I recently asked a question about db schema design - schema design. There were some responses, but the highest voted response, hints that the question was misunderstood.

What do we/should we do about questions that we'd like answered, but is either answered incorrectly or inadequately.

  • Do we repost and hope that other eyes look?
  • Do we edit and clarify and hope that it gets a second look (I don't think this strategy works)?
  • Do we reframe the question in an interesting or inflammatory way to get more attention?
  • Or something else I haven't thought of...


Someone just posted on reddit why unix sucks... if you ask a question about *nix - the gurus generally answer with RTFM (Read the Fn Manual). if you want help with *nix - you have to frame your question in a manner insulting to *nix... '*nix sucks because it can't do ...' and then they immediately respond with how to do it to prove you are stupid...

It looks like the way to get attention to a question is to ask a meta-question about it (like this one)... There have been better posts on the reference question after I wrote this question.

As an aside, there is a strong undertone of - 'OP is stupid and needs to ask the question better' here. Yes, I can see bad questions being annoying, but instead of answering an incomplete or bad question, you could ask for specific clarifications or help the poster come up with a better question. I think the intent of SO is to be helpful to be developers, not to intellectually dominate or belittle others... There are many active users of SO who should try to temper their knowledge with better attitude.


13 Answers 13


You do some research on your own and post your results as an edit to the original question. This will get the question some more attention, and it will show the community that you're working towards an answer. That way more people will be encouraged to help you out.

EDIT: I agree with your edits, but only somewhat. I have noticed a small increase in the "RTFM" attitude here lately, but I think it's still tiny compared to the amount of the same attitude you get in other places (looking at you, usenet). I think voting for helpful answers goes a long way toward encouraging the kind of behavior we all like to see. (I would hate to someday start describing Stack Overflow with "If you can ignore the trolls...")

Sometimes questions just get buried because the right people don't see them. Once your question is off the front page you need to keep adding details. We might not be able to solve the whole problem, but maybe we can help you get closer to a solution. Keep us updated, and hopefully the one expert who can help you fix the whole thing will see your question and answer it.

  • good suggestion, but not all questions lend themselves to such an approach. – mson Dec 24 '08 at 0:55
  • Can you give an example of a question that can't be researched? – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 0:57
  • @mson: that's when you step back and ask yourself whether or not you're asking the right questions... – Shog9 Dec 24 '08 at 0:57
  • And better yet if there is not an answer to your question not only is it a bad question but there is likely an underlying problem, maybe the entire method that the question comes from is wrong. – Unkwntech Dec 24 '08 at 1:09
  • @bill what is the sound of one hand clapping? – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:47
  • @bill what is the most cost effective development stack? – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:47
  • @bill should my organization use FogBugz or PVCS (or whatever they are now) – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:49
  • @bill could batman kill superman? – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:50
  • @mson: not a real question. – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 2:12
  • @mson: easily researched, and possibly a duplicate of stackoverflow.com/questions/171171/… – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 2:12
  • @mson: also researchable – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 2:13
  • @mson: Of course he can, using the piece of Kryptonite that Superman gave to Batman, to be used in the event that Superman ever went "rogue". – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 2:16
  • @bill sound of one hand clapping was answered - it was in one of the simpsons episodes... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 3:12
  • batman couldn't kill superman.. – Shahin Dec 24 '08 at 3:13
  • @bill the question the link is answering is not the question asked. just because something is free, doesn't mean that it's cost effective. there are far more factors than how much a machine/software cost. figuring out what to factor is a task in and of itself... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 3:14

According to UserVoice a bounty system is coming where you will be able to assign a bounty to an un-answered question. This will probably solve a fair few of these issues.

  • Neat. Though that's probably an ugly territory of point system abuse waiting to happen. – Daddy Warbox Dec 24 '08 at 5:55

"Do we repost and hope that other eyes look?"

  • No. A repost is a repost. I just close them.

"Do we edit and clarify and hope that it gets a second look?"

  • That's my preference. Keep editing until it makes sense to folks who don't have your background and experience

"(I don't think this strategy works)?"

  • How often have you tried it?

Here's the acceptable alternatives: Reframe and Research

  • Totally reframe your question. Not inflammatory. New POV, new facts, better focus, more context, more use cases, code snippets, something new.

  • Include the results of your research.

If no one "got" your question, you're asking the wrong question, the wrong way. It's not our fault for being stupid. It's your fault for not asking the question in a way that we morons who frequent SO can make sense of your question.


