18

I'll be honest, at times, I've been tempted to downvote a question simply because the solution is blatantly obvious to someone with even limited computer experience.

Many questions like these are not duplicates, are on-topic, and are sometimes even formatted well and have enough detail that they are "answerable".

An example would be someone asking what they should do when the computer prompts them to restart. The obvious answer is "restart", but what I would anticipate on a question like this is multiple downvotes simply because the answer comes off as stupid.

I could "bite my tongue" and try to explain why they need to restart, what might have caused the necessity to restart, etc. The other part of me wants to say "why on earth would you ask something like this?!" The logic in my head is that while answering a basic question could be helpful to future readers, some questions are so basic that it almost seems like a waste of time (but I could be wrong on that).

Where do you guys draw the line and how would you handle questions like these? I want to add to community in the best way that I can, and would appreciate the input.

  • 2
    Even stupid easy questions can have complex and good answers I think, "what to do when computer prompts for restart" is a question that Google can not even come close to having a good answer for. I will generally comment things like, "Why not just click Restart Now" and see if there is more information to be found... But sometimes they really are just stupid questions and I down vote them, especially if Google has many good hits on the first page. – Austin T French Aug 31 '13 at 21:48
  • @AthomSfere I agree, and that was probably a bad example :) Obviously learning is the highest goal on SE, so when a basic question can provide an opportunity for someone to learn what's going "behind the scenes", that is a good thing. I'll keep that in mind! – Moses Aug 31 '13 at 22:02
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    To quote Mr Garrison "There are no stupid questions, only stupid people." The person who is willing to try and invest some time in learning but lacks key knowledge is not stupid, only the person who expects to throw the problem at you and make you fix it for them is stupid as they will not learn anything. If possible you should point out that there may be faster or better ways to get an answer. Give the asker a chance to learn first before you start beating them with a stick. – Mokubai Sep 2 '13 at 14:29
  • When is a question stupid - I wonder if that counts as a stupid question! – barlop Sep 2 '13 at 18:31
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    This sub-site describes itself as for "Computer Enthusiasts" (amongst others). That could include people's grandmothers who got a laptop to look up recipes. No stupid questions. For example, in your example, the questioner may fear "restart" is a factory-reset (even though they may not know that phrase). – Paul Sep 3 '13 at 10:28
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    When I face "bad" questions I simply provide the solution through a comment. A bad question is a question I feel will not be helpful to somebody else in the future. As I don't want that person to not find the answer they seek, I provide the solution, or attempt to pull information from them. If I don't understand the question, I am meet with reistance to the information pulling, I normally to place the question on hold. – Ramhound Sep 3 '13 at 17:12
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    Related post I asked over at WebApps. – James Mertz Sep 5 '13 at 14:43
27

What is "obvious" or "stupid" is really dependent on the reader. What might be obvious (and thus a stupid question) to you, might not be for me.

Some people may say that a question is stupid only because the answer could be easily found by asking a search engine. Which is ridiculous, because we want people to find Super User through said search engine (and maybe that's how they got to the site in the first place).

Picking up the example you noted in your question, what if a user asks what to do if the computer asks them to restart? That might seem like an obviously stupid question, but it might not be to everyone. For example, I bet my mother-in-law wouldn't necessarily know what "restarting a computer" even means. Especially if I would use a confusing term like "rebooting" instead, oh my...

Of course, now you would say, how does your mother in law know how to use Super User? Well, I hope you get my point regardless.

Now you might ask, hey, Oliver, if you think all questions are awesome, why do we even have the option to downvote them?

We downvote useless questions that don't help others. We also downvote questions that are of horrible form or impossible to answer because they don't explain the problem properly.

We shouldn't downvote a question just because we feel like a question is too trivial.

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    If only people on, ahem, other network sites would think the same way... – That Brazilian Guy Sep 2 '13 at 20:45
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    There are no stupid questions - only stupid people. – Mr_Chimp Sep 6 '13 at 13:29
14

I see that there are already a few answers to this post, however, I think it is worth mentioning my opinion which, I admit, is very generous.

