This is not a question but an observation and end up as a rant! :) With a Q&A site like SO, I came to the conclusion that you have to be pretty careful with how long the question is and how much extra descriptive information you add to the question so that you don't get all those "duh.. everyone knows this..".

I tend to post shorter questions so as not to bore users or drive away impatient ones who don't want to read 'essays'. But this is biting me back when I get answers that I already know of and then these answers get voted up by many users then I am like " NO NO.. I already know this and this is not the direction my question wants you to do..". and then you start posting additions to your question in hope of driving new viewers to the direction you want them to go in their answers and not follow the previous herd! This whole situation becomes frustrating.

And so then for the future you think of posting a question and then think for a moment what types of answers viewers would typical post. Those generic answers most people already know, or someone did a quick Google search and copied a reply. You know.. the thing you can do yourself in a few minutes. So maybe I get motivated to add to the question statements like "I know I can do this.. " and I know I can do that..." and I have tried this and I have tried that already. In essence being on the defensive and be preemptive and tell the users 'don't think of posting that answer' because I am really looking for the gem answer. The one that nails it. The one which only a few people on earth know. That one that saved me after me Googling for hours and after trying a ton of ideas.

Cause one time I had an urgent thing to do in some code. I didn't get answers or I didn't get good answers. I posted a bounty. an answer got a few upvotes but it didn't solve my problem. My points went to the person and I was WTF? I didn't select the answer. I think I read something about the points are gone if an answer has been upvoted. You mean regardless if I selected it!? Anyways, I don't know what were all the circumstances and I don't care. I have a job to do and if I can pay some points for it, I will do it. heck... I used to be an experts-exchange member and I paid money for answers.

It has happened to me MANY times that I get an answer which was already in my mind and I go "God dammit.. I knew someone will mention this. I should have mentioned this in the question".

What I want to say is that when asking a question, it's best to pour all your knowledge and findings in it so that the viewers will then take it from there. You want people START from where you hit the wall, not anywhere between your start and your wall.

Sorry for the long rant. It's a slow Friday!

  • tl;dr (which is apparently too short for comments) Commented Jul 30, 2010 at 23:56
  • @andrew, what does "tl;dr" mean?
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 18:46
  • @devinb: tl;dr Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 3:10

2 Answers 2


This is a problem in technical writing, and it is hard.

You want to get across to your audience a precisely defined and limited question in as few words as possible.

I've been using a pattern like:

How can I frobnicate my Fooster?

I been using libBar to work on a problem that came up in database access context at work, but I'm having trouble getting Fooster to frobnicate it the way I want.

I don't want to use the Quix facility because it boffs up the ordering.

What other choices do I have?

and possible add a swath of background afterwards if I deem it helpful. See for instance Can ElementTree be told to preserve the order of attributes?.

This is not perfect, but it has generated more good results than bad ones so far.

  • 1
    Every time I see the word frobnicate, I have to click up vote.
    – user50049
    Commented Jul 31, 2010 at 8:03
  • +1 for "frobnicate" and the good pattern. I love answering questions like this. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 9:05

Yes. This is true. (not that there is much of a question but...)

In the earlier days of SO, this discussion came on. iirc (which I may jot, as I can't even remember if this was a podcast or meta), Joel didn't want people posting lists of what they had tried, so that the answers formed a checklist of todo's for that problem. (Might have been Jeff, but I think it was Joel). However, pretty much everybody else on the sites were more pragmatic, and realised people wanted answers to their problem.

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