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A question (which has since been removed) arrived recently that is well formed in the sense of providing a clear statement of output desired for a given set of input, but is basically asking for the program to accomplish it. I know I could say "what have you tried", but I think that would be disingenuous, because it's pretty clear they haven't tried anything. If they have a clue as to how to go about doing it, it's not obvious.

Since the program is not that hard and not so trivial to be completely boring, I was tempted to answer it "for the points", but I decided that I'd go ahead and "flag it" as an inappropriate question. I'm coming up on 3k shortly, so as I understand it, my chances for using the "flag" approach (vs. voting to close) are going to to be limited.

Thing is, despite reading quite a bit about the flag dialog rewrite/rationalization, I still find the dialog to be extremely ambiguous/confusing. I know I could just "flag it for moderator attention", but it seems to me that a straightforward case like this "ought" to have an obvious "category" (i.e. series of flag dialog answers) that I can select. So my question is: How should I flag this?

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  • When you get to 3k and have close vote privileges, you will basically be able to pick from the same choices that you have for flags now. At least when you click the "it doesn't belong here, or it is a duplicate…" option. You'll still be able to flag as "spam", "very low quality", or "other". But none of those apply to this type of question anyway, so your options are not really limited. Aug 16, 2013 at 0:36

4 Answers 4

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Off-Topic

Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist

I know the wording isn't as intuitive as it could be and there has been much discussion about that, but it is what we have for now.

For further information see: Shouldn't "off-topic" be only about... off-topic?

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  • Would you also agree that there's an issue with the wording as it relates to "understanding of the problem" vs. "understanding of the problem and solution domain"? Has there been discussion of that as well? Aug 16, 2013 at 2:57
  • @PeterAlfvin Generally when blatant "gimme teh codez" questions come up people will flag or vote to close and add a comment like "we are not a code writing service"
    – apaul
    Aug 16, 2013 at 3:19
  • @PeterAlfvin you may also want to check out meta.stackexchange.com/questions/184154/…
    – apaul
    Aug 16, 2013 at 3:20
  • Thank you in particular for your reference to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/192086/… Aug 16, 2013 at 15:06
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For the most part, "plez send teh codez" questions can be closed/flagged with the "minimal understanding" reason. The reasoning is that the answer could be achieved with a little research, and the questions are often lacking key bits of info, like simple code samples, what the asker has tried, and/or what errors they are getting.

However, some questions, especially those asking for a full program or a complete tutorial can fit under "minimal understand" and "too broad", so you can choose the one that fits best for the specific case.

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  • Actually, in this case I think the poster demonstrated perfectly adequate understanding of the problem, they just didn't demonstrate any effort or ability to solve the problem. So while I agree this may be the best "category", this category itself suffers from a host of problems, including being classified under: a) a top level category of "does not belong here" (actually, it does, with modest changes), b) a second level category of "off topic" (which isn't true in any general sense) and c) a final category focused on understanding of the problem rather than understanding of the solution Aug 16, 2013 at 1:02
  • @PeterAlfvin minimal understanding stands not only for problem, but for technologies and algorithms involved etc. Aug 16, 2013 at 5:25
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I tend to down-vote questions that show a demonstrated lack of research (just like the tooltip says), especially if the question is a duplicate (which most gimme teh codez questions are). If I am not pressed for time I try to find a duplicate and vote to close that way (this helps the user a lot more than being told they lack a minimal understanding of the problem).

I don't think that I agree with the "too broad" close reason for these, and I don't think that all cases where a user doesn't know where to start necessarily means they haven't demonstrated a minimal understanding of the problem. In a lot of cases they know exactly what they need to do, they just may not know the exact syntax or didn't know what keywords to search for in existing questions (or your favorite search engine). This happens a lot in SQL Server with table-valued parameters - people need to pass in a big set of something but unless they already know what table-valued parameters are they're not going to find those questions very easily. They typically search for "arrays" but there is no such thing in SQL Server. I also tend to see a lot of people who know exactly how to solve a query in Oracle or MySQL but the syntax required is slightly different in SQL Server. Should we really flag these questions? I don't think so. Just because they haven't shown in the question that they've tried anything doesn't mean they haven't been pulling their hair out for an hour and are now turning for us to help.

I certainly don't think questions that are too broad or lack evidence of minimal understanding require a moderator's attention. For the duration you remain < 3K I suggest that instead of flagging these questions you down-vote them and/or let other users vote them closed (if the situation is obviously one of the mentioned cases, there will be no shortage of peers willing to make this call).

