I find it extremely frustrating to find questions closed with the statement "This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information" without going on to actually provide such a link. The statement says to me "boy, this is so easy to answer you shouldn't waste our time with it", but I feel that if it's so easy to answer, then go ahead and answer it already by providing "a single link to a standard internet reference source". It reminds me of being in fifth grade and asking my teacher "how do you spell pterodactyl?" and being told "that's what the dictionary is for; look it up." I never found it because I was looking under "T".

I guess that close explanation statement has been revised and is now more like "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic" but I still feel the same way about it.

It's fine with me if we want to close general reference questions as not worth arguing about or spending lots of time on or featuring in results or whatever, but I think it is rude and unhelpful (and has a good chance of being incorrect as well) to say that this question is easily answered elsewhere without providing a link to such an answer. It's almost tautological: if the answer is easy to find, it shouldn't be a burden to require adding it as an answer or comment before closing the question, and if it is too big a burden to find an answer to link to, then ipso facto answering the question here is worthwhile.

Can we at least add a feature allowing, if not requiring, the people voting to close as General Reference the ability to provide a link to an answer to the question, in a manner similar to how duplicate questions are handled? Over on Stack Overflow we had plenty of people answering questions with LMGTFY before it was banned, and while I don't agree with using Google search results as answers if for no other reason than that they change dramatically over time, those answers showed that there were people willing and able to provide links to answers to trivial questions. Let's at least facilitate that as a possibility.

  • 6
    Very, very often users do post answers in comments, which may also include links. And very very often basic English questions are migrated to our sistersite ELL ( English language for learners) And very very very often the people who ask simple basic questions disappear without clarifying or explaining anything in detail.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2017 at 11:37
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    @Mari-LouA I'm focusing on the close reason of "General Reference". It the question is unclear, then close it for that. If the question is better suited to ELL, then fine, migrate it and answer it there. What I'm upset about is people taking the time to complain that a question is too easy to answer to be worth answering: that doesn't help the questioner or anyone who later come across the question and adds condescending insult on top.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 4, 2017 at 11:49
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    The example you cited is dated four years ago, ELL did not exist then, I think you should choose a more recent example.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2017 at 12:08
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    I don't read any comments complaining that the question cited How and when should I use “By now”? is too easy. In fact, I see two answers posted in comments, and your answer which earned 6 upvotes, so some users thought it provided a helpful, interesting and useful explanation. Where is this condescending, or patronizing attitude? Please note, that the wording in the GR message has since been modified. You still feel bad about it? OK, what would you suggest?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 4, 2017 at 12:20
  • @Mari-LouA it's the close reason itself that complains the question How and when should I use “By now”? is too easy. The answers you see were all answers that beat the clock against the close votes. What I suggest, as I stated in my original question, is that questions closed as General Reference include a link to a General Reference resource that answers the question, at least in substantial part if not fully.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 8:50
  • Yes, and that specific post is over four years old. So, wouldn't it be better to choose a more recent example? Wouldn't it be better if you explained more clearly that you think a link to the answer should always be required. It seems this is what you are really asking about, isn't it?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 5, 2017 at 8:54
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    What I'm upset about is people taking the time to complain that a question is too easy to answer to be worth answering: that doesn't help the questioner or anyone who later come across the question and adds condescending insult on top People taking the time to complain, is what you said. Now you say it's the "close reason", but that specific close reason in the four-year-old post is outdated. It has ceased to be. It is obsolete, and is no longer true.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:00
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    @Mari-LouA since I don't have privileges to vote to close or reopen questions, I'm not able to access the current state of the system with regard to the close reasons. Still, the general point remains: let's not let people voting to close as "general reference" off the hook but simply allowing them to assert that, let's ask them to demonstrate their assertion by providing an answer via a link. This would be a double-win as vindicating the people voting to close while at the same time providing an answer for the OP.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:05
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    It's not a double win. My time is both valuable and finite. Why should I be prevented from casting a close vote if a bad question ought to be closed? Why should I have to find an answer before exercising a privilege that I've earned? It's a win for the lazy OP and a loss for those who are trying to keep the site tidy and see standards maintained. Ultimately, it would reward laziness. I can imagine it now: "Why should I bother to do the research if the close-voters will answer my question anyway?"
    – J.R.
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:12
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    @J.R. if you want to close a question as a "duplicate" we make you answer the question "duplicate of what?" before allowing it. I'm saying that it should be considered similar that if you want to close a question as "too easy" then you should be required to provide this answer, and since you say the reason is that the answer is "too easy" it shouldn't be a big problem. In fact, only the first person voting to close would have to find the link to the easy answer, everyone else could just pile on. If you can't find the easy answer, that's fine with me, just leave the question open.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:19
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    Except, as others have already told you, "too easy" is not a close vote reason anymore. This "problem" was fixed years ago; you're a little late to the party. RE: since I don't have privileges to vote to close or reopen questions, I'm not able to access the current state of the system with regard to the close reasons... Here's your screen shot. See? No, "too basic" reason there. It's gone. Vamoose.
    – J.R.
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:24

3 Answers 3


Questions are not closed like that any more. The close reason for "General Reference" does indeed link to a list of references.

Please include the research you've done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

As can be seen in this question.

