From https://unix.stackexchange.com/tour

Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do.

I see questions (from tags I follow, primarily text processing based) asked without showing any code whatsoever from OP.

In past I've answered such questions myself, but recently I am trying to avoid answering and sometimes add a comment asking OP to add what they've tried. I've seen others asking OP to show code as well on some questions.

I am not adding question links here. If needed I can spend some time and add some.

I want to know what is preferred guideline for such questions. Is it okay to answer them? Vote to close such questions? and so on...


4 Answers 4


Indeed, https://unix.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask also says:

Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

If you think the question is answerable, then by all means, go ahead and answer it. I think there's a range of effort that's put into questions:

  1. "Here's my homework"
  2. "I have a problem"
  3. "Here's my homework, and here's what I tried"
  4. "I have a problem, and here's what I tried"
  5. I have a problem (homework or not) and here's all the things I've tried.

There's a gray area in there where it's hard to tell if the person is being lazy, or is simply ignorant (of Unix and/or the U&L site).

Common reactions to the lower-effort questions are "we are not a scripting service", yet there's a (reputation?) appeal to writing Answers, so it can be confusing to see downvotes & closures to some questions, yet answers to other, similar questions.

In the end, I think if you can answer the question, and feel like doing so, go ahead. If the question is unclear, that's a different story.

  • it can be confusing to see downvotes & closures to some questions, yet answers to other, similar questions yeah, that's a big concern and dilemma I have, you have put together thoughts very clearly in this answer than I could in question... will wait for more opinions...
    – Sundeep
    Jul 13, 2017 at 11:54
  • 2
    The keyword from your cite is "obvious answers", I think. Questions of type what does option -x do? show that the asker hasn't learned to help himself so he'll get a comment on how to read a man page from me. If I see a complex text processing task you can't solve with only basic knowledge, I'll answer it even if there are no signs of own effort (as it wouldn't have helped anyhow) and given an explanation to help them learn how to deal with problems like that. Unfortunally, obvious answers to trivial questions are low-hanging fruits for those hunting for reputation.
    – Philippos
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:10
  • @Philippos thanks for that... seems like you could make the comment as an answer instead
    – Sundeep
    Jul 16, 2017 at 4:23
  • 2
    For what it's worth, I'm now more likely to say "What have you tried?" or "We're not a script-writing service" simply because I've got a "high enough" reputation score and I'm not particularly chasing any more. Jul 17, 2017 at 10:04

Answering such questions isn't a problem, it's in no way prohibited. General consensus on StackExchange sites like this is that you have to show at least some effort before asking a question. But a completely new user may not have any clue whatsoever for what to google, what terms to search for, or not even be aware of existence of the common *nix tools that we use on daily basis. In such case, writing an answer will benefit everybody trying to learn, not just this one user.

To some extend there is a bit of a bias towards new users with low rep amount, I believe. Generally, a user with some stable amount of reputation can be trusted that they've pulled enough hair out of their head while trying to solve the problem and came here to ask.

In the end, writing good answers that add value is always good. If it's a duplicate ( which likely it is, since a lot of such questions are about basic stuff) you can always vote to close. If without examples from OP there's no clarity as to what they actually want, vote to close as unclear. If none of those categories fit, you're always free to consider answering.

Of course, the slightly different case is students and homework. On one hand, you can take a hard stance and deny answering. After all, students should be doing their own homework, but at the same time you don't have to give an answer that does everything for the user. Once of the things I do is provide suggestions/hints that may lead the user in the right direction, just like how a tutor or teacher would.

I want to know what is preferred guideline for such questions. Is it okay to answer them? Vote to close such questions?

I think I've answered that already. If it fits into closable categories, sure - vote to close. Providing answers that are useful, is always ok. Waiting for OP to edit their post is always good - that's what that edit button is for. And in general, there is no "one-size-fits-all" rule. Look at the specific case and decide whether or not it would be more valuable/useful to answer, or let the person ponder it on their own ( or try to ask elsewhere). It's all about communication with OP.

