I noticed an answer of mine about searching for text in vim was getting a lot of attention, so I wanted to improve it by linking to an SO answer detailing how to select text. To my surprise, no question existed on SO asking how to select text in vim.

I then asked that question and answered it myself, linked to my new answer from my first question, and all hell broke loose. The post swung wildly between upvotes and downvotes, then it was put on-hold, then it was re-opened (with no changes to the question), and then put on-hold again.

At the time of this posting, with 15 votes divided pretty evenly up and down, this is my most controversial question. I feel that the question is appropriate, but I'm not sure how to properly discuss the issues with the community and improve it. What should I do?

Arguments Against the Question

Those opposed to the question have rather varied arguments, which I addressed with official documentation and Meta posts. Since the comment thread has become too long to be sensible, here are the arguments in a more concise and organized format.

Update: A mod has now removed all the comments on the original question, but their arguments remain summarized below

Q: It's wrong to ask a question and answer it yourself.

Q: Many variations on this theme: This is easily Google-able, so the question is bad or worthless.

  • Good point. The hovertext on the downvote button mentions does not show any research effort. I believe this is to discourage users from posting questions without doing research themselves, but since I followed the Answer Your Own Question format, this does not apply IMO.

  • Meta seems to agree that when you see a Google-able question, rather than closing it, it should be answered. Also, We're building a canonical archive of programming answers (from here).

Q: This question is pandering for votes and should be closed.

  • Isn't the reputation system designed for us to ask questions that would get a lot of votes? Please direct me to which category that this argument falls under in the official page What types of questions should I avoid asking?. Besides, (and I didn't explain this in the comments) getting votes or rep was not my reason for opening the question.

Q1: "This is not a question you have actually faced."

Q2: "This question isn't worth your time."

  • "Yes it is, actually, but that is irrelevant."

Q: "This question is too easy." "The question/answer was too rushed." "You are dishonest."

  • At this point I kind of threw my hands in the air and came to Meta for help.

Q: "This question is off topic" (NOTE: this was never argued by the closers, but was the close reason)

  • The FAQ What topics can I ask about here? says that "if your question generally covers... software tools commonly used by programmers... then you’re in the right place to ask your question!" and vim commonly qualifies under this standard.


Even though it was put on-hold via "off topic", nobody has argued that vim questions such as this don't belong on SO. This leads me to think that "off topic" was used because the above arguments aren't actual close reasons, and not because the question is actually off topic.

I'm sure this won't be the first time I encounter a problem like this. So what should I do when this happens?

The on-hold post in question.

  • Start a thread in meta? :)
    – Joe
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:04
  • Personally I have no problem with the question. I was trying the other day to figure out how to insert text in xEdit when my insert key wasn't working (something wrong with my profile that I can't fix thanks to weird 20 year old unix oddities) and couldn't find a good reference anywhere (including SO). I would've appreciated a similar question, despite being "easy".
    – Joe
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:05
  • 3
    +1, Good question and well formatted. I would say the only thing you could have done different, it was to wait a little bit to answer your own question (the reason that made you come here). It seems it is not wrong to answer right away after the question, but if you want to be cautions, can be an option. If your goal is not to get reputation, there is also the option to make the answer community wiki, but not the question. Jul 29, 2013 at 16:13
  • BTW, what does TLDR mean? Thank's. Jul 29, 2013 at 16:15
  • 3
    Too Long, Didn't Read. In this case it means a short summary for people who don't want to read the whole, long post.
    – Joe
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:15
  • 3
    Personally, I would have considered your Q Off Topic, as my general rubric is that Q's about "tools" need to focus on a use of the tool that is fairly specific to programming. In this case, vim is a general puporse editor, and you're simply talking about selecting text. But these programming tools Q's have been a hazy area for a while now, I think.
    – joran
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:18
  • @AndreSilva Good point. However, it is sad that this solution involves not using the answer-your-own-question feature that has been implemented. Given, in this case I didn't expect such backlash, or I would have delayed my answer a bit, but I can be more careful in the future.
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:20
  • @joran Could you explain that a bit more? Visual selection is of great use in editing code. Do you mean you think we should only have questions where the use case only applies to programming?
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:22
  • Related meta.stackexchange.com/questions/189760/…
    – user310756
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:22
  • @CoryKlein, I do not disagree with you. It is just SE is such a large community one could expect that not always the guidelines are followed 100% for several reasons such as: users do not know them, they are subjective, users do not agree, etc. It is positive to bring the discussion to Meta (you made your part). Don't worry. Jul 29, 2013 at 16:26
  • 1
    @CoryKlein Maybe a lot of people write code in TextEdit (on OSX). Is a question about how to select text there on topic? My point is not that it should be something that only programmers do, but that the connection to programming seems sort of weak in this particular case. But I also specifically said that these programming tools questions can be grey areas.
    – joran
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:27
  • 4
    @joran frequently the quarks of selecting text in emacs/vim other unix based terminal editors can frustrate those that do not use them often. Also I can not name a single non-programmer that uses vim/emacs for editing text. I would consider vim/emacs to be exclusively programming tools these days...
    – Ryan
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:31
  • 2
    @ryan I disagree that any Q about vim/emacs is automatically on topic. But again, I readily stipulated that these are frequently borderline Q's. My gut reaction was that this wasn't on topic, but I would fully expect opinions to be divided on this.
    – joran
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:39
  • 1
    @ryan You are welcome to your opinion. Like I said, I think these sorts of Q's are frequently borderline.
    – joran
    Jul 29, 2013 at 16:48
  • 6
    Haters Gonna Hate. You've done the right thing, the whole way around. Don't worry about it. Jul 29, 2013 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


To answer the title of your question: the usual approach is to create a Meta question like the one you've just created, and link to it in the comments of the post under discussion. That removes meta-commentary on the question to a platform where it is more suitable.

