A question of mine just got VTCed with the explanation including a quote from a famous FAQ by Eric S. Raymond "How to Ask Questions The Smart Way":

from How to Ask Questions The Smart Way: "If you are trying to find out how to do something [...], begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on."

Is that specific quote applicable to SFF and should not adhering to the quote's advice be grounds for labeling the question bad (downvoted or voted to close)?

I'm only asking about the quote, not the FAQ overall.


1 Answer 1


The reason ESR included that tidbit - "begin by describing the goal" - because most newbies asking programming/technical questions frequently suffer from what's known as "X-Y problem" on StackOverflow: you need to do X, you decided to implement it using Y, and when Y doesn't work, you ask "how to fix Y" (instead of asking "what is the correct way to implement X"). I'll provide an SO example below.

I don't see AT ALL how this possibly relates to a non-technical SFF question.

Therefore, I don't think that failure to "describe the goal" - as opposed to the specific question in your mind - should be in any way treated as a negative on SFF.

An example of X-Y problem would be:

  • Q: "Why doesn't my Perl code compile when I try to access a hash whose identifier name is in a variable?".

  • Yes, I can provide a technical reason for "why", but the correct answer is:

    A: "Why are you trying to access a hash by an identifier name? 99.99% of time in Perl, you should instead store several hashes into a hash of hashrefs, with keys being what would have been your identifier names"

  • 1
    To whoever downvoted - would be appreciated if a competing answer was posted explaining why ESR's idea applies to SFF Sep 7, 2012 at 16:25

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