# On trivial questions from new users

Suppose a new user posts a question. You know that the answer can be easily answered if they just look it up (for the sake of argument, that's the only problem with the question). So you leave a downvote and a comment about how bad their question is and they should look over at Resource X. Awesome, yes, you're defending against bad questions. Except now that user still doesn't know the answer, and they feel bad.

You've already downvoted their question. And there's a pretty fine line between a helpful comment, and a "-1 because" comment.

It's not really hard to work "you can check out this resource for more information on anything else you might ever want to know about this game" into an answer. So I say, why not do that instead of just leaving that resource in a comment and sending the user on their way to find the answer on their own?

tl;dr: If you can easily answer a question, then I say, do it.

• Why do you presuppose the binary is "downvote and leave an insulting comment", vs. "Be Nice and Answer"? I've downvoted many questions that I've turned around and answered. I can be nice and helpful while using my voting tools to clean up the front page and improve the quality of the site at the same time. – LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 25 '14 at 21:28
• (Incidentally, this is also why downvotes really have to be anonymous, and the various proposals to require that a downvote include a comment are dumb. Yes, sometimes, people really don't have anything nice to say. And you know how the old adage goes...) – LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 25 '14 at 21:33
• @LessPop_MoreFizz and I'm not saying that you shouldn't downvote (well... I guess I sort of am, but I'm not. I'm not the best with words) I'm kind of more saying that "-1 because" comments are usually a little off-putting. – Unionhawk Jan 25 '14 at 21:34
• well then maybe experienced folks who know better ought to stop demanding them on behalf of new users when they come across a question with a -1. (Not calling you out for this behavior... But it's fairly common.) – LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 25 '14 at 21:36
• @LessPop_MoreFizz Oh for heaven's sake, this whole "experienced folks who know better" thing is getting old. We all know who you're talking about. (Not that I disagree, but this dancing around gets annoying real quickly.) – user98085 Jan 25 '14 at 21:37
• "-1 because" comments are usually bad because they often just say what's wrong with the post with nothing helpful beyond that. A good, helpful comment should suggest ways to improve in addition to pointing out what's wrong. They shouldn't be started with a "-1 because" phrase, because that makes it immediately sound a bit negative (pardon the pun). It should only point out what's wrong and suggest ways to improve. – 3ventic Jan 25 '14 at 21:46
• @3ventic Definitely, and the "and" part of that statement is crucial. Because if all you're doing is pointing out what's wrong without trying to help them improve, you may as well have started that comment with "-1 because". – Unionhawk Jan 25 '14 at 21:49
• Ok I know I've argued for us to require '-1 because' comments before, but holy cow I dropped it months ago! lol – Ender Jan 27 '14 at 6:08
• @Ender That isn't even what I'm talking about lol. That whole thing is related only tangentially. – Unionhawk Jan 27 '14 at 14:00
• I'm more talking about comments like "This question shows a complete lack of research effort" that I've seen lately. If you're going to say something like that, you should at least attempt to point them in the right direction. – Unionhawk Jan 27 '14 at 14:07
• @LessPop_MoreFizz Perhaps the middle of the road: Require a canned reason to down vote, not a custom one until you get to >10K rep. – David M Jan 27 '14 at 14:25
• @DavidM No, that's not the middle of the road, that's literally the worst of all options combined. – LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 29 '14 at 0:26
• @LessPop_MoreFizz I don't necessarily disagree. I was just offering a potential compromise. But, like many compromises, it's more horrible than the components . . . – David M Jan 29 '14 at 4:17

I said something pretty similar recently. This was one of my "top 3 most frequently seen not-nice comment types"

Typing your question into Google is much, much faster than asking it here on Arqade. Everyone knows where Google is, and Arqade is tiny compared to it. It's safe to assume that they tried something before coming here.

Instead of beating them up for ignorance, try making a suggestion, or better yet, answer the question and clearly cite your sources and show your work. That way, they're fed today and taught to fish in one stroke.

If you don't want to waste your time on trivial questions, then don't! Do something else instead. There are many people who can answer the easier questions if you don't feel like doing it.

