A while back I made a suggestion to either rename the site to match the FAQ, or change the FAQ so it matches the site name to help clear up a lot of the confusion I see over what P.SE is for. That question was asked to see if this idea had any support, and I believe it does judging by the 25 upvotes it currently has, and the other questions which were pointed out that ask the same thing.

The site name is the first, and often only, piece of information a user has to judge our site on. Since we can't change the site's name, this question is to ask what kind of changes can we make to the FAQ to make it accurately reflect the site name, without going back to the mindless fun this site began as?

I see a lot of confusion over the scope of P.SE, and I think this recent MSO comment sums up what I've seen:

no one recommends Programmers anymore because it's unclear what the site's scope is and some of its users disagree strongly with what others of its users think the site's scope entails

My suggestions are below. I wanted to post them all together in one answer since they I feel the suggestions make the most sense if you read them in order, but ultimately decided to separate them so we can comment, evaluate, and vote on each suggestion individually.

I feel this would go a long ways towards making the site scope match the site name, and clear up the confusion caused by the current differences. In addition, I am hoping this will help reconcile users from both sides of the site scope argument.

Please review and vote on the suggestions, or add your own.

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    Rachel we won't be changing the scope of the site by rewording the FAQ, that's unacceptable, scope definition must go through the normal Meta process. Please narrow this down to either be about clarifying the FAQ with respect to the current scope or be about changing the scope. Furthermore no one agreed that the site's name is actually an issue. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 14:23
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    @YannisRizos I thought 25 +votes on 1 question and at least 2 other questions on a small meta about the issue would show that there is a problem. Please tell me what "normal meta process" is, because I never saw it when the site scope changed to what it is now. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:28
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    Yannis is right. I do think cleaning up the FAQ is probably a good idea, no scope changes should be introduced. Kind of like refactoring. You don't introduce functional changes when you refactor. – Thomas Owens Mar 12 '12 at 14:29
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    There are 25 +votes and 9 -votes on your question, which blends various issues together, and quite a few upvotes on answers that disagree with the premise of the question. Asking a simple Meta question "Is the name of the site misleading" would be a normal meta process. Your meta question as it is it's pretty pointless. As for whether the process is followed or not, read all 976 current Meta questions and then we can talk about it. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 14:31
  • @ThomasOwens I'm not sure how much scope change would actually get done as a result of these changes. For example, questions like How to mentor a Junior Developer is actually off-topic for our current scope, however is a great question for programmers so was left open. Questions such as these could no longer be pointed out as "but this one is left open even though the FAQ says it shouldn't be" – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:32
  • @YannisRizos There actually is an old question that asks about the misleading site title, with 9 upvotes and 1 downvote. There are also other questions, including mine, which ask the same thing. I assumed posting it again would be a duplicate. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:56
  • @YannisRizos And I don't think it's pointless because it's proposing an alternative way of doing things. I might not have the "SE Q&A format" right (mostly because I don't know what it is), but at least I can draw attention to the problem and possible solutions. You're the one who keeps telling me to present solutions, not just point out problems. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:56
  • @Rachel It's pointless because you are mixing issues and there isn't an easy way to build consensus. Bringing attention to something you perceive as a problem is fine (and I upvoted your Meta question), but doing only that doesn't help towards defining the scope of the site. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 15:01
  • @Rachel Re the other question on changing the name: First notice that the top voted answer says "don't change the name, it won't help". Then, since it's an old question, if you feel that the issue hasn't been resolved do post a new Meta question, however make sure to include at least some strong indicators (if not solid evidence) that the issue hasn't been resolved. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 15:55
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    possible duplicate of Renaming the site to match its FAQ or changing the FAQ to match the site name? – user8 Mar 12 '12 at 18:55
  • @MarkTrapp This question is a follow-up of that one. I was told I need to offer specific solutions to problems we encounter, not just point out problems, so this meta question is an attempt to offer a specific solution to that problem. I thought a new meta post would be best since the other one is so old. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 19:11
  • @Rachel Your question as-is is a rehash of a rehash of a rehash: there is no consensus that the site's FAQ does not accurately reflect the site's scope, and you have yet to provide a convincing argument the site's FAQ is fundamentally broken. The only one that seems to have any merit is mentioning the difference between P.SE & SO, but its justification is dubious (that it alone will make the FAQ—which ostensibly doesn't reflect the site's scope now—reflect the site's scope). This would fare much better if the specific changes you want to propose were done with separate, more cogent arguments. – user8 Mar 12 '12 at 19:36
  • @MarkTrapp Hrrrm alright. Originally all these were one long answer, and I only broke it up so we could talk about the suggestions individually. Would you like me to create a separate meta post about adding the difference between SO and SE, and about changing the FAQ to define on-topic by answer needed instead of by question topic? – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 19:42
  • @Rachel I think there's a much greater chance of getting a status-completed if you do it that way. I might have some more arguments you can use for P.SE & SO change: I'll ping you in chat. – user8 Mar 12 '12 at 19:55
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    This whole debate is waste of time.. No one reads the FAQ when first visiting the site, and no one ever will. – Morons Apr 2 '12 at 19:28

