I'm confused about what kind of questions I should or should not ask on Stack Overflow.

From the FAQ's, https://stackoverflow.com/faq#questions, I understand that Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers. So does that mean that only programming related questions should be asked? Because anytime I post a question that is slightly not programming related, I immediately get downvotes and negative comments. But if that's the case, then how come these questions have been encouraged by Stack Overflow users (I'm just providing few examples that I could find, I'm sure there are a lot more out there)

I feel that there should be some clear rule on this. If only programming related questions are encouraged, then why are these kind of questions on Stack Overflow? According to me, people should post on Stack Overflow whenever they have a Computer Science related question.

But whatever the case, I think it should be made clearer, because it is really frustrating to post a question, and receive a bunch of downvotes and snide comments from other users.

  • 4
    Did you read the next section of the FAQ? What kind of questions should I not ask here?
    – Oded
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:21
  • 2
    yes, i have read the FAQ thoroughly, but do you think the 2nd link I posted "What is the difference between Cloud, Grid and Cluster?" is not a chatty open ended question? The difference between these is not well defined, and my professor spent 2 lectures on this. How does that question fit into stack overflow?
    – Chaos
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:23
  • 1
    @shailesh. I think the real reason is: We are humans, some questions get away from the downvotes and the close votes although they doesn't follow the rules.
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:28
  • @gdoron: I understand that, and it works both ways too. Even people posting questions are human, and its not possible to remember the whole FAQ or read thru the FAQ every time you want to ask a question. And if my question is a even a little off topic, the kind of negative responses that I get, it is very demoralizing, and it makes me feel like I'm really stupid or something
    – Chaos
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:32
  • 1
    @shailesh. Then don't take it that way. Stack Overflow is not attacking you personally
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:34
  • @gdoron: okay, thanks for your comments, makes me feel better now! :)
    – Chaos
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:37
  • Anyway, do you an algorithm that can detect with 100% success rate to detect off-topic questions? People makes mistakes, and once the first user upvote\downvote\close-vote, in many cases the following users will do the same no matter if the first vote was right or wrong.
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:44
  • yeah i suppose.. but that doesn't seem fair, users should decide on the validity of the question with their own intelligence
    – Chaos
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:46
  • 4
    Life isn't fair and people are stupid. Think of the voters of the party you hate... :)
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:51

3 Answers 3


Many question in the SO site don't follow the SO rules, but that doesn't mean you need to take those questions as a model.

Read Stack Overflow is not a perfect model of its guidelines. Its highlight is:

Although we have rules, the community, for the most part, decides which posts get to stay and which posts do not, unless a post is clearly off-topic. Some posts get to stay, regardless of the rules, because they are stellar posts having intrinsic value or historical significance.

And this close message on old questions:

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed.

  • I dont agree at all, so many times I have seen very relevant questions being posted, but people just keep downvoting it, and I think, have they even understood the questions? And it is not always possible to remember every point of the FAQ every time you ask a question. And once your question starts getting downvoted, you're not going to get a good answer, thats for sure. I think if people feel the question is off topic, just politely point it out, there's no need to be snide and to demoralize the person posting that question Apr 26, 2012 at 20:29
  • @user1336866. Though you "might be" right, I can't understand what you don't agree with the answer "at all"...
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 20:32
  • okay, i didn't mean it that way, it was just a phrase that I'm used to saying, so if you're going to shred my comment into such a fine level and examine it, I take back my "at all" Apr 26, 2012 at 20:35
  • 4
    @user1336866 questions with negative score sometimes get fantastic answers. Take a look at the Reversal badge. Apr 26, 2012 at 21:18

A downvote is not supposed to be a message to the person who posted the question or the answer. It is a message to everyone else. It is a signpost about whether future viewers should invest their time reading something or not. Questions with higher scores get more views. Questions with negative scores get less views. Answers with higher scores are shown first. Questions with lower scores are shown later. If a score gets low enough, the question might not be shown at all, and the answer might be shown faded-out, to warn other readers that the community thinks this answer is wrong.

Of course we all take it personally when we are downvoted. But suggesting that people refrain from downvoting to spare someone's feelings is taking away what makes Stack Exchange work. The crowd led quality control means that I don't see much junk. Spam is deleted. Offtopic questions are deleted. The pain of getting downvotes drives people to write their questions carefully or to fix them up after asking them. People edit each other's work. These things make the Internet better. That outweighs the fact that you feel bad when you're told you're not doing it right. It's not aimed at you. It's aimed at the not-right parts of your post. And if you improve your post, you will improve your score too. Even though that's not the point.

  • 1
    Though the question is not about downvotes at all, it's an excellent answer. +1
    – user173320
    Apr 26, 2012 at 21:41

Stack overflow is about getting good answers to questions.
Today I believe many of your concerns about what can be asked are being addressed by the increasing number of Stack Exchange sites. It's nice when people transfer a question to another site rather than just downvoting.
Right now the main reason for not doing that is probably just not being aware of the other, more specific, site.
The main downside seems to be that the number of Stack Exchange sites is exploding!
This means "where to look" is becoming an issue...

Sites that address your concerns


http://programmers.stackexchange.com for conceptual questions.

https://superuser.com/ for Power users.


https://workplace.stackexchange.com/ for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting.

https://askubuntu.com/ for Ubuntu related questions.

https://pm.stackexchange.com/ for Project Management.

https://productivity.stackexchange.com/ for Personal Productivity.

https://dba.stackexchange.com/questions for dba questions.

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