I'm breaking one of the well known taboos about not asking questions about questions here for good reason.

People do it all the time, hit up search, enter 'question', you'll see a big list of meta-questions about questions and Stack Overflow in general which are just noise.

There are bundles of "first time" question mistakes that repeatedly get made for various reasons, and although to us who've been around and think there is no excuse, it is arguable that the FAQ sections are not really straight and to the point with lots of room for error in conceptual understanding, and searching for questions about questions really doesn't result in anything informative, just closed questions.

So this question serves as an attempt to rectify that, fill it up with answers that will help people not to make first-time-question mistakes and give them simple and understandable answers about how to ask questions, and then we can all add it to our favourites and throw the link to new users when they don't get around to reading this.

Maybe, when this question (hopefully) survives a week or so without being closed/down-voted into the abyss, somebody can rewrite this section (my question) so it's more friendly to the people we're sending here.


If I am new to Stack Overflow, what are the things I should consider before asking questions?

  • 1
    Just noting that the title is especially ironic. I chuckled when I read it.
    – Andrei Krotkov
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:53
  • Wow. Open a week with NO votes to close it. Clearly there's a double-standard regarding non-programming-related questions. Commented Jan 28, 2009 at 0:42
  • Nah, it got closed and then reopened. :) Commented Jan 28, 2009 at 1:22
  • Consider whether you want to submit it only to StackOverflow. Unfortunately, it's sometimes more important to people to preserve their view of SO than to help users (either the questioner or other people coming to SO). A question can be favorited, upvoted, have many answers upvoted, and still be closed by one peevish individual.
    – Iterator
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 14:39
  • I am also a new to stackoverflow. Why i can't add comment in www.stackoverflow.com but here i can do that. Thanks.
    – SimpleSu
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 16:04

11 Answers 11


When you type in your question, and a list of similar questions pop up, do the following.

  1. STOP.


  3. Read the related questions.

  4. Read all of the answers to the related questions.

Please do not submit questions that are nearly identical to already-asked questions. All we'll do is close the duplicate question.

  • For what it's worth, it seems like the 'related questions' box is 'broken'. Even if it isn't, the questions that pop up when you're typing your question in seem not to be as helpful as they used to be. Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 13:47
  • A note about searching for your question first is in order, IMO.
    – Cody Brocious
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 13:49
  • 9
    1.5 - Hammertime! Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:05
  • @Kezzer, Hah! I think the same thing every time I scroll down the page.
    – Cody Brocious
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:22
  • I always do search my question first and also take a look on similar ones that pop up. But these two features should probably work better as I happen to find similar question to mine (and older) accidentally after some time.
    – perfectDay
    Commented Feb 4, 2009 at 19:46
  • Similar questions that pop up are more similar than questions searched. Indeed, I've got into the habit of never searching anything. I just start to ask a question and then the relevant questions come up. Commented Aug 25, 2009 at 21:51
  • FWIW, not all technologies and domains have useful related questions... most of the ones I am answering in my domain come up with bad lists of related questions... i won't encourage anyone to waste their life in reading answers to those... this is not general, just for the domains i am active on. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 10:44

Read this: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

  • Can't vote this up enough. If I had a dime for every time I linked this (with good reason) in a technical forum of some sort, I'd be a very rich man.
    – Cody Brocious
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 13:51
  • Imagine if ESR had a dime for every link. :)
    – Steve Fallows
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:09
  • 1
    Sadly, that document is way too long to read. I stopped reading after I got halfway through it and just skimmed the headlines (this was a few years ago, obviously). Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:11
  • It's actually concise, but it is also thorough. It's not often that you get such a good discussion of an important skill. Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 15:37

On PlzSendTehCodez

If you post a question saying, "I need code that allows me to foo a bar", you'll probably not get what you're looking for.

What you'll get is people telling you where to look for the answer. We're not in the business of doing your work (home or otherwise) for you.

If you're having problems with a section of code (say sorting a tree), then post the code you're having a problem with, and explain your problem succinctly. As they say, Programmers help those who help themselves (It works for 'Heaven' too).


When you read answers to your questions, remember the following.

  • The answers are INDEPENDENT. This is not a threaded discussion group. There's no order to the answers. Some folks look at them in vote order or time order. No one will see your "answer" that responds to previous answer in the intended order except by accident.

  • Do not Quote For Truth or repeat a previous answer adding "I agree". Just vote them up, possibly with a comment.

  • Do not clarify or amend your question with a answer. Clarify or amend your question by clarifying or amending the Question.

To gain reputation points, read and upvote for a while.

  • Most new users fail to see that there even is an edit button.
    – Tomalak
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 13:59

Q. My question is being ignored! It wasn't even a really hard one, what's going on?

Probably you failed to make it attractive to your audience.

To get an answer, people must enjoy reading your question, they must understand the circumstances that made your problem occur and they must have the feeling that they are not wasting their time on you.

Check this list:

  • Do you use proper English? Is your question spell-checked, concise and understandable?
  • Did you make a fair effort to format your question, indent code correctly, and break text passages into separate paragraphs?
  • Does your tone match your situation? You are asking for help, you should sound like that.
  • Did you include relevant code, version information etc.? You should.
  • Is the code you posted the shortest possible bit to demonstrate your problem? Make sure you are not misusing your readers as human debuggers by giving them copy-and-paste examples from your program, leaving them with the task to figure out where it goes wrong.
  • Did you use good tags? Useful tags mention the general topic and/or the 2-3 core technologies of your question. Take the most common tags (you will see a usage count in the dropdown). Don't repeat yourself - for example, take either [xsl] or [xslt], but not both.
  • Is the problem of general interest? Some questions are just too localized, so no-one can solve your problem. This is quite unusual, though.

If you answered "No" to any of this, you should revise your question.

  • Add "Did you use good tags?" That has a huge impact: it will determine whether your question shows up highlighted or in an rss feed for people qualified and interested in your topic. Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:23
  • It's a community wiki, you could have added this yourself. ;-)
    – Tomalak
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:48

Read your question to yourself. Check your logic. Are you expecting computer to do what you yourself don't know how to do? Are you expecting logically impossible? Do you have a clear model as to how the computer works in your case? Please endeavor to solve the logical and computational model problems on your own. Then, when the question becomes a matter of simply knowing facts or analyzing tradeoffs, submit it to SO. That's what we're good at.



I rarely have to ask anything this way and am learning a lot.


Asking a question to which there is going to be an actual answer would be nice. Make it obvious. If I have to ask myself what you are actually trying to get an answer to, then your question is not well stated.

The subjective questions do not fall in to this category obviously.

  • "Some of the subjective questions"? I'd say all of them do. If there was an actual answer, the question would not be subjective.
    – Tomalak
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 13:49

Is what I want to ask really a question...without an answer somewhere?


Don't Duplicate

  1. Asking the same question more than once won't get you anywhere. All you'll have is people answering the same question in different ways and some of those answers will be lost when the duplicate question gets closed.

  2. Don't ask a new question in response to a problem with somebodys answer, and especially don't delete the original question, do as S. Lott says, amend the original question with your progress, and comment on the answer that's a problem to inform them the question has been updated.

  • 1
    I was so tempted to add another answer which said "Don't Duplicate". Luckily, I restrained my errant sense of humour.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 22, 2009 at 14:57

Most of us simply want to supply otherwise useless information for you to ponder until a little more accurate answer can be found


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