Possible Duplicate: Does Stack Overflow encourage developer laziness?

I've been following Stack Overflow for some time now, and I find it to be one of the most usefully sites on programming. That said I think one should try its best to only ask a question when the solution to the problem has been thought of, at least for a while.

I do notice that some fellow programmers here shoot without even reading the functions documentation. For example, take this question.

How should one reply to this?

Downvoting the question? The user is new, downvoting would probably mean nothing to him and would scare him away from Stack Overflow.

Respond? Would probably be an incentive to laziness.

Tell him to go and read the documentation? Would be a dull reply and be of little value to the site.

How do you guys, and how should we all respond to lazy-questioning?


3 Answers 3


I'd say to just answer the question with a link to the source in the documentation. If the aim of the site is to be the end all resource for programming questions, repeating something from the documentation isn't going to hurt that.

Although I try not to ask these types of questions if I can avoid it, I often look up basic RTFM type questions on SO mainly because I find the site easy to use and often people answer with tips beyond the basics that the man page would provide. For example, "This method doesn't work as documented, try this workaround..."

Also, documentation for some products is organized to where you need to know the name of the command or class before you can look it up, which makes it kind of like looking up the spelling of a word in a dictionary. Task based documentation isn't as common as it should be, but the questions asked here tend to be more task oriented and easier to look up.

Suggestion: It is clear that these questions bug people. Maybe we could initiate a tag like RTFM (with a less inflamatory name) that moderators/high-rep users could apply. Then people that hate these things could set them to be ignored.

  • Your tag idea is extremely interesting. It would solve all those, what's the php difference of == and ===, and still allow them the answer without annoying the users who don't want to see those questions.
    – Frankie
    Oct 25, 2009 at 17:28
  • 1
    Just need to come up with a good name. RTFMP? Adding please on the end softens it, right?
    – JohnFx
    Oct 25, 2009 at 17:33
  • That's usually what plz-gimme-teh-codes is used for.
    – Ether
    Oct 25, 2009 at 17:40
  • That's "Read The Fine Manual"! :-)
    – Ðаn
    Oct 25, 2009 at 19:47
  • I accepted your answer and believe the tag system would do wonders to minimize the problem. On the other hand my question has an exact same duplicate so I voted it's deleted.
    – Frankie
    Oct 26, 2009 at 0:53

I tend to respond if I know the answer. I don't want to spend time judging the questioner if it is a valid question with an available answer. Even if the answer is in the docs, by being on this site certain questions assume a FAQ-like quality and that is fine with me.

  • Your's is a good and valid answer. However the user who questions before reading or thinking is bound to repeat the questions already made. Wouldn't that, in the long run, mean that we will have thousands of identical questions?
    – Frankie
    Oct 25, 2009 at 17:10
  • @Frankie: Both the Ask A Question page and the community are good at eliminating duplicate questions. Oct 25, 2009 at 18:44
  • @RichieHindle I agree with you, they both are. But look at Jeff's "treating users myopia" entry on codinghorror.com/blog/. First time posters, especially those who post the sort of questions that made me pop up this question are bound to ask without reading putting all the effort on the community. If StackOverflow has a sustained growth, the community will be able to stop first-time-posters flooding the site with the same questions, however, if the growth becomes exponential it will be a pretty hard task on the community to do the house-cleaning.
    – Frankie
    Oct 25, 2009 at 19:50

Some sort of tag seems a good idea. Otherwise, perhaps give a brief answer, with a link to the docs or a google search.

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