A number of users come to this site in a (misguided) quest for general help. I often see questions by new users along the lines of "My dual-boot system/live USB/whatever isn't booting, help plz" or "Help me construct a shell pipeline to solve my particular problem" or "Help me troubleshoot my networking issues". These questions are almost always closed as "needs clarification" or "off topic", which is correct according to the rules and culture of this site.

Unfortunately for the people who are asking such questions, this isn't particularly helpful. They came here looking for assistance, and got the message "bugger off" instead. Of course, we can point them to the guidelines in the help center on off-topic and on-topic questions, which tell you all about what sort of questions are on- and off-limits here, but (without a trace of irony) don't provide very many suggestions on where to get helpful responses for questions that don't fit U&L SE, aside from the general suggestion of "Look what else is in the SE network!".

Should we be providing suggestions on alternative sites where users might be able to get help for questions that don't fit the format of this site?

Arguments I could see in favor:

  • Could make U&L a warmer & more inviting community, particularly to new users who aren't familiar with the scope of this site
  • Could reduce the number of close votes cast and "low quality" flags raised if such information is available to new users before they post their questions

Arguments I could see against:

  • Don't want to endorse any particular sites outside the SE network.
  • Could potentially drive users away if they get the impression that U&L is a niche site that can't serve their needs.
  • 4
    I don't see how "needs clarification" (or more specifically "Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking [...] please edit the question.") is telling anyone to bugger off. Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 3:21
  • 1
    I believe that message is being sent via downvoting and closing questions, not by that canned comment (which is polite).
    – jayhendren
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 6:54
  • 5
    Ok, let me amend to "I don't see how closing questions with that request for clarification is telling anyone to bugger off". It's explicitly asking them to stay and participate to get the help they wanted. Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 7:11
  • TBH, I don't see why we should care too much about people that ask very the sort of questions which are unlikely to ever help anyone else because of what they are about and on top of that are unclear. Sure, some of them might become productive members of the site, oh well, but I think it's better to care for those who actually attempt to answer questions and maybe just aren't very good at this at first. I remember reading Jeff Atwood's thoughts went into the same direction and you can see that the site is even designed this way (e.g. a cost for down-voting answers but not for questions).
    – phk
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 12:50
  • 1
    Links concerning the last point was I talking about: meta.stackoverflow.com/a/286304 and stackoverflow.blog/2011/06/optimizing-for-pearls-not-sand
    – phk
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 12:58
  • That meta SO Q&A, especially Jeff's and Shog's A'ers are how I view this situation as well.
    – slm Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 17:09
  • I must have worded my question poorly, because the comments seem to be addressing a different question than the one I intended to ask. I don't mean to suggest that we stop asking people to improve their questions to fit this site better. I like the SE format since it leads to high quality questions and answers. I just want to provide additional resources to help people who ask questions on this site that are unlikely to ever be salvaged in such a way that they would be appropriate for U&L.
    – jayhendren
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 21:02
  • It's worth thinking about for the truly off-topic (and maybe "too broad") questions, I just don't see how it can apply to "needs clarification". Clarifying might well put it into one of the other categories, though. That said, the question titles you gave all sound essentially on-topic to me. Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 22:57

2 Answers 2


Short answer: No.

Long version: While not guilty of posting to this site in a (misguided) quest for general help, I have seen said posts as Google results many times. I am new to U&L, and to SE in general, and reading those closed posts as search results was/is frustrating. I also created an image in my mind of the people behind the closing of the questions as "snobs". And, yes, to me it looked like you were saying "bugger off," as jayhendren put it. Granted, the response is polite, proper, and not degrading to the OP; still, since I was looking for answers to my own questions, it just added to the frustration and was received negatively. I didn't even connect the assorted SE sites together after seeing the same/similar response in many places. All I saw was someone asking my question, and being told "not here fella!"

Flip side: Had I made a posting worthy of such a response, I likely wouldn't have come back to see the answer, or the suggested alternative site anyway. I was looking for an answer to a problem in the now, and needed the solution in the now, not a few days, or even hours, later. Having seen those posts before, I was alert to their (common?) usage, and was cautious enough to investigate the rules, and culture, before making my first post. And I seem to have gotten it in the wrong section anyway. :(

I think questions along the lines mentioned by the OP are best handled by internet search, not by any forum, where the question and the answer might be days apart. If, on the other hand, the querent does have the time to invest in the problem, and does edit/clarify the query, then there are likely to be good and useful answers that benefit the querent, and later searchers as well.

As to making U&L a warmer & more inviting community - I don't think a suggested site alternative would make that happen. Maybe useful to the querent, but still would seem condescending rather than inviting.

Just the twopence-worth of an U&L/SE newbie.

Two other thoughts: 1) The OP stated perfectly the question, comments not withstanding. 2) Is there a way to keep those dead questions out of search engine results? (Delete them, maybe?)

  • As closed questions are eligible for reopening, they aren't automatically deleted. They are eligible for deletion after they have remained in the closed state for a sufficient period of time without any changes, but a human must delete the question; it is not done automatically. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1867/…
    – jayhendren
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 17:24

Short answer: Yes
No very long answer here.

My opinion is simply that the question's stated arguments in favor outweigh the arguments against, both in their importance and likelihood of actually happening.

This would be the most helpful and polite solution for the poster's of the misguided questions, with a minimum of negative impact on this site's regular users. Also, The willingness to refer to other site's as one possible solution makes us look particularly helpful in the big picture.

And I do agree with the first of Gypsy Spellweaver's other thoughts: "The OP stated perfectly the question..."

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