Stack Exchange is a growing network of individual communities, each dedicated to serving experts in a specific field.

As you can see, the network, and all of its sites, makes it clear that the sites here are for expert questions and answers. This doesn't mean you have to be a master in your field to answer the question, but a lot of questions are fairly high level, no matter what site your on, and that's a good thing!

There are also many, many users on every site that are not experts in there field, but they're not exactly beginners either. This question is addressing those people, the "mid-ways" if you will.

Let's take Stack Overflow for example. The site is obviously the biggest and most popular on the network, and there is no denying that a very, very large majority of those questions are high-level, no matter what tag you're looking at. As a decent developer myself, I'm very intimidated when looking at the skill and expertise on that site! I began using SO when I was a beginner, worked my way up with the help of SO, and still find myself at the same level I was before, when comparing myself to those around me.

Now let's at Sports.SE. I've been a sports fan my whole life! I played many sports, and joined engaged in many conversations about several sports with people who I considered "stat-hogs". Yet, when I look at the people on the site, I'm blown away by the expertise.

Now, I can go on and on about how I feel stupid around SE-ers (trust me, I can), but that's not the point here. The point is, how can I, or anybody for that matter, make an impact, and maybe even earn some reputation points, on a site in which I'm not an "expert". In what ways can I still help a site, if I can only answer an extremely small minority of questions? And finally, what are the best ways to learn from these experts, without being completely intimidated?

  • 8
    Edit content. Review questions. Learn from what's there. Don't be afraid to stumble once in a while.
    – Bart
    Jul 24, 2012 at 17:07
  • 1
    Lurk more. Eventually you will become an expert, or at least know enough to contribute.
    – Servy
    Jul 24, 2012 at 17:29

4 Answers 4


As a decent developer myself, I'm very intimidated when looking at the skill and expertise on that site!

Don't be. The thing with learning is that, the more you learn, the more you realize how stupid you actually are. I don't know who said it, but with regards to programming there was this quote (and I paraphrase):

"The beginning programmer thinks he knows nothing. The intermediate programmer thinks he knows everything. The advanced programmer knows he knows nothing".. or something like that.

Long story short, we're all idiots in one way or another. Some just have a bit more expertise. Learn from it. Take it in. I considered myself a reasonable c++ programmer when I came here. Now whenever I see people quote relevant passages from the language spec within seconds of a question being posted, I slowly step away from the computer and leave it to the big guys.

So what do I do in the mean time? I take their answer and try to understand it. Learn from it. I look up the things they refer to and hope that I get at least half of what they say. Lurking is a great thing.

how can I, or anybody for that matter, make an impact, and maybe even earn some rep, on a site in which I'm not an "expert". In what ways can I still help a site, if I can only answer an extremely small minority of questions?

Answer questions you think you know the answer to. There will be the occasional one. And it will get you a couple of upvotes. Sure, someone might come in with a brilliant answer and tell you your answer smells of elderberries, but don't let that stop you.

What else can you do? Review content. If you have enough rep on SO at least spend some time in the review tab. Correct content. Vote on content that should not be there. Flag inappropriate things. If you don't have enough rep, suggest edits. Why do you think this place is so free of spam compared to forums? People.

I myself spend the far majority of my time editing content, reviewing it, flagging things and kicking spammers in the butt. And I enjoy it. You won't believe how much I've learned on a variety of topics simply by editing content. Especially if I manage to rescue a question which would have otherwise gone down the drain, I've usually picked up a thing or two and improved the site.

But above all, learn from the site. Reputation means nothing compared to the value of the knowledge you can gain here.



Above is explicitly stated at Sports Meta, in the answer to "What should we do to promote the site?"

I would not want to sound rude, but look: currently, you've got how many? 34 votes - at the site where are more than 950 posts. From the perspective of an active voter it's about 20-30 times less than needed...

Beta voters: enjoy the stats

At beta sites, regularly review site statistics page and learn to feel the impact your voting makes.

You can shell out up to 350 reputation points a day, that's quite a power. Learn to feel the difference your voting makes - day by day, week by week.

  • "Avid users" statistics is where you make direct impact. Be persistent in active voting and you'll notice a difference you make. 200 upvotes to good questions spread reputation sufficient to add 5 avid users; 200 upvotes on good answers are twice as much. You can make an impact that big in just two weeks, think about it.
    Besides, there is an indirect impact your voting makes. Upvoting good posts makes their authors feel better and gives them incentive to get back to the site and post again, adding more and more of a good content. Keep your eye on questions per day, answer and visits statistics - your impact there may be not as direct and immediate, but it is there anyway.

(source: stackoverflow.com)

Voting is quite appreciated at beta sites. Badge is called Civic Duty for a reason.

Vote Early, Vote Often kind meta posts are really popular. My answer opens with the reference to one at Sports, but say, Hermeneutics has it, too. And Cogsci. And Workplace.



I think best ways to make impact in topics you have little knowledge are:

  1. Be curious
  2. Use research and time instead of knowledge

and do this to

  1. Ask questions
  2. Answer questions

Also look into questions without answers.

It does not take much to research for a question to a little known topic. Search for terms related to question. Check wikipedia, follow a few links.

I have asked only a handful of questions, but I managed to get two of my questions to HNQ on sites (history, literature) where I never asked or answered before. All it took was to find something I was interested in, research it a bit, and since I have found no answer ask it on SE. Of course this may not work everywhere. I cannot image this working for questions and sites where real experience is needed - IPS, Workplace or on hard hitting questions where deeper knowledge is required. But for basic questions and answers it should be sufficient.

Same can be said about answering questions, many of them can be answered with a bit of time and research. For example I am neither linguist or a Greek, but I answered question "What is the original appearance and sound of the Nicene Creed?". Some programming questions can be answered simply by looking into API documentation or source code, for example this, this. My question "What practical experience does Pope Francis has with parenthood / fatherhood?" should also be answerable without any knowledge of Christianity or Pope, and I plan to answer it myself when I will have time to dive online into Pope's life.

It is also fruitful to go and check questions without answers. Pick some preferred tags and see where could you help.


I think the most important thing to keep in mind in the SE network is that most users are very understanding and accepting of other users. Nobody is going to say "You are an idiot. STFU!". Therefore, as long as there's any value (however small) in an answer or comment that a user posts, other users will find it useful (at the very least, they won't downvote it). If a user makes a mistake (bad post, for example), others in the community will help that user fix it (with comments, most likely). I've stumbled like this before and the learning from such stumbling (through discussion in the comments) has actually been rewarding for both the OP and myself. I wish I could post a link to the question that I'm thinking of where this happened, but I am unable to find the link, so I hope that my talking about it works well enough.

  • Here's a question (different than the one I wanted to post originally, but it should still get the point across) Sep 7, 2012 at 23:34

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