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It happens all too often someone will post a question with no regard to how the system works. They put in no effort whatsoever, their accept rate is often low as well and they come up with a questions similar to this one where it seems obvious to me that the OP has not tried anything, just wants us to come up with an answer and give it to him. Some people down-voted and one other agreed that it should be closed, but several other supplied answers rather than encouraging the OP to modify his questions or vote to close it. I think this behavior leads to more bad questions.

So like the question says should we discourage users from posting answers on these types of questions? If so, what would be the best way to go about doing so?

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Yeah I've seen so many "I need a regex that (insert something trivial here)" questions in the past few days that they're getting annoying. –  trutheality Jun 5 '11 at 21:40
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It's worth noting that some recent changes make it much more difficult to ask "lazy" questions, including the "Low Quality" block, and the "Sorry, we are no longer accepting answers from this account" ban. We make no effort to rehabilitate these people. As a commenter so eloquently put it in Jeff Atwood's hellban blog post, these folks "aren't educatable with anything less than a 2x4." –  Robert Harvey Jun 5 '11 at 22:56
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@Robert Harvey: 2x4's are really hard to hold and swing. But you can get a Louisville Slugger, complete with "Robert Harvey" and "Better than a 2x4" burned into it. sluggergifts.com/c-7-Design-Your-Own-Bat.aspx –  Mike Sherrill 'Cat Recall' Jun 6 '11 at 12:22
    
This question is similar to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/98197/… Seems like it would be good to have consensus on these two questions, as they are both recent, and both have accepted answers. –  Feral Oink Sep 22 '11 at 20:15

3 Answers 3

up vote 52 down vote accepted

I've thought about the same thing often. Answering lazy questions enables help vampire behaviour and is usually counter-productive. If their lazy request finds a good answer, they will come back with the next lazy request because they learned they can get away with it.

Still, discouraging users from answering those questions feels against the spirit of SO. If a user feels called upon to answer what we think is a lazy-ass question, who are we to stop them?

To me, the only thing that is okay to do is to place a calm, polite comment saying something to the effect of "At the moment, there's nothing here than a feature list - please add what you have tried, and where exactly you are stuck." or whatever fits the situation best.

Those comments are incredibly educational. They help establish a culture, and influence users more than one might think - maybe it's too late for the current question, but users will think twice before asking or answering the next lazy one.

Be very, very careful with harsh comments, though. Commenting "we are not going to do your work for you" or similar is too rude and hurtful - most lazy questions are asked in some sort of good faith. Many users simply don't know what to ask because they don't know anything about how things are done. It is usually best to be polite, no matter how aggravating the OP's behaviour is.

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+1 for the "educational...establishing a culture". Two links that I like to include (politely!) towards this end, in these sorts of comments: WhatHaveYouTried.com and sscce.org. I think the write-ups there are extremely helpful. I've had at least one asker reply positively about it (most don't reply at all, unfortunately). –  Josh Caswell Jun 5 '11 at 22:18
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+1 for some sort of good faith :) –  Benjol Jun 6 '11 at 11:01
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+1 for the help vampire link. –  Chris Walton Jun 6 '11 at 19:01
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it is much much better to leave a comment on a bad question urging the OP to ask a better question, than it is to provide a great answer to a bad question. This sends exactly the wrong message. Bottom like: if the question is bad, please leave a comment not an answer! –  Jeff Atwood Sep 22 '11 at 23:21

While making better questions will get the OP more chance of finding the right answer, everyone asks questions at the level they're at.

Some understandable reasons for poor questions:

  • English language skills
  • Poor writing skills
  • Physiological Handicaps
  • Time Pressure
  • Lack of Knowledge

Myself, I'm pretty engineering/math oriented, and writing is not my strong point, so sometime my answers don't have enough information to start with. We should encourage posters to give more information, and write things better, but in the end if I can figure out what he's asking for and am capable, I'll post an answer (and probably edit his question).

I'm not looking to only answer perfect questions.

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To the extent that rep (both the actual points and the what-would-the-neighbours-think) kind works to motivate answerers, closing bad questions fast motivates against answering them. If I have time to answer one or two questions while on hold waiting for a conference call to start, and I answer something that is closed quickly, I may not get any upvotes for it, or at least get less upvotes than I would if I'd answered something different instead, that stayed open. And for some users (me, for certain sure) seeing a question I've answered get closed is embarrassing. I can't believe I read that and chose to answer it. Blush. I don't, therefore, think we need do anything more than just close the question, as quickly as possible.

If you wanted to make this effect stronger, you could notify answerers when questions they answered were closed. I would prioritize this after notifying answerers when questions they answered have been edited.

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