My comment on this question:

idownvotedbecau.se/noresearch, idownvotedbecau.se/noattempt - Have you consulted the tar man page?


Given that the answer is not in the tar man page, why is it relevant whether <asker> consulted it? Please don't import the “RTFM” or the “if you don't know the answer, you haven't done enough research” culture that you may have found on other sites.

My reply:

"Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question?" Given the facts that, as stated in both answers, the man page provides hints about appending to compressed archives, and tar would throw an error if you try, I regard both "no research" and "no attempt" as valid. The basic problem could've been solved by somebody clever enough to use a command line in general with a bit of autonomous trial&error, which I encourage the asker to apply next time. Merely <answerer>'s insightful hint provides something worthwhile here.

Another reaction:

this site exists to help people, not to abuse them for failing to know stuff. not everyone is instantly capable of magically extrapolating every possible use-case from a cryptic hint in a man page.

My conclusions:

Teaching how to fish is usually considered a kind of help.

I could have downvoted the question and just left, or simply ignored it in the first place. Instead I provided hints about what I think was lacking, without any prospect of gaining reputation out of it. As a result I'm bashed as if being destructive in some way.

I think there's really something wrong with the reactions, accusing me of things I didn't say or hint. Especially I consider the second reaction being abusive on its own, trying to impose its point of view on me with a sledge hammer. And I suspect these are just symptoms of something bigger going on around here.

Is pointing out the shortcomings of a mediocre question seriously considered abusive here?

  • 5
    +1 for actually taking this to Meta.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 17:39
  • 6
    I'm generally pretty hard on help vampires, but even I wouldn't drop links to that site in a comment...
    – jasonwryan
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 20:54
  • 1
    Decades ago I taught myself everything mainly using man pages, simply because I had no one to ask, the web wasn't really useful back then and I didn't yet discover the usenet. Thus, nowadays, when I see some hungry people at the lake waiting for a fish to jump into their open mouth, I'm tempted to answer: You better go through the same fishing school like I did. But I don't do it, because I know, fishing has changed so much since then, the fish have changed, the lake has changed. Yes, teach them how to fish, but don't just blame them for not even having a stick or a hook!
    – Philippos
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:23
  • the tar manpage is, for gnu, some hundred or more pages, for posix, an entire file-system format specification.
    – mikeserv
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 21:39

4 Answers 4


The problem is that simply dropping a link to idownvotedbecau.se comes across as pretentious and condescending. Compare your comment:

idownvotedbecau.se/noresearch, idownvotedbecau.se/noattempt - Have you consulted the tar man page?

To a more constructive version of the same thing:

I think what you want to do is adequately explained in the manual of tar (see man tar). We expect users to research their questions before asking here. Please see idownvotedbecau.se/noresearch and idownvotedbecau.se/noattempt for help on asking good questions.

The first is not teaching someone to fish. It feels more like attacking someone for not knowing how to fish. The second is a better attempt at teaching. Tone is very important, especially in text-based communication where, since there are no physical cues, it is easy to read something as more aggressive than intended.

That said, berating someone because they don't know something that's mentioned in the man page of tar is absurd. Tar is notorious for being hard to use:

tar xkcd comic

(from an xkcd:tar comic)

Its manual is a whopping 1163 lines on my Arch:

$ man tar | wc
   1163    5160   45964

And man pages in general are not easy to understand. They are completely opaque to newbies and even experienced users can have trouble with them. Now, if the question were something as simple as "how can I create a tar archive", then I could understand downvoting (although not leaving those pretentious comments with nothing but a link to idonvotedbecau.se). But this was a considerably more complex proposition and finding the answer in the >1k line manual isn't trivial. Especially since the actual answer is that tar cannot do it and you need to decompress first and then recompress.

So, in summary, your comment comes across as rude and condescending. You berate the user for not taking the time to search and yet you didn't even take the time to write anything more than a link and a "did you check the man page". I get that you were trying to help, but it certainly didn't feel like it. Remember that new users don't know the rules so first you explain the rules and then you can escalate.

More importantly, you seemed to be treating it as a very simple issue when it was not. So yeah, if you want to use the idownvotededbecau.se links, take care to express yourself clearly and not just dump that link. Looking at your comments page, I see loads and loads of comments consisting of nothing but a link to those idownvotedbecau.se sites! No explanation, no nothing!

All that said, no of course teaching people to fish isn't abusive. There's just a difference between teaching people to fish and pushing them into the lake for daring to ask about fishing.


Teaching how to fish is not considered abusive. Slapping people with a fish is.

You did not teach the asker how to fish. Your comment consisted solely of:

  1. The slap: a pair of links to generic advice which you were too lazy to even put in a proper sentence, let alone customize to the situation at hand. This is quite rude: you're going out of your way to leave a comment (if you wanted to expend a minimum of energy, you could have stuck to voting), but not so much out of your way to address the particular situation.