  • thanks for the answer... Look at the specific case and decide is what seems to be consensus... I am getting closer to finding a sweet spot for myself in this regard
    – Sundeep
    Jul 16, 2017 at 4:21
  • 1
    @Sundeep Yep, exactly. Each user has their own "sweet spot" as you said. I myself have come to focus less on reputation, and more on contributing value to users. Having attained almost 50k on Ask Ubuntu and participating on different sites, I've learned that it's more important to see what would be The Right Thing to Do in each case, rather than chase reputation no matter what. Jul 16, 2017 at 4:25
  • "Answering such questions isn't a problem...in no way prohibited...you have to show at least some effort before asking a question". You should have to show some effort but you don't, because people DO answer them, because there's no punishment (the opposite: you earn rep). So it'll happen forever, lowering the quality of question and annoying long time/high rep users. The solution is to punish (not award rep) people who answer "no effort shown" questions. But this has been discussed before and it went nowhere, perhaps because new, low quality users are more desirable than long-time ones.
    – user13757
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:21
  • @DrEval quality of questions/answers doesn't raise if you punish users. Besides, why would one punish a user that provides clear, proper answer ? voting system is based on usefulness and correctness of an answer, and in no way should be correlated to the quality of question asked. Punishing answers based on question doesn't follow logically Jul 17, 2017 at 10:33
  • @SergiyKolodyazhnyy Punishing (and i'm really talking about awarding no rep in the first instance, or perhaps -2 or something small per answer) would have the effect of discouraging people from answering obviously low quality questions that you don't want on the site. Stopping these questions in the first place is less easy than getting existing users (who know the culture better) to behave differently.
    – user13757
    Jul 17, 2017 at 10:42
  • @DrEval your assumption is that low quality answers are constantly low quality. Everything can be salvaged via editing.That's why communication with OP of such question is important. And nope, your idea about "discouraging" answers makes no sense, because voting system is about usefulness of an answer, not on what they answer. That is contrary to SE philosophy in general. There is no limit to what can or can't be answered, not on here or any StackExchange site, unless the question is closed. Jul 17, 2017 at 10:47
  • 1
    @"And nope, your idea about "discouraging" answers makes no sense, because voting system is about usefulness of an answer, not on what they answer." Well obviously i'm proposing a change so that the "voting system" takes into account pointless "do my homework" (and the like) questions that should be closed and not answered. Everyone's different but I'm not really a "please sew a shirt onto this button I just found" kinda guy.
    – user13757
    Jul 17, 2017 at 13:59

If you feel the question lacks research effort, downvote. That's what the hint says:

The question does not show any research effort, it is not clear or not useful

  • good point... it says so when hovering over the downvote button... the confusion for me rises because so many questions are upvoted and answered without any research effort shown... trend in such questions is if it interesting problem, basic to intermediate level, good formatting, etc... however when problem seems bit involved to solve, it gets downvotes and comments saying to the effect that this is not free coding service...
    – Sundeep
    Jul 27, 2017 at 8:01
  • That's because if you have answered a question, you're inclined to upvote it regardless of the quality in the hope that the question ends up in the HNQ and you'll get hundreds of rep instead of just 25 you usually get for a regular question. Jul 27, 2017 at 9:05
  • 1
    well I was certainly guilty of doing so (though I don't get what HNQ is) earlier... but seeing too many questions which are essentially solve my issue for free I thought I would get opinions of others and got it..
    – Sundeep
    Jul 27, 2017 at 10:43

For a question where the answer is going to be a single one liner, it's hard to really give any good examples of what you have tried as everything will just be one line of bash that does not work.

I'm not sure how useful that would be to anyone except maybe to demonstrate that you have put some effort into figuring it out on your own.

  • 1
    well I asked this long before your question... answer being one-liner has nothing to do with OP's effort... say the answer involves using sed or awk... there are plenty of tutorials out there.. I expect OP to have learned the basics at least, tried something before asking... just be one line of bash that does not work that still shows OP's effort and gives a chance for others to point out why it did not work and becomes good learning process for all
    – Sundeep
    Jul 26, 2017 at 14:23

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