Wikipedia has a principle called assume good faith. That is, if you see an edit that seems unhelpful, your default assumption should be that the author intended it well - until they demonstrate otherwise.

Do we need that here?

You might think, "well the good posters don't need it and then bad ones won't pay attention". But I think many posts fall into a gray area: they're not abusive but are pretty harsh. Consider, for example, the "why don't you check out Google before posting?" remarks. Instead, why don't we default assume that the poster has done their research - unless they go on to show that they clearly haven't?

This would help prevent defensive posts - people justifying their posts - or worse, people not posting at all, for fear of the harshness that I see too often here.

  • I love people assuming good faith! Go on! It's so much easier to hornswoggle you. Jul 3, 2010 at 11:46
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    For Stack Overflow the better principle is "assume rep wh*ring". If you see that a post seems unhelpful, your default assumption should be that the author didn't want to do any harm, he just intended to get some quick rep.
    – P Shved
    Jul 3, 2010 at 12:43
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    @Pavel Hahahaha! But this comment was so obviously posted to whore the Pundit badge. ;)
    – Pekka
    Jul 3, 2010 at 14:44
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    Funny, Pavel, because it is probably often true... Jul 3, 2010 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


I would say, assume good faith until the user has a documented history of not acting in good faith.

This covers the greatest sin of Stack Overflow (or any other SE engine site as far as I'm concerned) -- no attempt to learn or improve or generally show some effort.

  • Thanks Jeff, good answer. Two comments: first your statement does not account for incidental "bad faith". Perhaps that is your intention, to avoid people easily reverting to assuming "bad faith"? Secondly, is there an easy way to check the "documented history"? Jul 4, 2010 at 6:39
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    @mark generally the user's profile page suffices -- I look at the history of questions and answers, and the "recent" tab Jul 5, 2010 at 2:25
  • @Jeff - thanks. That's a good tip (I'm still quite new at all this). Jul 5, 2010 at 7:14
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    I asked a very similar question to this about 18 months ago; it was deleted. Of course, now it would be a duplicate. Jul 6, 2010 at 21:59
  • @George - why was it deleted? I guess that means we cannot even see it anymore (instead of just being closed). =:-( Jul 7, 2010 at 6:48
  • @Mark Robinson It was deleted by Jeff (rightly) as being 'off-topic' for Stack Overflow. I believe I either emailed the team or flagged it for it to be moved when meta opened up (this was before there was a meta!). I asked if there should be wikipedia-esque 'rules' for Stack Overflow. The reason I asked it is because there were a number of edit wars (and a '3 revert rule' seemed to be appropriate) but it was deleted before it could gain traction. Jul 7, 2010 at 13:22
  • @George - ah, I did not know it was on SO - OK, makes sense then for it to be closed there. And now? Do you want to contribute an answer? Sounds like you'll have good input since you also know about the 3 revert rule. Jul 7, 2010 at 14:40

Instead, why don't we default assume that the poster has done their research - unless they go on to show that they clearly haven't?

They usually haven't. :D

But "go, google it" is never the correct answer on SO. There's a strong consensus on that. If you get told that, simply ignore it.

I also think that the correct application of "assumption of good faith" on a badly worded or "lazy-looking" question on SO is that the OP doesn't know better, and deserves to be politely corrected. I would say that by and large, SO works quite well in that regard. It is the least harsh and most polite programming community I have ever seen.

On the other hand, there are maliciously lazy, often "fix my code for me" questions. Those sometimes don't deserve anything but a harsh response. I haven't looked at your questions on SO but I doubt they fall into that category, though.

  • Good comment about the "go google it" answers - but newbies (as I still kind of am) don't know that. Furthermore, that was just one example. Jul 3, 2010 at 12:20
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    @Mark yeah. As I said, in my experience SO is pretty advanced in that regard and there is comparably little harshness, but individual mileage may vary of course. Also see related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9953/… it's the top rated question on Meta by the way, which says a lot. (of good things, I mean. :)
    – Pekka
    Jul 3, 2010 at 12:24
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    There's a discussion about "google it" responses here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8724/… Jul 3, 2010 at 12:28
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    "If you don't have anything nice to say..." has always been a good motto. Can't claim that I always follow it though.
    – JohnFx
    Jul 3, 2010 at 16:20
  • @JohnFx +1 for honesty! Jul 3, 2010 at 17:10
  • Some good points here. But for me so far to much focus on my Google example and no simple Yes/No answer to the question with an explanation. And this is ironic given the amount of people voting this question up or down! Jul 3, 2010 at 17:12
  • @Mark my simple answer is a clear no, there is no need for another policy. The policy is already "be nice"; over the top rudeness is discouraged and most often very quickly downvoted. I don't see how introducing another rule would improve the athmosphere. It's as you already say: The good answerers do this already, and the rude ones won't care.
    – Pekka
    Jul 3, 2010 at 17:31
  • Thanks for the clear answer. Agree (of course) about good + rude answer-ers. My point about the gray area still stands, I think. Some answers seem to fall between just above rudeness. It is not simply a "be nice" but let's believe that the person who asks a question genuinely wants to learn, is not an idiot and probably is or will become a valued contributor. However, I take your point about "another rule" - especially if it is not embraced by the community. Jul 3, 2010 at 18:17
  • @Down: I couldn't agree more about the "fix my code for me" type of questions. I generally try to avoid those questions when I see them, however I do notice them all too frequently. I almost feel the same way with SO questions that are obviously a test or homework question that someone is effectively asking "solve my school problem for me".
    – jrista
    Jul 4, 2010 at 3:44
  • @jrista - so do you think that "assume good faith" is too simplistic or to naive? Or are these instances "few and far between"? Jul 4, 2010 at 6:41
  • @Mark I don't see how a "assume good faith" rule would have a concrete effect, as enforcing it would cause endless trouble (what is rude? What is just to the point?) What improvements do you expect from setting this as a rule?
    – Pekka
    Jul 4, 2010 at 9:48
  • @Down - well it could be used, as on Wikipedia, to combat some of the harsher comments, like, "Why do you assume that X hasn't done his research?" or "Why do you assume they're just asking this to get reputation". As for "what is rude?", that will always be a gray area. But this is less about defining rude and more about not going for the jugular! Jul 4, 2010 at 9:55
  • @Mark on a technical site like SO, assuming the OP hasn't "done their research" is often a necessary assumption to provide useful solutions. Also, many questions that sound stupid often are stupid. :) The point is not to be a dick about it. I appreciate the spirit of your idea but I don't think this Wikipedia principle can be applied to SO 1:1, at least not as a new, official rule. Look at @Jeff's answer: This is already being practised here, in the form of many, many rules like silently editing out spelling and grammatical errors, the ban on 'go look on Google' answers and other things.
    – Pekka
    Jul 4, 2010 at 15:03
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    @Mark: "do you think that assume good faith is too simplistic or naive?" I think it is tough to say. I don't think it is too simplistic...simplicity is good for rules like this. However, it may be bordering on naive. We all know there are tolls on every site...Wikipedia & Stackoverflow included. Its a sad thing, but certain people simply live to distract and interfere with others, for the sole purpose of self gain in one form or another...damning all the consequences to those around them. I think we should be aware of that simple fact, regardless of what kind of etiquette we follow.
    – jrista
    Jul 4, 2010 at 23:24
  • @Down - when I read your answer I was not sure if you were calling me a dick! Then I took my own advice - "assume good faith"! =:-) Jul 5, 2010 at 7:09

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