Here are the two scenarios:

  1. I'm too lazy to look up some easy reference online
  2. I don't want to bother looking up "all the usual" places before I present my question here.

Can I, or should I still be able to, ask the question here?

I know, the answer lies between 1 and 2. But I'm trying to find the balance.

  • too meta. someone close this... – Rob Stevenson-Leggett Nov 25 '08 at 12:58
  • 1
    It is maybe a duplicate, but it is not a bad question. – Gamecat Nov 25 '08 at 13:01
  • Please make community wiki. This should be a non-reputation gathering question. – tvanfosson Nov 25 '08 at 13:03
  • Point, I flagged my response. – Gamecat Nov 25 '08 at 13:05

12 Answers 12


1) Yes you can, but we appreciate it if you have taken any steps yourself first.

2) That would be great. But you don't have to delve through the entire internet before asking a question here (else we were still stuck at question nr 1).

  • "... spit through the entire internet ..." - Never heard that particular phrase before - what does it mean? – Ken Gentle Nov 25 '08 at 13:10
  • It means that I had not enough caffeïne in my blood. Mixing dutch words with the english text ;-). – Gamecat Nov 25 '08 at 13:17
  • @Gamecat - Too much blood in the caffeinestream can be harsh... – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 13:20

Yes, that is correct.


1) Lets say, I'm too lazy to look up some easy reference online, can I ask the question here.


2) Should I look up "all usual" places before I present my question here.


Edit again (!):

Just for the record this is not encouraging laziness. It is encouraging the exact opposite of laziness, ie "non-laziness". It is saying laziness is possible, "can I ...", but it is saying searching for answers yourself is preferred, "should I ...".

(let's hope that's the last edit!)

  • Looking for more descriptive responses sir. – Bajji Nov 25 '08 at 12:59
  • Worst. Answer. Ever. – Rob Stevenson-Leggett Nov 25 '08 at 12:59
  • @Rob really? I thought it was good. Like a Buddist saying "mu". – Paul Tomblin Nov 25 '08 at 13:05
  • Downvoted - laziness should not be encouraged. – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 13:11
  • Sherm: The word "can" has a very specific meaning :) And the O.P. certainly can. – Ali A Nov 25 '08 at 13:12
  • Upvoted, just face it: at least 50% of the questions here may be answer with a very simple google search. – Gilles Nov 25 '08 at 13:13
  • @Gilles - Do you enjoy picking up slack for a coworker who's too lazy to do his own job? Yes, of course there's always going to be a few in every crowd, but that doesn't mean such behavior should be rewarded. – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 13:19
  • Id didn't say I like it this way, I just say that is tha way SO behaves. Do not interpret what I said, just read. – Gilles Nov 25 '08 at 13:30
  • The question isn't how does SO behave, it's how should SO behave. You upvoted an answer that says "yes, you should be lazy." Your words say one thing, but your vote says another - and actions (i.e. votes) speak louder than words. – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 13:54

Ask questions at your level. If you're a guru (or have 7000+ rep), then people expect you to do some research first, and state what research you've done first. If you're a newb (either to the site or in general), then people should cut you some slack if you ask newb questions. I admit a couple of times I've asked questions just because I'd been staring at the code and couldn't see what was wrong so I asked here while I did other research, but other times I'd exhausted every other avenue before coming here.

But above all, make sure you search this site before you ask a question here. Nothing people hate more than a duplicate.

How does that quote go? "When I was a child, I spake as a child..."

  • Well, if we're going to quote philisophy: "If you give a man a fish you've fed him for a day; teach him to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime." From the perspective of the student, that says it's better to ask for fishing lessons than for fish. – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 13:15
  • so guru's have 7000+ do thye? Looks like you made the cut! ;) – Mitch Wheat Nov 25 '08 at 13:20
  • @Mitch - strange coincidence that the cut-off is just below what I currently have, eh? – Paul Tomblin Nov 25 '08 at 13:22

When I have asked questions here, it's because I can't find what I need Googling or checking manuals etc. It does take more time to get an answer here (at leas on the not so "big" topics) than it takes me reading a tutorial.

And of course when posting from Norway, I might have to wait a day or so for the people living in USA or Australia to wake up or come home from work...

Edit (about "simple google searches"):

Quite a lot of questions asked here can answered by a google search, by people who understand what they ask for. I've answered some questions (even on topics I know very little) by searching google, because I understood what they wanted even if they didn't know the terminology. E.g:

Q: "I want that sort of thing where you have these numbers under a list and you can click on it and get a sort of page",

A: "Oh, you mean pagination. Theres a few good plugins here [google search link], and this one [specific plugin link] is good..."


If you answer by something roughly equivalent to RTFM, even with a pointer with the specified M, you get downvote. So despite what people would like, the answer to your first point is yes.

That will kill SO imho.

  • +1. It is made even worse that there is always someone willing to answer an easy question and get the 50 or so reputation points for it. – Ali A Nov 25 '08 at 13:15

There is no question too trivial to be asked (except if the question is an exact duplicate of another SO question).

People have different backgrounds, therefore a complex thing for one person is a simple one for another and vice versa.

A bit of research before/after asking a question doesn't heart either. You can/should answer your question yourself. It will help the next person with the same question.

  • the problem is not in question complexity. The problem is about questions that are answered easily using google (or whatever search engine you prefer). – Gilles Nov 25 '08 at 13:20
  • @Gilles: SO provides voting on answers. Votes work more often than they fail. Google might give you a good enough answer easily. But even the simplest question can have a better answer. – J.F. Sebastian Nov 25 '08 at 13:36

Of course you can ask any question, but one should think about whether one needs to ask the question on SO before asking it.

It is pretty clear (common-sense) that asking things that you could find out very simply via Google or MSDN (for example) is a waste of everyone's time including yours, but when you are stuck SO can quickly become one of the most useful resources available to you.

For me, SO has quickly become a real saviour for getting solutions to specific problems.

When you ask a question, it is because you don't know the answer, the people that answer the question do know the answer. This is the same regardless of the "complexity" of the question.

  • +1 If only such sense actually were common! For me, SO appears to be devolving into endless repetition of "please do my homework," and slashdot-style groupthink voting. – Sherm Pendley Nov 25 '08 at 14:56
  • Is it bad that SO would, effectively, index MSDN or the relevant portions of whatever google is (also) indexing? Isn't that the point? – Kenny Evitt May 21 '10 at 2:10
  1. You can, but is it really such a good idea? You might get the answer you need in the short term, but you've cheated yourself of a learning opportunity that would be of more benefit to you over the long term.

  2. That would be my preferred option. IMHO, research skills are as (if not more) important to a programmer than coding skills.


Another good judge is "can it wait an hour?" If you can find the answer yourself in less than an hour, don't post it. This includes writing a skeleton program to test assumptions, etc. Just because you can get an answer in 45 seconds doesn't mean you should abuse it. Here's an example of that (by myself).


if the purpose of this site is to be a reference for programming questions, then it stands to reason that any programming question is acceptable.


Is it bad that SO would, effectively, index MSDN or the relevant portions of whatever google is (also) indexing? Isn't that the point? A big community-edited encyclopedia.

I don't see any reason to limit the scope of any of the sites beyond topic.


I think it would be something like; "I don't know the answer" ... ;)

But I guess this is very subjective, and other may disagree with me...

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