Amendment after accepting answer:

The point that came across after discussion and reading through meta is that we downvote bad questions/answers regardless whether the person is a noob (to SO or programming).

It's the downvoter's perogative whether or not to go any further. Like gnat pointed out, keep it simple. Do what YOU want to do.

Also, the community currently DOES want noobs to programming here.

I do, however, think it's the downvoters responsibility to take extra care when your intuition tells you the person is new to programming or when they are obviously new to SO, but in general if that person makes an effort the community will more then make up for a single, even careless, down vote, or even a wrongfully closed question as stema pointed. The consensus is the system works, just play your part.

I do still believe there is room for improvement in regards to noobs, but this improvement will most likely come from the community not from SO itself. Ideas are still welcome here :). Thanks to all that participated, except for Bobby the n00b trollzor (<3).

Original Post:

tldr; This question was spurred after I noticed a couple noobish, but valid, questions being down voted. We need to make it more obvious we do not want noobs here if that is indeed what we want.

Ok, let me start by saying I love stack overflow, and the community and this site just seems to WORK to get good answers that are easy to find.

However, there are some things I'm noticing it may not be good for, and we should perhaps try to push questions and people in these categories somewhere else (ie. noobs, broad-questions, easy questions, not-so-useful questions, hard to understand questions, etc).

I did some research through meta to gather my thoughts and my reference of interest is:

Downvoting a question that has merit

Quoted for convenience:

The reason given to downvote a question is that it's : Not Clear or Useful. This question isn't very clear, and it doesn't appear like the author has put much (if any) effort into the problem himself.

That merits a downvote in my book.

Others may claim that we should just leave the question alone -- but if you encourage unclear questions, that's what you'll get -- causing more work for everyone else, and increasing friction on the site.

George presents a clear philosophy. I personally can see eye to eye with this philosophy because it will benefit ME. It makes my life easier by making more likely I will receive a good answer to my question, and that the next question I read is well put together. It even makes finding an existing answer easier because there is less cruft to sift through. It makes it so I'm surrounded by a community of experienced and knowledgeable programmers.

This, however, does not benefit someone who is genuinely new, and learning programming for the first time.

Stackoverflow faq states:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

For a noob this could be ANYTHING. They could have spent hours on it, days even. They still might not have a clue what they're doing. Do we really want to alienate these people before they even begin to gain understanding? I know I wouldn't feel good about participating in this community as a noob who's first question gets down voted because it's either too easy for someone else answer, not presented well, or provides no widespread value to even a novice skill programmer.

Rather then down voting these questions, it's seems like it would be better to transfer them to another exchange or to tag them or something else, anything else. I'd love to hear YOUR answers to this problem.

Noobish questions are quite obvious to me, and I've never had a problem with them until today when I realized this community MAY not even want these questions around at all (based on the accepted answer in my reference). Perhaps I'm underestimating the harm they could cause, but I just don't see it as George does.

The way I see it a noob question most likely will never come up in a search of mine because they have no specific information to my question presented, nor do the answers therein. It's not work to glance at question, realize it's a noob question, and move on to let some other kind-hearted person deal with it, because I'm not in the "mood", rather then down-voting without even a comment. I digress before I start to go overboard :)...

I believe these posters should be given the benefit of the doubt, answered rightly, given good advice, even if the quality we desire isn't there. A noob cannot produce quality, has a hard time engaging in conversation about the very topic they are asking about, and is just trying to learn. It may appear someone is being a jerk, when in fact they just currently lack ability and understanding. We can give these people good answers... and there still is benefit to us, even if not as great.

The question is: Is Stackoverflow that place?

If not, why do I continually see these questions being presented? Why isn't it abundantly clear we do not want noobs in our faq or when someone new signs up?

If it is, then why is the community down voting new users, with bad questions that no experienced or educated programmer would be caught dead asking?

A penny for your thoughts.


Edit more good references in:

What is SO policy about noob and "please debug this code for me" questions

Stackoverflow is becoming less and less noob friendly nowadays

You want effort from us? You put effort into your questions first, or with all due respect, take it elsewhere.

In context the above quote makes sense. The question was BAD. However, taken out of context, putting more effort in to a problem may yield significantly less benefit then simply asking the question here. Where does one draw the line before they ask a question? How can someone really tell how much "effort" a person put into their problem.


Do your homework

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

Again, this is very gray. There is a multitude of ways to use this site successfully and it ISN'T always do your homework before asking IMHO.

1.) I've been having a trouble finding an answer to a problem, so I ask a question, and continue searching. If I get to an answer, and no one gets back to me I answer it myself. If someone gets back to me, I saved myself some time!

2.) I'm busy. I just spent 20 minutes on a bug that was user error dumb me, and I still don't quite understand why what I did fixed it. Of course I could probably spend 30 minutes more on it to figure it out, but I know someone here will give me a very clear picture with little or no effort on either end.