The most common offender of the "-1 <insert reason>" comment I see is the "-1 because trivial/low effort/lmgtfy" comment.

What does that comment tell the user?
"You are such an idiot for not knowing how to find this immediately, but I know and I'm not telling you and instead downvoting you and telling you how much you suck!" Good job. Really charming. And you even managed to boil it down to a few words! Masterpiece. You deserve a medal for that one.

Why can anyone make that comment in the first place?
Because they have the knowledge. They know how to search for something successfully. And that's the very knowledge we should be giving to the asker. That's what we're here for, that's how we help.

What should we do, then?
If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. Downvote and walk away. Clearly you have better things to do than make the effort to point out how much of a moron the asker is, since you're not making the effort to help them.
And if you do make the effort to leave a comment, then friggin help them. Show them how to find something more easily. Tell them what keywords to use. And give them the bloody answer, since it's obviously so easy to find.

It feels like some of the comments I've posted on trivial questions is part of the reason you've brought this up, even though I feel I've been fairly polite. I know I'm not the only one you're looking at, mainly because I haven't used terminology like "-1 because", but I do feel it's important to share why I left those comments.

## We are not here to coddle new users

If these questions were asked on some forums, the user would be pointed at, laughed at, and flamed to a crisp. We aren't like that, obviously, which is why some of us will leave a "Good question" or a "Next time, could you please..." comment on a new user's post. However, that doesn't preclude a new user from showing us some respect (yes, I find trivial questions to be insulting). They can do this by following the How To Ask Questions The Smart Way guide. If you haven't read it before, stop now and go read it. I can wait.

Okay, you've finished reading it? Good. There's a few key points relevant to this discussion I want to bring up. Yes, it's primarily focused on hacker culture, but some of the concepts still apply here.

The first thing to understand is that hackers actually like hard problems and good, thought-provoking questions about them. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here. If you give us an interesting question to chew on we'll be grateful to you; good questions are a stimulus and a gift. Good questions help us develop our understanding, and often reveal problems we might not have noticed or thought about otherwise. Among hackers, “Good question!” is a strong and sincere compliment.

Despite this, hackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't really true.

What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions. People like that are time sinks — they take without giving back, and they waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this “losers” (and for historical reasons we sometimes spell it “lusers”).

Now I'm not going to call a new user a loser, but I'm also not going to devote the 10 minutes it'd take to research and write up an answer to their question when it would take them 5 minutes to figure it out on their own, especially if I can't see them answering one of my questions in the future.

Before asking a technical question by e-mail, or in a newsgroup, or on a website chat board, do the following:

1. Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
2. Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
3. Try to find an answer by reading the manual [or the wiki for the game].
5. Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
7. If you're a programmer, try to find an answer by reading the source code.(Typically not applicable to Arqade)

When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers.

This is really the meat and potatoes of this issue for me. To be brutally honest, the user needs to prove to me that they deserve my time to solve their problem. If they aren't willing to try and solve their problem themselves, then they're likely to be a drain on our collective time in the future. Which brings me to my last big point:

## Not telling them they've done something wrong is sending the wrong message

If we don't tell them to do some research before posting, then we can probably expect future questions with a similar lack of research from them. That's how problem behaviour develops. We don't have to be mean, but we do have to make it clear that we don't appreciate people asking trivially easy questions. If they're asking here, it's time for them to take off the training wheels.

Now this all may seem brash and blunt, but I have no problem being brash and blunt on meta. I'm much more interested in preventing myself from being brash and blunt on the main site, and that often entails politely telling a user they've done something wrong the first time it happens, and hoping that they learn from the mistake and never do it again.

