There are two proposals here:

The original proposal was to change the FAQ and site scope to more accurately reflect the site's name. It was created because of the votes and responses received on this question, however since posting this I've learned of the history behind the site scope change, and am not sure if this is something SE would allow.

The second alternative proposal is for adding a section to the FAQ to help clarify what makes a good question for Programmers.SE. It was added based on an answer below

If you post an answer supporting either proposal, be sure to specify which one.

First proposal: Change site scope and on-topic definition in the FAQ

Can we change the way we define what is on/off topic of the FAQ?

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, so questions on our site are best defined as on-topic by the type of answer they need, not by the subject of their question.

For example, many freelancing or business concerns are off-topic here even though they're listed as on-topic in the FAQ, and some career-development questions are actually on-topic despite being in the off-topic list. The deciding factor is the type of answer the question requires.

I see this causing a lot of confusion about what is actually considered on/off topic for our site, so I think it would be better to define what is on topic by the type of answer needed, instead of the subject of the question.

So what about changing the list of on/off topic items to something like this:

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Programmers.SE is a site for programmers to ask questions and get answers from other programmers about non-code issues that are related to their career choice, or self-identity, as a programmer.

We welcome questions about conceptual topics in software development, such as software architecture and design concepts, algorithms and data structure design, the software development lifecycle, testing and QA, and freelancing & business concerns

Questions should:

Each of those bullet points should be a link that points to a meta-faq post containing more details on the subject.

Hopefully this will stop some of the confusion I see about our site scope, and reduce the number of upset users who asked a question which was in the "on-topic" list of the FAQ, but the question still got closed as off-topic. The scope of this site is really defined by the type of answers required, not the subject of the questions.

This was a site created for programmers to get answers from other programmers about issues related to their career choice (or self identity) as a programmer. The scope was changed due to the deteriorating quality of questions being asked, however I think it has changed far beyond the original proposal, and the site has gone downhill since then. I believe we can still be the site this was meant to be, while maintaining SE quality guidelines.

SE works best with communities, and I think a community called Programmers should be one about Programmers, not be only about one part of what Programmers do

Second proposal: Add a new section to the FAQ to try and clarify what makes a good question

jcmeloni's answer below made the suggestion to make this a new section in the Programmers.SE FAQ instead of replacing the existing section.

This section would be like the UX.SE's FAQ section titled What makes a good question?

I like this proposal as well, so instead of changing the existing bullet-point list defining what is an on-topic question, what about simply adding a new section titled "What makes a good question"

What makes a good question?

Questions should elicit definitive answers or solutions rather than prolonged discussions. Remember, this a Q&A site, not a discussion board. To participate in open-ended discussions on programming-related topics, please visit our chat instead.

Questions should:

  • 3
    The scope of the site is defined by the FAQ, which (quite clearly) explains what types of questions are welcome to the community as a majority. I could ask "Lost my job, what now?" 10 times, and I'd probably get a few great answers on at least two attempts. That doesn't make the repetition of the same subject, just a different incarnation any better.
    – user131
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 13:50
  • 4
    Who decides that a programmer is required to answer a question? This seems like a gateway to the "As a programmer..." type questions. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 13:57
  • @TimPost This proposal is made because I see a lot of confusion over what the exact scope of P.SE is, and I feel we are repeating the same explanations repeatedly in response meta posts and questions in chat. Instead of telling users what they should ask about, and then closing their question anyways because it doesn't follow the SE standard, I feel it would be more beneficial to tell users how to write good questions that won't get downvoted/closed as not-constructive or off-topic
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:01
  • @SteveJackson The key is that it can be best answered by a programmer. For example, "What kind of chair is best as a programmer" would be best answered by a health care professional. "How should I talk to the programmer next to me about BO" is best answered by someone from HR. I don't think it's a gateway to "as-a-programmer" questions at all, and think it does a better job at describing what kind of questions are a good fit for our site then the current system does.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:03
  • 1
    @SteveJackson Currently if someone asks a question about something listed as on-topic in the FAQ, but it gets closed as off-topic because it doesn't apply to programmers only, and they get upset because the FAQ said their question was on-topic. This would give a better definition of what is on/off topic and would help users get a better understanding of what questions are good for our site.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:08
  • 2
    @Rachel I'm all for clarity and even inclusiveness, but I still don't understand who decides "best answered by a programmer". As an obstinate question asker I could shout to the heavens that only a programmer could possibly understand what it's like to program with stinky coworkers. Someone from HR could never understand the necessary state of mind required to program. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:12
  • 1
    @SteveJackson Perhaps we need to clarify that a bit more then. The determining factor would be if the answer required is part of the expected expert programmer's knowledgebase, which is no. The answer needed is part of an expert HR manager's knowledgebase. Basically, assume there is an expert who knows everything there is to know about programming and software development, and absolutely nothing else. A question is on-topic if this hypothetical person could answer the question.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:24
  • I would rather see guidance on What makes a good question in Meta faq list - which is by the way already referenced from Programmers FAQ (in section "What if I need more help?")
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:03
  • @Rachel I like the second go at this; if it gets to the point of hammering out specific language in a wikified version, I'll be happy to help.
    – jcmeloni
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:09
  • @gnat I think the main FAQ is much more visible to everyone. I've been using P.SE since it started and had no idea there was a separate FAQ on meta until yesterday.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:13
  • 1
    @jcmeloni Thanks :) I would definitely prefer some other input on the exact language to use. Perhaps we can get together in chat to hash out details if we can get this proposal approved
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:17
  • 2
    +1 The revised proposal alleviates my major concern. I think the FAQ could use more examples about what makes a good question. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:47
  • 1
    +1 this looks worth trying, especially taking into account that UX.SE guys already have stuff like that in their FAQ. However, since the proposed text is not tested, I reserve a right to revert my vote if in real usage it turns out troublesome.
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 7:35
  • 2
    Your original proposal is a non-starter, but I like your updated one. Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:34
  • 1
    I like this a lot.
    – enderland
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 16:17

