I have started to learn using ArcGIS and ArcPy only recently and I am still very much in the process of learning.

Looking at this site, I realized that most, if not all, questions asked here are directed at very specific, technical topics. On the one hand, this is great because whenever I ran into a coding error in ArcPy that I could not fix myself I could simply post my code and get help on this site very soon. On the other hand, I realized that these solutions helped me a lot to get where I wanted (data processing-wise) but have been less fruitful in improving my understanding of, say, how a certain tool works in ArcPy. The reason is that most answers provided a technical solution to my problem. (I am not complaining here. I asked for a technical solution, got one and was happy to have my problem solved.) Nevertheless, I realized that I might profit a lot from asking general questions targeted at improving my understanding of how one does certain things in ArcGIS.

Such simple questions are fairly common on other SE sites. One example that comes to my mind is this one on Stack Overflow. They allow less experienced users to use SE as a learning resource and can be, as demonstrated by the linked question, quite popular. On the other hand, these are often questions that one could also solve by using a search engine. However, the way as I understand SE is that it collects good questions (that can also be simple) and their answers so that everyone can benefit from the question thereafter (rather than having to google it again). This certainly applies for the example question in the linked thread.

Now because I saw few of such questions on this site, I would like to know if they are discouraged here? If not, how could I frame such a question without it having being closed?


2 Answers 2


Succinct questions are encouraged at Stack Exchange. I appreciate how you point out that Stack Exchange can be seen as a repository for questions for the benefit of future users. With this said, all questions are expected to follow site guidelines. Our help center has a page on that topic:

How do I ask a good question?

We’d love to help you. To improve your chances of getting an answer, here are some tips:

Search, and research

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

Be on-topic

Our community is defined by a specific set of topics that you can view in the help center; please stick to those topics and avoid asking for opinions or open-ended discussion. If your question is about the site itself, ask on our meta-discussion site. If you’re looking for a different topic, it might be covered on another Stack Exchange site.

Be specific

If you ask a vague question, you’ll get a vague answer. But if you give us details and context, we can provide a useful answer.

Make it relevant to others

We like to help as many people at a time as we can. Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it.

Keep an open mind

The answer to your question may not always be the one you wanted, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. A conclusive answer isn’t always possible. When in doubt, ask people to cite their sources, or to explain how/where they learned something. Even if we don’t agree with you, or tell you exactly what you wanted to hear, remember: we’re just trying to help.

Generally speaking, coding questions that ask "Here is my problem, can you write the code for me?" or "I need to perform task A, B, C, D, E, F...--here is my code to do A, how can I do B, C, D, E, F...?" are not well received.

If you do a Google or GIS SE site search and cannot find the answer, it is likely a good candidate for our forum.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. I am well aware that the questions you referenced in the end of your post are not good ones. Consider, however, the example question from Stack Overflow I gave. Assuming, I would ask something similar (but on-topic for GIS SE) on this site, would that be okay? Apr 3, 2017 at 19:35
  • 1
    @PolyGeo Good point that the question is 8.5 years old and might actually be closed nowadays. At the same time, I don't feel it is too broad. Broad questions are discouraged on SE because they would leave too many different ways to answer the question or a comprehensive answer would need to be to long. In the linked question, neither of these two disadvantages applies. Then again, of course I agree with you that being specific will almost always improve a question. Apr 3, 2017 at 21:38
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    I've observed two prominent schools of thought in the community with regards to moderating this issue: 1) Those that prefer brief, to-the-point questions like the one you referenced and 2) Those that require a detailed question including an introduction to the problem, what you have learned in your research, the main body/code samples, and a specific question. All it takes is 5 votes from camp 2 to close a question, so short questions may be at risk of getting closed.
    – Aaron Mod
    Apr 3, 2017 at 21:49
  • I should add that many of the most popular one-line questions on Stack Overflow have been edited by the community over the years to be that succinct. Many of those questions often started off as long-winded questions. Here is an example of one of our most popular questions--one which I believe is perfectly acceptable: gis.stackexchange.com/q/664/8104
    – Aaron Mod
    Apr 3, 2017 at 21:51
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    @eigenvector, I would not vote to close a question like that (let's say if there was a GIS version of if) as too broad because it was possible to answer it objectively. Apr 3, 2017 at 23:09

The question from Stack Overflow that you cited was, in its entirety:

What's the difference between the list methods append() and extend()?

and that was how it was originally posted with negligible edits.

