According to Stack Overflow's FAQ "practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession" are on-topic.

In practice, however, this doesn't seem to be the case as there seems to be the presumption that Stack Overflow questions are about code.

This question1 can serve as an illustration; it seems to fit in with this particular part of the FAQ. It is a practical, answerable problem and it's definitely unique to the programming profession, though it is a little open-ended and a bit like a "shopping-question". However, it was also closed as off-topic fairly quickly, by myself included, and a comment suggesting Programmers instead has been highly upvoted.

My question is two-fold. If a question is not about "a specific programming problem", "a software algorithm" or "software tools commonly used by programmers" but is a practical answerable problem unique to the programming profession is it on-topic on Stack Overflow? If it is on-topic, why is this question off-topic?

A previous question. suggested that this phrase should be removed as it's too open-ended; the consensus reached seemed to indicate that it should. If the consensus is that a question that satisfies only the fourth criterion is off-topic can Robert Harvey's be implemented?

1. I'm not commenting on whether this is a good question or not.

  • 4
    IMO, that specific questions fails with the "there is no actual problem to be solved" test described in the "what not to ask" part of the FAQ.
    – Mat
    Jan 1, 2013 at 17:13
  • To a certain extent I guess that's the answer to the question @Mat. Questions that are solely "unique to the programming profession" aren't likely to be a "problem". Jan 1, 2013 at 17:20
  • 1
    "and a comment suggesting Programmers instead has been highly upvoted." That makes me 99.9% sure that it wouldn't fit there at all without even looking at the question. Jan 1, 2013 at 17:41

1 Answer 1


To me, the deal-breaker with this type of question for Stack Overflow is the word problem here:

practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

and highlighted again in the What not to ask section with:

  • there is no actual problem to be solved

While knowing what sort of guidelines companies have regarding code line lengths is something that is (probably?) unique to the programming profession, I don't see what practical, technical problem such knowledge can solve.

I understand the OP might, for example, be battling with some form of management to try and get coding style guidelines changed in his/her company, and could thus be trying to find hard arguments in favor of longer lines – that's not the type of practical problems Stack Overflow focuses on. It's more of a "political" problem.

Changing the line length limit (or tab width, or brace style, or ...) in a coding style guide somewhere isn't going to fix bugs or make code go faster.

Now Programmers (and every other site) has the same what not to ask section. Regardless, I believe the question might be framed well enough to be OK over there. It specifically requests references to "authoritative" sources. It's not an open invitation to discuss everyone's preferred line length and tab width settings in their favorite editor*. (But I may be wrong.)

*Which would be pointless, since it has been clearly established that vim with two-space (no tabs) indentation is the ultimate win..

  • Heretic. Metaless heathen. You'll only be spared today's purge for getting the indentation dogma right. Jan 1, 2013 at 18:04
  • I should clarify that accepting this answer is no way related to the vim related advertising... I'm an emacs person myself. Jan 1, 2013 at 18:09

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