First, realize that the internet is FILLED with all types of people and you will not believe the level of people that can stumble on a place like this, stumble through the account creation process and, 3 hours later, finally post a question. These people can be quite ignorant. That's not intended to be slanderous, just factual.

After setting up an account, they ask their questions. In spite of their ignorance, if they are asking legitimate questions, they have the right to both ask simple questions and to be treated with respect.

And they do ask "really dumb" questions. It's not their fault that they are confused about a restart prompt. For whatever reason, if their question is legitimate, they (and their question) deserve respect.

Who knows, maybe you are talking with an 85 year old grandpa, who never "got" computers. However, one day he decides to bite the bullet and just jumped in, head first. He may have no clue what a restart is, but he's been fiddling around with the internets for 4 weeks now and, in his own words, is getting "pretty dern good at it!"

These people exist and I have met them many times within my career.

In my opinion, if the question does not break any rules, you have two options-- answer the question regardless of it's simplicity, or ignore it.

In my case, I only down-vote under the following cases.

  • The question is so poorly written that it can not be understood.
  • It is quite obvious that someone is trolling the site.
  • After attempting to inform the user of any problems with their question, if they do not respond and clean-up their question, I will flag the post for moderator attention and, if the offense is great enough, I will down-vote it to get the questioner's attention.

That's it. Those are my rules. Even if a question blatantly doesn't belong on this site, I'll only raise a moderator flag to move it. This is because the question isn't illegitimate, it just belongs on another site within the SE network.

It doesn't hurt the site, or the community, for these simple questions to exist.

  • I'd recommend to down vote first and then, if that doesn't encourage any improvements, flag for attention. As moderators we'd like the community to do everything they can first, and only if that doesn't work, escalate. – slhck Sep 10 '13 at 5:45
  • @slhck That's a good point, which I hadn't considered. I may now be a little (just a little) more liberal with my downvotes. However, as a rule, I will also try to be explicit within comments as to why I gave the downvote. Would you recommend a downvote, if question needs to be moved? – RLH Sep 16 '13 at 15:22
  • Questions should only be moved when they are great – we don't migrate crap, that's one of our rules. So it doesn't go well with downvoting. That being said, downvotes on questions are cleared before migration, so I essence it does not really matter. – slhck Sep 16 '13 at 15:27
6

As far as I am concerned, "stupid" questions are not a problem if they come from honestly ignorant (or honestly stupid for that matter) people. If someone has not researched because they have no idea whatsoever what to search for, I am willing to answer the question. What I find annoying are those people who do have the rudimentary skills necessary and yet do not take the time to search before posting.

Usually, you can tell the categories apart easily enough from the question. A rule of thumb I tend to apply is that if copy/pasting the title of a question into Google brings up the answer, I downvote and leave a comment to the user with a link to the How to ask page. If this is from someone whose been around long enough to know better I might get snippy. If, however, the phrasing of the question makes it clear that this is someone who simply has no idea how to begin searching for a solution, I either try to give an honest answer or simply ignore the question. I won't penalize ignorance though, I am brought up against my own too often.

After all, most of us who answer questions here are highly experienced users/admins/IT professionals so just about any question could sound too basic to some of us. Yet all of us, at some point, were completely clueless and had to learn. The point of SU is to help others with their computer problems, if we only allow experts to ask questions the sites loses its value.

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    Just be careful with copying into Google. Firstly, SU itself often ends up being the first Google result very quickly - we are ranked quite highly. Secondly, and more importantly, Google customises results based on your past usage. What might come up as the first result to a developer may be some ways down the page for someone who spends their time searching for cooking tips! – Bob Sep 8 '13 at 8:15
  • @Bob fair point but obviously, if the first result is the question I won't point the OP to google! It is just a rule of thumb a, not something I apply strictly. – terdon Sep 8 '13 at 16:38
3

My understanding of the SE sites is: The community draws the line. As\if the community changes the community draws the line still.

If a number of people in the community feel that "The question does not show any research effort, is unclear or not useful" That it one set of reasons they will downvote the question.
That statement as shown on the downvote button for questions, has covered many of the downvotes for questions that can be "looked up on google".

It also further states in the first layer of help a person is likely to see. "Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do."

