I've often seen questions getting questioned and people coming up with anwsers that are totaly irrelevant.

For example, in Java XML Library that keeps attributes in order? I was looking for a library that adds attributes in a certain order to XML documents. Someone on Stack Overflow was asking about this, and all he got was people telling him that this is not XML standard and he shouldn't do that. I needed ordering attributes too because of readability, but all I found were useless answers. I had to ask the question again and provide reason in order to get useful answers.

Providing a reason for a question might be a good thing, but is it really so hard to answer questions, even if who asked did not explain all the details about his reason for asking?

  • 5
    If you're saying all your questions are questioned, then I'd consider that feedback!
    – Arjan
    Oct 1, 2011 at 13:47
  • 1
    Did you look at the FAQ? There are a few questions about asking good questions.
    – Foo Bah
    Oct 1, 2011 at 13:51
  • 4
    (As an aside: circumventing the word-ban in a title is bad, very bad.)
    – Arjan
    Oct 1, 2011 at 13:51
  • It was just one of my questions, where someone was wondering why I've been using hundreds of textfields instead of a table/datagrid (using textfields was a necessity) but a few other questions I've encountered on stackoverflow. I did not keep track of the questions. I don't know about others but in my opinion it's tiring to search for answers not only on stackoverflow but in general and you often only get people asking why you want to do that.
    – Markus
    Oct 1, 2011 at 13:52
  • 5
    Related, if not a dupe: Do I have to explain why I am asking a question on SO?
    – Arjan
    Oct 1, 2011 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


Suppose you, an experienced carpenter, were building a house with a junior carpenter on your team. Now imagine the junior carpenter one day asks you how to cut balsa wood. What would you do first? You would ask him why, seeing as that kind of wood is rarely used when building a house. Then suppose it emerges that the client told him to use it for a support column in the living room because its texture is so nice. That of course isn't possible - a support column made from Balsa couldn't carry the necessary weight and break.

If you hadn't asked why, that might have never emerged and the junior carpenter would have made the column out of the wrong material!

In at least 90% of cases, questioning the question is the right thing to do, because the fundamental premise of the question is flawed and there are better solutions to whatever the user wants to do. (See also What is the XY problem?) Ideally, the asker walks away enlightened, having learned a much better approach to the problem.

I agree the community (myself included) is sometimes a bit too zealous in this, and sometimes a perfectly legitimate request gets buried under a heap of "Why do you want to do this? This is not the right way to do this. Tell us what you want to do" comments.

However, usually, unless what one is trying to do is really, really stupid, politely explaining that one wants to do things this way no matter whether it's ideal or not, will make people shut up and answers come in. In this situation, it's the asker's job to remain polite and make their case, even though technically, they have been wronged by the community. It's unfair, but that's life for ya :)

Maybe you can show some real-world examples where this didn't work out? I'm sure you'll get some feedback on whether people were overzealous, or whether there were such serious problems with the OP's approach that it was a good thing no answers were given.

  • 1
    @Arjan hahahahaha! (I changed the anecdote to something more realistic than yoghurt and flour though. I hope I'm right in assuming Balsa can't bear a lot of load - I can be wrong)
    – Pekka
    Oct 1, 2011 at 13:57
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    Nice link about the XY problem. I got a little annoyed because it happened just again but you're right, sometimes it might be right to question the question. But often, unusual/odd request are mistaken for stupid questions and this is where getting questioned(or only finding "why do you want to do that" instead of answers) can get frustrating.
    – Markus
    Oct 1, 2011 at 14:08
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    @Markus yeah, I know. The best advice I can give for those situations is stay calm and continue explaining, and make it clear that it's not the stupid request people think it is. It mostly works out fine that way although admittedly, not always. If something gets completely misunderstood and shut down, starting a question on Meta can also help as a last resort.
    – Pekka
    Oct 1, 2011 at 14:12
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    68.1% of all statistics are made up on the spot. Oct 1, 2011 at 14:46
  • 1
    @Null liar. The correct number is 57.4%.
    – Pekka
    Oct 1, 2011 at 15:27
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    See also "Pounding A Nail: Old Shoe or Glass Bottle?" by Alex Papadimoulis at weblogs.asp.net/alex_papadimoulis/archive/2005/05/25/…
    – Raedwald
    Oct 4, 2011 at 23:55

When you ask a question, consider whether a reasonable person, knowing nothing more than what you have put in the question text, would have any counter-questions. If you think they would, put the answers to those counter-questions in your question text.

unusual/odd request are mistaken for stupid questions

All we have as an answerer is the question text. If it looks like a stupid question, and there is no explanatory background information, we're going to conclude it is a stupid question.

Obligatory link to writing the perfect question, which is much more polite and useful than I've been here.

  • There are no stupid questions. Assume it is a reasonable question.
    – user291305
    May 23, 2016 at 22:39

I can see things from both sides. I really, really want to teach someone the right way to do something if I can help. It's tough seeing someone do something in an inefficient or outdated way, so I want to give them the a better way.

Generally, if someone asks something or is doing something that isn't maybe the best possible way to do something, I may say something like,

you probably need to look at XYZ, but if you want to fix your direct problem, do ABC, but really, look into XYZ if you can.

If it's straight and to the point, and they explain why, then i may just give them an answer. Guess it all depends on my mood and the time that I have.

I can understand that there are limitations in what someone is really able to do. Many times when posting here, people are doing it because they're under the gun and really truely having a problem. They just want to get it working as it is. I've had the same problem asking a question about a long running process, which I know wasn't great, but it was that way and I was stuck with it. I wanted a helpful answer, not to be preached at, but it's going to happen. I don't think there's anything that can be done about this, and I don't really think it's wrong and or right either way, it is what it is.

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