    To add injury to insult, only one of the links is applicable, but it's dubious whether it's relevant. You cannot tell that the asker has done no research: they may well have done research and found nothing (and in this case, finding nothing is the plausible outcome of doing a reasonable amount of research). There is indeed no attempt, but an attempt is not required, does not necessarily make the question easier to answer, and usually leads to less useful answers because the answers have to cover what's wrong with the attempt which may not be on the path to solving the problem.

  2. A wrong teaching: you asked whether the asker had consulted the man page. Consulting the manual is a good idea, but answers are not always easy to understand, so the fact that the answer is in the manual does not always make the question a bad question. It depends how easy it is to find the answer. But in any case, here, the answer is not in the man page. So if you think you're teaching someone to fish by pointing them to a pond which doesn't host any fish, you're doing it wrong.

I could have downvoted the question and just left, or simply ignored it in the first place. Instead I provided hints about what I think was lacking, without any prospect of gaining reputation out of it. As a result I'm bashed as if being destructive in some way.

Given that you didn't have any constructive advice, you should have ignored the question. Some of your generic advice would have been valuable if it had been applicable. If you don't want to spend the time checking whether your advice is applicable, just move on, or at least clearly indicate what you aren't sure of. If you'd left a comment like

tar has options to deal with compressed archives, have you checked the manual?

then the most likely outcome would have been a couple of upvotes on your comment, and perhaps a reply like “The manual says that these options don't work when updating or concatenating.”.

Is pointing out the shortcomings of a mediocre question seriously considered abusive here?

It certainly isn't. As long as they're real shortcomings.


I personally dislike the comments with links to the "I downvote because" site because they are not helpful.

Just downvote, and if you feel strongly about it or have a particular reason to downvote that you'd like to share, then write it up in such a way that the person who's asking the question will understand why their particular question is lacking and how they may improve upon it. Or even better, suggest what could be improved, possibly through a counter-question.

Just like terdon, I think linking to that site is (or could easily be perceived as) rude and condescending, and also a bit lazy.

I recently had a argument in a comment section (now deleted) with someone linking to the question "How do I use man pages to learn how to use commands?" with no explanation, suggestion or request for clarification. I took it as sarcasm ("patronizing" might have been a better word) while they insisted they were helping and further implied that they were tired of writing the same thing over and over.

If you are tired of helping, then take a step back from the machine and do something else for a while.

If the answer is in a manual, then write the answer, showing how to do whatever the user wants to do, possibly pointing out alternative ways of achieving the same goal while mentioning any pitfalls (if there are any), and then also point out what the manual (at least on your system) says about it.

Regarding the final question: Is pointing out the shortcomings of a mediocre question seriously considered abusive here?

No. Not if it's done in such a way that it actually leads to a better formulation or a generally more clear question. Pointing to a manual will not do this, neither will saying "try harder".

Unix manuals very seldom explain how to do things. They are descriptions of tools, and do not usually contain tutorials about how to use the tools to do particular things under specific circumstances.

In the question, the user wants to do something to "thousands of" compressed tar archives (if that is what a .tbz file is). The tar manual does simply not say anything about how to go about doing this, no matter how many times one reads it.

In answering the question, therefore, one may show how to do the needed operation on one of the files, and then how to generalize this into thousands of files. No manual will contain this information.

  • 1
    I appreciate your unbiased approach. Yet I think you missed, or perhaps avoided, the crucial point; I consider the question still unanswered.
    – Murphy
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 9:41
  • 5
    @Murphy What is the crucial point?
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 9:42

IMO, there are two sides in the equation, both users asking questions and the people answering are not exactly automatons.

A fine line should be drawn between helping people who are making an effort or not, and between low or better quality answers.

Pointing out shortcomings or clues about the answer should not and cannot be considered abusive, unless being unnecessarily rude; at the end of the day we are volunteering time for free, and often some sensitivities about any kind of critiques are quite wrongly displayed.

If the OP just wants to maximize their investment on time vs an answer, and often in many questions, are not even willing to lose time adding more data or clarifying the question when requested, up to a stretch, it is a perversion to be a burden on our side to invest far much more time on a question than the interested party is willing to invest.

Whilst not entirely frequent, we also have people that feel entitled to an answer, and forget we are not getting paid for helping them. The fact I am here helping people does not prevent me from choosing what questions I can consider best for investing my time answering. More serious yet, we often have OPs here telling us to be quiet about comments or otherwise answer. (....)

Also, there are people that do not take well that we ask for a minimum of competence in English, and forget this in an English-speaking forum. I often wonder if they do not take well being asked to write proper English, why they do not visit similar forums in their native tongue.

Furthermore, an even more important aspect — much more important — is the quality of the database of questions and answers we are building. If we are more lenient in what passes as a good question or answer, the quality of the database will suffer.

From the side of someone who is answering questions, all in all, often the collaborative moderation seems a bit slower for abuses of the system/intentional dupes and abusive people coming here demanding their right to answers.

Whilst we seem all too much concerned about being PC, this site is often being clearly abused as a quick substitute for Google, or at any remotely competent question for being known as an hangout for some knowledgeable people.

That said, we have frequently interesting questions here.

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