ticked off. You're asking them to be psychic. –  Lance Roberts Apr 22 '11 at 19:11
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@Lance I disagree. It doesn't take a psychic to tell these kinds of questions, just a bit of experience in the programming language, platform or library. If you know that they can be answered satisfactorily by a link to the manual, you know it's a general reference question. At the moment, you can easily earn 80-100 reputation points by telling somebody how to select an element by ID in jQuery, the most basic possible operation provided by the library. (I'm no exception, I have answered lots of those too.) That takes away the whole point of reputation as some measure of a bit of expertise –  Pëkka Apr 22 '11 at 19:15
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@Pekka, I answer questions in VBA all the time, and finding MSDN links is a big pain. Microsoft also is the land of dead links, they're always changing them, so if we give links, they will die in time. –  Lance Roberts Apr 22 '11 at 19:17
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@Lance it's great to point out a link if the OP doesn't know how to do some basic operation. But does it need to earn reputation? I don't think so. See also the edit to my last comment. –  Pëkka Apr 22 '11 at 19:18
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@Lance & @Pekka I get (very mildly) annoyed when someone asks a question I've already answered and instead of pasting a duplicate of my answer I flag the question as duplicate, then other people come along and upvote answers which, naturally, aren't as good as mine was, but they don't know that since they didn't see my answer to the original question. I could see the same argument for wikifying duplicates, but I also see the same counterargument. Either way someone loses. –  Isaac Truett Apr 22 '11 at 19:19
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@Isaac yeah, all true. However, with duplicates, the counter-argument is stronger IMO: It's much, much more difficult and time-consuming to recognize a duplicate. I tend to leave that be, CW'ization would often be terribly unfair. But reference questions are easy to tell if you have a bit of knowledge. –  Pëkka Apr 22 '11 at 19:20
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I have to weigh in with Lance here. General reference means something different to quite a few people. Technically speaking 90% of questions can probably be answered by RTFM, but that ignores the whole point of SE which is to take linear search and turn it into a hash table. And on the other hand, what does it hurt to have the answers to "obvious" questions available on SE? –  Catskul Aug 5 '11 at 5:13
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@Catskul re "what does it hurt" - the hurt is that those questions duplicate information that is directly available in reference manuals. They are always in danger of being outdated, or incomplete. It doesn't make sense. The 90% of questions that may technically be RTFM questions are not what this proposal is about. It is only about questions that are completely answered by a manual link. I'm not against giving the asker an answer, mind - it's just the long-term storage in the question base, their popping up in search results etc. that I think is counter-productive. –  Pëkka Aug 5 '11 at 9:57

13 Answers 13

up vote 65 down vote accepted

FYI, this close reason was implemented for testing on http://scifi.stackexchange.com and http://english.stackexchange.com

We've finished our evaluation. For background see

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple/

And specifically

Per the discussion in Stack Exchange Podcast #20, and after evaluating the close reason on english and scifi, I now agree with Joel: I believe this close reason has too much potential for abuse and misunderstanding. It is unlikely we will ever adopt this close reason network wide.

