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How much research should we expect before someone asks a question?

Originally, the early consensus for StackOverflow was almost none:

There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to "easy" questions that involves quickly answering by copying/pasting an embarrassing link to lmgtfy.com (or similar responses in comments, which aren't downvotable) in an attempt to belittle the questions' authors. I think this comes from engagement in forums, where people would ask simple questions like "What is a variable?"

I would argue that we should NOT do this. As Stack Overflow grows, it is quickly becoming THE source of Google's suggestions. For instance, yesterday I did a quick search on Google for a particular framework, and Stack Overflow came up in the top three results...

This position was famously demonstrated when Joel Spolsky posted a question on "How do I move the turtle in logo?" and it received a couple of hundred upvotes. However, the position of the community has now shifted and that question has been deleted. A StackOverflow blog post clarified that StackExchange was not designed to be used for questions that could easily be looked up in a general reference source:

We’ve seen it come up enough times now that I’m comfortable making a final decision: yes, some questions are too simple to be answered … at least on our sites.

Not because they’re bad questions, mind you, but because these types of questions can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference site with no additional explanation necessary. We discourage “answers” that are links, but for these questions, it’s hard to argue that anything else is required.

Below is a flowchart created by Borror0 suggesting how to deal with these issues:

Flowchart

It is worthwhile noting that the exact rules are up to each individual StackExchange community to determine. Just because other communities adopt certain rules, we don't have to adopt them either. But the general consensus seems to be that easy questions are generally allowed, unless it they are "general reference" questions and also not interesting questions to answer.

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I personally don't expect all that much research to be done before asking, we're not a typical SE site and I don't think "easy" questions hurt this site all that much. The big differences that matter here are:

  • We have a very low question volume compared to sites with similar traffic. We don't get overwhelmed by trivial support questions like other sites do.
  • This site is not defined by a topic, but by the kind of answer you get here. So our definition of a trivial question would require the first link to fulfill our citation standard to be valid.

There is another aspect that can make even relatively easy questions valuable. On popular pseudoscientific topics the skeptics are often outnumbered, while there might be a few excellent results from authorative sources in the search results, the remaining ones are often wrong, on some topics like health and medicine even truly dangerous. SE sites get very good placement in Google, if we displace a bad result with our post, this makes the internet a better place in my opinion.

There might be cases where a question is just too trivial, but I think that our notability criteria already eliminate a lot of the potentially bad questions. I don't think we should require significant research for questions here, our existing rules are enough.

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