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Why do people question every question?

I see so often now on stackoverflow that users tend to answer with their opinions instead of straight answers.

Shouldn't there be more strict rules about what is an acceptable answer? The way it is today is lowering the quality of the service for many people.

It pretty much adds up to a situation comparable to this:

Q "Hi, I want to cut a banana in 6 pieces, how do I do this effectively?"

A.1 "Huh? I fail to understand why you would ever want to cut it in 6 pieces, 4 is better"

A.2 "Cutting a banana in 6 pieces will use a lot of more time than if you cut it in less pieces why would you EVER want to do this???

Conclusion: People answer based upon their opinions without knowing all the facts and not knowing anything about the situation in whole. It's practically impossible to get a straight simple answer to the simplest of question, because it's more important for people to be smart and stand out than to actual help people asking.

The worst part is, that these guys who add completely irrelevant facts and answers without even answering the question asked, actually get their answers upvoted because yes they can be quite clever and right.. but they still don't answer the question.

Am I the only one who see this problem? Isn't there anything that can be done about it?

Edit: I've been reflecting upon this a bit, and yet I feel that there are generally two types of questions

  1. You ask for the best way or a suggested approach to solve a problem
  2. You ask how to perform a very specific task (such as: how do I get the contents of a div element with JavaScript)

The later example is one of those that deserves a straight answer without people questioning the question so to speak. All I want to know is how do I get the divs contents. I don't care if it is bad or not, to be honest people can't even know if it is bad or not without knowing every single detail about the project or problem the person is working on. And if they absolutely must point out that it is bad, they can first answer the question and then point it out as a sidenote.

Yes I am really tired of seeing the most abstract and/or irrelevant answers to the most specific and straight-forward questions. I understand that you sometimes must understand a bit more about the context to understand what is asked, but you should never argue with the person asking the question, it's not helpful because more often than not it ends up in the question never being answered in a meaningful way.

Instead, answer the question and optionally point out flaws, your opinions, best-practises, alternate solutions or whatever. Or simply don't answer. Some don't agree with me, but to me this sounds like the way it should work. You can't assume that your fellow programmer is stupid. There are often many reasons as to why people want to do things in a certain way, and very often they are already aware of the pitfalls and cons of their solutions, before they even ask the question to the problem they are having.

  • 9
    a) We need examples to know what you are talking about b) read Why do people question every question and Do I have to explain why I am asking a question and the many similar qs here on meta c) If things are posted as answers that are not answers, flag as 'not an answer'
    – AakashM
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:21
  • meta.stackexchange.com/q/8891/13992
    – badp
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:25
  • Thanks I'll read those and "Why do people question every question" sounds just like I feel by just reading the title.
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:28
  • 2
    These are not answers that are ever acceptable on an SE site. Nor does this happen, you might see them in comments. Never mistake a comment for an answer. Feb 14, 2012 at 9:37
  • Im having trouble editing the question, it wont post and some stuff got scrambled in a wierd way in the end of my last edit. Sorry.
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 10:08
  • @Jonas you can add links to examples in the comments
    – Pekka
    Feb 14, 2012 at 12:51

4 Answers 4


One of the reasons that people sometimes don't just answer the question that was asked (dammit!) is expressed very nicely in this ancient (2005!) piece from Alex P, of Daily WTF fame:

Pounding A Nail: Old Shoe or Glass Bottle?

A client has asked me to build and install a custom shelving system. I'm at the point where I need to nail it, but I'm not sure what to use to pound the nails in. Should I use an old shoe or a glass bottle?

How would you answer the question?

  1. It depends. If you are looking to pound a small (20lb) nail in something like drywall, you'll find it much easier to use the bottle, especially if the shoe is dirty. However, if you are trying to drive a heavy nail into some wood, go with the shoe: the bottle with shatter in your hand.

  2. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way you are building; you need to use real tools. Yes, it may involve a trip to the toolbox (or even to the hardware store), but doing it the right way is going to save a lot of time, money, and aggravation through the lifecycle of your product. You need to stop building things for money until you understand the basics of construction.

This was linked to by Jeff in 2006, and mentioned on a StackOverflow podcast in 2009: it's a fairly fundamental guiding light in the StackExchange world. The question must make sense, and if it doesn't, it's fine to ask the asker to clarify it to a point where either it does make sense, or the asker realises they don't "understand the basics of construction".

But in comments, not answers. Flag answers that should be comments :)

  • 1
    Thank you for your reply. People can indeed post such things as comments, it's when you get a definite answer that "you won't get an answer because I don't understand why you want to do this" it's really annoying.
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 11:07
  • 3
    @Jonas show some examples.
    – Pekka
    Feb 14, 2012 at 11:13

Stricter rules on irrelevant answers?