The point is a noob has neither intuition. They haven't been through the grinder on programming or perhaps even taken a single class. What does "do your homework" mean to a noob?

How do you use stack overflow? Could a noob use it as you do?

I think a better way to describe the "Do your homework" philosophy, is "Participate in your question and answers to your question. Communicate with the people helping you out ASAP. Try to communicate what you learned from them in a way you understand, so further detail can be given." It's not really do your homework BEFORE asking but continue to put effort in AFTER asking your question, based on the feedback of others. (Kudos to stema for helping lead me to this conclusion with the observation about how fast stack overflow works.)

Is it appropriate to answer with a critique, feedback or advice that does not answer the question?

How should we deal with Google questions?

Downvotes versus close votes on questions

  • 6
    "Noob" is a negative word, "Newb" is a positive...we don't want "Noobs", but "Newbs". Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 7:49
  • Well, how do you distinguish a noob from a newb? What heuristics do you use? If it's really this obvious, why do I see a mixture of down votes and real genuine answers to their questions?
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 7:53
  • 2
    That depends...do you want to insult them, or not? Both mean that somebody is new to something, except that "Noob" for the most part also means that s/he is an idiot. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 9:01
  • For the most part? BS meter has been tilted I think I will just note I used noob as shorthand for newbie or newcomer simply because it is shorter to write and the most commonly used spelling. Also, it's actually in the dictionary. I'm also pretty certain calling someone a noob is only derogatory if their not new at something. Why would someone care if they were called a noob when they actually are new?
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 9:25
  • 5
    It's still not the same. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 9:33
  • @Bobby I largely disagree; there are many places where the terms are used interchangeably. (This is very tangential, though, so I think it'd be best if this subject were dropped.)
    – Jeremy
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 10:18
  • 3
    If you poke a noob with a stick, it'll insult your mother. If you poke a newb with a stick, it'll ask you where you got the stick from.
    – BDM
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 23:15
  • 1
    @DerekLitz: A "newb" is someone who is new and inexperienced at something. A "noob" is someone who is perpetually ignorant, refuses to learn or take advice and get angry at others when things don't go their way.
    – Kerrek SB
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 18:28

6 Answers 6


First, you vote on answers and questions, not people. That means not downvoting a question just for being submitted by someone "new to programming" or "new to SO" (different problems that the word noob obscures) but you also don't upvote them or refrain from downvoting for that reason either.

If you're feeling that it's important to be nice to those who are new to programming and/or the site, that's great! Edit their questions, add comments to their questions drilling for clarity, invite them to chat, take them under your wing and help them write better questions. Fantastic. But don't try to keep other people from downvoting bad questions and answers. Having a legitimate reason for question badness doesn't make a question better.

We all spend our time different ways and for different reasons. Some people are focused on building a great reference for the googlers. Some people are focused on helping the askers. Some people are focused on showing their technical knowledge, or on amassing rep, or badges, or on spending a few enjoyable minutes during a break from real work. Those motivations drive behaviour that may be very different from your own, including downvoting crummy questions without making allowances for who wrote it. I think trying to change that will just exhaust you, and you will get a better return for your effort if you try to make their questions better.

  • You've made a few points I'd like to comment on :) I don't believe people are unbias to the person asking the question, though we probably should strive to be. Your point on how people use stack overflow in different ways is great, but really I wanted to establish whether or not this is the place for noobs, so I can change my behavior accordingly and others may as well. I do want to make this more clear, I do believe it will change some others behaviors. Of course it's exhausting to try :)
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 15:37
  • we were all new once. There is no possible truth to SO not being for those who are new to SO. Trying to stop hundreds of thousands of people from doing something is rarely a good use of your time. Make SO nicer for those who are new to SO or new to programming by doing something nice for those people, not by starting a "don't downvote bad questions if they are from noobs" campaign. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 17:50
  • This isn't a don't downvote bad questions campaign, it's why are people downvoting noob questions and should I do that too? I wan to know if this is the trend or the exception. If it's the trend, we should make it obvious to noobs they shouldn't be here, or if not, make it obvious to others their questions are perfectly fine. I'm trying to understand why someone else is compelled to down vote a noobish, but perfectly acceptable question according to SO guidelines, and I'm not.
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:01
  • 3
    but this is like insisting either I eat only peanut butter or else only chicken. They should be here. Their questions are sometimes not fine. When questions are not fine, they may be downvoted (among other things - they may still be answered, edited, or commented on for example.) To be clear, a person can be (and I am) in favour of downvoting bad questions and also hold SO to be a place for new programmers and new SO users to feel welcome. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:14
  • Thank you much, your point has finally hit home :). I like this answer.
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 23:31

We want answerable questions. It doesn't matter who they come from as long as they are clear and show research. If a post doesn't meet that criteria then it deserves a downvote, regardless of who posted it.

