Is it just me or are we seeing an increase in questions from very low rep users (<10) asking questions that can usually be answered by looking in the help pages. Most of these questions are left unanswered or the answers that are given are ignored by the questioner.

Is there anything we can do to fix this or prevent it?

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    As a comment to your first paragraph...yes...and there is often double-posting on this and the esri forum. With regard to the second...probably not, most questions go without a response from the initiator on the esri forum as well. I have also found referring individuals to the help files on the esri forum does little to decrease their posting of future questions either.
    – user681
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 19:07
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    Can you provide links to some examples? Commented Feb 13, 2011 at 18:49
  • just at random any from gis.stackexchange.com/users/1899/user1899 or gis.stackexchange.com/questions/6121/…
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 15:30
  • @iant I removed the esri-specific nature of the question so this thread can be linked to as the reason when closing/commenting on these problem questions (the faq is too big and general IMO). If you feel this is really is an esri-specific issue more than a general newbie issue, please feel free to revert. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 22:02
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    My feeling is that this is an ESRI thing but I may be biased. Looking through the unanswered list seems to be mostly ESRI questions (and many of them are clueless).
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 22:05
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    "Most of these questions are left unanswered or the answers that are given are ignored by the questioner." I looked at a full page of unanswered questions and could not find a single one that could fairly be characterized as "clueless." Most of them are about specific (and seemingly obscure) details of various GIS programming platforms.
    – whuber
    Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 4:10
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    What can we do to fix or prevent this? Well, If the questions left unanswered and are so easily found in general reference then answer them. And the questions that are answered are ignored by low rep users because they are as their rep implies, beginners to the stack-exchange process. Clueless is a relative term. I believe this question to be so, but i'm here to help, even the most clueless. There are many users who are beginners to GIS and wouldn't know where to find the appropriate help materials. That is why they are here.
    – CaptDragon
    Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 20:27
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    I think it has started to spread to FOSS too and I sometimes find the same exact question (I mean same wording) on the mailing list after a couple of hours. <joke>What about RTFM/STFW for a close reason?</joke>
    – unicoletti
    Commented Feb 18, 2012 at 17:45

4 Answers 4


We are considering a new close reason of "general reference" as documented here:


general reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

For now, I recommend a diamond mod editing your FAQ to indicate that these sorts of questions are off-topic for your site and closing them as Not a Real Question.

If it becomes an epidemic then something else will have to be done, but getting your FAQ correct is quite critical.

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    +1 for "general reference" closing reason
    – underdark
    Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 19:45
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    Isn't RTFM a more appropriate expression? urbandictionary.com/define.php?page=2&term=RTFM Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 21:22
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    @Kirk Kuykendall yes, but it's also harsh. Sometimes part of the problem is knowing which part of the manual to read.
    – djq
    Commented Feb 13, 2011 at 16:44
  • Yeah, I guess it just bothers me how this (stereo)type of user makes other Esri users look bad too. (Guilt by association) Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 18:20
  • @jeff I can't figure out how to edit the FAQ. All I can do is change the intro paragraph at the top. On metaSO there is a similar Q but no answer other than "it's implemented". Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 7:49
  • @matt correct, edit the top part -- the top is the most important part. The rest cannot be changed. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 15:36
  • @jeff, this belongs in the "kinds of questions not to ask" section. I'm reluctant to create a duplicate section with different content. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 21:09
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    @matt please see superuser.com/faq and cooking.stackexchange.com/faq and gamedev.stackexchange.com/faq and serverfault.com/faq Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 21:53

In the GIS world Esri has the largest user base by far across all categories, including clueless and cluefull, lazy and industrious. Consequently as GIS.SE grows and attracts new users we'll see more "bad" questions, and the larger proportion of them will be about Esri products. In all human endeavour the ignorant outnumber the wise, this isn't a product-specific problem.

I think we just need to be vigilant and defend our turf, firmly but gently. I'll follow Jeff's suggestion about adding an item to the FAQ about general reference / trivially answered questions. Then people can vote to close questions and leave a comment pointing to the FAQ item as to why.


I happen to believe that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Even if it is a stupid question, we can provide a great answer, which should drive traffic to our site.

But those who think otherwise might be helped by this article.


I've noticed the same trend in my short time on GIS Stack Exchange. Finding some of the information in the documentation of some commercial and open source products can be extremely difficult or require a specialized skill set. So in some sense, asking questions that are difficult to find in the documentation may be reasonable.

To be fair, it's not just Esri users, but they seem to be the most common at the moment.

If we introduce any kind of "general reference" reason for closing, it would be more useful to require those voting to closing it to provide a link to the general reference (and a Google search link may not be sufficient since the results will change over time). If a link to the doc can't easily be found, maybe it shouldn't be closed.

Where the answer is basically "RTFM", I've been trying to provide the link to the documentation rather than example code. The problem is this may be creating a dependency where some users will ask others to RTFM on their behalf.

Also, I think the correct term for this particular phenomena would not be "RTFM", but rather "LTRTFM".

  • In which case some of the ESRI users need to step up with links to the documentation.
    – Ian Turton Mod
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 0:21
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    @iant I agree and will try to do my part. I also think that others who think it might be easy to find in the help should try to find the answer before writing off the question. Commented Feb 15, 2011 at 5:15

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