Regarding the question that sparked the debate:

Q: Many variations on this theme: This is easily Google-able, so the question is bad or worthless.

Good point. The hovertext on the downvote button mentions does not show any research effort. I believe this is to discourage users from posting questions without doing research themselves, but since I followed the Answer Your Own Question format, this does not apply IMO.

That isn't exactly right. A question isn't exempt from any of the criteria of being a good question just because you're answering it yourself.

To illustrate, here is an example of a poor question that showed no background or research effort. It was self answered, which is fine, but that doesn't exempt the question entirely from the criteria of a good question.

That said, your question isn't as trivial as it has been made out to be, since it involves a number of steps (and not just "press this button/key combo [link to docs]"), so I would say the argument that the question is too trivial doesn't apply here. "What have you tried" in the context of a question about how to use a programming tool doesn't make much sense either.

The problem here is one of how much research is enough research. The primary reason the research requirement is there is so people don't keep asking the same questions about how AJAX works or how to match phone numbers with regex a billion times a day. When looking at whether the question is trivial we have to consider how broadly applicable it is, the quality of the answers the question has generated, as well as the quality, ease of access and authoritativeness of existing resources elsewhere. I believe those factors outweigh the research requirement in your case.

Regarding the close reason, do note that "off topic" is now an umbrella term for a wide variety of close reasons have been consolidated under it. The specific reason that the closers picked under off topic would probably have been more informative than the "off topic" label itself.

  • I had thought of this. My problem was since the question was easily Google-able, a small amount of research would result in the answer. However meta says that such questions should still be answered. So do I pretend I'm the asker and then never ask the question because my research answered it? Or do I ask and answer it myself? Maybe the question should be downvoted be the answer upvoted?
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:11
  • 2
    I guess then it comes down to, how do we add "Canonical" information to SO on questions like this that are easily answered with a little research?
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:12
  • Is there a way to see "the rationale that the closers picked under off topic"?
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:20
  • @CoryKlein I've updated my answer, since I couldn't fit my response into a comment. The rationale picked under "off topic" should show up in the actual close reason: "This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason: etc."
    – user200500
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:20
  • @CoryKlein Here's an example: stackoverflow.com/questions/17929076/…
    – user200500
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:25
  • Sorry to keep extending this discussion, but you keep mentioning the word "trivial". Is that a valid close reason? I tried to find it under the "flag to close" dialog and the help, but I can't find it anywhere. Also, thanks for that example - I just wish I could still see that in the edit history of my question.
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:26
  • @CoryKlein A "trivial" question is one that does not need to be addressed here, either because it is not worth addressing anywhere, or because the answer is already ubiquitously available elsewhere on the internet. It isn't an actual close reason, but that's the reasoning behind the "This is easily Google-able, so the question is bad or worthless" response that you encountered.
    – user200500
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:31
  • So if you were to encounter a "trivial" question, you'd close it with the "other" close reason? I think I was coming under a possibly false impression that the reasons to close a question were enumerated, and so if the reason wasn't enumerated in the help, FAQ, etc, that it wasn't a valid reason. I see that may not be the case.
    – Cory Klein
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:39
  • @CoryKlein It would depend on whether one of the existing close reasons already captures why the question doesn't fit. For example, I might vote to close a question about how to append nodes using jQuery because it is "trivial" (a canonical resource already exists), but the reason I'd pick would be "must demonstrate minimal understanding". This is just how I go about things of course, and isn't some kind of law that is set in stone.
    – user200500
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:43
  • 1
    Seems to me that if there is not a close reason that fits, perhaps the question should not be closed?
    – Joe
    Jul 29, 2013 at 20:14
  • 1
    @Joe Not really. An off topic question can be off topic without falling neatly under any of the predefined specific reasons. Here is a good example.
    – user200500
    Jul 29, 2013 at 20:35

These rebuttals to the "Arguments Against the Question" are very well-reasoned. In particular, the one regarding the complaint that he was "pandering for votes". Anyone who feels that way should take a step back and ask themselves, "what's wrong with that?" You're supposed to try to post questions and answers that are likely to get votes.

Think about what it means to get votes: it means other people think the post is useful. In that light, does it even make a difference whether something is posted to try to get votes? Nobody is being forced to vote for it. If it gets upvotes, that means other members feel that it makes a positive contribution to the site. That's what matters, not the poster's motivation, much less speculation about the poster's motivation.

If other members don't feel that it makes a positive contribution, it won't get upvotes, regardless of whether it was posted in the hope of getting them. It's a "problem" that resolves itself. It makes little sense to downvote a question for trying to get votes given that "trying to get votes" is by definition posting something that one believes others will consider valuable. Phrasing the complaint using the loaded pejorative term "pandering" doesn't alter that.

However, here is what I think really clinches the argument: It has been said here over and over and over that Stack Exchange sites are intended to be question and answer resources, not help forums. One of the main criteria for what questions belong is whether the answers are likely to be useful to anyone else in the future.

If that's the case, it's silly to attack a question and ask for it to be closed on account of the fact that the poster wasn't actually seeking help. In fact, legitimate questions can be closed because they're "too localized", which directly implies that the standard is not whether the poster was seeking help. The standard is whether it contributes useful Q&A material to the site. That's Stack Exchange's stated primary mission, right? If so, that standard should apply to self-answered questions, including ones that the poster asked in order to provide the answer.

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