Moderators are voted for by the community, the community can influence the moderation of the site by following the nominations and tracking how the persons nominated are reflecting the wishes of the community. Then voting for the type of moderator that you deem will best suit the wishes of the community.


Everything below the line is my opinion.

Honestly I fail to see the point in many of the restrictions, and the application of the high level of negativity that a new user is slammed with when arriving on the site. Especially a site that states to a new User:

1) Anybody can ask a question
How about if we change that to:
Anyone can ask a Good question, that the answer is not already found in a search engine, that isn't lame sounding, that we can actually answer, that we like the idea of the question to begin with. :-) Would the truth be offputting?

Sorry the question is too broad, or, the question is too localised.
You have not provided enough information, or, you provided to much information to read it.
The question has no answer, or, the question has to many answers.
Shows us what you did already , to, Well that was stupid to have done.
Calls for speculation from the witness your honor :-) geesh, lighten up people.

The next question becomes: Why am I here , trying to ask a question, when I could go to 5000 other sites and not fall into so many traps.
The answer to that is, if you wanted a very specific and concise answer to a very specific question that is not in the search engine, it is here, and often very well done,

Lets concider that all of the above does work, because it is working, I fail to see why I should have to go to any search engine Other than SuperUsers search engine for ANYTHING?
If the community deems it so, that a much larger array of questions deserve to be represented ON SuperUser itself reguardless of a search engine, then the community would have that.

I am all for it, as a tiny part of said community. As a "community" we (collective) could also decide that answers already on the web, could be a great asset to SuperUser. The SuperUser Questions and answers being located via the search engine, is the one answer to see. Who cares what the rest of the web is doing.

Voting is what it is all about, if you want things to change apply the vote, personally I do not see these UpVotes on the questions, If the community really wants them, then the community needs to get off thier butts and UpVote them. This isn't government, you get to vote on almost everything , and you must vote if your going to change anything.

This Answer is subject to change, it is here for the purpose of discussion.