Edit: Existing proposal for this already exists, so I'm not making a new one. Go vote there to show your support if you'd like to implement this.

1.5) Add the difference between Programmers.SE and SO

The opening sentence should immediately be followed by this, which is one of the most frequently asked questions I have seen from users who participate in the stack exchange network:

What's the difference between Programmers and StackOverflow?

If you are standing at a whiteboard or discussing design concepts with your team, come to Programmers. If you are sitting at a keyboard and writing code, you should go to StackOverflow.

If users do not read any further, they should at least have a general idea of who and what the site is for.

  • 2
    This might be useful. – ChrisF Mar 12 '12 at 14:26
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    It's still too broad to be of any use to the typically panicking user who leaves the bad & broad (b&b) question. – user28988 Mar 12 '12 at 14:43
  • @WorldEngineer I actually got the suggestion from a user on SO's Meta who thought that line should be in our FAQ because it states a short, simple, clear expectation about what the site is for. I believe it is the best one-line answer which defines our site scope. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:48
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    I may not completely agree with the example provided but I love the idea about blatantly and unapologetically proclaiming the fundamental differences between the two sites on the FAQ. – maple_shaft Mar 12 '12 at 16:07
  • @WorldEngineer The line is meant for users who only want to glance at the FAQ to see what this SE site is for, not for those who want to see if their question is on/off topic or not. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 16:08
  • @maple_shaft I'm open to different wording for any of the suggestions. The existing stuff was only to provide an example and/or starting point :) – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 16:09
  • @Rachel I don't understand what the value is in accommodating users "who only want to glance at the FAQ"? – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 16:35
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    @YannisRizos I think almost every user that is familiar with the SE network will only want to glance at the FAQ to see what a site is about, not read the entire thing. These users know how the SE sites work, and only want to know what the site is about before deciding to spend time on it. In addition, I'm sure a large number of users who look at our FAQ just want to know if they should be posting a question on P.SE instead of SO. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 16:46
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    From a UX perspective, no matter if the change is to this succinct version or the current wording, I would suggest putting the clause about Programmers first. After all, they are here when they are reading it (and it matches the order in the question). Better to focus immediately on what P.SE is rather than isn't, and secondarily on what SO is (i.e. not P.SE). – jcmeloni Mar 12 '12 at 16:49
  • I think almost every user that is familiar with the SE network will only want to glance at the FAQ to see what a site is about Again, what is the value in doing anything to accommodate users who only want to glance at the FAQ. What value does that bring to the site? Why is it important for the site to attract users that won't bother reading the FAQ? – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 17:24
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    @YannisRizos Once again, this is a site run by a community of volunteers. If you are unwilling to support new users, you are essentially not supporting the very people who will support your site in the future. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 17:29
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    @jcmeloni Good call, thanks :) I've edited the proposal to rearrange those sentences, but I will keep that in mind if we go with some other wording as well. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 17:32
  • Rachel I'm fully committed in supporting new users that respect the community enough to at least read the FAQ and not just glance at it. Now please answer my question: Why should we accommodate users who fail to read the FAQ? What evidence do you have that failing to do so will somehow hurt the site? Other than a few off hand comments on MSO that is... – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 17:42
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    @YannisRizos I sincerely doubt you fully read the FAQ of every site you visit. Why should we expect our users to do what most users do not have to do? Websites should not require users to read the FAQ to use them correctly. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 17:48
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    @YannisRizos In that case, I'll just agree to disagree with you. FAQ stands for "Frequently Asked Questions", and "whats the difference between P.SE and SO" is one of the most frequently asked questions about our site. The FAQ should be used when you have a question, and think the question has been asked enough to have a answer posted somewhere. It should not be a manual on how to use a site. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 17:58

1) Change opening line

Programmers — Stack Exchange is a site for professional programmers who are interested in getting expert answers on conceptual questions about software development.