• So, how much time do you spend making a comment that is inevitably considered hostile, as opposed to just downvoting and moving on? I mean, if you don't tell them how to fix what they did "wrong", the comment is still utterly useless and just as hostile. – user98085 Jan 26 '14 at 0:23
• @FEichinger: It takes me about a minute to write "Please do some research before posting here. You can find some information on (game wiki)." Am I being hostile? Am I not telling them what they did wrong? – MBraedley Jan 26 '14 at 0:25
• This is one of those users vs. content divides. Which is more important; experts who stick around and answer questions, or new users upon which we depend to ask those questions? – Frank Jan 26 '14 at 2:28
• @Frank: I think both are important. You can't have one without the other. If content starts to suffer, then the experts will start to leave, further degrading the content. This is why sites start in closed beta: to seed the site with good content in order to draw more experts in. – MBraedley Jan 26 '14 at 4:05
• @MBraedley "Please do some research before posting here" does come across as hostile. The thing is, there isn't really a good way to clearly tell the user they need to do more research without it coming across at least a little hostile. – Wipqozn Jan 27 '14 at 13:15
• @Wipqozn then what are we supposed to do? Wait until the user complains that they're getting downvotes without anyone telling them why? That's a recipe for a truly hostile environment. I've seen it before, and even tried to be patient with a user, only to have them chew my head off. Telling them straight up that they've done something wrong in as polite a tone as possible without being condescending or patronizing is the best approach IMHO. – MBraedley Jan 27 '14 at 13:33
• @MBraedley - I don't think your comments raised this question. There were some (now deleted) "-1 because reason" comments. I actually like yours, especially when the link is to the correct page on the wiki - it keeps the discussion on the question content and any issues with it rather than on the mechanics of downvoting. – au revoir Jan 27 '14 at 14:39
• @MBraedley I didn't mean to imply you shouldn't leave any comment, but that your opening sentence is probably going to come across as hostile to quite a few new users. I've expanded more on my thoughts here. – Wipqozn Jan 27 '14 at 14:43
• I'd like to point out that many of the users of this site that you wish to treat as adults are not actually adults. This is a gaming site, after all. – Sterno Feb 19 '14 at 17:24
• @Sterno Fair, but it doesn't mean that we can't also treat questions as a learning experience. We have to expect everyone to be at least 13, so there's no reason not to expect at least a modicum of maturity. We still expect them to learn from their mistakes (that's something of a pre-req for being a good gamer), and as I said in the first section, learning these skills here can help them in other aspects of their life. – MBraedley Feb 19 '14 at 19:17

The way I look at it is that there's no perfect solution to this problem. If we just downvote without educating the user on how to find the answer themselves (or, for that matter, letting them know we expect them to do research before asking) then they may just keep asking "trivial" questions and receiving downvotes. Not only does this result in an increase in "low quality" content, but it'll probably just wind up pissing the user off after they've posted their 5th question which gets a bunch of downvotes without any explanation as to why.

On the other hand, if we leave a comment to explain we expect users to perform research we risk angering them right away and they just leave the site. It's easy to say "Be nice", but let's face, there's no easy and nice way to say "Do research" since your point ultimately comes down to "you're dumb and/or lazy". You can dress it up all you like, but that's still your core point, and I'm sure it's going to piss some people off.

So what if you don't have an answer to the OPs question, but you have a couple suggestions where they might look (or think they should have looked)? In that case just leave a comment with some links and say something like "Have you tried checking out [source x]? It might be able to help you." This is better than just "Look here/google" for a few reasons. For starters, you're asking them a question, so you're not just assuming they haven't bothering doing any research (which "look here" does), so it doesn't come across as "you're lazy and dumb"). Second, you're actually providing a source/suggestion to them, so it sounds like you're trying to help them. Like I said above, if the user thinks you're trying to be helpful, they're more likely to listen to you.

Now let's say you don't have any suggestions to make, no sources to provide, and no answers to give, and you've seen this user make several easily Googlable questions which have been downvoted into oblivion. In this case, I think leaving a comment without a source may be helpful, since I'm sure the user is getting aggravated at this point. However, just be careful how you word it, and make it sound like you're trying to help them. My personal suggestion would be to link them to the help centre, and to phrase your comment something like

I've noticed that quite a few of your questions have negative scores. I think the reason people are downvoting your questions is because they don't feel like you're doing enough research before asking your question. As mentioned in the help centre we prefer users to do research before asking questions here, and to include some information on what research they've done when asking their question. This will prevent people from making suggestions to you that you've already tried and know don't work, so it'll ensure you get an answer to your question quicker.