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I hope the evaluation works well. There is a constant stream of stuff that could be closed with this. If you force the first closer to suggest a reference URL (like with dupes), everyone including the OP will be happy, but another pointless duplicate will have been prevented from attracting pointless use this function: answers. –  Pëkka Apr 25 '11 at 19:37
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@pekka Joel is very concerned it will be abused. I have concerns as well, since many programmers are of the "cannot abide a single atom of duplication in the omniverse" OCD variety –  Jeff Atwood Apr 25 '11 at 20:48
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@Jeff yeah, I see the point, and some danger of it getting used as a back door "RTFM" on valid questions. But the potential benefit would be huge... I'd be happy to see this do a test run on SO for a few weeks, with mods and 10ks keeping a close eye on what gets closed. –  Pëkka Apr 25 '11 at 20:53
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I really hope this comes to SO soon. I feel my niche is getting cluttered. –  gnostradamus May 2 '11 at 3:21
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@Jeff, please let us have it on Skeptics... –  Sklivvz May 3 '11 at 20:18
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@yms, almost every one of the PHP questions linked above is answerable simply by looking up the function in question in the PHP manual. Expecting someone to at least have fired up Google or referenced the manual isn't something I'd consider "elitist discrimination." They all have dupes, but the class of question is so horrible and prolific that it's impossible to find an exact match. For example, there are nearly 2000 questions about strtotime in the PHP tag. Being able to close questions that can be answered through simple manual reading is going to be a win for overall question quality. –  Charles May 17 '11 at 18:34
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@Sklivvz: How will that even work on Skeptics? The community there has an incredibly strong anti-logic/pro-reference bias. I'd be interested to see how "close questions that have a standard reference source" meets up with "all answers must essentially be links to standard reference sources". –  user118150 May 25 '11 at 18:30
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@yms I see nothing elitist in this. I don't see why the site should cater to people who can't even be bothered to read up on the most basic basics of their programming language, or stuff that is trivial to Google using the exact text they put into the question title. Plus, the OP does get an answer that will help them - the link to the manual. But the question will be closed (and can eventually be deleted) instead of cluttering the question base –  Pëkka May 29 '11 at 18:54
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I still disagree that "you can google it" is a legitimate reason for using this close ta. And I'd argue that there is enough confusion over this to argue against implementing it. Frankly, the way Pekka and Sklivvz want to use it, why don't you just save time and call it the 'lmgtfy' close reason. –  user118150 May 31 '11 at 15:13
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@user the close reason is a polite version of both "RTFM" and "Go Google". What's wrong with that, especially since the user is even given the correct manual link? –  Pëkka May 31 '11 at 19:45
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@Adam the subjectivity of what is a general reference question is going to be the greatest danger, I agree. But a user who is not able to find the string capitalization function in the PHP manual is maybe not cut out for programming in the first place. Accommodating these users with anything more than a manual link or a tutorial is a noble but tiresome enterprise. Plus, in my experience, users who have a specific problem understanding a specific part of the manual and ask accordingly (instead of a brain-dead "i want to do xyz") are treated very well on SO, no matter how basic the issue. –  Pëkka May 31 '11 at 19:59
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How's the evaluation period going? Any chances of it being available for any other sites now? –  Jeff Mercado Aug 3 '11 at 21:30
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@TheGhostofChristmasPast Link rot and general SEO issues are a huge problem with this, see for example the fall of Dive into HTML5/ect. Just because an answer is easy to find today doesn't mean that site will be easy to find in a month or year. Stack Exchange we can at least know will be around as long as...Stack Exchange exists, so actually having the answers here is the best way to benefit the community. Even worse, what if someone starts deciding Experts Exchange is a general reference? –  Ben Brocka Jan 4 '12 at 15:13
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@Jeff ping in case you're interested General Reference questions create low-quality dead ends for Googlers –  Pëkka Dec 27 '12 at 22:22
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The flow chart is great and looks perfect to me. It's such a shame that this was all refused. I admit I haven't listened to the podcast, but I don't see any particular downsides convincingly presented on this Q&A. Almost everyone seems to want this. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:21

It is a very good idea to add the "general reference" reason to create them as wiki if there is no other similar question already in SO. Basic knowledge is also useful for many. But, in the case there is already one question about it (and, in those cases, there are usually many), the "exact duplicate" flag should take care of it, so I don't see it convenient as a reason for closing a question.

Truth is, many beginners may log in to SO and ask very basic questions and never appear again, but others may learn from the feedback and become productive members. Having those wiki questions will still give them the answer they need, while removing the duplicate questions should take care of the clutter.


Addendum:

SO has already an engine to read your question while typing and suggesting related questions. How hard would it be to also link to the official documentation, at least for the most common problematic languages (c#, java, html, etc)? I'm sure this issue is not a big deal in perl, lisp or assembler questions...

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I see where you're coming from, but the influx of these specific, especially trivial questions is too great to be dealt with using the duplicate flag - finding good duplicates is hard work. Looking up the correct RTFM link is usually much faster. –  Pëkka Apr 5 '11 at 15:03
    
Indeed it is. So what do you think about trying to implement an automatic (polite) RTFM suggestion? Also, if there are wiki pages with basic concepts, you can link to that page as duplicate, which would make the task of finding it much easier. There could be a table of "general reference" questions accessible to mods and probably also general users. –  Aleadam Apr 5 '11 at 15:14
    
I honestly doubt any new user bothers to look at the suggestions, if they're even aware at all that it's there. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 5 '11 at 15:14
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-1 for "It is a very good idea to add the general reference reason" since I think it will reduce the overall value of SO, +2 for "to create them as wiki", so +1. –  yms May 17 '11 at 17:34
    
+1 for the addendum. If SO would be able to automatically suggest the correct manual, that would be awesome. –  Erik B Jun 12 '11 at 0:53

The problem I see with this suggestion is that the trivial questions are valuable - based on how they are asked.