No, the rules for irrelevant answers are already very strict: flag the irrelevant answer as "not a real answer" and it'll get deleted. That is, if your concept of "relevant" aligns with what the rest of the community thinks it's relevant.

To paraphrase your comment to CodeInChaos's answer, people answering your question are effectively working for free on your project: accept the work and contribution, in whatever form it comes. If your approach is questioned, give your reasoning - what harm could come out of that? At worst you'll reassert your choice of design, at best you'll find there's a way simpler solution for your problem. I doubt anyone "questions the question" for sport, I presume they're either aware of significant problems with the approach, or are aware of better solutions.

The outcome for not explaining the question when asked for clarifications are far worst:

  • The expert asking for clarifications will most likely not answer the question, or close the question as Not a real question. That's a loss for the community either way.
  • Someone might give a straight answer without thinking about the consequences. Maybe they're motivated by the rep alone, maybe they're not aware of the pitfalls of your approach. That's also a loss to the community!

In other words, if you want my opinion on the issue, I'd say there's no good reason to make the rules on irrelevant answers more stricter.


Often questions that ask about a specific problem only have the problem because they made a wrong decision earlier. In such a case I won't answer the question the user asked, but rather the question he should have asked.

For example, if a user asks "How do I calculate the md5 hash of a password?", I certainly won't answer the question as it stands. I will tell him not to use md5 for that, and I'll suggest alternatives instead. If I answer the actual question, I'll make the internet a worse place: Now there is one more website that stores their passwords in an insecure way.

If you want to avoid such answers, you should describe which other, seemingly better, solutions you dismissed, and preferably why.

  • Yes but unless you plan to work for free on my project, the reasoning behind my decisions should be irrelevant to you. The question asked should still be easy to answer. It takes so much time and effort to try and motivate other people that the aproach you have chosen is the right one. Answering the actual question won't make the internet a worse place, unless his question also says something like "Or are there any better ways to do this?". You can't asume that the person asking is a complete moron, many people actually know what they are doing. If they don't, they'll learn from their mistakes
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 11:00
  • Presumably knowing the reason and logic behind a persons decisions as to why he uses a certain method, is even worse than a person who actually uses the wrong methods for what he is trying to accomplish. Because you will be wrong more often than the persons asking the question, simple because you do not see the whole situation.
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 11:03
  • Also, lets take things from my perspective; I work as a developer and generally I produce well written and functional systems. Sometimes I choose to take a bad aproach as a design decision because it's not vital enough to put more effort into it. However there may be a tiny detail within this solution that I don't know how to do from a technical point of view, should I then not get an answer because other people fail to understand that I might alread have realized that it's generally bad to do this?
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 11:09

Quality and Quantity don't go well together.

In the beginning, we had high quality users that were really into programming that discovered Stack Overflow. Other quality users came in through advertisement like social communication. But, over time Stack Overflow got popular on a site like Google; so, while Stack Overflow was originally intended for professional and enthusiastic programmers as noted in the FAQ, about any programmer finds his way to our site now. The quality of Stack Overflow suffers under the quantity of new users...

We can't just block Google and deny new users, that would be rude.

We have mechanisms in place to decrease the amount of low quality.

As we can't battle quantity, we can at least try to get rid of the worst quality and users:

If you look for the best solution, you will rather get a sea of answers than a technical expert.

If you look for knowledge, asking for the best solution will not result you in knowledge that is from the degree of a technical expert. But rather any user that has any knowledge on the terrain of your question will attempt to provide you with a solution, after which the best solution will win.

This is where the close reason not constructive comes into play, you can't simply define what best means in the case of your question as it means something different for everyone. More explicitly, let's look at how the following close reason is one that does apply to the current form of your question:

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

That sea of answers that you got, are merely the result of polling for the best solution. That sea of answers that you got, are merely the result of polling for the best solution.

In other words, you can't expect Quality when you are looking for Quantity.

  • 1
    Very well written, it makes alot of sense what you are saying. As I was saying in my post I just wish that stack overflow was geared more towards facts, unless the question specifically is about best-practises. Sure you can give your 2 cents about a solution, but one should at least first answer the question.
    – Jonas B
    Feb 14, 2012 at 9:29
  • 2
    @Jonas If the question is based on a flawed premise, questioning the premise is the right thing to do. (I agree however that sometimes, answerers simply don't know enough about the OP's situation.)
    – Pekka
    Feb 14, 2012 at 12:53

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