How should we handle questions for which a quick Google or Wikipedia search would provide a great answer?

This question was asked on StackOverflow.meta. The response was to answer it anyway, with the intention of making StackOverflow the best resource for those questions; so that when people do Google their question, they end up on StackOverflow.

I think that's a good way to handle some of the questions we might get. I'm not aware of any single resource for answering questions about skepticism. But what if another established site is already the best resource for a particular question?

For example, the placebo effect is explained on Wikipedia as well as it might be here. So can the question "What is the placebo effect?" be answered any better than by providing a link to Wikipedia?

2 Answers 2


Jeff answered that question recently in a blog post called Are Some Questions Too Simple? He suggests that we use the following flowchart to decide whether a question is too basic to be answered:

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General reference is a new close option he's considering:

General reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general Internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

The basic idea is that if the question is answered by a general reference website (Wikipedia, Free Online Dictonary, IMDB, etc.) found in the first few results when you google the question, the question should be closed as general reference unless the question could be improved on or is really interesting.


As the example questions is mine, I'll go and defend it as I think it is perfectly appropriate for this site. I have to admit the title is somewhat misleading, as I'm not only asking what the placebo effect is, but also if it is purely psychological or also has definite physical effects.

I'm not asking for a definition, that would be a candidate for a too simple question. Taking the flow chart Borror0 posted in his answer, the question would IMHO fail "Is the question basic and trivial", as the placebo effect is far from trivial.

I'm not a big fan of closing questions a too simple, I would confine that to the extreme cases that ask just for a definition or a simple fact. I would never apply that rule to answers that require more than one sentence to answer them.

  • 2
    I agree with you. The title is misleading and the question is not basic at all. I changed the title to better reflect the question.
    – Borror0
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 7:32
  • @Borror I approved the changed title.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 7:37
  • Sorry for using your question as the example, but I expect there will be questions which shouldn't be asked here. Yours is fine with the new title. Before the edit the context of the body of your question allowed the scope to be too large. Now an answer can be more concise. However, I think the second part of the flowchart is most relevant to your question. The answer can be found in that Wikipedia page, it's just hard to parse. Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 9:46
  • @Solus No need to apologize. I really don't like closing questions because they are too simple, I only see it as a last resort to prevent too many simple and boring questions. I don't mind a few reference questions on the site, we're duplicating content all the time. As long as the topic is relevant and interesting, those questions are IMHO fine.
    – Mad Scientist Mod
    Commented Mar 2, 2011 at 9:57

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