I did a test to give an example. I Googled "How to concatenate a string in C#" and got the documentation as the first result. So in this case, your statement is correct.

However,

It seems like that's based on the assumption that everyone who needs to know how to concatenate a string in C# knows what concatenation is and understands what the string data type is. A look at some of the questions on SO will immediately prove this presumption is false. There are users of all levels that use SO and can benefit from it. To demonstrate this I Googled "How to add two variables of text into one in C#" and got this unrelated blog post as the first result. Google's first page has some related results, but the results are not as close to being what the user is looking for as the results that show up on SO's search page.

The fact is that if one person asks a question in a particular way, someone else probably will eventually as well, even if it isn't the correct way to ask it. If SO were to follow the recommendation to close all "general reference" questions, then it would be eliminating a particularly valuable aspect of having these questions - which is the implicitly cross-referenced terminology.

I think that the "duplicate question" close reason is sufficient in this situation, because it points questions asked "the wrong way" to a single question, thus teaching the correct terminology and answering the question.

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Fair points. I too would prefer to get these closed as duplicates, but in my experience, finding a well-answered original question is a lot of work, especially for trivial questions because they usually contain so many common terms. It's an effort that often doesn't really feel worth putting in it for a trivial question. I realize this new close reason would be a politely put "RTFM" but I think it's necessary simply because of the sheer numbers. Also, if a manual link can be provided, the newbie will still get their answer. –  Pëkka Apr 5 '11 at 15:05
    
If the close requires a link to the general reference and is still searchable, I think this problem is mostly negated. –  Brian Jun 8 '11 at 20:07
    
One that goes to your point of strange wordings / poor understandings: stackoverflow.com/questions/6613890/… I think they should be closed immediately and downvoted into oblivion, though :) –  Fosco Jul 7 '11 at 16:47
    
@fosco, looks like it was. -11 in 1 hour –  smartcaveman Jul 7 '11 at 17:44

A useful follow-up to this would be an index of closed questions (a la use cases, other ways of thinking about concantenation as a problem) who were answered with the manual. The value to this is it (a) references the manual (presumably answering the question, but also (b) exists as a way of emphasizing the tag-wiki over wikipedia or some other external source.

The index in turn could be referenced on the tag wiki, assuming it is sufficiently general knowledge. It would be rad if there was a standard drop-down/type-complete of accepted "manual answers" that popped up when you used this flag.

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I don't see this as useful. Closed questions (apart from differently-worded duplicates) are on the path to deletion, so that they don't clutter the site. The tag wiki should directly reference the manual — if it referenced every RTFM question, you'd be including the whole manual in there. –  Gilles Apr 21 '11 at 20:52
    
@Gil this is likely tangential and part of a separate issue, but I ran into an issue on how to ask a question. It was not due to lack of understanding how to ask a question on SE, rather a lack of the vocabulary to do so. Ie "concatenation"; someone may know the gist of what they're trying to do, and use every word in the definition, but if the closed attempts are all deleted the attempt to describe concatenation will continue to yield duplication. If the manual has a footnote with 2 or 3 bulleted, terse attempts there might be more search visibility. –  mfg Apr 21 '11 at 22:49
    
If the question was asked due to a lack of vocabulary, then “How do I put two strings together, end to end?” “Use the [concatenate function](link).” is a perfectly valid Q&A on SO. –  Gilles Apr 21 '11 at 22:54
    
@gil It wasn't about concatenation, but if the person doesn't yet know they're called string variables, but they're trying to combine words in Excel cells, they're bound to duplicate the other questions. That's what I'm hoping to head off. –  mfg Apr 21 '11 at 23:10
    
That's just another example. If the asker's problem is essentially that they didn't know the word, then their question is not a duplicate of someone else's who used completely different words. If that's all you'd have on your “index of closed questions”, then it would be made of questions that should not have been closed! –  Gilles Apr 21 '11 at 23:14

What happened to the "no question too simple" under the proviso "it's well asked"?

I dislike the idea of firing users off to resources on the web. Give the community this kind of power and everyone'll start using it to be dismissive. A bit like the community wiki police (THIS SHOULD BE CW!!1!1) and the homework high inquisition (is this homework? is it? well you haven't added a homework tag!).

