At the moment, the fact that “general reference” questions are inappropriate isn’t very prominent in the FAQ. As far as I can see, it’s only mentioned in the section “Why are some questions closed?”, which I would imagine many people may only read after they have a question closed.

Would it make sense to also mention it in a section that users are more likely to read before asking their first question — eg the section “What shouldn’t I ask here?” It could be worded something like:

“General reference” — questions that are too basic. If a single query in a well-known freely-available reference completely answers your question (for instance, searching for your question or a key word from it in Google, Wikipedia, or Dictionary.com), then you don’t need to ask it here. If you want more details than such sources give, then say so — make clear, in your question, what you want to know. Some guidelines.

I had a memory of a blog post where Jeff gave more general guidelines on what exactly makes a question GR, or saves it from that fate, but I can’t find that post now.

(Thanks to @Waggers for raising the issue here.)


1 Answer 1


I could add a section to the FAQ along the lines of:

Where can I find answers to simple and basic questions?

If your question is simple and can probably be easily answered by looking it up, then you may find common online internet resources to be of some help. View our list of community recommended resources to find some that may be of help to you.

  • Try a dictionary if you want to know what a word means or how it evolved.
  • Try a thesaurus if you want to know words that have a similar meaning to one you already know.

Of course, if your question isn't adequately answered by these resources, feel free to ask here, but make sure you mention the research you've done.

Would this work?

  • 3
    Yes. just one small change, to include phrases as well as words
    – Waggers
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 21:47
  • I like this a lot. It's encouraging because it provides help on where else to look, rather than just telling people not to ask gen ref questions. Perhaps rephrase the end a little to keep it peppy and point out that we want specific questions, something like, "Of course, if your question isn't fully answered by these resources, feel free to ask here. Be sure to mention the research you've done and what you're still hoping to learn!"
    – aedia λ
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 16:16

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