  • And here's a question where useful links appear in comments.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:57
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    The current message provides a list of references, but not links to answers within those references. I suggest the people who vote to close because the answer can be "easily" found in those references are far better equipped to find the answer in those references than the OP, and we should encourage them to make the extra effort to actually find an answer in one of those references and suggest it. That results in a question being closed with a link to an answer rather than simply to a dead end saying "work harder".
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 8:54
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    @OldPro From long experience on this site, I can tell you the message isn't "work harder", but demonstrate you've done any work whatsoever before asking strangers on the internet to do work for you. Even just showing what they googled (forget dictionaries!) & why it didn't suffice is enough to preclude closure on almost all questions. But the reality is most askers haven't googled at all before asking, and that is what the message is saying. It also says that for those who struggle with identifying answers readily available in an English dictionary, ELL is probably a better site.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 5, 2017 at 14:43

I just looked at the last seven questions put on hold, just to see what I would find. Every one of them had helpful comments below the closed question.

These comments weren't always left by the same people who did the voting, but why should they be? Sometimes I've voted to close after someone else left a helpful comment; sometimes I've left a helpful comment while others were voting to close a question. I can't see any reason why those doing the voting should be the ones who leave comments. I think the community works better when such duties can be voluntarily divided.

Sorry, but I see this as a non-issue.

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    In this specific instance, I think if you say "I'm refusing to answer the question, or even allow others to answer the question, because it can be so easily answered elsewhere" then it is only fair that, given that we are all in this to provide a reference work, that you go to the extra effort of actually showing this supposed easily provided answer elsewhere before you shut down the question for being too easy to answer. In short, put up or shut up.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:00
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    I think it's ironic that you're debating this with me, given that I'm the person who left the helpful comment in the question you linked to from four years ago. In any event, I don't agree with your paraphrase. When I vote to put a question on hold, I'm usually saying, "This question should be fixed up before people answer it." The onus should be on the OP to improve the question, not on the voters to answer it.
    – J.R.
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:06
  • @J.R. Yes, it is ironic. Seems to be a common occurrence here. To me, if the question is easily answered, it doesn't need to be fixed up to be made harder to answer, it just needs to be given its link to its clear standard internet reference source answer so we can be both done with it and leave the OP with an answer. That seems to me so much more preferable than leaving it closed without an answer.
    – Old Pro
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:14
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    @OldPro - What seems common to me is that the community does exactly what you're wanting it to do; helpful comments are routinely left on bad questions.
    – J.R.
    Mar 5, 2017 at 9:18
  • @OldPro As I demonstrated with a comment on Matt's answer. It happens. And if you don't agree that a question is really General Reference and easily answered, then you can ask about that too.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Mar 5, 2017 at 18:24
  • If questions like this one are going to have helpful comments and even answers, then why do they need to be closed?
    – Old Pro
    Mar 14, 2017 at 1:50

The question title proposes

Answer General Reference Questions with a link anyway

I suggest that the OP visit SE Meta and propose the same remedy that they recommend for EL&U, and then listen to their responses.

For example...

Before a question is closed on Stack Overflow for being trivial, users must post an answer, in the form of a code or link, it doesn't really matter if the answer isn't 100% correct or accurate, as long as it helps the OP.

Do you see how the recommendation might be abused, or be seen to be very unhelpful, on any SE site?

Links without any explanation, or clarification are not helpful to users or visitors. This is why answers with just nude links are frowned upon and usually deleted. And, if I'm not mistaken, on EL&U the user still has to overcome the 30 character limit.

P.S If had you clicked on the link above, the meta question posted in 2012, contains the following description:

While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes.

Two solid reasons why providing a link is not always helpful and could result with more frustrated users and visitors. Further on,

A link to a potential solution is always welcome, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

Some background history on LMGTFY on Stack Exchange

(AKA Let Me Google That For You)

In 2009 a question was posted on SE Meta, which contained the telling introduction (emphasis mine)

I've just asked a question on Stack Overflow which was a prime candidate for googling. I admit it was a poor question and with a little bit of research I would have found the answer. It annoyed me that someone put a let-me-google-that-for-you link in the comments.

A user posted the following comment underneath

Questions with an answer that is trivial to find on Google are not helping the SO community. They are generating superfluous reputation, lowering the bar for asking genuine questions, and generally wasting people's time. Furthermore, the answers to these questions are almost always summarized, plagiarized or synthesized from the Google search results. Posting a LGTFY link is like tough love. It points the user to the right answer and does it in such a way that they will hopefully turn to Google for simple questions and SO for their more difficult questions.

That comment received a staggering 334 upvotes

Meanwhile in the EL&U meta archives, I found the following concerning LMGTFY and link-only answers

The short and sweet answer is, LMGTFY links are not filtered here because barely anyone ever posts them in the first place. (And should you run into one, flag it for mod attention and it will be dealt with.)

In 2011...

I find 'link' answers to be somewhat rude; if you were going to bother to do the google search to create a link in an answer, at least some explanation should be added.

In 2012...

Answers are for on-topic questions. You should not answer in the comments of an on-topic question. It is true that link only answers are frowned upon for many reasons.
General reference questions are expressly off-topic. It is also true that "the definition of a GR question is a question that can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link." [...]

So, that said:

  1. General reference questions are off-topic.
  2. Off-topic questions should be closed and not answered.
  3. Posting a comment with the link that justifies the general reference close reason is appropriate and welcomed.
    @Kit Z. Fox♦

In reply as to whether lmgtfy comments should be blacklisted

(I don't encourage commenting by lmgtfy.com at all or even a google search or even the link that a google search gives in the first hit, but it is very annoying to see a question, google for the obvious, and find that first-link answer, a rudeness in itself for the OP to not have done that minimal research)


In short, leaving a link-only-answer can backfire. It might be construed as being rather rude by the querent. The page linked might leave the OP more confused than ever before because they don't know how to extrapolate the information. The link might rot, this happens, and it is very very frustrating. And lastly, it might encourage visitors to post off-topic questions, inasmuch as any answer is better than no answer.

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