I have a personal policy of downvoting any answer that is just a link, no matter how correct or relevant.

The correct approach should be to link said resource into the question and paraphrase it with enough help that the OP feels the answer does actually answer, whilst the resource provides background reading. Not "yeah, that's like way too trivial for me to bother with". If a question is too trivial for you to deign to look at, please look elsewhere.

I agree we need to find a better way to remove duplicates. I don't think this is it. I recognise there is a problem with an influx of low level duplicates and it is on that level we should be looking for solutions. Some suggestions:

  • Easier way to search tag-faq? Yeah I know, [tag-faq] how do I write hello world in tag in the search box, but....
  • More prominent "this may be a duplicate" message? Perhaps interrupt answer posting (before you post, please consider whether this question has already been asked. If you have a better answer to what exists {link} then please do post it). A bit like "post another answer" functionality.
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+1 for If a question is too trivial for you to deign to look at, please look elsewhere. –  aioobe May 28 '11 at 22:44
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@aioobe - It's not the individual trivial questions that are the problem. When the number of trivial questions start to overwhelm the site, the experts will look elsewhere--as in, outside the StackExchange network, and the whole thing will then devolve into Yahoo! Answers. –  Brad Mace Jun 12 '11 at 4:04
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-1: You're confusing the concept of "already exists stated categorically in existing authoritative documentation" with the concept of "being simple". They are totally orthogonal. Here's an incredibly simple, but not at all "general reference" question that's excellent because the answer is not evidently stated in any documentation. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:13
    
If you want to delete your account on meta, please follow this: meta.stackoverflow.com/help/user-deletion. Thanks! –  Anna Lear Jan 31 '13 at 16:40
    
'If a question is too trivial for you to degin to look at, please look elsewhere.' Can't agree more –  Aobo Yang Jul 28 '13 at 15:01

I'm worried that "too hard to parse" is going to be very subjective. Beginners are often baffled by even simple manuals such as the PHP documentation.

Yes, it's a big problem, and we should be looking at ways to address it, but the flaw with this one is that there's no easy way to objectively draw a line that everyone can agree on where a question is easy to dismiss as too simple, and others are kept as appropriate for the site.

It's difficult for experts to divorce themselves from their knowledge and cast themselves as a beginner. If you give them the tool that essentially closes the question with a big RTFM (and a link) then you're going to end up with scads of questions being closed because the "too hard to parse" part of the flowchart is simply not going to pass many questions for experts. It won't just be the simple questions getting closed, it'll be the, "I can't figure out the problem I'm having with the STL vector class..." which will get a big RTFM to some obtuse-to-newbies STL reference.

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yes, the "general reference" close reason must absolutely apply only to those questions to which the manual link is the actual answer. Anything on a higher level than that (like the example you quote) mustn't be closed under this reason - the answer may still lie in the manual, but the proper way is to quote the appropriate sections and add a plain-english explanation, as it has always been. This is a clear and present danger, but I'm optimistic with the right communication, a consensus will work out for "general reference" as it has for all the other close reasons. –  Pëkka May 31 '11 at 20:32
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@Pekka Hm. I think that might be do-able. If you can simply cut-n-paste from the reference site, without any additional commentary, and know that the OP will understand, then this would be appropriate. –  Adam Davis May 31 '11 at 20:59
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Certainly any link that just points to a huge documentation file would have to specify what part of the document to look at, too. –  Gabe May 31 '11 at 21:12
    
I'd say that as long as the body of the question demonstrates that the poster has found and tried to read the manual, then it's not "general reference". I'm personally perfectly willing to help a beginner figure out what the hell the docs mean (and to vote to reopen questions that are along those lines if necessary); but there's a world of difference between "How do I add an object to my array?" and "I tried to use addObject: on my array and got weird results -- the docs for addObject: say only frobs are allowed. What's a frob? Is that the problem?" –  Josh Caswell May 31 '11 at 21:30

This suggestion worries me. One of the best things about SO is that we don't have the RTFM and lmgtfy mentality found elsewhere. Namely because you're rewarded for the effort of finding and citing the relevant part of the manual. A built in RTFM tool will likely introduce an RTFM mentality in the SO community.

I also thought that one of the goals of SO was to be self contained, i.e., the answer to any SO question should be found within SO. External links breaks and contents of pages such as Wikipedia changes. Old answers with broken links are pretty useless and those aren't uncommon on SO as is and this suggestion, as it encourages external links, risks making that problem worse.

