Asking "what have you tried" is based on the assumption that the author did not make any effort. People don't want to make an effort if they assume someone else didn't. No matter how much they love coding, if someone else seems to lack motivation, their motivation is gone in an instant. The same is the case with remarks regarding "homework".

Example: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/20304495/find-peaks-in-list-with-custom-type

But having gotten some imperfect approach, people (usually different ones than the "what have you tried"-people) reply with a perfect solution they could have come up right from the start.

Also it could be that the people replying want to correct the author's approach to make it better. But then, if the author contributes his approach the solutions being given do not include the approach but go an entirely different route, which leads to the conclusion that you could have saved your effort of sharing your approach. Sometimes I see replies like "I asked my cat for an answer and she hates me now, so I ask here" and people reply.

Seems like you need to just get past the first person asking "what did you try" without giving something for others (who happen to have mod-rights more often than not to quickly close the topic) to work with like "idiot" (which fits perfectly whether you like it or not) or "a lot" or similar and you get your desired replies.

I suggest treating those "what have you tried"-phrases as what they are: spam and reconsider the "what have you tried"-phrase-author's mod rights.

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    If you're going to have a discussion it's probably best not to be insulting immediately... Nov 30, 2013 at 21:55
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    "Asking "what have you tried" is based on the assumption that the author did not make any effort." ... nope. It's based on the fact that the OP did not sufficiently explain where he has gotten so far in his endeavours, preventing us from making suggestions he has already tried or, in the worst case, preventing us from fully understanding the problem at hand.
    – Bart
    Nov 30, 2013 at 21:57
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    And by the way, what is it you wish to constructively discuss? There's a lot of text, but the only semi proposal I see here is to "reconsider the author's mod rights". And that is not all that clear. So perhaps narrow your question down a bit, and clearly state what you wish to discuss, or what input you would like to have from us.
    – Bart
    Nov 30, 2013 at 22:01
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    May I request that "lame" (i.e. disabled) is not used as a synonym for "pathetic", please?
    – halfer
    Nov 30, 2013 at 22:07
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    With regards to the topic, I frequently ask OPs what they have tried. You can tell with a good question straight away whether an effort has been made - it's not just that there's evidence of it (usually code) but that the OP has thought about what information would be required by others to assist in the problem at hand. New posters may well have made an effort, but if their question begs all sorts of additional clarifications, it is often impossible to tell them apart from a help vampire, and the question is then justified.
    – halfer
    Nov 30, 2013 at 22:13
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    I've flagged the remark on that Stack Overflow post as "not constructive", and I imagine a diamond mod will remove it. I think it is okay to ask someone about their approach to your question, but not in terms that sound aggressive.
    – halfer
    Nov 30, 2013 at 22:21
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    see also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/202421/… Nov 30, 2013 at 22:25
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    Gewinn, it's very easy to avoid all the (well deserved) "what you tried" outcry: check the guides SSCCE and Writing the perfect question, they are smooth read and very instructive. After that, you'll only reap benefits ;)
    – brasofilo
    Nov 30, 2013 at 22:52
  • I may well be gilding the lily, but this question is a perfect example of why we ask for prior effort - and we get rather a lot of them in the PHP tag! The responses might be rather robust, but they reflect an ongoing frustration that every OP unwilling to research has a ready excuse (here it was "I'm new, just asking for a hint").
    – halfer
    Dec 1, 2013 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


This has all been covered before, though not with the same emphasis. As long as you're polite, the consensus was that this sort of comment is perfectly acceptable.

I don't think these are spam1 and giving a question author permission to remove comments (that seems to be the implication of your last sentence) is taking matters far too far.

The actual comment was:

Have you tried anything? Have you read MSDN on Enumerable.Max for example?

It gave specific help to what you should be looking for. Yes, it maybe could have been a little more rounded and less blunt but you have to understand that there are thousands of people dumping questions on Stack Overflow each day. A significant proportion of these haven't made the faintest effort to solve the problem themselves first.

A significant amount of effort is expected from you, up front, before you ask a question. You never know, you might solve it yourself in the meantime. If you do, you can post both the question and the answer on Stack Overflow so everyone will be able to look at your solution for the future.

Someone's also asked how requesting proof of effort makes a question better; I'm not going to rehash that all here but I'll quote a small part of of my answer:

In short, it's polite to do so. It shows you're actually engaged and it helps others to help you quicker and better, which is the point of the entire site.

I hope you don't see something to dislike in that.

1. The definition of spam being somewhat different.


The problem here, when people are saying "What have you tried?", is not that you have not put sufficient effort into what you are coding, but rather your question itself.

In the given question, you didn't explain what wasn't working, so people couldn't effectively help you. At the beginning, you were essentially asking a plzsendtehocdez question, because no code was provided. The question was simply showing what you wanted and asking others to code it for you. Note that the comment was made when you had none of your previous code.

It's very hard to answer a question when we don't know what's not working. As for your request to strip mods of power for this and to report it as spam, that's kinda preposterous. I think you would also agree that your edit made the question better, because I certainly think that it did.

Spam is reserved for shameless self-plugging, and stuff like "Hey, look how you can turn money into Stack Overflow reputation at scammyscam.com!" Also, if you noticed, someone upvoted you because you had added code.

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    +1 for addressing the real definition of spam.
    – jmort253
    Dec 1, 2013 at 2:10

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