Often, I ask a question on various Stack Exchange sites, and instead of people answering the question, I get a lot of replies "why do you want to do that?". I get why people are curious as to why I want to know, but that's not why I'm asking. And I don't have lots of cred on any accounts, so often I am just left trying to justify what I'm trying to do, instead of getting an answer. I'm just looking for an answer, and I'd prefer actual answers or suggestions for answers, or questions regarding more details about my question, instead of "why are you asking this?". Heck, even "you can't do that" is acceptable.


In the communities I participate in, people ask for motivation and background for a couple reasons:

  • (Primarily) because they suspect an XY problem. Instead of saying "no, you can't do that" or even "yes here's how, but it causes these problems you might be unaware of", people are trying to help you solve your underlying problem. It's like asking "how do I wipe my hard drive?" when the problem you're really trying to solve is "how do I get more room for my email?".

  • (Secondarily) because knowing your reasoning provides some insight into your level of expertise, which helps people write answers that are suitably calibrated. An answer like "patch your OS and these packages, but be sure to override this setting, and don't forget to fix your SMTP settings" doesn't help much if you've never used sudo before and have never heard of SMTP.

If your question looks like an XY problem but it's really not -- you're sure that yes, what you want to know how to do is what you're asking -- then a sentence or two of explanation in your question can forestall the questions and diagnostics. If you don't include that, we don't know if you're asking about your underlying problem, or if you're going to follow our answers and then be back with questions about how to undo the mess after you reformatted your hard drive unnecessarily and it didn't fix your original problem anyway and now you don't have your email either.

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    Thank you. I had no idea what an XY question is; I'm now wrapping my head around that. I try to ask a question (how to wipe a hard drive) with that being my only concern. I hadn't really stopped to think of this aspect. – Asinine Mar 25 '18 at 23:45

Having looked a question of yours that illustrates this - simply because there may be another way to get the same effects you're getting disabling cortana and there's often a need to solve a problem with a broader context.

We don't know what exactly you broke

is a critical thing here when using an OS with components disabled, because we don't know how deeply the component is embedded and, as you can see, the effects of it.

So, comments are for clarification - and these forms of questions are clarification. Even if it seems irrelevant, they're worth considering, if not replying to, in trying to solve your problem.

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  • I completely understand that, and at the time of this posting, I had no replies on that question. The first comment was one along a lot of lines I typically see: "Is there any specific reason you're screwing around with system files rather than using the privacy settings to limit/disable Cortana?" Cortana isn't disabled, and the limitations are questionable at best. That's why I stated I disabled it, and let's just set my whole reasoning for that aside and answer my question. I realise now that my question is often ambiguous. You've explained the XY effect even better, and I thank you. – Asinine Mar 30 '18 at 4:59

Stack Exchange focus is content, not personal motives. If someone asks a question, we assume they thought hard before asking it, and understand what they need.

Hence, asking why you ask the question is just non relevant noise, which can be ignored.

Regarding the XY problem, a constructive question can be "Did you mean to ask [Y], and not [X]?", which is guiding towards something, not just blank "Why you ask it?" which isn't really helpful.

If this was posted as answer, you can also flag as NAA:

If posted as comment, you can flag as "no longer needed":

If you want to be nice and polite, you can reply with a comment like "The reason I want this is not relevant to the question, thanks". (Then to be prevent your own comment from being non relevant, delete it after a while)

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    It is relevant if the OP may be asking an XY question. – DavidPostill Mar 25 '18 at 12:02
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    If someone replied back, saying it wasn’t relevant, I would flag that comment for not being civil. If I want to know, the reason for the question, I typically have a reason and knowing that reason allows me to answer the question. I am not going to explain why I need to know, if I did that, I would spend all my time explaining why I need to know something – Ramhound Mar 25 '18 at 13:27
  • @DavidPostill valid point, edited. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Mar 26 '18 at 8:08
  • @Ramhound focus should be on content, not motives. Maybe OP is just curious. Maybe they're making research. Maybe they have secret agenda. That's non of our business. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Mar 26 '18 at 8:09

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