On Stack Overflow, as well as other Stack Exchange sites, I wonder what is the level of expertise required to participate? Does the Stack Exchange community prefer more questions with average quality, or fewer questions with better quality? I am asking this especially for the sites other than Stack Overflow where I might be an enthusiast and not at all an expert.

In other words, do I "pollute" the site by asking questions that get closed? How much should I restrict myself when asking a question or posting a response? What are good guidelines to check that your work is up to the Stack Exchange standard?

  • This is a good general guide to asking questions from Jon Skeet: tinyurl.com/so-hints . He also writes one for answering questions: link
    – Travis J
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 23:19
  • 2
    You are certainly supposed to be becoming ever more expert as you go... Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 0:16
  • It depends on the site, to some extent, so if you branch out into the wider SE network (beyond SO, SF, SU), you should probably take a look at what sorts of questions are asked there, what's well-received and what isn't, and what is listed on the FAQ.
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 7:20
  • 3
    Closely related: Is StackExchange supposed to be just for experts? Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 12:57

3 Answers 3


The goal of Stack Exchange is to become an expert resource of knowledge for years to come, focusing on very specific topics.

However, this doesn't mean that every question asker needs to be an expert in the field. However, you do need to be serious about the field. People who are merely curious will likely try to post questions that they can find the answers to by digging in and spending some time doing some research. In order to become better at something, one must invest time in learning about that activity, whether it be programming, genealogy, lucid dreaming, physical fitness, or any other topic.

In other words, I don't need to be an expert in programming to first do some research on my own, try out an example, and then ask a question indicating where I'm stuck, what I've tried, and listing any error messages I've found.

Likewise, if my shoulders aren't growing even though I just started workout regularly and eat what I think are good meals, I can still ask a good question on Fitness SE by listing what I've tried, what I'm currently doing, and then going from there.

However, if your question shows you're not serious about the subject, then it's not beneficial. Another goal of Stack Exchange is to make the Internet a better place, so posts that don't show effort from the asker tend to involve things that have already been asked and answered countless times before. You don't need Stack Exchange for such questions, you just need to spend some time doing some research. :)

In general, some community managers have said they'd prefer to see fewer questions of higher quality instead of more questions with lower quality. Quality is key to building a strong community.

As a last and final point, your skill level in the topic has nothing to do with how serious you are about learning that subject. It's the seriousness and commitment that make great questions. Hope this helps!

For more guidance, see How to Ask.

  • 5
    indeed, one critical piece of guidance that prevents the "just curious" pollution is the "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face": stackoverflow.com/faq#dontask Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 7:04

If you can answer a question, with sufficient quality that it gets upvoted, you're good enough.

I actually find its harder to have a sufficient level of expertise to ask questions than to answer them.

On the other hand, reading through, and answering questions does have a significant learning benefit. I'm mostly on SF and SU, and I've picked up a lot from the people I'm around.

I'd say, asking good questions (lots of detail, after searching for dupes) does not need you to be an expert in the subject matter. It does need you to know the culture of the site, (and the FAQ is a good start). Answering questions needs you to know just enough to know where to start. No, you don't need to be an expert. You just need to ask the right questions, the right way.

  • 2
    I really don't believe the first two paragraphs in your answer, there. I've become rather cynical, quite quickly, about the quality of questions and answers on the main Stackoverflow site, having watched questions like "What does this operator do?" be upvoted a couple of dozen times, along with the "It adds one value to another" answer. On some of the StackExchange sites (e.g. English), those questions would be closed in hours at the most, with significant negative votes.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 1:19
  • 1
    @itsbruce: I don't consider myself an expert in the sites I'm most active in (SU and SF mainly. I'm not a coder). I try to answer a question a day, as long as I know the subject matter well enough, to a standard I am happy with. As for asking questions, I find a good, well written, detailed question with clear parameters tends to attract at least a few quality answers. Its easy to post a good answer to a good question. Less so for a crappy question. I think the culture side of things is essential for the last part. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 1:28
  • Then I think the main StackOverflow site is now too big to have a meaningful culture. There's a huge amount of rep-farming, with no incentive to discourage stupid questions when people can gain rep by answering them. The result is that gaining rep on the main site is like levelling in WoW - any fool can do it, it just takes a bit longer.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 1:30
  • @itsbruce I would argue that rep-farming is actually a good thing. In my case, it got me interested in the site and made me discover its culture. Now my interest is not so much about accumulating reputation but using the website the way we are supposed to use it, which is vastly more useful. But without the pull to farm reputation in the first place, I would have never gotten here. In addition, rep farming makes you aware of the standards of the website (by getting downvoted) and pushes you to increase the quality of your posts. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 8:57
  • 1
    If you can farm rep by asking "What does this operator do" or by answering that question with simple regurgitation of basic documentation (which, to be fair, is all the answer there is), that's not quality.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 10:09
  • But... where's the fun in that? ;p. I've actually gone back and improved old answers cause it was embarassing Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 10:47
  • For compulsive badge collectors - and for those not well enough informed (or just not bright enough) to post genuinely useful questions and answers - it's all the reward they need (and often the only way they can achieve any reward). You just admitted that it was self-respect that made you go back and edit, not rep. So your behaviour is not conditioned by rep-farming. Unfortunately, all too many other people are abusing the system. Just look at some of the other hot questions on this meta site.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 11:31

Asking questions which get closed doesn't pollute the site; not if the reasons for closure are made clear. If closure is done properly, bad questions are as instructive as good ones.

Where it breaks down is when bad questions and answers are uncritically voted up. There's a guy hanging around some of my favourite tags with a rep of 10.5K. Yet he clearly cannot read questions properly and is only capable of giving vague answers which address the general area. He votes questions up, then answers them badly. People who know no more than he does about the area vote him up, because he seems to know (they think) what he's talking about. Meh.

Ask questions fearlessly. Vote down with equal boldness. Nail those flags to the mast.

  • You should not ask a question you know will be closed. A closed question is, by definition, a question that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. Now, having said that, you don't need to be an expert in the field to ask a question that won't be closed.
    – Servy
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:16
  • @Servy I didn't say that anybody should go out and deliberately ask questions that they know will be closed. I said that the fact that people ask questions which are closed doesn't pollute the site. People learn from seeing what has been rejected. If you marked me down on the basis of that misunderstanding, you're in the wrong.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:28
  • There is a responsibility on behalf of those asking questions to not only research the content of their question before asking it to ensure that the information is not readily accessible elsewhere, but also to spend some time researching how to ask a question on stackoverflow (if they don't already know) to know what is considered in scope for the site, what is out of scope, and what information should and should not be included in a question. If, after doing all of that, it turns out they didn't realize the question was in fact close-worthy, it's different than not caring before you ask.
    – Servy
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:32
  • Again, I didn't tell anybody not to care. It feels as if you're just taking out your frustrations with some people's behaviour on me.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:38
  • Not really, no. I just don'e like encouraging people to ask questions that don't belong on the site in the first place.
    – Servy
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:39
  • Sigh given that I had one my comments modded into oblivion over the weekend, just for asking if somebody's "What does this operator do?" was too lazy a question (let alone deserving of the 24 upvotes it received), I find this perverse misreading of my words unnecessarily ironic. It seems to be my fate, this week, to suffer the attentions of people who do not read what is in front of them.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .