Shouldn't we reject questions for which the asking people obviously didn't do their homework?

Like this one: What does ^d mean in ls -l | grep ^d?

Not that I'm really annoyed, but I think it would be better for them to use man before asking things like this.

  • There's a difference between homework questions and questions that are easily googled; it sounds like you're talking about the latter, so I renamed the post Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 7:21
  • What's obvious for one is not for another, but yes, it's very close to what I meant. :)
    – alex
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 14:46
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    "Unix is simple. It just takes a genius to understand its simplicity." – Dennis Ritchie. At some level, every single question on the SE sites could have been answered if the poster did more homework (A lot more homework). When you first started asking Regex questions, did you jump immediately to the manpage or did you ask a peer first? Most of us started out with the latter. Commented Oct 15, 2010 at 17:19
  • @Stefan: Great quote. Often I'm embarrassed to ask a question because I know that others will see it as being a pretty simple thing. Other times I'll see another user post up something that I understand and it's simple (for me). It's a pleasure to answer those questions. I guess I'm agreeing with @alex above. There are 2 types of questions that perhaps should be 'rejected': a) those that are blatant point farming exercises; and b) those where the poster took about 5 seconds to bash something out with no regard to how hard it will be for other users to read.
    – boehj
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 3:18

4 Answers 4


The theory on SO that I think should probably apply here is to be the top result in Google someday. That means:

  1. All questions are welcome, even if they're easily googled, since future searchers will find us instead of whatever's on Google now, and hopefully our answer is more helpful

  2. You shouldn't post answers like "you should google it", since that does nothing to further #1, and will frustrate people if that post does become the top Google result

  • 1
    OK, I agree for the most part. What if come asking like "What ls command does?", would it be rejected? I didn't find any moderation policies on meta, but probably I didn't search hard enough...
    – alex
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 14:49
  • 1
    @alex Not at all; in general the level of knowledge needed to answer a question doesn't matter (we even took "for advanced users" out of our description) Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 15:13
  • Unfortunately, for this particular (grep ^d) question your answer is probably not correct ... since, you know, Google can't search by punctuation ...
    – SamB
    Commented Dec 20, 2010 at 0:26
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    And, lo, top result in Google for both grep ^d and "grep ^d" is now the question linked above.
    – peth
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 11:09
  • The question is about man pages, but this answer is about Google.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 14:10

A good number of fairly popular questions were solved by someone who had simply read the man page of the program in question and made it easier to understand. For this particular example, it may be the case that the person didn't read at all, but I think even advanced users can sometimes miss or mis-read parts of manual pages. For instance, the screen man page is 2400+ lines long--I'm still not clear on the difference between -D -RR and -D -R.

At the end of the day, if an answer can't be found online, then the only people answering the question would be those who somehow had the obscure printed manual related to the question. Thus, for the large majority of the questions asked, it will likely be the case that the asker could have found the information with a well-formed google serach. However, knowing how to formulate that search is the hard part. For the example you mentioned, for the user to figure out what the carat meant, he would have to know that he was asking about regular expressions. Say that he knew how to get help on grep by running man grep. If he has the same man page I do, "regular expression" isn't mentioned in the "Description" section. In fact, the meaning of caret in the context of his question isn't found until line 328 of the manual page. (Then again he could have searched "grep pattern", based on the first 20 or so lines of the man page.)

Further, part of me feels that the RTFM spirit of many of the people who would identify with a "Unix and Linux" stack exchange is the main reason our question volume is so low. When I run into a problem I'm far more likely to read manual pages and search the web until I find the answer rather than ask here.

My personal opinion is that when you see questions like the example you mentioned:

  • Don't upvote them.
  • Perhaps add a pointer to this awesome question
  • If it makes sense to (in your particular example, I don't think this applies), answer a more general version of the question and perhaps even edit the original question.

The only downside I see to questions like these, is they don't seem to reflect "the community of experts" spirit that seems to be the goal of stack exchange. Then again, I'm not a expert.


It would be nice if they had tried to figure it out, but who is to say that they didn't? I know its unreasonable to expect anyone new to Linux to know what man is ;).

Also, I feel that we should be open to basic questions as well as advanced ones. If they ask, we will answer :P

  • Then it would be nice to educate them about that when we have the possibility. If we don't we're going to get gazillion more questions asking about what other special symbols mean in the grep pattern argument. We could prevent the question from appearing on first page by asking the poster to check the manual first, and come back if he couldn't find the answer (and to edit his post like this: "I've read the manual, but still couldn't find it.")
    – alex
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 14:37
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    no way... I really don't think a 'please read the manual before asking any questions' will fit into the SE 'way'. The closest I think we should come telling them to read the man is to include a "you can check out the manual like this:" in our answers..
    – Stefan
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 18:49
  • @alex: yeah, it's a much better idea to give real answers that refer to specific portions of the manpage in question than to say "RTFM" whenever the OP doesn't claim to have tried that already ...
    – SamB
    Commented Dec 20, 2010 at 0:31

LOL. To me this is an obvious question (no offense :-) ). Of course we shouldn't reject question that we deem 'obvious'. I've been stymied, as well as ridiculed, so many times for asking 'obvious' questions in so many forums that I've lost count. Sometimes it turns out the questions are simple, sometimes not. Since I typically learn things on my own, not in classes, I have no idea what's in Blah 101 and what everyone knows but me. One of the things that annoys me no end in dedicated fora is the almost ubiquitous requirement that "Before you ask a question on this forum make sure that you read our 25 page FAQ, the man pages relating to your question, the 'help' pages at our website, all of O'Reilly's books on this subject, and every book in the 'Computer Section' of the Library of Congress in Washington DC and the Royal Library in London. Twice." This has always seemed like arrogant spitwash to me. Why should finding the answer to a simple question take days, or even weeks, of effort? Any site that wants to be a resource on a topic must have questions on all levels. It takes up no extra space or time to have them, and the only reason not to have them seems to be that they seem to annoy the priesthood. Blunk!

  • 1
    Ironically, SO's position has started to shift on this a bit. The reason not to have absurdly obvious questions is they do take up time and space -- the time of the people reading questions trying to help, and space on the front page that could go to other questions. We very rarely have a question here that's so basic I wouldn't want it, but I can definitely imagine questions like that Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 22:22

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