In the tag, we receive a lot of questions that are either too basic or lacks a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. See this question for example. For some of these questions, where none of the existing close-reasons apply, I can go with one of the following options:

  1. Find a good question that (partially) answers the question and close it as a duplicate

  2. Use a custom close-reason: "Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved."

  3. Close the question as off-topic with the following reason: "This question appears to be off-topic because it lacks sufficient information to diagnose the problem."

Approach #1

Most of the times, the OP could solve have their problem just by googling for the keywords. But for some questions, it is hard to find a relevant duplicate question that answers the question (at least, partially). Even if you find a question with an acceptable answer, it's often "too localized".

Approach #2

This close-reason was removed because it was abused. With the custom-reason, you're still closing the question with the same close-reason. I'm not too sure if this is a good idea.

Approach #3

The question is definitely answerable (and is often answered). It is written well and it's clear what the OP's trying to accomplish - but the question is too basic and has been previously answered. I feel this is more suitable for a specific subset of "unclear what you're asking" questions. I don't think this one fits either.

What's the best way to close questions that are "too-basic", or lacks the minimal understanding of the problem being solved?

  • 5
  • @juergend: I've seen that question before and I don't think it answers my questions. Maybe you meant it as a "Related: ..." link? I'm not sure. Feb 2 '14 at 20:26
  • @AmalMurali what does "..., or lacks the minimal understanding of the problem ..." mean to you? Feb 2 '14 at 20:32
  • 1
    Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210840/…
    – hichris123
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:36
  • @AmalMurali: Yes, I meant it as related.
    – juergen d
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:37
  • Vote to close the, as a duplicate if they are one... chances are they are. Feb 2 '14 at 20:40
  • @psubsee2003: When the poster doesn't seem to know what they're asking (or when it seems like they don't understand what they're trying to do). But it could have several interpretations, which is why I guess it was removed. Feb 2 '14 at 20:42
  • @benisuǝqbackwards: What about when there's no question that correctly answers the question? Should we close it with a remotely similar question? I don't think so. Feb 2 '14 at 20:43
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    You could always answer/downvote/edit/ignore it @Amal. It's not off-topic just because it's basic. Feb 2 '14 at 20:45

Well, let's examine the question you linked.

I'm new to PHP and just analyzing the syntax..

How do I display "1text" here?

$a = 1;
$b = 'text';
$c = $a + $b;

echo $c;

Let's see...

  • Too broad? Nope.
  • Unclear? No; in fact, it is perfectly clear what is being asked.
  • Can the OP understand the answer we give him? Sure, he can. Further, he stated clearly what his level of knowledge is, so we can craft an appropriate response.
  • Not a copy/paste of a homework assignment. Check.
  • No close votes, no flags.

One downvote. That's exactly the correct response. If the OP collects enough of these, it will become a self-correcting problem.

If you really want to close questions like these, vote to close them as dupes of a canonical question, or answer this one and edit it to be canonical, so that you can close future questions as dupes.

  • Yeah, a downvote is probably appropriate for this particular question I linked to. (I couldn't find a better example) - But what about similar questions? Feb 2 '14 at 20:45
  • If they run afoul of one of the bullets above, then vote to close them accordingly.
    – user102937
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:46
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    It's not like I'm trying to close ALL the questions. I just want to know what's the correct way to close questions that are too basic and could be answered with just a quick Google (or SO) search. Feb 2 '14 at 20:54
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    If you are asking "How do I close simple questions," the answer is "you can't, unless they run afoul of one of the legitimate close reasons." We don't have a "this question is too basic" close reason.
    – user102937
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:55
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    Take the example question I linked to. This question has already been asked a million times before. But it doesn't have a canonical question that can be used to close as a duplicate of. Are you saying: "it is okay for a too-basic question (that can be answered with a quick Google search) to exist on this site if it's asked clearly"? Doesn't it pollute the site with millions of very similar questions? Feb 2 '14 at 21:02
  • I've closed the question as a duplicate.
    – user102937
    Feb 2 '14 at 21:10

Let's be honest; almost every single basic question has been asked... if someone asks a basic question chances are it's a duplicate. All it requires is a tiny amount of searching to find it. I have voted to close this particular one as a duplicate of How to combine two strings together in PHP?. This took me about 2 seconds to find.

