We get questions from time to time like this one or the odd 'how do I join two tables' SQL question, which fall short of our 'expert-level'.

Some are best migrated to SO, but for the rest, would it help to have a custom close reason of 'too basic'?

It could link to our 'what can I ask here' page and the other meta questions linked in this one (that totally escaped my radar at the time).

If this get's enough votes, I'll retag with and we'll request another custom slot (see comments below).

  • Would that mean spending a slot for custom reasons allocated for non-SO sites the last time they changed the closure reasons? – Andriy M Dec 31 '13 at 9:41
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    If there aren't many of those (left), could we instead adopt the SO option of "minimal understanding required"? Although I agree that "too basic" would be more to the point. – Andriy M Dec 31 '13 at 9:44
  • Very very good point. We can request to have another slot but I don't think we'd want to lose the close reasons we have. – Jack Douglas Dec 31 '13 at 9:46
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    I think that question should have been closed as "Too localized" since it was a syntax error and unlikely to help future readers. Don't you think that "Too localized" is enough to close the basic/RTFM questions? – Mikael Eriksson Dec 31 '13 at 11:14
  • @Mikael 'Too Localized' was an option for that question (I think a slightly less good option, but definitely an option), but there are classes of questions that wouldn't fit both close reasons such as the basic SQL examples. – Jack Douglas Dec 31 '13 at 11:29
  • But the basic SQL questions should be directed to SO right? Or should that change so they instead are closed as "Too basic"? – Mikael Eriksson Dec 31 '13 at 11:39
  • @Mikael Good point. The remaining questions that aren't good migration candidates might not justify a new close reason, idk, what do you think? I kind of like having it because it helps remind everyone that we are an 'expert' site, eg each time a close vote is cast or a new users sees a Q closed 'too basic' – Jack Douglas Dec 31 '13 at 12:22
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    Not sure what I think. I just had a hard time figuring what questions need this close reason. Perhaps a changed caption on "Too localized" that will have the same signal effect. Something that says "Do your homework pal" in the nicest of ways. The guy asking the question does probably in most cases not agree with the close reason of too basic and then not being directed anywhere with the issue is not so helpful. – Mikael Eriksson Dec 31 '13 at 13:07
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    @MikaelEriksson: I think a "too basic" question shouldn't be closed as too localised. We cannot honestly state that it would not be "relevant to most of our audience" because we cannot be sure about how many beginners there are among our audience (I mean, our actual audience, not some perceived targeted one). – Andriy M Dec 31 '13 at 13:14
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    I almost passed out on dba.stackexchange.com/questions/55872/… because it went way beyond too basic. A key stroke was the key of knowledge for that question. I think a "Wall of Shame" might be in order, or at least "Don't let this happen to you" section under FAQ. Oh yea, closing by reason of insanity... eh too basic would be great. – RolandoMySQLDBA Dec 31 '13 at 17:56
  • This might fall under the category of another question but here it goes: This post ( dba.stackexchange.com/questions/56018/… ) was solved by the OP because he installed mysql instead of mariadb and later realized the mistake. Should this question get the off-topic thumbs up? Should this get a homer-simpson tag with a sound effect ( youtube.com/watch?v=OCmuATH2yzo ) ? – RolandoMySQLDBA Jan 2 '14 at 19:35
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    No. "Too basic" questions should be migrated, closed for an existing reason, or given a good answer as appropriate. A "Too basic" reason wouldn't add enough value IMO, and would be too easily over-used / used incorrectly / wind up being insulting. – Paul White Jan 3 '14 at 5:35

My problem is that "basic" is such a moving target and has a whole lot of relativity. And the gap is widened by the fact that the people who are active in closing questions have an inherent difference of opinion of where the basic line is compared to those whose questions are being closed.

While I do agree with the premise that we want to discourage questions that are, in our eyes, "too basic," I don't agree that simply closing such questions will gain anything (other than potentially insulting the OP if that is the wording of the close reason). A user isn't going to magically elevate their understanding of the problem being solved, or change the question such that it is "less basic," and in that case, moving the question to Stack Overflow is really the optimal outcome. Thankfully, we already have that option.

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    +1 - "There are no stupid questions" appears to be applicable here. I'm guilty of wanting to close some questions that seem too basic to me; however I'm certain some of the far more experienced users here may find my questions too basic. There has to be some balance between preserving the signal-to-noise ratio (thereby maintaining usefulness) and keeping the barrier-to-entry low enough to attract new users. – Hannah Vernon Jan 3 '14 at 2:36

I'm not sure if my experience is typical, but every DBA I've known has been asked by management to "teach the basics of SQL to the team". And they all had their own stack of PowerPoint slides to teach people how to join tables and use GROUP BY. It's far from a good use of their time (why not bring in a local community college teacher instead?) but it seems to be part of the job.

The one benefit I saw to having our highly-paid DBAs teach SQL for an afternoon was that it gave them a good excuse to turn away requests to write simple queries. "We talked about how to sort in descending order in the class I taught. Don't you still have your notes?"

Instead of closing questions as "too basic", why not close them as duplicates?

