I'm getting frustrated. I see many questions like this one from someone who appears to

  • be a programmer (and thus presumably quite technically able)
  • know enough "to be dangerous" (in this case he knows about affine and polynomial transformations)
  • know nothing about (or doesn't appear to wish to discuss) map projections (the real issue in this case)

and thus asks the wrong question or a very confusing one. We all want to help but it is often very difficult to get to the real issue. We can dance around the exact question asked, slowly teasing out extra information to help us answer the real problem, but this is a lot of work. Not wishing to come across as unfriendly or unaccommodating, do either of these sound like the beginnings of a reasonable standard comment?

  • You appear not to know enough about GIS to ask a clear question. We suggest you study more about geodesy/cartography/GIS [insert appropriate topic] before re-wording the question.

  • You appear not to know enough about GIS to ask a clear question. We suggest you consult someone expert in geodesy/cartography/GIS [insert appropriate topic] before re-wording the question.

Maybe we already have such a mechanism within our flagging/closing system?

Maybe the situation doesn't bother anyone else?

  • 2
    +1 for asking and Accept-ing answer of @whuber which sounds to me like the best approach - it is the Questions that we are targeting for improvement, if their askers learn something along the way then that is fine but not required.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 4, 2014 at 2:24
  • 1
    Here's another one, with the added wrinkle that we only get to communicate with the programmer through the question asker as an intermediary: gis.stackexchange.com/q/92037/753
    – blah238
    Apr 4, 2014 at 21:00
  • I've come to think that this meta.gis.stackexchange.com/questions/3578/… is a more closely related meta Q than any of those listed in the sidebar. Sorry for hogging the questions.
    – Martin F
    Apr 5, 2014 at 1:08
  • And another: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/91920/…
    – Martin F
    Apr 5, 2014 at 2:11

2 Answers 2


This situation can be problematic but the proposed comments could backfire for the simple reason that they attack the person asking the question rather than addressing the question itself. That would be viewed by many as being unaccommodating and less than friendly. I think we can do better.

You are correct that engaging the OP ("original poster") and ferreting out the real question they need to ask can take effort, time, and patience, as well as a good listening attitude and genuine knowledge of the subject. But it can be done: a very large number of the posts on the stats site are of this nature, for instance, because it seems many people who post a statistics question know nothing about stats :-). Maybe we should take the appearance on our site of smart people who are otherwise uninformed about GIS as evidence of the increased perception that GIS is a field with worthwhile techniques to offer.

When the OP appears recalcitrant, uninformed, or lacks understanding, then it can help to direct them to useful resources, including related threads on our site. But please, continue to refrain from calling out their apparent lack of knowledge in public. Be as tactful as you can about your recommendations.

If, despite your best efforts to help improve a question, it remains too vague, broad, or unintelligible to be answered, then vote to close it: but first give the OP a chance to learn from you and change the question themselves.

  • 1
    I hadn't noticed just how unfriendly or unaccommodating i sounded, 'till i read your answer. I edited my Q a little.
    – Martin F
    Apr 3, 2014 at 23:19
  • Please don't hang s#it on the developers, they don't know any better. No doubt they're happy to get paid work for their skills and next week they'll be developing a time sheet or inventory program. It is up to the community in general to gently educate and inform these people - programmers, surveyors and mangers. They all have skills and are respected in their fields and don't have the time to understand the complexity of GIS/geomatics/geodesy. Apr 12, 2014 at 3:03
  • @MichaelMiles-Stimson: I don't think anyone is trying to denigrate or blame programmers (i am one). It is sometimes difficult, however, when a programmer doesn't understand the complexities, to help him/her. And since you mention payment and happiness -- i am not happy at present; i'm an unemployed programmer who does understand the complexities of geospatial. ;-)
    – Martin F
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:50

I'm probably an example of the kind of programmer without a real GIS background that asks questions here. I try to be sensitive to the community, but it can be quite hard to even phrase a sensible a question without knowing the right concepts - and they're hard to google. A response like "go away and learn some geomatics" is obviously not helpful.

The kinds of responses that people in my situation probably do value:

  • "The concepts you're looking for are X and Y. Here's a site explaining X and Y."
  • "It sounds like the issue you're having is to do with Z. Here's a couple of questions related to Z - do any of those help?"
  • "What are you actually trying to achieve at the end of all this? Are you just trying to Z? The easiest way to do that these days is ..."

Or even: * "In order for us to help you, it would be really good if you could read this FAQ and express your question in terms of the concepts listed there."

Obviously I (and presumably others without a GIS background) don't want to frustrate the community here or try wear out its patience. What can we do in return to help make gis.stackexchange awesome?

  • Those are the kinds of responses i try. I'm not sure we have a FAQ though. I often think of writing one, but that aspect of SE is a mystery to me.
    – Martin F
    Apr 14, 2014 at 15:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .