I just voted to close this question on Stack Overflow. The question, on Stack Overflow, is simply about an Excel formula. I felt it belonged on Super User, so I voted to close.

Is my logic there correct, or would Excel-fu be acceptable on Stack Overflow? (This is a fairly easy formula, if that matters any.)

  • 1
    For what it's worth, formulae in Google Spreadsheets belong on Web Applications. – ale Jun 28 '13 at 13:07
  • 1
    Under this logic presumably matlab code is not applicable here either? I'm not sure I agree (unless by that you mean matlab code shouldn't be allowed anywhere) – Richard Tingle Jun 28 '13 at 13:24
  • FWIW; the duplicate is actually the new question. This predates that by years. – John Rudy Mar 31 '15 at 17:23
  • @John doesn't really matter. Duplicate is also well asked and with proper answers, no point now to reverse the closure. – Shadow The Vaccinated Wizard Apr 1 '15 at 6:12
  • @Shadow OK, NP. – John Rudy Apr 2 '15 at 19:20

We have had quite a few question regarding Excel formulas on Super User and they have all been answered, so I am fairly comfortable saying they are acceptable for SU. There is a broader audience using Excel who are not necessarily programmers.


It's funny that the question was considered "simply about formulas" and thus "not programming related" when the accepted answer features the likes of this:


Does it magically become programming-related if the exact same question was asked about a different system with similarly named library functions and the answer were something like this (ignoring errors I'm making from just typing this in)?

(let ((A1 (value-of-ref 'A1)))
    (if (> (length A1) 8)
        (if (and (eql (first-n A1 4) "ABCD")
                 (eql (last-n A1 4) "EFGH"))
            (subseq A1 5)
            (xl-err 'NA))
        (xl-err 'NA)))

Excel formula questions on Stack Overflow are very often about the syntax and evaluation of expressions and the use of library functions. How are things like that not programming related? Because the people asking are often not primarily programmers? (And thus often ask questions that seem simple to people who are?)

I think it's obvious that Excel in particular is one of those areas where Stack Overflow and Super User just happen to overlap.

  • 19
    I agree, and that's why I almost never vote to close Excel questions as off-topic, they can do fine on either site. – Lance Roberts Jan 27 '11 at 21:30

Random thoughts

  • Spreadsheets are, in principle, functional programming languages, but many uses of them don't have the hacker nature.
  • The risk of saying "hard ones on SO, easy ones on SU" is that it becomes harder for people to search for answers to their spreadsheet questions.
  • The question pointed to is (IMHO, of course) not very programmy, but neither is it a trivial application of one function.

Some of them belong on SO, the rest on SU, usually based on the complexity. Even worksheet-functions are small programs.

The one you mentioned probably should have been on SU.

  • If you agree, you could vote for it to be closed. – Brad Gilbert Sep 21 '09 at 21:25
  • I was holding off, so that maybe the good answer would get accepted, didn't want to hose that answerer. – Lance Roberts Sep 21 '09 at 21:34
  • I gave up waiting and cast vote #5. – Lance Roberts Sep 22 '09 at 2:45
  • I'd be interested to hear what you think of my answer to this question. – jtolle Jan 27 '11 at 21:11

I've been looking at a lot of questions about Excel formulas on Stack Overflow lately, and I think 99% belong on Super User instead. Stack Overflow is for Programming and an Excel formula does not do that. The most you get from an Excel formula is a few nested IFs and, if you are into array formulas you can wrap your head around something a bit more-dimensional.

Still, this has not much in common with programming as I understand it.

Formulas don't use loops, have very poor error handling, and don't scale well, unless you add another technique for using dynamic ranges. Etc, and so on. But this specialty knowledge about array formulas or dynamic ranges is, again, very specific to the Excel application. Therefore, most Excel formula questions don't belong on Stack Overflow, as far as I'm concerned.

Excel related questions on Stack Overflow should have a need for 'real' :-) programming, or at least VBA. The answer should always involve code, not a worksheet formula. This is not about real programmers and who does or does not eat quiche. It's about what Joe Average would normally expect to happen from a formula or a user interface functionality versus digging deeper and getting into VBA and beyond.

If formula questions are on topic, where to draw the line? Vlookup() - Choose() - Index/Match combo - Lookup() with 2/1 -- Array - Named formulas -- conditional formatting formulas? What complexity of Vlookup question is acceptable at Stack Overflow? I get #N/A, I get #Ref!, I get 0 -- most of these are basically RTFM questions. Even beyond that level of expertise, a formula question is always dependent on the application that the formulas is applied in. And application questions are not for Stack Overflow.

I don't think that any formula question belongs here. None of these are programming. They are application functions and application related questions belong on Super User.

AFAIC, any question about a worksheet function that is not being used in a VBA setting is off topic for Stack Overflow.

I am getting off the soap box. Thanks for reading.

  • 2
    By that logic, what about HTML/CSS questions? Many of those are just about the markup parts and have absolutely no programming within them. – user213634 Jun 28 '13 at 14:29
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    Well, there's Webmasters.Stackexchange.com, although their help points to Stack Overflow for html, CSS and js questions Please note that if your question is about detailed HTML, JavaScript, or CSS coding, it might be a better fit on Stack Overflow. I realise that there is some overlap, but the scope of Stack Overflow is programming, which is why I feel pure Excel worksheet questions are not in scope. – teylyn Jun 29 '13 at 2:31
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    Obviously I disagree. From my answer: "Excel formula questions on Stack Overflow are very often about the syntax and evaluation of expressions and the use of library functions. How are things like that not programming related?" Maybe a shorter way to say that is that Excel formulas are code. – jtolle Jul 1 '13 at 22:21
  • Really? A downvote 5 years after the question was asked? It's so out of date, the downvoter should have rep points subtracted for even touching the question. – teylyn Mar 6 '18 at 4:56

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