As programmers we talk about code smells, little cues that indicate we should be worried about a section of code. What are some Question Smells? Are there flags in questions that make you less inclined to answer them?

  • This is a good question but I'm afraid that it was already asked, though differently worded – Goran Jovic Mar 19 '11 at 14:38
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    @Goran that is heuristic for answer, not question though. – HoLyVieR Mar 19 '11 at 14:41
  • @Myself: Many of the rules still apply. But, if this is a question about question-specific issues, I guess you are right. – Goran Jovic Mar 19 '11 at 14:45
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    Wouldn't that be "bad question smells"? – Adam Lear Mar 19 '11 at 14:51
  • possible duplicate of How to ask a smart question? – tvanfosson Mar 19 '11 at 16:13
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    I like vanilla-scented questions myself... – Shog9 Mar 19 '11 at 16:54
  • @Shog9 You would. – Pollyanna Mar 19 '11 at 17:09
  • This question is meant to be about heuristics for detecting questions that are bad. I was referring to Question Smells that are good to use. Will edit. – Saltymule Mar 19 '11 at 19:38
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    Two sides of bad? – random Mar 19 '11 at 19:55

A question that's shorter than its title is a bad smell. It's not 100% accurate, but it does indicate that the question probably needs to be edited for clarity.


Question that have this pattern /^I (want|have) to do(?!.*but.*).*$/ are often question where to OP is just looking for code and doesn't have actually tried.

Questions that contains ((please )?help me|thank you( in advance)?) are often bad question, because people who add that kind of formality often to do to compensate for the bad quality of their question.

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    Agree with 1, disagree with 2. – jao Mar 19 '11 at 17:45
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    Same as jao. I just want to say some people have varying degrees of politeness in their questions. I don't think this necessarily gives any clear indication of negative quality. In fact, an asker may simply be polite because they are desperate for an answer, which means they are more likely to do due diligence in the question content. Desperation is an indicator that the asker has a direct vested interest in getting the correct answer. I know it's driven me to be more polite than necessary on a few occasions. – Mark Rogers Mar 19 '11 at 17:58
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    @Mark I'm not saying it's something bad, it's just that from my experience there is a correlation between finding "please help me" and bad question. – HoLyVieR Mar 19 '11 at 18:12
  • I like number 2, at least in theory. Answering a good question should be a reward in itself! – Saltymule Mar 19 '11 at 19:41
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    +1: I ran a search once for questions and answers containing the word "thank." While some reasonable uses came up, I found that about 9 out of 10 were flag-worthy. – John Mar 19 '11 at 19:52

Questions like:

what would be the output

Can't they just run the program and see the output. Yuuuu.

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    I agree - I think this is a good pointer to the question being homework. – Taryn East May 17 '11 at 8:44

Signs that the OP already did some homework - like a list of things that they have tried, or a list of other questions (with a bit more explanation than just "they didn't work") - are usually a good question smell: It's either a good (hard) question, or an easy one that is worth answering.


The phrase "doesn't work" stinks to high heaven. It pretty much always requires us to ask the user follow up questions, like "what errors do you get?" or "what are you expecting to happen?".


Copy + pasted complete code files are almost always a bad question smell. They show that the OP has no idea which part of the code the problem occurs in, and they don't know how to use debugging to find out.

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    I prefer too much code to too little. Sometimes the OP is blocking on what the real problem is. – Saltymule Mar 19 '11 at 19:43
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    As annoying as a wall of code is, at least you can analyze the problem without wasting time posting a request for it, waiting for a response, lather, rinse, repeat. – Gabe Mar 21 '11 at 7:03
  • It's ok, as long as they edit the irrelevant stuff away once they/you start drilling down to the underlying issue. The only reliable way to tell that is to look at their previous questions and see if they are also giant code dumps. – smci Jul 5 '11 at 8:44

A pasted stacktrace, but no information about what they were doing when the error occurred or what the program is actually being built to do.

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