You're probably reading this because you've likely made or read a statement that provides little to no insight into a given problem. It's a declaration that is well-known and reviled throughout the SO community:

"It doesn't work".

We know "it doesn't work". That's what we're here for. But in order for US to help YOU, we need information. "It doesn't work" tells us nothing. What "doesn't work"? What is it supposed to do that meets the criteria of "working"? What is it doing now that it isn't supposed to do?

Moreover, why is it BAD to tell us that something "doesn't work"? After all, you've come to terms with the fact that you need to reach out for help. Given the fact that most are too proud to admit that help is required, shouldn't we applaud you for making this massive step forward by reaching out to our humble community and requesting our assistance?

Of course. Thank you for asking for our help. It is our pleasure, because when we're able to provide answers to questions, everybody wins.

But when we have to ask you 20 questions to your 1, then there is a problem with your question.

Case in point:

Customer: I need help with my car.
Mechanic: Sure thing. What do you need help with?
Customer: It's not doing what it's supposed to.
Mechanic: Ok..... let's have a look then.
Customer: You can't.
Mechanic: What? Why?
Customer: It's not doing what it's supposed to do, so I walked here.
Mechanic: So it's not running?
Customer: No, it runs. It's just not working.
Mechanic: It would really help me out if you drove your car here so I could take a look at it.
Customer: Here's a picture of my car when it was working. Does that help?
Mechanic: Not really.
Customer: Some mechanic YOU are.

Is it entirely possible that the customer in this scenario just doesn't know enough about cars to make an educated decision about his issue before approaching the mechanic? Sure, it happens all the time.

But any good customer in this scenario would know to either bring his car to the shop, or at least describe what was happening with his car that would be considered abnormal. A more savvy customer could have removed the offending car part and shown it to the mechanic.

Do you know what separates the good customer from the bad?

Details, and the understanding of which details are relevant and which are a distraction.

It is the details that not only form the foundation of a solid and acceptable question here on Stack Overflow, but it also provides assurances for YOU:

  • Assurance of serious and thoughtful feedback
  • Assurance that you will receive a relevant answer that may very well change a "non-working" script into a "working" one

Bear in mind that well-formed questions lead to well-formed answers that not only benefit you, but any future developers that wish to ask the same question you have. Things are done this way in the hopes that - given enough questions meeting the SO community's criteria and enough time - questions will no longer need to be asked.

Welcome to Stack Overflow. We're here to help you make things work.

  • 12
    What about formatting this into a Q&A format? Not much else to do here - it's not like there can be an "answer" to this :)
    – Lix
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:30
  • 10
    Nice blog post! ;-) Sep 19, 2012 at 13:34
  • 2
    Agreed, @Lix. This isn't a question more than it is a commentary on a common phenomenon among primarily new users in the SO community (see: The Many Memes of Meta). Perhaps I can reword this so that everybody here can contribute their own "list" of questions to ask oneself before saying "it doesn't work"?
    – maiorano84
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:36
  • I dunno, I don't think this will work... :P (Seriously, though, +1).
    – user164207
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:43
  • 1
    You'll know it worked when it gets deleted.
    – Flexo
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:47
  • 6
    You should consider splitting out your "handy list of questions" into an answer for this post.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:47
  • 3
    Great post.... But where's the question? Sep 19, 2012 at 13:50
  • @GeorgeStocker Haha, I had JUST made the edit before it was closed. Oh well. Hopefully you can reconsider, as I think this can be potentially helpful.
    – maiorano84
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:52
  • 7
    @maiorano84 The point is, about 90% of your question should actually be in an answer; and the for it to be 'faq-proposed' it should have a canonical answer. A list of X isn't going to produce a canonical answer. That said, I see a lot of potential here, but your question needs a little work to fulfill it. Sep 19, 2012 at 13:54
  • That's fair. I'll continue to work on this. Thank you for your advice.
    – maiorano84
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:56
  • 6
    I would consider this an excellent blog post, but I'm not sure this results in a lot of Q&A potential.
    – Bart
    Sep 19, 2012 at 13:57
  • 2
    @Bart It can. Many FAQ questions are addressed like this, it just needs some fixing.
    – Alenanno
    Sep 19, 2012 at 16:02
  • @Alenanno I'd love to see it. Though I see more potential as a blog post similar to the ones by Jon Skeet or Matt Gemmell. But potentially valuable content anyway.
    – Bart
    Sep 19, 2012 at 16:16
  • @Bart Yeah that could be an alternative, I guess. :)
    – Alenanno
    Sep 19, 2012 at 16:24
  • 2
    @Mike'Pomax'Kamermans This contains no unfriendly language, put-downs, personal attacks, bigotry, or harassment. So you're welcome to point out any rules that I might have missed from your linked code of conduct, and once you do, I will adjust accordingly.
    – maiorano84
    Sep 17, 2020 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


Here is my own:

  1. What is it supposed to do that constitutes a "working" state?
  2. Does the "non-working" state come in the form of an error?
    • What is the error?
  3. Does the "non-working" state come in the form of unexpected behavior?
    • What is the behavior that is unexpected?
  4. If neither 2 or 3 apply, what is it doing that warrants a label of a "non-working" state?
  5. What code is being utilized that could be contributing to the "non-working" state?
  6. Can the code be shown? If not, why?
  7. Can any portions of example code be considered superfluous or not relevant to the problem at hand? If so, remove it from your example.
  • 18
    What I can't stand is the over-simplification of the question. "I want to split a string." They show an example of a string they want to split, e.g. foo-bar. So answers ensue where people take the left and right of the -. Then the OP cries out, "But what about foo-bar-bling?" Then edits and more answers ensue. Then the OP cries out, "But what about foo-bar;bling-blat?" Then my down-vote gun comes out...
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Sep 19, 2012 at 15:20

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