A beginner question has an obvious answer. A newbie could be stuck on it for hours and still blush when the answer is presented.

There are couple of good reasons for this kind of question:

  • Help students/beginners
  • Makes Stack Overflow a more complete source of information
  • Possibly more traffic from Google

But there are also couple things that would argue against this kind of questions:

  • Help lazy students/beginners
  • Possibly lower the over all quality of questions and answers

The reason I ask this question is that I want a definition and a term (maybe even a tag) to lean on when I write this kind of question for my students (and myself in some areas). I have written a few already, but I want to write a few more, and when I do, I want to do it right.

I am sure that this topic has been discussed before. So close this question if there already are consensus on which terms, tags and style you should use.

The reason for the name is the obvious one. Joel Spolsky have several times been advocate for this type of question on the Stack Overflow podcast. And I am of course not implying in any way that Joel Spolsky is beginner, newbie or any thing in that direction.

  • 1
    Why is this called a Spolsky-question? That's just insulting to fans of Joel Spolsky. :) Nov 23, 2009 at 23:35
  • 2
    @Maxim I am not really sure what you mean or if you are joking since I think I was pretty clear on that point. If you are not joking is my answer the same as in the last paragraph in the question. And yes I am also a fan Joel.
    – P-A
    Jan 6, 2010 at 16:38

4 Answers 4


I am a coding beginner myself (a "newbie") and have found the Stack Overflow community very helpful and polite.

What I've seen is that other users don't like to think they're doing your work for you. When I've asked a question, I've always tried to narrow it down to the single thing I think is causing the problem, rather than throwing up 500 lines of code and saying "What's wrong?"

Thankfully for me, my brother is a much better programmer than I, and I ask him all the dumb questions that make me smack my forehead once he answers. There's nothing like spending 30 minutes trying to get a piece of code to work, and then to have someone come along and say, "no, like this"!

My favorite question out of the three I've asked on SO was Identity column maximum value in SQLite DBs, where I was curious about, as the title implies, the maximum value of the identity column, and quickly learned that it doesn't make much of a difference, because it would take forever to even find out!

We were all beginners at one point.

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    Thank you for sharing. In the spirit of that I made the question a little bit more humble with a reference to myself and not only blaming my student for my newbie questions :)
    – P-A
    Sep 7, 2009 at 14:40

I agree with the definition of the beginner tag being:

A beginner question with an obvious answer that newbie could be stuck with for hours and still blush when the answer is presented.

But it strikes me that there's a category of general knowledge/general understanding questions that get tagged "beginner". They don't have a solution that could "make a newbie blush".

That case seems like a mistag to me. Someone who's been programming for decades could still want to get a better understanding of some feature of a language.

The tag itself is slightly pejorative, so using it liberally doesn't foster a sense of community in my opinion.

  • Thank you for your comment. I really think you made a valid point that should be in the back of our heads. But I also think that you should be too scared to be "called" newbie (through a tag) by the community in a specific subject.
    – P-A
    Nov 5, 2009 at 14:56

Spolsky-question: A beginner question with an answer that would be obvious to an intermediate-experienced developer, but that a newbie could be stuck with for hours. See: How do I move the turtle in Logo?

Also see the beginner tag on SO for more examples.

  • Thank you for your input. That question you mention was the reason for the title.
    – P-A
    Sep 7, 2009 at 14:41

We can all ask "beginner" questions from time to time - I know I have. They're the question you ask when you're moving into a new area or returning to something you used to do a while ago. You know that there is an obvious answer, but you can't find the right search terms for Google to turn up the answer, or select the correct class.

I don't think that they can necessarily be categorized by a single tag though.

  • agreed. it's a complicated issue being rolled into one word. Oct 22, 2009 at 23:28
  • Thank you for your answer. I think I understand your point and do I think that this types broad topics not makes perfect tags. But I do not think it would be impossible to have broad tags that make sense if the community accepts them. If they are understandable to people and have clear essence I think it can be really helpful. In a way is that also the essence of tag and also what separates tagging from categorizing. I think a tag is pointer or a interpretation from someone in a context of a community. But maybe was that was your point and you just thinks a beginners tag is too categorizing?
    – P-A
    Jan 6, 2010 at 17:00

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