Recently, I've seen many questions with this structure:

  1. a wall of code
  2. a request for the community to debug it by inspection

You can find a nice selection here.

I offer, as a thesis, that these questions are not consistent with the stated goals of SO. They do not, usually, create a resource of use to other people.

As a community, we could politely but firmly tell these askers to do enough of their own work to come up with a concrete, specific, programming question, other than 'can someone tell me what's wrong with this?'

Don't get me wrong. I'm sympathetic to people with problems. I have not been downvoting or voting to close these, because the community seems to be inclined in general to be helpful. I'm asking, are we really doing the right thing by encouraging the site to populate with these?

If the consensus is 'yes' then I'll just slink back to my cave. I'm not interested in starting a campaign here.

  • Here's another. Third time in 24 hours he wants the same code fixed: stackoverflow.com/questions/2308509/… Feb 22, 2010 at 2:45
  • 4
    I think this is fair, because it provides no value to the greater community unless it's broken down into a much more generic form Feb 22, 2010 at 5:48
  • what if we are stuck in a certain point(read problem) and we absolutely do not know how to proceed from that point?
    – sisir
    May 21, 2014 at 6:47

3 Answers 3


Yes, please close them as "unclear what you’re asking":

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.


  • 1
    I marked one of them to close as "too localized", as it was hard to see a question that would be of use to anyone else. "Fix my code" does not turn up in searches.
    – Ether
    Feb 22, 2010 at 4:32
  • 1
    But if you do close them, please add a comment outlining the reason.
    – Pekka
    Feb 22, 2010 at 9:04
  • 5
    -1 I disagree. Ask for more details first. Closing the question should be the absolute last resort, otherwise we're going to scare off the beginners.
    – MarkJ
    Feb 22, 2010 at 12:41
  • "not a real question" is obsoleted by recent changes in close reasons. Of new reasons, "unclear what you’re asking" looks like a match here, see eg analysis in an answer from George: "Fix my code tells me nothing about the problem at hand..."
    – gnat
    Jul 19, 2013 at 23:08
  • 1
    @gnat: feel free to edit my answer Jul 19, 2013 at 23:32
  • 1
    @gnat: good edit. Jul 20, 2013 at 3:37
  • @gnat, wouldn't "Doesn't show minimal understanding" be a close contender? At least that's the impression I get from answers to this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/189620/… Jul 20, 2013 at 6:05
  • @doubleDown in some (many) particular cases, like homework dumps, probably yes - but here, in a more general advice, I would stick with "unclear..." I can imagine someone doing full-dump simply because of being unaware of SSCCE guidelines
    – gnat
    Jul 20, 2013 at 6:34

Fix my code tells me nothing about the problem at hand.

So long as the question states a specific problem the person is trying to solve and is asking for a solution to that problem, then it's an acceptable question.

If the question asker does not take care to address a specific problem with their question, then you have two choices:

  1. Vote to close the question.
  2. Try to ascertain the problem the asker has, and rephrase the question so that it addresses their real problem. Otherwise it will never be useful to anyone conducting a search.
  • 4
    Or try to advise the OP to try his/her best to refine the question to be more specific. If the OP can't be bothered, why should we then.
    – o.k.w
    Feb 22, 2010 at 2:01
  • Typically, the 'specific problem' is 'it gets a SEGV' or 'it gets an answer I can't explain'. It's specific, but local to the OP's situation.
    – Rosinante
    Feb 22, 2010 at 2:03
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    I basically agree, I would say we should always ask questions for more details first and only close the questions as an absolute last resort. Otherwise we're scaring away beginners, which must be bad.
    – MarkJ
    Feb 22, 2010 at 12:42

A few years late to this discussion, but I have some thoughts from the other side of the fence. While browsing SO has been a great experience, actually posting questions to it has not been in a few instances. As a newbie, it can be very difficult to get started.

