# What should we do to avoid programming help questions?

A common mistake new users seem to make is posting questions (like this) asking about general programming help which are better suited in StackOverflow. While these questions are being closed, I don't think we should just let that happen and instead try to stop new users from posting these questions in the first place so that the homepage doesn't get filled with these questions. (Because if it did, new users would see it, and possibly make questions like them, amplifying the whole problem)

One idea I had would be to change the text on the side when asking a question to something making it clear that this site is for programming contests only, and maybe this could be something only for low-rep users.

What are your ideas for this? Should we even bother doing anything at all?

• I have the impression that StackOverflow doesn't receive naive programming questions very kindly. (In general, PPCG is a much nicer crowd, imho.) Maybe a long term solution would be to open a Stack Exchange site for beginners' questions, kind of like ELL.SE compared to ELU.SE. – Adám Oct 23 '18 at 20:20
• Not a full answer, but I've always been partial to the idea of forcing a new user (i.e. one who hasn't posted anything on PPCG) to read (or at least say they've read) What's on topic?. Even if some new users just ignore it, it should lower the rate of off-topic questions. Implementing that, however, would most likely be a change to the SE system, and would be unlikely to happen. – caird coinheringaahing Oct 23 '18 at 20:22
• @cairdcoinheringaahing I think forced reading of that should be mandatory on all SE sites. You already earn a badge for reading the tour page. Why not earn the privilege to post by reading the on-topic page? – Adám Oct 23 '18 at 20:42
• @Adám While you do get a badge for the tour page, if you look at ours, it is remarkably empty on what people can actually ask about here. All it says is "Code golf, Programming puzzles, Other programming contests or challenges", which doesn't put any confusion to rest. – caird coinheringaahing Oct 23 '18 at 20:45
• @Adám if you start an Area 51 site for that, I'd commit to it. The difficulty is you'd need to provide a body of questions to provide evidence of need for the site, which means either finding wannabe coders to ask example questions, or making them up trying to remember how it was to think as a non-coder. I think it's worth trying though. – trichoplax Oct 23 '18 at 20:49
• @trichoplax Couldn't we just port all our closed-as-off-topic questions? – Adám Oct 23 '18 at 20:50
• Ha ha I hope at least some of those would be regarded as off topic on PLL.SE too... – trichoplax Oct 23 '18 at 20:52
• @cairdcoinheringaahing: I'm not opposed to that solution, but I doubt it will improve things much. "Even if some new users just ignore it": I guess these would be exactly the users that don't even bother to check on which stack they're posting ;) – ბიმო Oct 23 '18 at 21:09
• @trichoplax Here you go! – Adám Oct 23 '18 at 21:48
• @Adám I think that a "learning" site necessarily mean duplicates as people ask the same sorts of questions over and over. I don't think that the SE model is really fit for teaching new programmers: tutorials and tutoring is far better than a Q&A format. – Nathan Merrill Oct 23 '18 at 23:43
• @NathanMerrill You're probably right. – Adám Oct 23 '18 at 23:45
• I would just like to add that we aren't hosting programming contests only. It's just that there's few things who fall under our scope that are not contests, but we still have some: codegolf.stackexchange.com/questions/75423/… – Katenkyo Oct 24 '18 at 9:19
• @cairdcoinheringaahing It's already forced. – user202729 Oct 24 '18 at 9:35
• @Adám The problem is, SE is generally the place for experts, not beginners. – Erik the Outgolfer Oct 24 '18 at 14:43
• @user202729 that doesn't state that all questions must be challenge posts, just asks if they are posting a challenge. Since they're not, they can ignore that... – trichoplax Oct 26 '18 at 21:23

## 3 Answers

Although we may occasionally get an off topic question from a new user who is genuinely confused by the title or layout of our site, the majority of off topic questions I see appear to be posted without much thought about which site they are being posted on. Even Stack Exchange sites that clearly have nothing to do with programming get those.

I don't see this as a problem that we need to address. They are being closed promptly by the community, and I don't see any evidence of the number of off topic posts increasing.

There are lots of other things that I'd like to see changed to distinguish this site, but those are more about making the site accessible to new recreational programmers, rather than making it clear to people who aren't looking for this site.

• Additionally, this isn't a problem specific to our community. Sites all over the network get plenty of off-topic programming questions (Meta.SE gets them a lot). – Mego Oct 23 '18 at 22:10
• But not so quickly deleted (unfortunately). – user202729 Oct 24 '18 at 9:40
• @user202729 I don't see closed undeleted questions as a problem - they only show new users what we don't want. If they just look at the titles and don't see the on hold message, then they'll be confronted with lots of meaningless (to them) titles even among the on topic questions, so I don't think we can help those cases. – trichoplax Oct 24 '18 at 12:21
• @tri That assumes those "new users" know what "on hold" means... – user202729 Oct 27 '18 at 1:59
• Good point. But my view is that even if they do know what on hold means, the non-closed front page questions still aren't going to give them much guidance on what is on topic – trichoplax Oct 27 '18 at 19:36
• The non-closed questions? – trichoplax Nov 2 '18 at 19:13

Quoting my answer from https://codegolf.meta.stackexchange.com/a/16394/3852:

# Customize the How To Ask box further

We're still getting a bunch of homework questions and interview riddles. I think the phrasing on the How To Ask box could be tweaked to make it abundantly clear that this is not a Q&A site:

I suggest we:

1. Remove the bolded question at the top. I think a large number of users submitting “bad” asks read this question and think “oh, this is/could be conceived as a puzzle, so it's welcome here.” I don't think the phrasing “programming puzzle”, which is generally agreed to be a little misleading, should be in this box at all.

2. Replace it with something like We’re not a homework help site. in bold and maybe $$\\color{red}{\textsf{red}}\$$, so it will catch the eye of anyone submitting their first question.

• +1, also maybe make the "code golf" in the first sentence a link to this page – DJMcMayhem Oct 24 '18 at 18:19
• I like both suggestions, but I'm wary of the word "traditional". It could be read as meaning "We're not a traditional homework help site - we're a modern, different, homework help site". It might work better to keep it short, maybe just "We're not a homework help site" – trichoplax Oct 26 '18 at 21:37
• @trichoplax Sounds good to me. – Lynn Oct 26 '18 at 23:40

The advice page, when it is enabled (available by request) is shown to all new users when they go to ask a question, before they get to the ask question page. It forces them to check a checkbox before proceeding (which you can see here by browsing incognito).

It's important to try to get people aware before they've already spent time writing things.

This page, if it was editable, would be the perfect place to tell people we don't take general programming questions. It wouldn't stop the people that don't read anything, but it would probably be helpful for people who miss the other hints for reasons like banner blindness (e.g. the How to Ask sidebar for most other sites only has generic info, so people learn to ignore it).

It would also be a good place to briefly outline helpful things for those who are actually trying to post challenges. That way, the page would even be helpful for people who are actually on the right site too.

I already posted this idea on the main meta (because I think it would be useful for plenty of other sites), so consider also supporting or discussing it there.