12

The Help Center > Asking > What types of questions should I avoid asking? should (but as far as I can see does not) provide guidance that barely researched (A.K.A. simple) questions are no longer desired on SO (all of SE?).

By "barely researched" or "simple", I mean the class of questions "for which the answer can be easily found" in the words of Knights who say Ni. Or to put into other words, questions that can easily be answered with something like a simple google search.

There should probably be some clarification on what makes a question too simple or unresearched, maybe an example laden list derived from Borror0's flowchart.

  • 3
    I think your extrapolation that simple questions are not desired is slightly flawed. – Aza Jun 18 '13 at 23:12
  • 1
    Given the blog post and what I see on other feature requests, questions and answers, I thought there was a general consensus that a certian level of simple question was undesired. Is that incorrect? – jball Jun 18 '13 at 23:22
  • If it's not out an out incorrect, can you characterize the slight flaw better? – jball Jun 18 '13 at 23:22
  • 4
    Yes and no. Questions for which the answer can be easily found are not desired. Questions which are simple, but for which there is not a readily available answer, are okay. There is significant overlap between those two regions, but that is simply a correlation. – Aza Jun 18 '13 at 23:25
  • Added a clarifying line to the question, "Questions for which the answer can be easily found" is what I intended to refer to by "simple questions". – jball Jun 18 '13 at 23:29
  • 1
    Also, even if an answer is easily found, if it's not found in StackOverflow it's still benefits the site if the user asks it. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 18 '13 at 23:29
  • @Benjamin Gruenbaum I was of that philosophy as well and used to use the LOGO turtle question by Joel to defend those types of questions, but they are rapidly closed these days. – jball Jun 18 '13 at 23:30
  • @jball I think the quality of the question by far outweighs the complexity of the question. A simple question (that is not a duplicate, or at least an easy to find duplicate) that is written well will far very well and does not need to be discouraged. – psubsee2003 Jun 18 '13 at 23:39
  • Do I need to post examples of current questions closed as being too simple to prove this has going on? I gathered from the links I posted in the original question and my first comment that 1) this is a known thing, and 2) that it is an accepted thing. All I'm asking is to warn someone reading in the help center about it. – jball Jun 19 '13 at 0:04
  • 1
    First, it was closed as NARQ, not "too simple" (especially since too simple is not a close reason). I would have closed it as a duplicate. It is an easy to find duplicate since googling the exact title finds 2 other SO questions that answer this question. – psubsee2003 Jun 19 '13 at 0:10
  • 5
    @psubsee2003 at this point you are being hostile through pedantry. I never said "too simple" was a close reason, in fact I put NARQ in the title. I don't know if you intend the second sentence of your comment as a claim that no question is too simple for SO? – jball Jun 19 '13 at 0:13
  • 1
    @jball not trying to be hostile, but I was trying to refute the idea that "too simple" needs to be addressed in the help center. This idea has been discussed plenty of times and the answer is always the same.... questions are not closed because they are too simple. They are closed because the OP failed to do basic research. You have to come up with a better example than something where googling the exact title gives 2 exact duplicates. – psubsee2003 Jun 19 '13 at 0:17
  • @jball ok, I am retracting my downvote (have to edit to do that though) and I'll apologize. I thought that "doing basic research" was addressed in the help center in some manner. There does need to be something to tell someone that they should be doing some sort of research first. – psubsee2003 Jun 19 '13 at 0:23
  • 4
    But I think you will get more support for this idea if you get away from the "simple question" stance and focus more on "doing your research first" – psubsee2003 Jun 19 '13 at 0:26
  • 1
    Don't know if it's worth a bump, but given that even recent answers on meta are essentially unchallenged with this position but there are users that aren't even aware of the policy, I still think some needs to be made to remedy the disconnect. – jball Jun 25 '13 at 17:16
7

The very first item that shows up on the "How to Ask" page is

Do your homework

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

This page gets shown to every user asking their first question on Stack Overflow (and they have to click a checkbox at the bottom saying they've read it, then click "proceed" before they can type in their question).


"General reference" or "too simple" is not an official close reason, except on a couple of SE sites where it has a very particular meaning. For example, on English Language & Usage, "general reference" pretty much means "can be answered by a dictionary or thesaurus" - NOT "can be answered by a Google search."

"General reference" was never implemented as a close reason network-wide, and for good reason. "Too simple" is not a reason to close questions. Yes, questions are better and more interesting if people have done prior research, but we are not turning people away for asking questions that are too basic. In the blog post you link to, Jeff says that he and Joel disagreed on this subject and that they were thinking of implementing "general reference" as a new close reason.

The new close reasons are about to go live everywhere on the network, and "general reference" is not among them. For sites that currently have it (which is, I believe, only two), they will incorporate it into their on- and off-topic policy (e.g., "Questions that can be answered by looking in a dictionary or thesaurus are off-topic here.")

If Stack Overflow as a whole decides that "simple" questions are not allowed, you need to start a separate meta post that provides very concrete parameters for what "too simple" means, and it needs to have community consensus. If that happens, it can then be incorporated into the moderator-editable "What topics can I ask about here?" page of the help center.

Keep in mind: Just because something can be answered by a Google search does not mean that it doesn't belong on SO or the rest of the SE network. Most people find us through Google. I agree wholeheartedly that people who ask questions should do some research before posting a question here, but I disagree that anything that can be found by Google is inherently inappropriate here. As long as the question is asked with proper grammar, is not a duplicate, and receives a good answer, it is making the internet a better place – which is our mission, after all.

  • Just a side note, I don't agree with the idea that questions are too simple or too general reference for SO, but that doesn't have any bearing on how questions are being treated and how other meta discussions have fallen out. – jball Jun 19 '13 at 21:38
  • 2
    To the main point - many of the points on the How to Ask page are mirrored on the What types of questions should I avoid asking? page, but not the point about research. I think it bears repeating. – jball Jun 19 '13 at 21:40

You must log in to answer this question.

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