Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you will feed him and his family for a lifetime.

When I first started using Ask Ubuntu, I was all over the easy questions, doing research for people, repwhoring like most new users do I imagine.

Now I've been using it for a while, I see the same old questions pop up repeatedly [and rightfully getting closed], and many of the questions asked are very easily answered with a Google or Ubuntu wiki search.

I think this suggestion/musing this might fly in the face of the purpose of this site, since a "hint" answer pointing someone in the right direction encouraging someone to go find the answer will be downvoted because it's not the answer in a neatly packaged form for them to c&p into their computer.

To make this into an on-topic question: is there not any way we can encourage the question askers to engage in a bit of DYOR? Or is this concept, and this site, mutually incompatible?


4 Answers 4


This answer will be a little short because I've gotta leave soon, but the short answer is


Why? Because users have been stuck with sucky search for years and years. Heck, search still sucks!

Next time before you say it's easily found via a Google search, open up your browser incognito mode and search in Google, Bing and Yahoo! - and if it's on the first page of two of those, then you can say they don't have an excuse.

note that I'm essentially quoting Jorge Castro's blog post.

As for hint answers, meh. You are right, they do fly in the face of the sites purpose - also, keep in mind that unlike Stack Overflow (which is a tech savvy audience to begin with), we're essentially tech support here - and we will have users that don't understand what they're doing, so we need to hold their hand.

I'll flesh this out more later today, but that's my initial stuff. :)

  • 2
    I remember reading something similar somewhere~
    – jokerdino Mod
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 13:51
  • 1
    @jokerdino I didn't have that link handy right then. :p
    – jrg
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 18:05

We can learn a lot, as I keep mentioning, from our friends at Wikipedia here. In particular, I urge you to read the these:

  • Assume good faith

    For instance, and this is just an example, if a new user posts a very short question that lacks the detail we need to answer it, there are more reasons for this than just "they don't care". Maybe they don't want to post a wall of text, and they think their problem is probably easy to solve for an experienced Ubuntu user. If someone doesn't do their research, assume good faith and help them gather the detail we need.

  • Assume no clue

    This site is not a forum, but, I didn't know that when I first got here, and neither do many of our first timers. Instead of getting angry, flagging the post, posting a comment like "see FAQ", explain to them how they can make their particular question fit better.

  • Newbies aren't always clueless

    Some of these "bad" questions would be very good forum topics, some bug report questions would be great bug reports, and so on. If someone is in the wrong place, their bad question might be very valuable anyway.

  • IPs are human too

    It's good to remember, and I've had this experience a few times, that a user named "user8282841", who's posted one question, might be a proper Ubuntu expert with years of experience. And yet again, the key is to explain to them some basic principles of how the site works.

This is the sort of comment I have in mind:

[Welcome to Ask Ubuntu!] I think your question doesn't contain enough detail to solve the problem. Please edit it to include the research you've done so far, and some more information about [...]. This way you should get a better answer more quickly.

If you think the user assumes their problem is simpler than it is, but that they are basically capable of providing all the detail we need, a shorter comment might be enough:

What have you tried so far, and how did it fail?

However, DO NOT alienate the user by telling them what they did wrong without the information they need to improve the question:

  • If you are sure they will solve their own question if they just do a little bit of research, do the same things you'd normally do, but also remind them to post their own answer if they can solve it. This is constructive and friendly, and it helps everyone else in the long run.

  • If the section of the FAQ they need to read fits into a comment, post it (and paraphrase!) instead of linking to the FAQ.

In essence, I'm saying two things:

  • Talk to people
  • Being polite is not enough, you also need to be helpful
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    While this doesn't exactly answer the question it is still an awesome answer! +1 Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 12:48

Search in X, Y or Z search engines is never the answer and should not in a good spirit be recommended.

If you know what a question is a duplicate or you have slight suspicions of that drop a comment, flag it or when you have rep enough vote to close it based on that fact. You should not even drop comments saying: "have you even bothered to look?" in my opinion. Help the user out not matter if its that simple to point out the solution.

Also the danger of keep pushing people to search engine is that it will be followed by search engine answers, 1 liners "I found this in search page X". That is just wrong. We are trying to improve the support and life of Ubuntu users, just pointing information out makes an answer hard to check, makes it hard to verify it's content and makes its hard to verify it as valid answer.

Make sure that the information is here on the site, its the only way it can be reviewed and corrected without having to go to outside sources. If present, point the user towards it and if un sure ask if the information in the other post is helpful. When sure point out its a duplicate within the site and raise a flag against it.


I agree with the previous answers, and want to also add that while plenty of ubuntu/linux information is accessible through search engines, a of lot advice is

  1. out of date and not updated;
  2. incorrect or incomplete;
  3. bad or dangerous (e.g., insecure).

Sifting through these is tough for an experienced user, never mind as a newbie who wants a quick fix.

"RTFM" and its cousin "LMGTFY" shouldn't be answers we encourage; however, I do often wonder why new posters frequently ask duplicate questions. Are the "related questions" that come up just not well-matched or are users disregarding them?

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    Its probably fair to post hints as comments provided they are good hints and any links provided are to currently relevant information. I often do that when I'm in a hurry. Later I go back to these comments and if nobody else has fleshed the comment out to a proper answer I do it myself. Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 13:05

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