What Stack Overflow is Not

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Borrowing an idea from Jeff Atwood, here is a list of misconceptions about how Stack Overflow should be used that are common enough to warrant rote responses.

This list was originally compiled by Robert Harvey, a Stack Overflow moderator, in an attempt to provide standardized civil responses to common types of bad questions that otherwise attracted rude comments. However, the notion of such pro-forma responses was ultimately judged as too prone to abuse and the list was deleted.

For any Stack Overflow newcomers interested in not running afoul of the site’s sometimes opaque standards, here are the top items from that list (including net votes):

  • (226) Stack Overflow is not a research assistantThe Stack Overflow community is very forthcoming with their help, provided you have done a few things to help yourself. Have you:
    1. Put some effort into researching the problem,
    2. Attempted to write some code yourself
    3. Attempted to debug your code when it has failed, and
    4. Some basic, fundamental knowledge of your tools?

    The SO community will not write a complete solution for you, develop a complete walk through of a problem, or do your background research for you, unless your question is specific and focused on a reasonably small scope.

  • (148) Stack Overflow doesn’t know what you are thinkingAlways provide enough information in your question so that we can answer it.Make sure your examples are relevant to your question and complete. Don’t ask about features in your code which you have not shown in your example.

    Don’t just state “it’s not working” or “I have a problem.” We need to know what exactly is wrong, which means what error message you get, if any, or at least what exactly is happening versus what is expected to happen.

  • (127) Stack Overflow doesn’t provide product or service recommendationsRequests for book recommendations, suggestions for tools, and product comparisons tend to attract poor-quality answers.We cannot reliably tell you what the best book, language, platform, tool or library is. We might be able to tell you which one will meet your specific needs right now – but chances are that won’t help anyone else a year from now.

    Instead, try to ask questions that prompt instructional answers. Seek explanations, not suggestions: be specific about what you need to accomplish, learn, or buy, but ask how to accomplish it, learn it, or select it.

    See Also

  • (118) Stack Overflow won’t do your homework for youDo not simply copy/paste your homework questions, and expect to get an answer.If you get stuck on a problem, show us your work, and explain why you’re having trouble. Community users are expected to help you get unstuck, not solve your problem for you.

    You may use the homework tag on your homework questions, and part of the community may complain if you do not, but it is not mandatory. Concentrate on asking a good question that will help you learn. (Ed. Note that the homework tag is now officially deprecated.)

    See Also
    How to ask and answer homework questions?

  • (110) Stack Overflow is not a social networkPlease avoid lengthy commentary that detracts from the focus of your question. An optimal post contains only a succinct description of your problem and any relevant background information.Example of post containing unnecessary commentary:

    Hello dear people, I started a new project two weeks ago and am really excited. I have two days left to complete the part where I need to input user names and emails and then store them to the database [etc.], but I’m worried because my girlfriend’s birthday is this weekend. Can you help? Thanks in advance, Jimmy.

    Preferred alternative:

    I need to input user names and emails and then store them to a database. Here’s what I’ve done [short description, code samples, etc.], and here’s where I’m stuck [short description, code samples, etc.]

    Tips:

    • Signing your post with a name is not needed. Users can click on or hover over your name to know more about you.
    • Adding @user in your question/answer does not notify the user. When you want to start your post with @user, it should usually be a comment.
    • Please remember that the best way to thank someone who answers your question is to accept their answer.
  • (105) Stack Overflow won’t inspect your entire code basePlease don’t copy-paste a large block of code and expect us to find the error in it. If you are looking for feedback on a specificworking piece of code from your project in the following areas…
    • Best practices and design pattern usage
    • Security issues
    • Performance
    • Correctness in unanticipated cases

    then (and only then!) check out http://codereview.stackexchange.com

    See Also
    Short, Self Contained, Correct (Compilable), Example

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