Not only then have I kept the site cleaner but I've also helped the OP by providing them with an answer quicker than typing one up would.

Now, just because it's a duplicate doesn't mean that you can't do anything else. The downvote tool-tip says "This question does not show any research effort...". In my book not reading the documentation, or Googling the error you get or looking at the related questions is a lack of research effort.


Stack Exchange uses your feedback to improve the site. If someone gets a lot of downvotes they'll be question banned and no longer a problem (don't go looking through their posts - just vote naturally as you come across questions). Have your say and feed back to the site what you think.

  • 5
    Finding the right question to duplicate it to often does not involve 'a tiny amount of searching'. It can — usually does — involve a lot of frustrating searching, even if you're almost sure that you've seen the answer, let alone when you're not certain but you confidently expect there to be a prior one. Feb 2 '14 at 21:43

I share your frustration, but...

You seem to be making a pretty sweeping assumption here. As I said in my answer to the question juergen d linked to some of the best questions we have on SO are very simple questions that most people will ask when starting out with a new language.

Simple or basic questions are not really a problem so long as they haven't been asked to death, if they have they are duplicates in which case just vote to close it as a duplicate and move on.
See: Dr. Strangedupe: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication

Simple questions over time, with some love and curation can eventually develop in to great canonical references that benefit the site. Don't close them simply because they're simple questions.

  • Simple or basic questions are not really a problem so long as they haven't been asked to death - Just have a look at this Google search query Feb 2 '14 at 20:54
  • @AmalMurali A lot of people answer rather than searching for the dup. If you really feel passionate about it go through and find one that seems to have the best potential for becoming a solid canonical reference and vote to close the others as a dup of that one.
    – apaul
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:59
  • So identify a canonical dupe and vote to close accordingly @AmalMurali
    – Bart
    Feb 2 '14 at 20:59
  • @Bart: What if there is no canonical dupe? Feb 2 '14 at 21:08
  • Didn't you just show us a search query illustrating something @AmalMurali?
    – Bart
    Feb 2 '14 at 21:32
  • Yeah, I did @Bart. But most of them are too localized. Maybe I should just downvote and move on. Feb 2 '14 at 21:46

Generally, questions like these have been asked many times before, and should be closed as duplicates of the "canonical" question that states the issue clearly and succinctly, and has a well written, correct and comprehensive answer.

But what if you can't find such a canonical version of the question?

  • First, try searching a bit more, using both SO's internal search and Google. Often, sorting SO search results by votes can help find the highly upvoted canonical questions. Looking at relevant tag wikis is also sometimes helpful, as they may include a list of frequently asked questions for the tag. (For example, the php tag wiki has a bunch of them.) Finally, if you just can't find the canonical question, but feel that one surely must exist, asking in a relevant chat room can often help.

OK, so there's no good "canonical" version of this question yet. What now? Well, maybe one of the existing questions is salvageable:

  • If one of the existing questions has a really good answer, but the question itself is cluttered with distracting and unnecessary details, you can edit that question to remove the clutter, and then vote to close the new question as a duplicate of it.

  • Conversely, if none of the earlier versions of the question has a good answer for the new question, and the question itself is (or can be edited to be) well asked and uncluttered, then perhaps it should be the canonical one. In that case, you should not close the question at all — rather, you should edit it (if necessary), upvote it, and write as clear and comprehensive answer to it as you can.

  • Finally, if neither the new question not any of its earlier versions seems salvageable, then you can always re-ask the question yourself the way it should have been asked, and, if you like, answer it yourself. Then just wait for the upvotes to roll in. ;-)

In any case, what's important to realize is that "too basic" is not a reason to close a question. As apaul34208 notes in his answer, some of the best and most popular questions on SO are the most absolutely basic ones. Those are the questions for which gold badges are earned, and if you happen to find one that hasn't already been asked and answered well, that's an excellent opportunity to earn yourself a few k of rep.

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