In a previous post on Meta "Vague Questions part one" I raised some issues that I believe have become even clearer for me now, a few months later.

I've recently spent several hours trying, through comments (not answers), to get certain questioners to answer specific questions that, from my point of view, are "essential" to being able to even start to answer the question as asked.

In most of these cases the question posters were people with low "reputation" scores on Stack Overflow: but I don't conclude from that observation that they are necessarily inexperienced, or lack technically advanced skills.

In one case, only after repeated comment-questions, did the question-poster finally disclose an aspect of the architecture they were using that really, from my point of view, made the original question a "whole other question": then, later, with the same OP, after more comment-questions, yet another "dimension" was revealed :)

In thinking about what kind of mechanism could help to encourage people who post questions to answer, responding promptly, to comments on their OP which are trying to help them clarify the OP, I kind of draw a blank.

My guess is that allowing Stack Overflow users of a certain reputation level (very high), to suspend answers being posted on questions where the OP has not answered a comment-question would be viewed as punitive, would be a "negative" for the whole community.

And it doesn't seem fair, or appropriate, to 'flag the post, and pass-off to the moderators' such an issue, either: after all, what could they do?

When the comment-question asked of the OP is very direct, and has a simple, or even binary, answer, like: "is this WinForms or WPF?" then I can see a certain validity in the idea of suspending answers until the OP responds to such a comment.

But, obviously, someone has to be the judge of what's a "very direct" question: and that gets subjective, doesn't it?

If I were really concerned about the "rep game," perhaps I'd focus my attention more on posters who were at a certain reputation level, or who had a certain high-percentage of questions with accepted answers, but I think I can be of more use actually, on Stack Overflow, to beginners. Possibly because I've spent thirteen of the adult years of my life living in countries where my own native language (English) was not the "mother tongue," I think I can also be helpful with people whose first-langauge is not English.

Appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

By the way, I am still trying to "get over" seeing code that I know will not compile in "accepted answers" :)


I don't think the site needs changing. Sometimes you need to elicit more information before you can give a meaningful answer. It's requirements analysis on a small scale, it seems to be an inevitable part of human communication, and it's always going to be a fuzzy process.

There is already an excellent mechanism for ensuring questionners provide enough information: they won't get good answers unless they do. Any questionner who won't/can't provide more information to get an answer, is not going to respond to any other stimulus. The best we can do is explain politely that it's not possible to answer the question without more information. Also, don't forget some people have "psychic" ability to answer questions where others think there's insufficient information - if questions were locked that couldn't happen.

Some days I'm too busy/grumpy to have another one of those conversations - that's when I too fantasise about closing or freezing the questions. But instead, I just ignore them, hoping someone else will help. I honestly think that's the best approach.

  • Thanks for your response, Mark. I am not saying I think the site needs changing in this post : I'm just looking for the "communal wisdom" around this issue of "vague questions" with the intent of being as helpful as possible, particularly to newcomers to SO, or people for whom English is not their first language. – BillW Feb 25 '10 at 10:37
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    @BillW: all you can do is post comments requesting more info, in a polite/respectful manner, and hope they come back with more info. if they don't, there's not much more you can do -- take your best guess, comment indicating what's missing, etc and move on. – quack quixote Feb 25 '10 at 12:09

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