Rather then down voting these questions, it's seems like it would be better to transfer them to another exchange or to tag them or something else, anything else. I'd love to hear YOUR answers to this problem

Tagging is a bad idea - was removed because it didn't describe the question. The best solution is to downvote and leave a helpful comment explaining how to fix the post.

  • 1
    I agree tagging seems like a bad solution, but I didn't know it had been tried and failed. Nice to know.
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 8:11

How can we tell if a person is lazy or just a noob?

I think the only way to tell is by reading this person's mind. To me, that means impossible - that's why I always try to judge the question text not the person who asked.

However, I can pretty clearly tell when I am lazy. When I am very lazy, I just downvote. When I am less lazy, I downvote and leave comment or mark someone else comment explaining the problem.

When I feel inclined to spend more efforts on a question,

  • I first do my own research for how it can be improved - maybe I am lucky but quite frequently I find a way to edit it to the state that satisfies me. If after research I am still not satisfied then I leave comment and bookmark the question to favorites to get back to it later and re-check if someone else has improved it or added something that helps me to research for further improvements.
    These rounds of improvements can go on and on until I am satisfied, taking quite a lot of time and effort - but then again, this happens only when I am inclined to spend more efforts on a question.
  • Great points. Do you think these questions could have a negative impact stackoverflow, short term and/or long term?
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 14:59
  • 2
    @DerekLitz well... to me things are indeed simple. When I feel there could be negative impact and when I am not certain if I have time/skill to improve then I just downvote or flag. "Here's the text - here's the flag/downvote". I don't try to dive into what asker was thinking when posting - as I said I can't read their mind
    – gnat
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 15:54

We downvote questions which are badly formatted, badly researched, and/or with little or no effort put on it.

The question itself can be a very "noobish" question, such as include and include_once in PHP and it should not be downvoted just because the user is new to the language. But if a user were to ask the same question without providing details etc, then I would definitely downvote it.

  • 1
    This is exactly the problem though. I'm seeing questions that are not obviously bad being down voted. Sure, this will happen, and perhaps I just got a skewed view the last couple days, but that doesn't make the problem solve itself. A downvote to a newb could only add to their confusion and only server to turn them off from programming. My observation leads me to believe what you stated is not as obvious as it should be.
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 8:22
  • 2
    @DerekLitz, I disagree that a downvote can only serve to turn a newb away from programming. It could also encourage them to try to figure out why they got downvoted, which would lead them to articles and advice on how to write better questions.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 6:34
  • @Wildcard, I agree, this would depend on the persons perception of the situation. I imagine there is a sort of arbitrariness when one does not understand though, I would think someone with enough understanding to come to the conclusion "my question must be flawed", rather than, "the community demands too much of me as a new person", knows something about the stack overflow community already. Not sure if this feature exists, and I know there are guidelines, perhaps if the system were to suggest they read them if they get down voted asking questions as a new user in some way :)
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Feb 26, 2017 at 20:48

I think Stack Overflow is that place. And even a simple question can get a high quality answer. Its not possible to draw a border to questions that are to simple or something like this. And no one was born as an expert, but I think everyone is able to put a minimum of effort into its question.

And I don't see this as a problem. Most of the times there are also comments pointing out what people don't like about the question and if the OP sticks around and take care about its question everyone is happy.

If they leave their question alone and needed information is missing ==> the question is lost.

Maybe thats a main point here, Stack Overflow is very fast. Probably we should make clear when posting a question that the OP should look for it especially in the first half hour or something, because during that time the question gets the most attention and needs the most care.

I can remember only one question that was in my opinion wrongly downvoted and also closed. I posted an appropriate comment and voted to reopen. Some minutes later it was again open, I think the system works.

  • It's hard to add more clarity without making the site less approachable. How could we do this? Better UI? More pages of information?
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 8:17
  • I am not sure about how new users see a question during writting, I think there are special hints next to the editor window about the formatting possibilities, maybe along this. Or showing a popup after posting to users asking their first (two) question(s) or to users below a certain reputation.
    – stema
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 8:25
  • 1
    I really like your observation about how fast Stackoverflow works, and that effort needs to be made, usually soon, after a question is asked. Made an edit above, with kudos.
    – Derek Litz
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 8:51

I imagine I will consider myself a noob for a very long time so I will try to advocate. When I started down this path, not long ago, I found myself getting answers to my very basic questions at SO through google searches - this happened regularly. I often benefited from reading other peoples code/solutions even when I had not started writing my own solution - when I was just thinking about how to approach the problem. I benefited from q&a here when I was just wondering about some particular coding topic or comp sci way of thinking. If those questions and answers weren't here I may have found them other places but this has turned out to be an excellent resource for me.

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