To start with, the existing opening line in the FAQ immediately limits questions to software-development questions only. If this were a site about software development only, I would expect it to be called softwaredevelopment.se, not programmers.se, and to be honest, I do not fully see why I should ask many of our questions on softwaredevelopment.se instead of stackoverflow.

I feel the starting line should be something less limiting, such as this:

Programmers.StackExchange is a site for professional programmers who are interested in collaborating and learning from each other to improve their understanding of the software development process.


4) Remove the "What about subjective questions?" section

We are no longer as tolerant as we once were on subjective questions, and I think the guidelines listed lead to problem questions, particularly the bit telling users that questions should "invite sharing experiences over opinions" (I think every one of these I've seen has been closed as a poll).

I feel we can do better by merging key parts of this section in with the "what kind of questions can I ask here" section.

The only thing I think we should keep from this section is the line that says

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

(I have no idea why this is in the "subjective questions" section anyways)

  • I think every one of these I've seen has been closed as a poll Links? – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 14:19
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    Certain types of on topic questions like design questions are not a hard science and as such opinions are going to occur. I don't think opinions are an awful answer if they can provide appropriate references and argue the opinion with facts and research. Question: Are anemic data models bad? Answer1: No. Transaction based web services demand them. (BAD ANSWER) Answer2: Yes I think they are, according to Martin Fowler they are inherently at odds with OOP. (GOOD ANSWER) – maple_shaft Mar 12 '12 at 16:15

Edit: Proposal seems to have support, so I've made a separate meta post to propose this change. The actual proposal put forth has been adjusted a bit based on user feedback.

2) Change the style of how we define site scope

This section currently has a list of what is on-topic, and what is not.

If you have a question about…

  • algorithm and data structure concepts
  • design patterns
  • developer testing
  • development methodologies
  • freelancing and business concerns
  • quality assurance
  • software architecture
  • software engineering
  • software licensing

and it is not about…

  • career advice, including general workplace issues
  • personal lifestyle, including relationships, office politics, and non-programming activities
  • what language you should learn next,including which technology is better
  • salary or compensation
  • résumé help
  • what project you should do next
  • programming tools (ask on Stack Overflow instead)

…then you're in the right place to ask your question!

I feel this is a bad way of doing this because "Programmers" is an extremely broad topic that covers a type of person, not a specific item or activity. It seems unrealistic to have a comprehensive list of what types of questions are on-topic and what is not, especially since I think our site is best defined by the type of answer needed, not by the question topics.

So instead of trying to make a list of absolutely everything about programmers and if its on/off topic, I feel we should instead define what makes a question good for this site, which happens to be the type of answer they require.

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Questions asked should:

Hopefully this will stop the number of "but so and so is on/off topic in the FAQ" comments I see, because the scope of this site is really defined by the answers, not the questions.


There are some concerns below about this becoming a big wall of text, and I agree. Perhaps we could use more/less links like we have in the current FAQ to hide examples unless the user is looking for examples. If we are unable to collapse the text or make this easy to read, we could also just display bullet points that link to meta questions on relevant topics.