I'm envisioning either a single question like "How do I teach my programmer co-workers SQL?" or several questions on the order of "What are the different ways to join two tables?" These need not be Community Wiki (at least not immediately), but they should be laser-focused on teaching concepts rather than using them. If there are already a category of question where learning a basic concept would solve the OP's problem, work to get the general question asked and answered canonically.

Why not migrate to SO?

First, take a gander at Shog9's seminal blog post: Respect the community—your own, and others’. To slightly paraphrase:

Be a bit jealous of your profession.

Programmers and DBAs often work closely together and have similar goals, methods, and tools. But programmers have fundamentally a different mindset that does not always mesh with the relational model. If you spend any time with database interface code, you have probably seen things like using a loop instead of a WHERE clause. The only thing worse than forcing DBAs to teach basic SQL is letting programmers do it.


Sometimes questions seem too basic. Like this one:
Select query to retrieve values even if are null

My first impulse was: "Oh, another basic question about NULL, let's migrate it to SO or close it ..." On closer inspection it turned out to be a tricky problem that can even fool accomplished users. Of course, the wording could be improved, but we don't close questions for poor language skills alone.

That's why I am hesitant to endorse this proposal even if I am inclined to agree, generally. We shouldn't be too quick to pass judgment. I know that, sadly, I am sometimes. Shutting a question down completely is much more serious than criticism or a downvote.


Instead of closing questions as "too basic", or even "move to S.O." I would like to see a solid set of "community wiki" answers that we can point people to.

Question here is how to create those answers so they are wide-enough in scope to be applicable to a large number of basic questions, while still being deep-enough to be of actual use to the user asking the basic question.

Perhaps when I see a "too basic" question, I'll try creating a wiki answer that can be improved upon over time by other users.

Is there a way to quickly see answers that have been marked as "community wiki"?

  • Sure, just use is:answer wiki:1 as your search terms (and then add anything to make it more specific). – Aaron Bertrand Jan 3 '14 at 3:26
  • But while noble, I don't know how feasible it is. It'd be a shame to convert some of the great answers, like Martin's on temp tables or Mike's on transaction log, to CW, at which point they stop earning well-deserved rep on future up-votes. I don't think an answer has to be CW to be useful, and most of the top answerers are very open to feedback that helps them make their answers better. I've tried a couple of self-answer experiments (e.g. this one) but it's tough to find new topics. – Aaron Bertrand Jan 3 '14 at 3:29
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    +1 But there's no need to make the answer CW, just answer good questions with a good answer regardless of how "basic" they might be. – Paul White Jan 3 '14 at 14:38
  • I guess I agree about the not marking them CW; I was really trying to determine a way to mark answers in a way that would make them easier to find in future. Perhaps something like the "accept" button that can only be clicked by high-rep users, along with a way to search only those answers? – Hannah Vernon Jan 3 '14 at 15:10
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    Always using a specific tag would be more effective than CW. I don't have an obvious logical suggestion yet. – Aaron Bertrand Jan 3 '14 at 15:20
  • @AaronBertrand - On SO there is a C++ faq tag that seems to be tolerated by the powers by be despite being a "meta tag" or there is an existing question on this site for canonical answers – Martin Smith Jan 3 '14 at 15:25
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    hmmm interesting idea - perhaps join-faq or where-faq or [tag:dont-use-gddm-nvarchar-dates-faq] – Hannah Vernon Jan 3 '14 at 15:26

My problem is that "too basic" can be somewhat subjective at times.

I'd prefer that the questions not simply be migrated, but to label it as "too basic" and close the question with a simple answer.

This way we can build up a agreed idea of "too basic", and then the problem would start to (hopefully) sort it self out.


[I'm adding this a separate answer so it can be voted on discretely from my other answer, and marking it as CW so I don't get credit for it!]

Instead of closing questions as "too basic", or even "move to S.O." I would like to see a solid set of answers marked with specific tags that we can point people to.

Question here is how to create those answers so they are wide-enough in scope to be applicable to a large number of basic questions, while still being deep-enough to be of actual use to the user asking the basic question.

Perhaps when I see a "too basic" question, I'll try creating an answer with a tag that can be improved upon over time by other users.

Some tags that might be useful:

  • You don't get credit for up-votes on meta anyway. :-) – Aaron Bertrand Jan 3 '14 at 15:30
  • just making sure :-) – Hannah Vernon Jan 3 '14 at 15:30
  • feel free to add tags that might be needed if you like! – Hannah Vernon Jan 3 '14 at 15:33

Why not have a special tag or section where "too basic" questions can go. Those DBAs who feel unusually generous with their time can then go there to answer these questions (or provide links to RTFM).

If you don't want to see the "too basic" questions, just add it to your ignore list of tags.

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    Thanks Thomas, the reason why I'd argue against this option is that ultimately it dilutes the expert image of the site. 'Reputation' here still means something (not much but something), and allowing these questions will attract folk who can only answer basic questions: they'll eventually outnumber and out-rep the real experts here and the flavour of the community as a whole will go downhill. For Oracle, we're experimenting with an educational close target and if this works well, it may be extended. – Jack Douglas Jan 13 '14 at 12:07
  • Can we create a tag that reduces the reputation people gain by answering? – Thomas Kejser Jan 13 '14 at 12:39
  • We could ask but I fear the answer would be 'no' :) – Jack Douglas Jan 13 '14 at 12:57

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