Consider this. You love SO, so you join and you'd like to be able to up/downvote, comment, and really be a part of the community. So then you realize you need to ask some questions so you can gain points. You carefully and patiently watch for something while you work. Finally, there it is. Something you don't understand at all, but that's a big obstacle to something important to you. So how do you phrase the question? You find that you don't know enough about what's wrong to even ask it correctly. Your attempts at google are fruitless.

You've carefully searched SO, to avoid a duplicate question but everything you find is irrelevant. You KNOW that somebody must have had this question before, because it seems like a common thing to run into. You cobble together a question in the best way you know how, and before the ball can really start rolling, a couple of sticklers have already closed the question. You wonder why because of all the other questions you've read on stack overflow that have started out the same way and have helped you. Now you just feel rejected.

Take a look at these two posts from me: c++ while loop condition isn't playing nice with stack.empty() here, I'm blundering through my question, hoping I'll get some help. Yay! In the comments Someone sees that the problem isn't quite what I though it was and points me in the right direction. I'm patiently waiting for the commenter to post an answer that I can accept so that other people can find out a little more about better debuging. Then the question gets shut down because it wasn't very good. But I know it was in some way relevant because other commenters were saying in essence, "This was bothering me. I'm glad you figured it out"

So, under encouragement by commenters, I created a new question ( c++ while loop doesn't exit on false condition ) that I hoped might net a person who's frustrated in the same way that I was. I answered it and was happy to get a few upvotes. I was a little crushed when the new question was closed without any tips on how to adjust it. When I commented @ the user who shut me down, I got no reply, but the reason for the post being closed was changed.

I felt pretty rejected at that point. My goal was to help other newbies learn from my 3 day problem and I spent a heck of a lot of time trying to be relevant and helpful. The effect was that I wondered if I should just stop putting in the effort to try to contribute.

My point here is that a lot of our experts seem like snobs to me. There's got to be a way be more welcoming to new users and to invite them into the community without telling them that they must contribute if they want privileges, but then shame them for coming up with a best attempt at a "concrete, specific programming question." I'm glad that I pressed on, because one or two people have been helped by my contributions, and I like the community. I still feel like it's daunting to ask questions that I don't understand well enough to study.

As an aside, I've been helped greatly as a beginner by code that people have posted and which have been debugged by the community.

Don't get me wrong, I also think that people should put in work and try to be as clear as possible and otherwise formulate helpful questions, but I also think that established users need to be less abrasive and more patient with seemingly stupid questions.

  • 1
    Please don't take your experience personally. There are good reasons why StackOverflow defines its scope narrowly, and is aggressive about closing questions that aren't a good fit for its scope. In your case, your question might have been important to you, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good fit for SO. Will anyone else run into exactly the same problem, and will they find your question by search? I suspect not, which is a sign. In your case, the best solution was probably to improve your debugging skills (e.g., learn to use a debugger). Again: Please don't feel rejected.
    – D.W.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 4:04
  • 4
    Also, "you realize you need to ask some questions so you can gain points": that might not be the best way to think about things. If you're asking questions primarily to gain reputation, you might be less likely to ask questions that are a good fit. It might be easier to gain reputation by posting good answers to others' questions. Please don't feel ashamed about having a question closed. It's not intended as a judgement about you, it's just a statement that the question isn't quite right for this site in its current form. Finally: thank you for posting your thoughts!
    – D.W.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 4:06
  • @D.W. Thanks the encouragement, and I know those weren't personal assaults (honestly, distance makes it easier to recognize why those questions weren't great). Being new, I was eager to participate in little ways - up vote things that helped me, comment on answers that I wanted more details about, etc. The only way to do that is to gain reputation, and as a new user there doesn't seem to be a great way to do that without asking questions... So it seems a little harsh to a new poster to be excited to be part of things and to get expert help, but then to be shut down.
    – jlsecrest
    Nov 13, 2013 at 5:46

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