3 Answers 3


note: answer based on first proposal; I'm upvoting the second proposal

I see and understand the argument, but I wouldn't remove the bullet list because if that is the only thing a user reads in the FAQ (and it probably is, being a) first and b) a quick list) then they are getting more of an indicator what to do/not do than seeing a "wall of text" that is more likely to be ignored.

However. That wall of text really isn't that big of a wall, and can be refined somewhat, and to my mind adds a great deal of value for those who keep on reading OR for those who would be pointed to something more specific than currently exists in the FAQ about why their question was closed.

So I'd like to counter my downvote for the idea with a compromise: create an entry in the FAQ like exists in some other SE FAQs (UX comes to mind, although ironically that FAQ needs its own help) called "What makes a good question?" It could replace the current "What kind of questions should I not ask here?" entry and include that content (massaged, of course) while also pointing out the positive (good question) versus the negative (what not to do).

  • What about the idea of removing the definitions and just leaving the bullet points? It should be noted, that this proposal was part of a set of proposals, and one of the other proposals that will probably be implemented is to add the difference between SO and P.SE to the top of the FAQ. I didn't like leaving just the bullets with no definition, but if it turns out that is easier to read/understand for users, then I'm all for that
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:30
  • 1
    I wouldn't remove it; I think the explanatory text is what pushes the whole thing over the top as being a valuable chunk of text. Sure, the bullet points are good, but the explanatory text is what will help people really "get it". IOW, I don't think it's superfluous at all.
    – jcmeloni
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:34
  • 2
    I took a look at UX.SE's FAQ and see what you mean about their "What makes a good question" section. I like it, and will edit my proposal to go from changing the current on-topic definition, to adding a new section
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:37

I think it's getting better, but I'm not sold yet.

I think that this should replace the "what kinds of questions can I ask here". In order to facilitate that, the first bullet point after "Question should:" should be something along the lines of "Be about a conceptual topic in software development". The subscript test would include A short paragraph saying that questions about the design of data structures and algorithms, software architecture and design, requirements, developer testing, configuration management and version control, managing software projects, development processes and methodologies, and software licensing are on topic.

Together with the other bullet points, this should include everything we allow and exclude everything that's currently off-topic.

Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps they shouldn't be. They are two separate questions.

"What is on topic?" and "What is a good on-topic question?" are two different things that should be answered sequentially in the FAQ. So now I'm not too sure.

  • My preference would be to replace the "What kinds of Questions can I ask here" section as well. I like including something with examples of on-topic subjects, such as data structures, architecture, etc, but I'm not sold on the fact it should be a bullet-point included in a list since it is very limiting. I'm thinking it should be part of the opening paragraph instead. Let me update the question to show you what I mean.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:07
  • I think I'll need help getting the wording right. I did a rough example in the question, but the examples aren't what they should be. I want to mention broad topics that give a general idea instead of a list of specific topics.
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:12

This is a great idea, the edited proposal based on jcmeloi's idea is a better refinement of the original, much better than the current somewhat hidden/vague idea that everything must be uniquely related to programmers, which is a poor idea to begin with. Requiring that questions be best answered by programmers makes a lot more sense, and would allow more room for community moderation, and seems to fit better with most of the questions that get asked.

  • Thanks Ryathal. I've updated my question to suggest an edited proposal. If this answer was in response to the original proposal, can you specify that in the answer?
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 14:54
  • @Rachel updated.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 15:09

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