  • 3
    If you want to bring information from the wider internet into SU, collect the information, ask a question and answer it yourself. Such behavior is actively encouraged and is very useful. Posting an obvious question and asking others to do the work for you is another matter. That distracts our attention from others who have real problems and wastes everyone's time. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 1:45
  • What if it was not "your time" they wasted? because thousands of normal users actually stayed on the site, instead of leaving, because it only serve the elite, who aparentally have no back button on the browser? Instead we are plauged with hit and close and run users who have no reason and no incentive to stay . – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 15:29
  • I don't understand what you mean. What I am saying is that if you feel some information should be on the site, you should add it yourself rather than posting a trivial question and expecting others to spend time on it. You think the site would benefit (and you are likely right), you answer the question. What elite? What back button? I have answered many newbie questions and have even walked quite a few of them through their problem in chat. I mean people who did not know the first thing about their OS. How is that elitist? – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 15:34
  • I don't see where you get this elite thing. You have 3.4k reputation and I have 16.5K but we both started with 1 and worked our way up, so the "elite" did not block us. This means we can ask clear questions and give clear answers. Good for us, if that is what you mean by elite, then yes that's what I want. I don't want every 14 year old from Yahoo! Answers to post their drivel here, that's what the rest of the net is for. If the "normal user" can post useful content they they are very welcome here. If they can't but only want to post "yOu have virus!??!?" I'd rather they stay away. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 15:44
  • I am not actually for creation of false questions with answers. I am suggesting that in each thousands of users that come hundreds of then would have stayed to answer the lesser questions. The elite teachers and masters of answers, breed smart people who will rise in reputation and take on lesser duties of the elite, leaving the elite to move up further and deal with more importatant aspects of the site. Instead the normal user has no reason to be here. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 15:45
  • There are other reasons to have a larger user base. When a person is "just starting" to learn a specific computer related action, that information is fresh on thier mind. They have answers to specific problems , because they are experiencing and dealing with them At that moment. A long term expert in the same field of learning might have moved on and beyond that specific problem, no longer with the simple answer to the simple problem. The larger the user base, regaurdless of the grand gurus, the more questions get answered. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 15:52
  • ""that's what the rest of the net is for"" what purpose would the Stack Exchange sites have for wanting to have less users here? What gain could be had if The answers existed WITHOUT the drivel? It cannot become yahoo and MS answers, by design. But it could have the yahoo and ms NonAnswers Here correctally and answered instead of the drivel and useless junk like they are at the drivel locations. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 15:57
  • Of course! No one said the contrary, any user who can answer (clearly) should, irrespective of their level of knowledge. Hell, I've answered loads of questions on subjects I was not an expert on. I am not really an expert in anything relating to computing, I'm a biologist for F's sake! All I am saying is that posting simplistic questions just to import information into the site is not a good idea. Posting them and answering them clearly yourself is great, please do it. We want a large user base but we also want a site with high quality content. Of the two, the latter is more important. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 15:57
  • Seriously though, would you like the first page to be filled with questions like "How can I get bold text in word" or "How can I put my computer to sleep"? Yes these are valid questions for inexperienced users but no, I'd rather not have to wade through a load of those when I am trying to solve a specific problem with suspend. That's why we explicitly state that research is expected of users before they post. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 16:00
  • What is this "first page" that would so greatly affect things? I just explained that you could have thousands of Active users (instead of hit and runs) , a front page would be a joke. Are you saying that the site has no capability to expand? that it is locked down because To Many items would be a hinderance to operation? Then there should be One more site down from "SuperUser" That handles "NormalUsers" I will go there and be happy. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 16:11
  • Man, relax, that is not what I am saying at all. I am saying that if users have simple questions they should ask them and that is when the information will be "imported" into SU, I see no reason to force the process. New users come because they want to ask questions and that's how it should work. All I am saying is that I don't think it is a good idea for experts like yourself to start asking basic questions unless they are willing to answer them themselves. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 16:15
  • But I am not an expert, I am just another fool user, who would (actually) be better off at Yahoo, But yahoo is drivel :-), because there is no editing, there is no correction, there is no life to the answers, they come they are wrong, they die :-) MSanswers are proliferated by scripted trash nobody in thier right mind would follow the whole scripts for a simple problem. There is a need For good answer to the more simple problems, on a site such as SE type sites. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 16:22
  • Dude, you have answered a total of 300 questions, you can't tell me you are a novice :) ! Of course there is a need for (good) answers to simple questions. That's what I've been saying, ask one and answer it. All I am saying is that you should only post questions if a) you have an honest query or b) you want to answer it yourself. Otherwise just wait for the user who will actually have that question and let the community answer it. Don't create questions for no reason that's all. – terdon Sep 2 '13 at 16:32
  • I have a very specific concentration on a very small area of expertise. The idea behind having hundreds of "more active users" is each person has different areas where they are expert on, some problem they can relate to, that Closers cannnot relate anything about, or they would not have voted to close it. – Psycogeek Sep 2 '13 at 16:40
  • @Psycogeek - Can you please format this answer? I cannot follow anything after the first part. Pretty much everything you said was your opinion cannot be comprehended.... – Ramhound Sep 3 '13 at 17:18
3

Questions should be downvoted and closed if they lack demonstration of prior effort in solving the problem. If the asker has not shown that they have attempted to solve the problem on their own, we are right to downvote and close. With many 'trivial' or 'stupid' things, it would be virtually impossible to show that they did this and not have come up with the answer.

So there are trivial things that are downvoted, but not because they're trivial: they're downvoted because the person didn't try. At all. If the user can demonstrate that they have tried, the question is usually valid.

People don't come to Stack Exchange just for answers: they come for expert answers. And one of the hallmarks of an expert is that they can explain their craft to those not in their craft, so we don't mind questions that are trivial to the experts. But we do not support wasting the time of experts on those who have so little drive to get the problem solved that they didn't make an attempt to solve it.

1

I'd be more inclined to downvote someone who is obviously knowledgeable about a topic but hasn't been bothered to word their question carefully or check for duplicate answers than to downvote someone who is clearly not very knowledgeable about the topic and just wants some help on what, to others, seems like a very basic problem.

It also depends to some extent on how familiar the person is with the Stack Exchange rules. You have to give some slack to newbies.

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