The first point under "How do I ask a good question?" in Help states that:

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!

However, I find that quite many questions, especially the quora-style ones driven by general curiosity, often completely lack any attempt of background research from the poster. The questions are not necessarily bad - many are interesting (but broad) and well formed - but indicate that the poster haven't gone to any trouble themselves to get a basic overview of the subject. They often appear to be spur-of-the-moment questions based on "I wonder how this works...?". This also means that the questions are not in any way framed in relation to relevant theories and subfields of biology.

At e.g. StackOverflow, questions that lack a background (e.g. previous coding attempts) are generally downvoted and/or receives many comments pointing out that posters are expected to have done some work to try to solve their problem. This is often not the case here at BioSE.

So my question is; How much should we enforce background research? Since BioSE is still in beta and is building a community and gathering questions there is probably a delicate balance between bringing in/not scaring away users, while still upholding good SE standards. Also, trivial and unresearched questions can potentially drive away specialist users.

  • $\begingroup$ A related question is "enforce how". Down-vote and then delete because low quality? Or close because "off-topic" and then delete? A close reading of the current Help Center advice indicates that lacking research does not condemn a question as off topic, at worst only "low quality". $\endgroup$
    – Raedwald
    Jan 23, 2017 at 13:20

2 Answers 2


I agree that we probably do need to enforce this rule to some extent.

Part of the problem that I see is that a lot of asking the right question (that is, framing it in biological terms) requires knowing something of the field. There are times when you won't be able to find the answer on the internet if you don't know the right terminology. For non-biologists, this can be a problem. (I've had this issue in other subject areas in the past, and I've used Stack Exchange sites specifically for this reason.)

Also, sometimes easily answered questions are only that way because of access to publications - because I happen to be on the network of a university that subscribes to many of these publications, I can access them but I know that many others can't. I had a difficult time for the few months between the end of my undergraduate program and the start of my graduate program, when I realized just how many publications I couldn't read.

In short, I do not think we need to go around closing questions for only this reason: I think it's better for us to help the asker learn the right terminology. I think we can start by improving questions - there are lots of other reasons to close.

I should add that I would enforce this rule in cases where the right terminology is used and you do know the answer is easily found elsewhere. I do try to filter my own questions - I had a question about double label in situs that I was about to ask before I found a webpage elsewhere. (I don't always succeed, but I try.)

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with much that you write. My main idea was not to enforce this by closing, but discouragement by downvotes and comments. Many times I've been on the verge of posting comments to questions, asking for clarifications and background research, but I dont want to seem like the grumpy old man and I'm unsure on how this problem is viewed by the community as a whole. Therefore my question. I'm also using background research very generously - what I'm asking for is some amount of effort from the poster that shows where they got stuck. ... $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2013 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ [contd.] Basically what we ask for from [homework questions[(meta.biology.stackexchange.com/questions/266/…. Therefore, terminology isn't the main issue (I realize that this can be difficult for beginners), but it is often a byproduct of lazy question. $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2013 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater: Ah, homework questions (or similarly phrased questions) are another issue. Could you perhaps post a few questions that fit your description, so we can see exactly what you mean? Are you referring to most of the questions already tagged homework? $\endgroup$
    – blep
    Jul 2, 2013 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ No, I'm not specifically thinking about homework questions, but rather general curiosity questions. A generic form would be "I've been thinking about X, which seems strange because of Y. How can this be?". My mention of homework questions was because we specifically ask these to include some background, and I think we should ask for the same in all types of questions. @dd3 $\endgroup$ Jul 2, 2013 at 10:43

I would like to bump this question, as well as try to answer.

If we throw away all junk questions and surely homework-style ones, there are bunch of questions that don't offer any evidence of an effort from OP. And that is what for my view is not a good practice, not a good behavior to encourage.

As @dd3 says, sometimes you lack terminology or language to google properly. Hinting to it might be beginning of a good answer or at least a comment.

Comment that some research requires access to subscription-based literature is soft to my taste as I find only minute details in most current research. Overviews are often available for free.

To reiterate, SE model encourages users to ask for help along the way, not a free ride to solution. And to my opinion this is the culture that should be fostered everywhere.


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