I understand that in a question that the asker hasn't tried to solve by themselves is a bad question e.g. how do I write a program to...

If that question is very narrow, specific and not obvious though, isn't a "how do I ..." question perfectly valid? I refer to this question and it's down votes

How to start iterating through ArrayList from set index?

...or this in itself a bad question and subject to only opinion?

  • 6
    "If that question is very narrow, specific and not obvious" ... how does your example fit those criteria? Reading any introduction to your specific programming language should lead you through material that will cover such a question.
    – Bart
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:17
  • Really? It's just me then? I just think as a beginner, the documentation of ArrayLists doesn't make it obvious that they way to iterate over a list is to create a sublist from it's beginning to your start point, extract an Iterator object then start to iterate over that.
    – Ross Drew
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:22
  • 1
    A simple for-loop with the proper starting index would suffice just fine. Surely that will appear near the front of any decent book. And the OP, when putting in some effort, will certainly hit upon the idea of iterators or sublists through self-study. I don't see that as something SO necessarily needs to teach.
    – Bart
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:26
  • @RossDrew iterating over a subset of elements is pretty common task, so I'm afraid it might be the case of "just you" :(
    – Mołot
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:26
  • Apparently it is just me then. Feedback accepted and will be applied to my future SO judgements.
    – Ross Drew
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:30
  • 1
    The question you've linked is extremely far from being the worst offender in the "must display minimal understanding" category -- the size of the task can perhaps be taken into account here. It's not "How would I display my database in my Android app? kthxby." Ultimately, I agree with Bart: SO is not meant to be all things to all people, and it is definitely not a mentoring site, but I think this particular question could have been left without too much harm.
    – jscs
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:35
  • Glad to know I wasn't being completely unreasonable :P
    – Ross Drew
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:39

1 Answer 1


It might come as a surprise, but we are ultimately not here to teach people how to program. Any language will have far more adequate material available to take care of that.

With that in mind, not every question that might not be all that obvious to the OP, makes a good question for Stack Overflow. Sure, if you haven't gone through documentation or books on a certain language and its libraries, I can't expect you to immediately understand it fully. But something like the question you referenced will be answered trivially by the OP teaching himself.

In other words, it's a fair question to have when you just get started, but it's not a gap that needs to be bridged by SO, when there is adequate material out there that should allow you to pick it up yourself.

You must log in to answer this question.

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