We're already encouraged to downvote trivial questions with no research effort and most of the general reference questions have already been asked, so new ones should in addition to being downvoted also be closed as duplicates. This has the same effect as closing it as general reference, except SO is still self contained.

I really don't see what value closing as reference would add, except it's easier to find the reference than finding the duplicate. A very simple way of making it simpler to find the duplicate is to mark the question as a general reference question and close it as a duplicate of the original general reference question. This way the general reference questions get closed without introducing the RTFM mentality in the community.

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Namely because you're rewarded for the effort of finding and citing the relevant part of the manual. And, by contrast, you are anti-rewarded for not going to this effort, by having your question downvoted and then closed. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:16
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I also thought that one of the goals of SO was to be self contained, i.e., the answer to any SO question should be found within SO. External links breaks and contents of pages such as Wikipedia changes. For any given software project, the manual is authoritative; trying to duplicate the manual for every software project within SO is not only a waste of time, but it is also dangerous. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:16

[TL,DR: general reference is “wikipede it”, not “google it”.]

I support a general reference close reason, though we need to be careful about the potential for abuse. Having the closer indicate what the reference is is a minimum barrier.

However, I don't quite agree with Borror0's flowchart. I think that Google should not be used as a tool to determine whether a question is a legitimate Stack Exchange question. Confronted with a Google question, I'm willing to embrace the non-Googlers.

The motivation for closing questions as “general reference” is that you do not need a human being to answer this question, because the answer can be found in the obvious place. (Hence the question is a waste of time for the asker, for the answerers and for future readers.)

If I want to know the meaning of an English word, I'm not going to look it up on Google, I'm going to reach for an English dictionary. If the word is too obscure for my dictionary, or if none of the definitions make sense in the context where I found the word, then I'll reach for other tools. Ok, so I google, and I find that according to www.urbandictionary.com it means “penis”. Hmm, maybe I'd better ask on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange.

If I want to know who a science fiction character is, I'll first look it up on Wikipedia. If I don't find what I want, I might use Google and find the wiki of a particular SF universe. But these wikis are not always reliable, and they are often written in an in-universe perspective that makes them hard to follow if you aren't a fan of that universe. So I might ask on Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange.

If I want to know how to get around a foreign city, I'm not going to start by looking it up on Google. In places with multiple transit agencies, a Google search could easily lead me to learning only about one of the agencies. So I'll look the city up on Wikitravel. If I don't find any answer, I might ask on Travel Stack Exchange.

If I want to know what a unix command does, I'm not going to start by looking it up on Google. I'm going to bring up its manual. Commands can differ from unix variant to unix variant, and that way I'll get an answer that's accurate for my system. If the command has no manual, or if I don't understand something in the manual, then I might ask on Unix & Linux Stack Exchange.

So… to qualify as a general reference, the place where the answer is found must meet a number of qualifying criteria:

  • The reference should be one that a person asking such questions should know about, not some random site found through Google.
  • The reference must be sufficiently trustworthy, the asker must justified in having some confidence in its reliability. (The reference manual, not Joe's blog.)
  • The sought-after information must be found in that reference in an obvious place (i.e. the question is about X, and the answer is in the entry on X in the reference). (“What does function F do?” is a priori a general reference question, “What function can I use to do X?” is not.)
  • The sought-after information must be reasonably comprehensible. (“I've read the reference article on X and I'm lost, is it suitable for purpose P?” is a perfectly reasonable question.)
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your utter and abitrary rejection of Google as a primary source makes this.. hard to take seriously. The reality is, 99% of people type something into Google first. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 20:57
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@JeffAtwood Arbitrary? Have you tried reading my answer (if it's too long, focus on the parts in bold)? –  Gilles Jan 3 '12 at 21:00
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I humbly submit that you are Homo Logicus, and these rules you outline to arbitrarily reject Google as a primary source ... are not really applicable to most folks. codinghorror.com/blog/2004/09/… –  Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 21:21
    
@JeffAtwood Of course I'm caricaturing. Most my Stack Exchange answers involved Google at some point (though sometimes only to find URLs to use as references). But my point stands: just because there are Google hits with the keywords in the question doesn't mean they're relevant, or reliable, or comprehensible. –  Gilles Jan 3 '12 at 21:30
    