  1. We're not you. We don't have your background or your experience. We never will.

  2. We're not up to speed on the context in which your problem occurs.

  3. We're not able to read long, complex hand-wringing questions. We're not your paid consultants. We're just killing time waiting for a compile.

  4. If you can't boil the problem down to an essential nugget of decision-making, you've got bigger fish to fry; you probably can never get an answer to your whole, big, gnarly, complex problem. You're going to have to (a) decompose or (b) pay consultants to solve it.

  5. We're trying to help. If we can't "get" the question, you have to meet us half-way.

  • dude - you got a bad attitude about things... you're line of responses is very hostile. i recommend that you see a) get some anger management therapy b) smoke more pot c) don't respond to posts. you may have knowledge to share, but your attitude is a detriment to SO – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:09
  • @mson: I use words like "stupid" carefully. We don't know as much about your problem as you do. You have to share with people who may be sharp in some respects, but with respect to your question, need all the help and guidance you can provide. – S.Lott Dec 24 '08 at 1:13
  • @S Lott - i can understand where you are coming from and i agree with the notion of checking yourself first before thinking the problem is elsewhere. and i enjoy grumpy banter, but some of your posts come off as hostile. – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:22
  • @mson: I can't distinguish a helpless twit and someone who's tried and failed. I can tell the difference between someone who has clarified their question and someone who has merely retyped it. I'm harsh as a way to stimulate people to reframe questions so they can get the help they deserve. – S.Lott Dec 24 '08 at 1:47
  • @mson: I strongly object to the "OP is stupid" comment in your revised question. I specifically said that we who are trying to answer have to be considered stupid by the questioner. The OP is never stupid. – S.Lott Dec 24 '08 at 2:34

I've had the exact same question, I always thought that reposting the question will just get it closed (exact duplicate).

I would suggest that the moderators before closing a question as exact duplicate confirm (some how?) that the oringal question was answered satisfactorily.

@Bill the Lizard. Your suggestion is good, but what if it wasn't you who posted the original question. If the question that is an exact duplicate of yours was not answered correctly your solution would not apply.

  • please reference my other posts about bad SO hall monitors... there's not much we can do about them. – mson Dec 24 '08 at 0:53
  • We can still develop guidlines for the moderators, no? I think most of them are reasonable people and don't want to just close threads, so having some guidlines would make there job both easier and more transparent. – hhafez Dec 24 '08 at 0:56
  • maybe i'll go see the movie the watchers and see how they address the problem of who polices the police... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 0:58
  • FFS, you know when a post is closed there is a reason, if you don't feel that it is justified reopen it and explain yourself better, or address the issue, if we let everything through it would look like yahoo answers, if you don't mind that go there! – Unkwntech Dec 24 '08 at 1:07
  • AFAIK, it boils down to vigilante "justice" - in the end, the watchmen are watched by each other, each having his own vision of right and wrong, of crime and its appropriate punishment. Things get ugly... and fun to watch. – Shog9 Dec 24 '08 at 1:07
  • @shog9 lol - what a bunch of nerds we are... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 1:10
  • When I close something as exact duplicate, it's because (as @Bill the Lizard notes) nothing was done except to re-ask the question. Research and Reframe are the watchwords. – S.Lott Dec 24 '08 at 1:10
  • Like I asked before, what if it is someone elses question? What if I don't have enough rep points to update there question? How do I stop my new "exact duplicate" from being closed – hhafez Dec 24 '08 at 1:18
  • @hhafez: don't post an exact duplicate. Chances are, there's more than one way to ask the question... and if not, then it's unlikely anyone has a better answer than what has been already posted. – Shog9 Dec 24 '08 at 1:20
  • @hhafez - I'd say just post the question you have. If it is closed as an exact duplicate and the the question it duplicates is not answered try to get it re-opened due to the fact that the previous question was not answered. – webdtc Dec 24 '08 at 1:40
  • @hhafez: Good point. In that case I would ask the question again, but link to the original and either explain a) how your situation is different, or b) why the original question isn't answered satisfactorily for your needs. – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 3:35
  • @mson: You brought up Batman, Superman, and the Watchmen all in the comments to a single question...and you're calling me a nerd? :) – Bill the Lizard Dec 24 '08 at 3:36

some suggested tactics to better reach the intended audience:

  • change the point of view
  • elaborate on the context
  • present the purpose and the constraints, then describe the problem
  • use analogies if the context is uncommon/unclear
  • restate the problem using more general concepts/keywords - or more specific concepts/keywords
  • pick one aspect and describe it in detail, concentrating on it until it is understood/answered
  • edit/update the question trivially to move it back to the top of the active list in the hope that more enlightened users will see it

if all else fails -

  • ask S.Lott to explain your question to you
  • ask jon skeet to answer your question, since he doesn't even need to understand it
  • lol + 1 for if all else fails... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 5:27

So far all my questions have been answered satisfactorily. After asking a question I will continue to look for an answer or have a giant mug of tea. If a question is not answered satisfactorily then I'd like to think that I'd either find the answer myself after enough time or be so high on caffeine that it's a moot point.

  • lol - yeah, but i gotta make a living... – mson Dec 24 '08 at 0:52
  • So maybe the caffeine advice was slightly tongue in cheek... – Teifion Dec 24 '08 at 0:56

The general advice is to continue to research and edit and update your question. Put work into it. This will not only keep your question bumped to the top of the stack, but show others that you are an active participant in the discussion.

Also, Jeff and team is working on a "bounty" system - where you can offer your own reputation as an added incentive.

  • Bounty system sounds great. – mson Dec 24 '08 at 0:57

Step outside of SO first, put the question to someone who knows you, someone patient enough to help you hammer out a good question. There's a definite skill to asking questions; developing that skill takes practice and a whole lot of refinement.

Chances are, you were either ambiguous or effectively asked more than one question: in the case of the former, edit your question, try to clarify what you're asking; for the latter, extract the question that wasn't answered, and post it separately.


Maybe you need to consider that the wording of your question and it's title were at fault. Similarly, sometimes people are asking the wrong questions because of their misunderstanding of the topic.

If I don't get a very good response and I've exhausted all other resources I can find, I'll repost the question but with a significant reword of the question. Many times I'll narrow down a question that was too broad to begin with or I'll provide some code examples to demonstrate what issues I'm having.


Certain questions sometimes fall into categories that have controversy, and having more votes not always mean that particular answer is right. Try asking "should I use stored procedures or dynamic sql". So... read the answers, make your own judgment as per your situation.


I have several (12 I think) that have not been answered to my desire, and there is not much that can be done at the minute, however there is a bounty system on the way so that when you don't get a good answer you can offer more rep, then normal for answering the question adequately.


I looked at the original question yesterday, and decided not to contribute an answer.

One problem was the use of the term 'model' as in 'GM models' - which cited 'Chevrolet, Saturn, Cadillac' as 'models'. To my understanding, these are not models at all; they are 'brands', though there might also be an industry-insider term for them that I'm not familiar with, such as 'division'. A model would be a 'Saturn Vue' or 'Chevrolet Impala' or 'Cadillac Escalade'. Indeed, there could well be models at a more detailed level than that - different variants of the Saturn Vue, for example.

So, I didn't think that the starting point was well framed. I didn't critique it; it wasn't quite compelling enough, and there were answers coming in, so I let other people try it.

The next problem is that it is not clear what your DBMS is going to be storing as data. If you're storing a million records per 'model' ('brand'), then what sorts of data are you dealing with? Lurking in the background is a different scenario - the real scenario - and your question has used an analogy that failed to be sufficiently realistic. That means that the 'it depends' parts of the answer are far more voluminous than the 'this is how to do it' ones. There is just woefully too little background information on the data to be modelled to allow us to guess what might be best.

Ultimately, it will depend on what uses people have for the data. If the information is going to go flying off in all different directions (different data structures in different brands; different data structures at the car model levels; different structures for the different dealerships - the Chevrolet dealers are handled differently from the Saturn dealers and the Cadillac dealers), then the integrated structure provides limited benefit. If everything is the same all the way down, then the integrated structure provides a lot of benefit.

Are there legal reasons (or benefits) to segregating the data? To what extent are the different brands separate legal entities where shared records could be a liability? Are there privacy issues, such that it will be easier to control access to the data if the data for the separate brands is stored separately?

Without a lot more detail about the scenario being modelled, no-one can give a reliable general answer - at least, not more than the top-voted one already gives (or doesn't give).

  • Data modelling is not easy.
  • Data modelling without sufficient information is impossible to do reliably.
  • I'm willing to transfer this material to the original question if you would like it there. – Jonathan Leffler Dec 24 '08 at 4:32

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