About twice a week, there's a question asked under "Database Design" that relates to modeling subclasses in relational tables. Or, as I phrase it, "the Gen-Spec design pattern".

Most of the time, the specifics of the case make it seem like a brand new problem, but the specifics are superficial. One time it's about persons who may be customers or employees. Another time is about customers who may be persons or corporations. Another time it's about vehicles that may be sedans or trucks. But it's always Gen-Spec.

I have come up with a boilerplate response that I can provide when these questions are asked. The boiler plate is pretty well received, but I think there's a better way. It probably revolves around adding a FAQ to the Database Design Tag.

I would have some learning to do in order to set up a FAQ. Before I invest the effort, I want to know how well FAQs work in general, and to predict how well they would work in this case in particular. Most of the OPs don't phrase their question as a case of Gen-Spec, so I'm not sure they would be led to a FAQ that was labelled Gen-Spec.

Any ideas?


The general solution is to post your "boilerplate response" as an answer to one of the (better) questions of this nature, and then relentlessly vote to close all of the others as duplicates of that one.

This is sort of like providing a canonical question and answer. If the boilerplate response actually answers all of the questions, then they seem to meet the definition of "duplicate" quite well.

And of course, once you generate this canonical question and answer pair, you could add a link to it in the wikis for some of the relevant tags. Anyone can propose edits to tag wikis. For example, on the tag, you can click the "improve description" link to start editing the tag wiki.

You can see examples of a tag wiki with links to FAQ by checking out various tags; is a good start.

  • I generally like this response. The only qualm I have is that, while I see all these questions as duplicates of the generic Gen-Spec question, the questioners don't initially see that. I'm not sure I'm prepared to relentlessly vote to close. Thanks for the examply of a good FAQ. Jul 16 '11 at 21:01
  • @WalterMitty: I can't understand why you're not willing to vote to close. If the duplicate question actually answers their question, then it should be closed. It isn't a moral decision, and it shouldn't be one that the asker finds offensive. There's nothing wrong with close votes, it's how we keep the site organized and prevent massive duplication of content. It's only a little better to have to check dozens of SO questions for the answer than it is to check dozens of other sites using the traditional Google search method. I prefer that everything be consolidated, myself.
    – Cody Gray
    Jul 17 '11 at 4:26

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