A question from here that @Aaron cited was, in its entirety:

What's the difference between a projection and a datum?

and that was how it was originally posted.

If either question were asked today my first thought would be to wonder whether they had been drawn from a student assignment, because they show no research effort. As guided by the downvote mouseover, I would downvote both.

The difference between a discussion forum and a focussed Q&A site is that we strive to distil each question when asked to something an asker is wanting to do, what precisely they have tried and where they are stuck. In the second question, to get an upvote from me I would expect to see a question structure more like:

I am wanting to understand the difference between a projection and a datum.

I have read that a projection is ...

I have read that a datum is ...

Where I am stuck in my understanding is that ...

The brief version of that second question is one that someone might pen at a whim (or be set by their supervisor), leaving all the work to the answerers, whereas the second shows that the asker has researched the question that they wish to ask and thought about where it is that they are stuck.

The two forms of the same question might attract the same answers but I would expect that the question that illustrates research effort is the one that potential answerers would be more likely to volunteer to answer with commensurate effort.

I also think that it is fine to further distil a question, once it has good answers, even down to just one line (see Difference between ArcSDE and ArcGIS Server?).

In both cases I reward the good answers with upvotes, but I only upvote questions that illustrate research effort.

  • +1 for your point on research effort. As long as I can follow the question structure you suggested for a the question on the difference between projection and datum without having my question closed as too broad, I am fine. Apr 4, 2017 at 11:47
  • @eigenvector I only start thinking too broad when the question becomes more list seeking like "what are the differences between ... and ...?"
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 4, 2017 at 11:54
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    @PolyGeo, about the SO question, which remains pretty much the same from the time it was asked, apparently 1893 users disagree with you (that is the number of times that Q was upvoted, against 11 downvotes, so far). I think the same logic goes for the GIS example. It is hard to come up with a general rule that stands for all questions; for example, the research effort could not be the only criterion to judge; sometimes it is subjective to evaluate those. I prefer to have such FAQ questions cleaner in their body, than a bunch of unrelated stuff. Apr 4, 2017 at 11:56
  • That being said, voting is also subjective, everybody has his/her own criteria to follow. So, in many situations there is no right/wrong, but more agreement and less agreement. Apr 4, 2017 at 11:59
  • @AndreSilva I'm all for Q&As becoming sleeker and clearer over time as they are edited for FAQ purposes but I think very brief questions that when posted appear to have been hastily penned, or copied/paraphrased from assignments should be discouraged.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 4, 2017 at 12:06
  • You did not downvote gis.stackexchange.com/q/65454/115 kind of contradicting yourself, imo (no downvotes there so far). That Q originally did not carry any additional piece of information to what it is today which could be interpreted as a research effort from OP. According to your answer, then, could it be considered a 'student assignment' (just as probably you considered in gis.stackexchange.com/questions/142443/what-are-lidar-returns)? continues... Apr 6, 2017 at 23:31
  • But I don't think it deserves a downvote, because it was a useful question which brought useful answers to our repository (upvoted them all). I don't care if OP did not show research effort in this case, because it was a original and useful question. Perhaps, if a duplicate question was asked today in the same way (one-liner), it could be a different story. This helps to explain why I believe Aaron's advice is more accurate. Apr 6, 2017 at 23:31
  • @AndreSilva Perhaps re-review the edit history on that question and my answer here - I think my voting has been consistent i.e. question starts as one that looks like an assignment gets downvoted, question that evolves to that as good answers are encouraged does not.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 7, 2017 at 0:25
  • Are you saying the original versions of those two questions are different regarding "research effort" and in looking like "assignments"? Apr 7, 2017 at 0:33
  • @AndreSilva I'm not keen to dissect old questions and decisions made at various points along the way to now. I think the guideline I use now is consistent and summarized in my previous comment.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Apr 7, 2017 at 0:42

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