  • 3
    You can't see the history but we went through phase where the FAQ was a big wall of text like this and it just didn't work. – ChrisF Mar 12 '12 at 14:19
  • @ChrisF Use the "more/less" options, or shorten it. The idea is to give a few bullet points (in this case, 5), and some examples to help clarify. I remember the wall of text it used to be, and the problem was that it was a wall of text, not some clearly defined, easy to read bullet points. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:20
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    I agree with @ChrisF that it's a bit verbose and people aren't going to read all of that, but overall, I do think it captures guidance about what's on-topic better than a list of "ask these, but not these". Although I don't like the term "programmer" and would favor "software developer" or "software development professional" - professionally, I am not a programmer. In fact, less than 50% of my time is spent writing code. Most of my time at work is typically doing the work of a software architect or on software engineering process improvement. – Thomas Owens Mar 12 '12 at 14:24
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    I think a far better way to approach this would be to write clear Meta questions for each topic (either on or off) and link to them from the FAQ. We can have answers with example questions, etc... – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 14:26
  • @ThomasOwens I agree that software developer is a better description, but the site is called programmers, which is why I used that word. To many of us, programmer is synonymous with software developer. I'm really hoping we can implement some kind of "how to ask questions" instead of "ask this, not this" style of FAQ – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:30
  • Although it's often synonymous, I feel it's off-putting to many people who don't program. I think it's important to attract architects and designers, process improvement specialists, software project managers, and so on. I think what we're going through is very much like what Database Administrators is going through. – Thomas Owens Mar 12 '12 at 14:33
  • @ThomasOwens I would be very happy to change the site name to softwaredevelopers.se. I would either like a site name change, or some tweaks to the scope. I am unable to do anything about the site name change, however I can possibly influence the FAQ which is why I made this question. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 14:34
  • The current topics list in the faq is not comprehensive, but merely illustrative. It was never the intention to make it a comprehensive list of what is on-topic and what isn't. – Robert Harvey Mar 12 '12 at 17:33
  • @RobertHarvey I understand that, however my proposal is to change the way we define an on-topic question to show that a question is defined as on-topic by the answer it requires, not the subject of the question. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 17:36
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    This may be what Yannis meant (I don't think so), but what if we had something like Rachel's bullet points but dropped the support text from the faq, and made those points links to related meta questions. This would greatly reduce the wall of text effect, but still include points which I think are very important to posting acceptable questions but are currently very tough to dig up out of the meta posts on programmers, on stack overflow, and from blog posts. I would skip the last bullet point if we keep the big Venn Diagram. We could keep the current on-topic list if we do this. – psr Mar 12 '12 at 18:00
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    The "wall of text" problem is partially solved by having detailed FAQ questions on the meta sites. For example, link only questions are already covered in the site faq in brief, but are also covered in much better detail here and here. – Robert Harvey Mar 12 '12 at 18:55
  • @psr My personal preference would be more/less links such as the current FAQ has to expand/collapse details, although including links to meta if there are specific examples is a good idea. I've updated the suggestion to include this. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 19:09
  • We can't use "more/less" links, they only appear on the network wide sections, we can only edit the top part and can't brake it into sections. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 19:15

3) Remove the blue and white "Question Applies To:" graphic

As much as I like our fancy blue circle showing a question should apply to "All Programmers", I think we should get rid of it.

It is very large, quite eye-catching, and promotes too many career-related questions since one of the circles is "All Careers". I feel if we are going to have a graphic this large and colorful in our FAQ, it'd better be one that clearly and completely defines the site scope.

Perhaps if we made it much smaller we could fit it next to the careers-is-off-topic section, but in its current state I don't think it should be in our FAQ.

Fancy blue circle

  • Well, if our diagram is good enough for Graphic Design Stack Exchange, it's good enough for me. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 14:56
  • @YannisRizos Their FAQ does not contain that graphic, and the top voted answer is undecided about if such a graphic would help at all. And anyways, just because someone else does something doesn't mean it's right. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 15:00
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    Similarly just stating that it's wrong doesn't make it wrong. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 15:03
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    @YannisRizos You build websites, right? Would you build a website, which had a single, large, eye-catching graphic which takes up most of a screen but does not fully explain the website? No, that's bad website design. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 15:08
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    Although I'm primarily a back end web developer, my work rarely involves UI & UX, and when it does I take my cues from specialists. Also, I fail to see what my job (or yours) have anything to do with the discussion. I thought we were discussing the merits of the proposal, not what we do for a living. – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 15:18
  • @YannisRizos That's the merit for my proposal. A graphic that large and eye catching should not be in our FAQ unless it fully explains the site scope, which it doesn't. It might not be so bad if we had other graphics which illustrate other points, but it is our only graphic on the faq and only illustrates one point. Either make it smaller so it fits by the "career-questions-are-off-topic" section, or remove it. – Rachel Mar 12 '12 at 15:25
  • Yay! More graphics! I can support that, especially if we put some cute kittens in there... – yannis Mar 12 '12 at 15:26

5) Remove the "What kind of questions should I not ask here?" section

We've already listed what kind of questions can be asked here. We should not need to list the kind of questions that cannot be asked here. It only adds to the wall-of-text that is our FAQ.


Suggestion dropped due to strong disagreement

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