6

How to reproduce:

  1. Encounter a bug.
  2. Collect all the information you can find about the bug - how to reproduce it, what state the system was in, logs, crash dumps, versions, similar bugs, etc.
  3. Submit this information to the relevant forum, with a statement clearly indicating that you’d be willing to debug this further if simply given some hint as to how that could be done.

Expected results: At least one answer including one or more of the following:

  • A pointer to an existing and relevant bug report you had missed.
  • Instructions for gathering more information about the issue so that it can be properly researched and thus actually resolved for everyone.
  • A dismissal of the issue because an assumption was fundamentally flawed (for example, it’s actually a feature or it can’t be fixed within this universe).

Actual results: Two answers:

  • One suggesting to either restart, reboot or reinstall the system or supporting systems, all the way up to completely rebuilding the system from scratch “to see if it happens again.”
  • Another one suggesting to upgrade to the latest version with no justification.

Additional information: When pointing out the problem of treating the symptom rather than the sickness in the long run the very notion is usually ridiculed or ignored.

As a full-time software developer and open source enthusiast I want to help fix problems in the programs I use rather than retrying until it all seems to work in my very specific situation. After all, others may be having the same issue, or I might encounter the same problem again. However, many of these programs are written in unfamiliar ways or languages, and there are people who are in a much better situation to fix them if I could only gather enough information to submit a useful bug report. I have tried in various ways and failed, so my question is this:

How do I convey clearly that the goal of a question is fixing the underlying problem rather than solving the immediate goal?

9
  • 7
    Have you tried reinstalling Stack Exchange? Nov 11, 2015 at 23:54
  • 1
    Retry, Reboot, Reinstall, Repeat - the four Rs of Microsoft.
    – user213963
    Nov 11, 2015 at 23:57
  • 2
    Can you provide links to those two answers, please? It seems like something that you should discuss on a per-site Meta because whether support questions are on-topic can vary between sites.
    – PolyGeo
    Nov 12, 2015 at 0:19
  • @PolyGeo This isn't really about the individual answers (and it's certainly not about just two, but rather a trend). I have in some cases managed to convince the responder to delete their answer, but never before going through lots of discussion first. If it's any help, the main two sites were stackoverflow.com and unix.stackexchange.com.
    – l0b0
    Nov 12, 2015 at 8:24
  • The only generic advice I can give is already covered in @KateGregory's answer.
    – PolyGeo
    Nov 12, 2015 at 8:57
  • Are you talking about bug questions having to deal with the software that drives the StackExchange network? As asked on a relevant Meta site?
    – user1228
    Nov 12, 2015 at 15:44
  • @Won't No, this is not about other meta sites but rather a general Stack Overflow/Exchange issue.
    – l0b0
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:13
  • So this is not about reporting website bugs found in a StackExchange website? For example, your recent bug report here meta.stackexchange.com/questions/268202/…? I'm trying to figure out if you're asking about bug reports for some random software, or for the software we're using right at this moment as we type comments back and forth to each other. Software we access through the stackexchange.com domain. This.
    – user1228
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:24
  • Again, no. This is not about bugs in the Stack Overflow/Exchange platform.
    – l0b0
    Nov 12, 2015 at 19:06

2 Answers 2

9

Whether you asked the question or not, you can downvote these kinds of answers. You can also leave a comment saying something like "even if this works, this answer would be better if you explained why it works."

Adding a lot of instructions to the question about "don't give me answers like this or that" generally backfires. Just ask clearly and completely. If there are proper answers out there, the existence of these "have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?" answers shouldn't deter them.

2
  • 1
    The original poster of a question is in a unique position to be the first to downvote the non-answer, and leave a comment that will cement the trend. Nov 12, 2015 at 3:33
  • I do usually downvote such answers with an explanation. However, the most baffling characteristic of these answers is that they tend to get voted up. I suppose it's because they're well written, polite, and to the point (even if it's the wrong point). There doesn't seem to be much sympathy for responding that it doesn't answer the question, whether as originally written or as modified to make it crystal (i.e., redundantly) clear what kind of answer I'm looking for.
    – l0b0
    Nov 12, 2015 at 8:19
3

When you ask an off topic question, you may get poor answers.

Yes, you're asking an off topic question. Here's why.

  1. Encounter a bug.

Hey, it happens when we're programming or using a piece of software.

  1. Collect all the information you can find about the bug - how to reproduce it, what state the system was in, logs, crash dumps, versions, similar bugs, etc.

Yep, that's definitely one response. Some people just want a way around it, and some want to know all the info they need to report it so that it gets fixed.

  1. Submit this information to the relevant forum, with a statement clearly indicating that you’d be willing to debug this further if simply given some hint as to how that could be done.

Super! That's how a responsible person acts. You find an issue with software X, you determine how to reproduce it, and you report this information to the company that makes software X.

Let me repeat that. You report this information to the company that makes software X.

If that bug is about the software that drives the StackExchange network, then those questions are on topic here, on Meta. If it's about some other company's software, those questions are off topic.

The only way people other than the company that makes software X can help you is by giving you ideas how to work around the bug, not how you report it.

What you seek in an answer highlights why this is off topic

  • A pointer to an existing and relevant bug report you had missed.

You're asking for links to off-site resources. That's off topic.

  • Instructions for gathering more information about the issue so that it can be properly researched and thus actually resolved for everyone.

That's borderline off topic. Questions that ask for Lists of Things are considered off topic on SE. Asking for how to debug a specific situation can be on topic, but asking good questions of this type appears to be hard to do, as I've not seen many that didn't seem like they were offloading the task of debugging onto others.

  • A dismissal of the issue because an assumption was fundamentally flawed (for example, it’s actually a feature or it can’t be fixed within this universe).

This is also borderline off topic, if you're just looking for yes/no/possible/impossible. However, you can ask good quality questions as long as you're seeking ways to accomplish your real goals.

If you ask, for example,

"I tried to accomplish [subject] by doing this [detailed info] but it didn't work because [result of debugging]. What am I doing wrong here?"

I can offer you specific solutions to your issue. I can point out errors in what you were doing, or suggest better solutions (aka the X/Y problem). Or I might be able to give you hints how to better debug your issue so you can find a solution, if it might help. This would be on topic.

You must log in to answer this question.

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