Well, correct, that is why searching with google is the first of 3 evaluation steps in the flow chart. But it is absolutely and always the first step... –  Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 21:49
    
@JeffAtwood My main beef with the flow chart is that it doesn't take the reliability of the search result (as perceived by the asker) into account. –  Gilles Jan 3 '12 at 22:01
    
@JeffAtwood Google customizes our results based on our previous searches. If I searched for some stuff I was uncertain about, it's very unlikely I'll get the same results as you outside of a handful of very highly-ranked pages (like Wikipedia, which is a real General Reference). Because of this, one person's Google-based-General-Reference is not another person's, for the exact same search, making it unreliable. Because of this, the consensus we've come to over on SciFi.SE is, if it's easily Googleable (but not GR), that's a fair reason to downvote - but not VTC. –  Izkata Oct 28 '12 at 4:49
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+1 for The motivation for closing questions as “general reference” is that you do not need a human being to answer this question, because the answer can be found in the obvious place. (Hence the question is a waste of time for the asker, for the answerers and for future readers.) –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:14
    
@JeffAtwood: Google is a first step in research but that doesn't make it a good primary source for actual information. It's an indexer for primary sources. Indeed, that is its actual official job in the world. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 26 '13 at 19:15

I think this would be useful on the Japanese site, as well as possibly the German or other foreign language sites when dealing with simple translation requests. As Robert Cartanio mentions here, these foreign language sites should not serve as rudimentary "translate this word for me" services for simple words or phrases.

Complex words, or cases where there are nuances or strict usage guidelines (like idioms) are on-topic for the site, but if I can flip open any of a dozen Japanese-English dictionaries and find the appropriate translation almost immediately, it's not an interesting or beneficial question.

The community seems to agree with this, as simple translation questions were declared as off-topic in several meta posts as well as the site's definition. Also, simple translation questions are being voted closed by the community.

However, when voting to close such a question, there isn't a good close reason that adequately describes the real reason the question is being closed (namely, why didn't you ask your dictionary?). Currently, we're using "Not Constructive" which doesn't quite mean the same thing.

I think "General Reference" would be a better fit for these cases.

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You could (ab)use “too localized”; after all asking for the definition or translation of a common word that's in any dictionary isn't going to help anyone but the asker (the next person to come along will have a different word, and the answer won't help him). –  Gilles Aug 7 '11 at 21:53

There is also another group of trivial questions, which IMHO should be closed:

P.S.: and yet another group, but this is not for closing, because then it can be improved by the asker:

  • plz debug my looong code
    • often trivially solvable by debug prints
    • without any effort to narrow the code/question down to singular problematic case
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I like the idea. I know some portion of my reputation comes from answering exactly this kind of question but I think the Internet overall could be improved with this information.

The list of URLs submitted here ought to be curated site-wide through some mechanism. e.g., if I paste in a linux.die.net manpage link, it'd be nice to have back-up manpage links available if linux.die.net goes down. Having a single list of all URLs used as general references could make finding dead URLs far easier as well as allow easier standardization.

Further, it'd be nice to provide multiple links to be shown on questions: I love using both the POSIX and distribution-specific manpages when both are available. What is standard and what is implemented are sometimes two different things, and having both sets of details within clicking distance of each other is immensely useful.

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For quite some time, I was in favor of this general reference reason. However, some events and related discussion on scifi changed my mind on it. I still think some questions on SO deserve it, but I now agree that it is likely to be ... misapplied. Instead of closing a question as general reference, answer the question once, which, if it is indeed general reference, ought to be trivial, and you have your "general reference" which you can close (relevant) future questions as a dupe of 'til the end of time. This has the distinct advantage that the canonical answer/general reference is entirely on the same SE site. This has always been a concern, and is why we encourage users not to just post a link, but give at least a summary of the linked information - so that in case of link rot, the answer is still useful.

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I think Stack Exchange sites should make their own decisions about the content they approve of. Mostly I use Stack Overflow, which this question seems to relate to.

Trivial questions are often the reason I visit Stack Overflow questions. I use SO as a searchable manual, although it's hit and miss. I know that site moderators don't want it to be that kind of resource, but it gets used that way because it's easier than looking in a manual.

Without these trivial questions and answers, I would rarely visit Stack Overflow. That's what it's all about for me, a noob. If Stack Overflow wants to be noob friendly, give the noobs what they want.

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