On more than one occasion, I've seen this happen. A user posts an off-topic question, and then tries to justify it by quoting this phrase from the FAQ. How many new users are confused by this phrase, but never say so?

Is it time to either replace this phrase with something else, or eliminate it from that portion of the FAQ?

I think seasoned community members read this phrase as a mandate: "You should only ask questions that are unique to the programming profession." But I think new people see it as a permission: "I can ask my question as long as it relates to the programming profession."

Given that the FAQ is supposed to be the gold standard for what the site is about, and a reference guide that we constantly point new users to for guidance, wouldn't it make sense to eliminate this ambiguity?

NOTE: My suggestion would be just to remove the phrase from the FAQ. "Practical, answerable problems" is already adequately covered in the FAQ, and the remaining three bullet points in the introduction very clearly state what is on-topic.

  • I guess so? I am not sure how this is not a yes or no question. – Naftali aka Neal Mar 29 '12 at 18:37
  • I retagged the question to make my intention clearer. – user102937 Mar 29 '12 at 18:38
  • maybe add the faq-proposed tag? – Naftali aka Neal Mar 29 '12 at 18:39
  • That tag is for these faqs. – user102937 Mar 29 '12 at 18:40
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    I guess there is a difference between programmers and people who program because they were hired to do so. Programmers wouldn't need any clarification in the FAQ. – user7116 Mar 29 '12 at 18:46
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    @six: If your question involves code or programming tools, you don't need the "programmer" title after your name for your question to be on-topic. – user102937 Mar 29 '12 at 18:48
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    @RobertHarvey: I missed your note. I'm merely commenting that the site is usually intuitive to programmers (regardless of actual profession). – user7116 Mar 29 '12 at 18:57
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    Yes, we really need to change the wording on this. The discussion around this question is an example of how this is leading to problems. This Google search shows many other examples of people trying to defend clearly off-topic questions using this clause. – Brad Larson Mar 30 '12 at 1:25
  • How about something like "subject to the above, practical ..."? Or slight rephrasing and move it after "... ask your question!"? – Bernhard Barker Apr 6 '13 at 21:58
  • @Dukeling: This question is more than a year old now... See my new take on this here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/175175/… – user102937 Apr 6 '13 at 22:06

In other SE FAQs, the opening bullet point list is for allowable topics. For example, on Programmers, the bullet point list is:

  • algorithm and data structure concepts
  • design patterns
  • developer testing
  • development methodologies
  • freelancing and business concerns
  • quality assurance
  • software architecture
  • software engineering
  • software licensing

And on Super User, it's:

  • computer hardware
  • computer software
  • personal and home computer networking

With the understanding that those are allowable topics as long as they are scoped to the site's topical focus. If, for example, your question on Programmers is about freelancing and business concerns and it uniquely applies to "professional programmers interested in software development", then it's on-topic.

While most Stack Overflow users aren't likely to have been SE 2.0/SU/SF members first, the reason many of the SE 2.0 sites use that format is because it seems to effectively communicate what topics are covered by the site.

Now, take Stack Overflow's FAQ, which is:

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

If one applies the same principles as the other FAQs, this would suggest that all "practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession" are on topic as long as they (uniquely?) apply to "professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it".

At best, that's a tautology; at worst, it's exactly what you describe: a license to ask any question as long as it's unique to the programming profession, which covers far more than the type of questions that are actually on-topic on Stack Overflow (covered by the first three bullet points).

So yeah, purge it with the fire of a thousand suns.

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