I love the community here at Stackoverflow, and a resource for finding answers it is incredible.

However, I really want to contribute back, but I find it difficult answering questions - the ones that are easiest enough for me to answer seem to be answered before I finish reading them. (I consider myself a competent programmer, but with so many smart people here I feel a bit overwhelmed!)

Are there any good ways to find questions that I can answer without being a super-specialized expert?

Do I just need to be quick answering recently asked questions?

Or find tags that I understand, and constantly look through the unanswered questions, looking for those that aren't too complicated?

How do you find questions to answer?

  • How come you don't have an SO account linked from your meta account?
    – Amarghosh
    Sep 3, 2010 at 10:16
  • @Amarghosh: he has meta.stackoverflow.com/users/150849?tab=accounts#tab-top, but you need >200 rep for the association bonus Sep 3, 2010 at 10:25
  • @Tobias Earlier it said no associations found (or something to that effect), now its showing SO and SU accounts.
    – Amarghosh
    Sep 3, 2010 at 10:36
  • I just created the meta account today... perhaps it takes a little while to show? Sep 3, 2010 at 12:57

5 Answers 5


find tags that I understand, and constantly look through the unanswered questions, looking for those that aren't too complicated

That's exactly how I started. I started with Flash/Flex/JS. Then I learned regex from and for StackOverflow; I've hardly used a regex in production code - the only place I use regex outside SO is for search/replace in Vim and other editors.

Bookmark https://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/YourTag1+OR+YourTag2+OR+YourTag3 and keep hitting F5. If you belong to the US time zone and/or your favorite area is one of C#/.net/Java/PHP/JavaScript, you will soon (in less than 30 minutes) find simple questions to start with. Otherwise, the frequency will be a bit low, but still you'll find a question waiting for you.

And while you're at it, don't take down votes personally, learn from the mistakes and treat others with respect. Give up-votes where it is due - even if you have an answer on same thread.

  • This has been working great for finding questions I can answer - thanks! Sep 8, 2010 at 11:20

For a start I would search for older unanswered questions in your field of expertise. You can do that with a search string like

answers:0 [tag] closed:0

This will usually give you answers that are slow moving that give you time to answer. And the OP sometimes are more than thankful to receive answers.

  • Thanks - I didn't know about using the answers/closed in a search! Sep 3, 2010 at 13:01
  • @Adam Your welcome - look at the search page for further nice options: stackoverflow.com/search?q=
    – malach
    Sep 3, 2010 at 13:30

I've done as you suggest - find the tags that lead to subjects you understand, and stalk the unanswered questions list looking for the ones you can help with.

Often I'll come to SO looking for help on something for my own development, find the answer here lacking detail and once I've solved the problem to my satisfaction come back later to SO and add the information so the next person doesn't have to hunt around for it.


Making good use of the interesting and ignored tags will help your eye fall on questions you will have a chance at knowing the answer to.

That said, some tags (including java and jquery) are very, very competitive, and it may be hard to get a word in edgewise, as it were. Consider adding a slightly more obscure area (but one you still know to some degree) to those you want to contribute in.

And even if you are working in a competitive tag, keep trying. Being fast is important, but it is not necessary to be first if you bring a little extra value relative the very first answer. Also, value added answers can be built up iteratively by good use of the edit function.

  • Ha - so it's not just me following java & jquery tags :) Nor have I been reading answers carefully to see how I could improve the answers... thanks. Sep 4, 2010 at 9:10

It's difficult in the beginning but what is important is not the speed but the quality of an answer (the speed will come later with the experience). I've seen quick answers to what seems to be an obvious question that got upvoted in the rush and much later a real quality answer came and was accepted. So I would recommend you not paying much attention whether there are other answers (well of course you should read them to avoid duplicating). Make sure you've read and understood every detail about the question before rushing to answer. Ask the OP to provide additional information if his question is not clear enough.

Just pick an area of expertise and take your time to provide a good and complete answer garnished with examples that are easy to reproduce and links to external resources to support it. That's all that counts in the long term.

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