I'm sure this message will still put off some new users, but if they've been aggravated about all the downvotes they've been getting up until now I'm sure at least a large portion of users will appreciate your advice. In anycase, I'm sure at this point it's worth the risk to just post a comment pointing out what they've done wrong in an attempt to improve the quality of their questions.

• that's...weird. <text> doesn't want to display for me in my answer... [] seems to work though. Weeeeeeeeeird. – Wipqozn Jan 27 '14 at 14:47
• <text> is identified to be an html tag (which it isn't), so you need to escape it – 3ventic Jan 27 '14 at 14:50
• I can get behind this. Next time, I'll try using language that seems less confrontational. – MBraedley Jan 27 '14 at 14:52
• @Wipqozn &lt;text&gt; – user98085 Feb 2 '14 at 13:56

As a relatively new user, I would like to weigh in with something a bit longer than a comment:

I think that some new users will post a relatively trivial question in hopes that they will accrue enough rep to gain access to a few more features. (e.g. losing the new user restriction, comments, etc.) While this is not exactly the most productive way of gaining rep on here, when you're new this place can seem daunting. Many people have reps in the multiple thousands, and you have a starting rep of 1!

Triviality of the question doesn't make it a bad question, per se. It just doesn't make it worth 86 up votes.

That said, I've definitely responded to "lazy" questions before in an "instructive manner". See here for example.

In this case, the poster (who has >2K rep!) admitted to "not wanting to take the time" to google the answer. So, I answered his question (at least partially), and told him that the google search was completed in 0.23 seconds. I wasn't rude about it. I was just pointing out the flaw in his thought process.

In fact, I even up-voted the question, because there was an inherently good question underlying it.

So, while I don't think "Google it!" should ever be the correct answer. I think that you can teach people about the proper way to use a search engine. For instance, if you googled the answer (which I usually do to check myself for accuracy), you can tell them the search terms you inserted to confirm your answer. Perhaps they actually did try to google the problem, but are terrible at googling (I LOVE that google became a verb! We should strive to make Arqade a verb!)

So in summary: Be nice to new users asking simple questions. They're probably trying to get enough rep to use the site more robustly. But, don't tolerate bad questions which are poorly worded, thought out, etc. Edit those or down vote them depending upon the situation or your preference.

I would also add one thing here: Perhaps when a new user receives their first down vote, we can have a banner or notifier pop up explaining what that means. They don't have the right to down vote yet, and hence may not fully understand the meaning. It could say something like:

"Welcome to Arqade. Your question/answer has been down voted by the community. This doesn't mean you've done anything wrong, it just means that the community would like to see more research effort put into your post. Also, remember, each down vote represents only one person's opinion."

• I'm of two minds about this - I like your suggestion on what happens when a user gets their first downvote (at least until some threshold, I suppose), but as someone about at your reputation level, I can at least say that I didn't "ask trivial questions" just to seed my reputation. I'm pretty much adamantly against "rep seeding" in its entirety. Hell, I think my first question wasn't until I had nearly a thousand or so reputation just from answering. – Rilgon Arcsinh Jan 28 '14 at 23:50
• @Rilgon I'm not a proponent of rep seeding, either. And, hence I say that a bad question doesn't warrant 85 up votes. On the other hand, I think the question quality tends (for the most part) to go up with rep as people learn the site. So, I think 1 up vote for a well written question which is otherwise googleable doesn't cheapen our standards too much. Experienced members will know not to up vote more than that. I think it's better than deleting the question, by far. – David M Jan 29 '14 at 0:10
• I think there's a strong urge for new users to do exactly what you say - post simple questions with the hope of boosting their rep. It's tempting, and the rep system encourages it, but it's also not really what any new user should be doing. So while yes, I agree you should let users with simple problems know how to 'use the google', and that they should be informed what downvotes really mean, low rep should not be an excuse for low-quality questions. – Zibbobz Jan 29 '14 at 15:14
• @Zibbobz39 I'm not suggesting to encourage low quality questions. Rather, I believe we need to take a more active stance in helping new users understand that we expect better of them without scaring them away. Everyone was new to the site at some point, and making people feel welcome only improves the site. But, I agree it should not be at the expense of quality. – David M Jan 29 '14 at 15:56