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Actually I want to ask basic and newbie questions like this one. But the negative score and comment by katspaugh made me think twice about the purpose of StackOverflow. Is that StackOverflow only for non-beginner?

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The comment that you pointed to is not constructive and has been removed. In the future, you can just flag comments like that for moderator attention. – Tim Post Jul 3 '11 at 12:26
It was strange that the comment had 3 upvotes though. – TLP Jul 3 '11 at 13:12
What negative score? – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 14:41
@db It used to have -2 score, now it has +2/-2. – TLP Jul 3 '11 at 14:49
Ah, revisionist history. My Honors Comp instructor quoted Christer Romson, "There is no stupid question! Except, possibly, a question not asked." – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 15:02
@db Sometimes it is impossible to ask a question without changing the answer. ;) – TLP Jul 3 '11 at 15:20
@dbasnett: As a some time teacher and tutor, I've found that there are no smart questions. It's best just to patiently answer the stupid ones. :D – Jeff Jan 8 '12 at 4:24
up vote 25 down vote accepted

It's okay to ask any beginner questions that you're genuinely struggling with on Stack Overflow, but beware, the community is very good at sensing when someone is really struggling and when they're just being lazy. If the answer can easily be found by a Google search, or if it appears in any beginner text (meaning, you should have found it by putting in the slightest bit of effort), then your question will very likely get downvoted and closed.

If you're posting a beginner question, always post what you think the answer might be, or what you've tried so far. The more effort and research you put into your question the better. People will typically respond positively to beginners who are genuinely trying to learn.

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+1 - Effort asks better than words. – Tim Post Jul 3 '11 at 12:37
Mr. Bernanke 'knew' that without bailing out the banks the US Economy would fail. It amazes me how many seers and telepaths there are. How can you tell if it is lazy? I know my opinion is that it looks that way sometimes. If I feel strongly that way I usually post a LetMeGoogleThatForYou. I KNOW that I am not the smartest, have telepathy, and not able to know what is truly behind an anonymous question. – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 14:32
Why Google if you can find it on SE? And if you can't (find it on SE) then ask it on SE? – GUI Junkie Jul 3 '11 at 15:59
@dbasnett: No one here is claiming to be a telepath. The amount of effort put into a question is a strong indicator of the amount of effort put into research prior to asking. Also, don't bother posting links to LMGTFY. Those get deleted. – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 18:54
@GUI Junkie: If you can't find the answer to a question on SE, but you found the answer elsewhere, go ahead and ask it and answer it yourself (with a reference to where you found the answer). – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 19:00
@Bill - I understand that your intent is to make the best judgement possible. There are those here that confuse what they think with fact. Statements like "the community is very good at sensing when someone is really struggling and when they're just being lazy" concern me. The only truth I can see is that the community is good at having opinions, me included. – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 19:08
@dbasnett: If someone lazily asks a question then there's little doubt in my mind that they're being lazy in their research as well. I'm not that concerned about it because they can always edit their question or ask a better one. Very little is lost in closing a lazy question. – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 19:12
Do you know that they are being lazy or do you think they are being lazy? – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 19:21
@dbasnett: I can only go by the evidence that I have. If they ask a lazy question, then they are by definition being lazy. – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 19:23
I am asking a very simple question, do you know for a fact that they are being lazy, or is it your opinion that they are being lazy. – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 19:28
@dbasnett: I already gave you a very simple answer. I don't know how I can make it any more plain for you. – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 19:29
Yes you did, and that is the problem. I hardly ever confuse my opinion and facts. – dbasnett Jul 3 '11 at 19:30
@dbasnett: I'm not confused either. If I see someone being lazy, I know they're being lazy. I've just witnessed it. What is so hard to understand about that? – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 19:36
@dbasnett: I'm not making decisions based on future predictions. I make decisions based on past behavior that I've observed. – Bill the Lizard Jul 3 '11 at 20:29
@dbasnett: What you don't seem to understand is that I'm making decisions based on what I know, not on what I think. If someone actually has done their research and they don't bother to put it in their question, they're still being lazy (maybe not in their research, but in writing their question). The missing information about attitude and intent doesn't matter. If the question they asked was lazy then they need to edit it or ask a new one. – Bill the Lizard Jul 4 '11 at 12:57

Agree with Tim Post's comment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking newbie or basic questions on Stack Overflow, as long as the following two conditions are met:

  1. The question must be coherent, well-asked, and possible to answer. The question you link is perfectly fine, but it would be poor form to ask "What programming language should I learn?"
    And if you're asking about a specific programming problem, it's best to include sample code that reproduces the issue you're having. Otherwise, it will [rightfully] be closed as unanswerable.

  2. Your question is not an exact duplicate of another question that has already been asked. (Of course, if you do accidentally ask a duplicate question, other users will likely find the duplicate and vote to close yours. That's not an insult or anything, it's the way we keep the site organized.)

If anyone tries to give you crap about your questions, assuming you've met the above two criteria, then you should definitely flag them for moderator attention. I trust that all of our mods will remove them with prejudice.

It's worth remembering that we were all newbies once, and one person's "basic" question is quite a challenge for another person, regardless of their intelligence. We can't all be experts in everything.

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For newbie's, I'd say don't even worry about the dupe. It would be nice if they searched for it, but one of us will find it soon enough and flag/close. Let's not discourage them posting. – M. Tibbits Jul 3 '11 at 15:30
Yeah, it much easier to find the dupe if you answered is last week, and the week before... :-) – Bo Persson Jul 3 '11 at 21:01
Just as long as they don't ask that question on META were the rules are different... Downvote whatever you don't like (at first glance). – GUI Junkie Jul 3 '11 at 22:25
@M.Tibbits: Very much agreed. The problem that I see all too often is people taking votes to close their question as a duplicate personally. I was trying to make the point that it's not an insult, just the way we keep the site clean. – Cody Gray Jul 4 '11 at 7:00
@Cody I agree - let's just try to add, 'Excellent question _____! This one happens to have been asked before, so [these answers] might help you as well. Keep the questions coming!!' – M. Tibbits Jul 4 '11 at 16:14

The rest of the question beside the "what does return mean" part is rather unclear. It's unclear how the code examples are related or what he's trying to do there, which makes the "can I structure it like this" question hard to answer. If we don't know what should be accomplished it's hard to say if the code is the correct way to do it.

Also even answering the question about return is be difficult. If somebody has never heard about return you really don't know if he is aware what a function/variable/... is or how programming in general works. For a useful answer we would need to know more context about the OPs knowledge, else it's hard to write a useful answer.

All together I think it's simply not a very good question, but rather unclear and vague. And bad questions often get downvoted.

In general it's perfectly possible to write good newbie questions, and usually they won't get any downvotes but instead lots of very quick answers.

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