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I have noticed a significant number of questions worded as:

What is the difference between [first word] and [other word]?

Some of differences are really interesting distinctions that stimulate excellent answers. Others are completely inane and could be solved by simply pulling up the words in your local dictionary.

I don't personally have a problem with this form of question but I am getting a little tired of feeling like the person asking the question is (a) really lazy or (b) already knows what the answer is.

The most charitable view would treat these questions as coming from people who do not know English well or those genuinely curious about the finer points of word definition.

The least charitable view would treat these questions as coming from people who are completely unable to find interesting questions to ask so they recycle old questions with new words.

I am fine answering these until the cows come up but I had not noticed a meta discussion about it and wanted to hear what the community thinks of the subject.

And also: Is there a good tag to use to stick all of these into the same bucket?

7

First, the simple part: the appropriate tag for these types of questions is .

Second, guidelines: well, a question that provides the context ("I'm writing [x] and need a word for [y]. Does [word A] or [word B] fit better?") is likely to be of higher quality than one that does not, but the implication doesn't always work in the other direction. For example, What is the difference in usage between "for instance" and "for example"? doesn't really provide any context, but is nonetheless a good question because of the nature of the expressions it's asking about. Which is hardly helpful for a guideline.

I think it comes down to the same sort of advice as we can give for any other type of question: make sure it's not trivial, phrase it so it can be answered, and provide as much context as possible.

  • Thanks for the word-choice tag. I was under the impression that the tag was used for people actually needing to choice between two words, not people simply curious about the differences. – MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 14:45
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I don't personally have a problem with this form of question but I am getting a little tired of feeling like the person asking the question is (a) really lazy or (b) already knows what the answer is.

This is a serious danger sign, and should be heeded.

At the point where questions are turning off avid users because they are lazy or trivial, those sorts of questions should be disallowed.

I think it is completely fair to enforce the "please don't ask trivial questions" rule on any site in our network.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple/

Sometimes you can close all of these lazy/trivial questions as a duplicate of some canonical, generalized version of the question, but I don't think that works in this case.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/the-wikipedia-of-long-tail-programming-questions/

  • I would argue that in the spirit of "A Q/A reference that may help anyone, not just the asker", laziness and "knowing what the answer is already" has no relevance in whether it should be closed. Laziness is the cause, but only the result should matter. In other words, they should be closed because of being too simplistic for the site, not because of the motives of the OP. – tenfour Mar 31 '11 at 0:04
  • @tenfour agreed, but intentions often color our perceptions – Jeff Atwood Mar 31 '11 at 3:49
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The meta- meta-answer (to the relevant meta-meta-question) should be "Err or the side of allowing rather than disallowing". The reason is that you (as a seasoned reader) should be able to see for yourself that a question of that type dies not interest you...one should expect that not all questions would be interesting even in the general area of your greater interest (this particular stackexchange), and for these kinds of questions the form has obvious markers to tell you to avoid it. Others may like such questions, so err on allowing them so that others can look at them and discuss.

That said, sure, the direction of these 'difference' questions could be stated better, but sometimes that's a product of the nature of the casual user who 1) would have questions of that sort and 2) not be able to articulate it in the best way.

  • 2
    at the point where questions from new users are driving away regular experienced users, I can say without hesitation that the new users are less valuable and should be sacrificed. To the extent that they are filling up the site with questions uninteresting to avid users -- they're causing major collateral damage to the community. I know they don't mean to, but that does not change the fact that they are. – Jeff Atwood Mar 31 '11 at 3:54
  • @Jeff: Yes, I get (and agree that it should be) that the site is for regular experienced users. But even within that set of users they might disagree on what is interesting (one could have an infinite splitting into interest groups). So I feel some tolerance of non-group-like behavior should be tolerated (especially here where many very interested and interesting users are not native speakers of English and may not be able to articulate questions well). – Mitch Mar 31 '11 at 13:46
  • @Jeff: Also, if you want to keep the long term users interested and posting, something new has to happen (and it's more likely not going to fit the expected culture exactly). – Mitch Mar 31 '11 at 13:47

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