Many of the low quality questions on Stack Overflow involve simply posting code and when in luck stating the exact error people are getting.

A simple search for error messages highlights this problem. Two recent examples of 'error' type questions I encountered.

In a way I often feel those questions should be closed as 'too localized' since it's very unlikely they will help anyone else in the future. Additionally, helping out by solving the exact scenario where they encountered the error isn't even helping out the OP that much. Will they know how to solve the problem next time they encounter the same error?

Their actual questions often reflect a clear lack of understanding of the error message, and thus the actual question they should be asking is: "What does this error mean?"

Jeff's original guidelines for duplication are:

  1. Having one “perfect” form of a question that contains every possible answer to every slight variation of that question is a myth at best and actively harmful at worst.
  2. Having dozens and dozens of variations of the same question is clearly bad.
  3. What we want is on the order of 4 or 5 similar-but-not-quite-the-same duplicates to cover all possible search terms and common permutations of the question. It is also OK for these duplicates to have their own answers so people who find them don’t have to click yet again to get to a good answer.

I argue there is too much duplication going on with these types of questions, and when the question is actually implying "What does this error mean?" it is one of these rare cases where it is an exact duplicate.

While searching for questions in order to close as duplicate I unfortunately didn't seem to find any of these generalized questions.

This is a call to arms to:

  • Create these generalized questions asking what the error actually means. This is either possible by rephrasing new incoming questions into a general form, or possibly even by asking them yourself. (Be prepared for down votes! :))
  • Closing these questions as duplicates instead of answering them, closing them for some other reason, or bashing on the OP.

In order to:

  • More easily answer low-quality questions.
  • Actually teaching the OP something when answering their question, possibly reducing further similar low-quality questions from them.
  • 3
    +100 for this. Far too many questions that are minor variations on the same fundamental misunderstanding – user200500 Dec 7 '12 at 14:32
  • 5
    Me and a couple users have been advocating this for years now, but it never got anywhere. The system is not up to the job, and even dupe-voting gets tiresome eventually. Related: What can be done about repetitive questions? and Do "reference questions" make sense? (the latter is technically a dupe, but I'm all for keeping this open - maybe it can get the discussion going again. But I'm not terribly optimistic anything will come of it.) – Pekka Dec 7 '12 at 14:55
  • @Pekka Although the grander intention behind my post is definitely a dupe of yours, I feel the narrower scope of my current suggestion (namely errors) might be a nice way to start experimenting with these 'reference questions' again. Additionally, in this given scenario often a 'reference question' which addresses the actual underlying question doesn't exist yet, so some of the quoted criticism you mention in your post doesn't apply here. If this question doesn't receive any criticism I might give it a try this weekend! – Steven Jeuris Dec 7 '12 at 15:26
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    I've given up my attempts in this direction because they never got any official encouragement, and the team don't seem to be viewing the flood of crappy dupes as as much a pressing problem as some of us users do. I say it's up to them to actively work out a solution with the community - or not, in which case SO will become less and less attractive place to hang out on (IMHO)... But do give it a try, I don't mean to discourage you and maybe you are more successful! – Pekka Dec 7 '12 at 16:52
  • I've come up with a question + answer but I can't work up the courage to post it, especially since you can't CW questions. – user200500 Dec 9 '12 at 16:58
  • @Asad I was struggling with a similar problem earlier today. :) It seems like a good idea to answer the question while posting it (checkbox at the bottom when posting a question), however this requires you to invest a lot more time in it first. – Steven Jeuris Dec 9 '12 at 18:09
  • Out of all of the attempts I've seen at this, it's rarely done well (as in following the Q/A format and asking a good question) even if the information is all there somewhere, which may be why the team isn't going out of their way to encourage it. – Servy Dec 10 '12 at 15:40
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    Here's my attempt: stackoverflow.com/questions/13883813/ajax-not-updating-variable/… – user200500 Dec 14 '12 at 18:00

It seems that sometimes this is being done, and it seems to be effective!

I just encountered the following post: https://stackoverflow.com/q/13803624/590790

Which is being closed as a duplicate using this generalized question: What is a NullReferenceException, and how do I fix it?

This question did seem to have 12 down votes, probably by people who figured it was a badly researched question. Perhaps you could prevent this by stating in the question itself that the purpose is to build a reusable canonical resource, which you can edit out later, or by immediately answering it yourself. Personally I don't even mind about the details whether or not such a question/answer should be made wiki.

Let's build up several other "What is a ...Exception in ...?" questions!

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  • 1
    I'll put mine up tomorrow, see how it goes. – user200500 Dec 10 '12 at 20:34

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