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  • Thanks for the answer. :-) Doesn't your rationale for not flagging apply to any flag, however? If there are no shortage of peers to flag for this case, why would there be a shortage of peers for any case? Why not just get rid of flagging altogether? Aug 16, 2013 at 1:10
  • @Peter Well, there is no vote-to-close reason for SPAM, for example, and we want to get rid of those much faster than it would take 5 community members to come across it. There may also be cases where you participate in very niche, low-volume tags where it could literally take days or weeks for 5 like-minded 3Kers to agree that the question is off-topic. In any case, I think a down-vote and a comment will go a lot further than voting to close or flagging - it is a much more direct indicator to the OP that their question is lacking in some way, and gives them a better opportunity to improve it.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Aug 16, 2013 at 1:13
  • That all makes sense, but suggests that the flagging dialog shouldn't just mirror the vote-to-close dialog or at least should contain some accompanying verbiage about only flagging in low-volume areas. Similarly, the whole approach of flagging/closing seems at odds with the approach of downvoting, so there too some guiding verbiage would seem like they would be helpful. But I guess that's a separate question/topic .... Aug 16, 2013 at 1:23
  • @Peter well my opinion is certainly not something that somehow represents something that StackExchange should do, even if they wanted to. I was merely offering my opinion and advice to you.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Aug 16, 2013 at 1:25
  • @Peter stated another way: I'm just telling you what I think as a user of Stack Overflow (and as a moderator of one of the other sites in the network), not as a representative of the network.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Aug 16, 2013 at 1:50
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    @AaronBertrand Flagging for closure (using the "It doesn't belong here" option) doesn't request moderator attention. Flagging for closure puts a question in the close queue. (You guys aren't getting notification-like behavior for that anymore, are you? Well, even if you are, you can ignore it and let close queue reviewers take care of it.) Anytime a user with enough rep should vote to close a question, a user with insufficient rep to cast close votes should flag it for closure (using the "It doesn't belong here..." option). Of course, that's different from flagging for moderator attention. Aug 16, 2013 at 2:46
  • @Eliah I wasn't sure about the specifics of the OP's statement: "flag it" as an inappropriate question. As a moderator on dba.se, I see flags all the time - from high rep users with the ability to vote to close - flagging low quality answers as "not an answer." I decline those, and tell them to vote on quality, not flag. I think you have more faith that I do that recommending people flag to their heart's content will lead to the right outcome more often than not.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Aug 16, 2013 at 2:54
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The best course of action is to close as "too broad" and comment explaining why.

In this case, "too broad" really isn't self-descriptive, however, it is applicable. If someone's asking you to write code for you, then there is no concise, single answer. That just can't be achieved. It isn't immediately apparent that "too broad" covers this, though.

That is my recommendation. These kinds of questions are too broad.

Edit: I didn't think of the "minimal understanding" close reason (probably because it's listed under the complete misnomer "off-topic", gah). I agree with @psubsee, "minimal understanding" is the better option.

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  • I generally agree with this. My only concern is, would you be satisfied if the asker edited their question to clarify their specific requirements, thereby making the question less broad? I mean, think about a classic "homework" question, with narrowly-defined parameters and everything you needed to answer the question. It would certainly not be "too broad", but would you be okay with that, even if it showed no effort/attempt at a solution? (Not implying anything, just asking.) Aug 16, 2013 at 0:37
  • @Cody The qualifying breadth of "too broad" is highly subjective, so take what I say with a grain of salt. In my opinion, though, a question can be made to be less broad by clarifying its requirements, but only to an extent. If the asker has made no obvious attempt to solve the problem, then it is still eligible to be closed. Part of this is because an attempt is the strongest indicator of what they're trying to do, but the other part is that they should show some effort before asking for help. A lot of it has to do with the intent of the asker.
    – user206222
    Aug 16, 2013 at 0:43
  • I'm glad Cody asked his question and I'm glad to see your update, because I really don't think "too broad" is a good category for these kinds of questions. In some sense, all programs that meet the input/output requirements are equivalent, so I don't think it really is "too broad". And then there's the precedent set by the endless stream of "what regex should I use for this" questions that don't get flagged/closed. Aug 16, 2013 at 0:53
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    The "plz send teh regex" questions are just too easy to answer for rep whores. They will eventually get closed, if you're diligent, @Peter. Aug 16, 2013 at 6:24

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