So, what can I ask about on Stack Overflow? Is it okay to ask for help with a homework project?! For help with debugging my code? If not those, then what does make an okay question? And what makes a really good question? (Does it have to include code?)
Or what if I'm into Open Source software? There’s opensource.stackexchange.com, that looks good… but what if I’m interested in close relatives of open source, like ‘source-available’ commercial licenses? Can I ask about that there? (Hint: no!)
How do I find out the answers?
If you're like me, you may feel that the ‘help’ function in Stack Overflow is fairly hidden away:
And even if you've clicked on ‘help’, where should you go next for a straightforward answers to questions like the ones above…?
It wasn't obvious to me for ages — and I've used Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange sites for several years — that all Stack Exchange sites have a version of the ‘What topics can I ask about here?’ question — the one lurking somewhere towards the middle-bottom of the screenshot above — and that it’s always at the standard location
/help/on-topic within each site, and… that it’s basically what you’re looking for if you’re reading this article!
I asked on meta.stackexchange.com whether they could possibly add a link to this, somewhere front and centre on their sites. The general response was that it probably wasn’t going to happen any time soon. With an additional suggestion that
/help/on-topic might not be the link I was really looking for, and that I might want to consider another page called
/tour, which all Stack Exchange sites have too.
Well I looked at both and IMHO
/help/on-topic is the key page on all the Stack Exchange sites which I’ve looked at.
But, you know what? Since all Stack Exchange sites basically have the same CSS and layout, I’ve written an open source Google Chrome Extension to just add both these links to the left hand menu of any Stack Exchange site!
See that bottom bit? That’s what the Stack Exchange Help Links extension adds! 😀 (The links are to
Like any Chrome extension you can see which sites it’s running on: it shows its icon in green when it's identified a Stack Exchange site — grey otherwise:
Q: What makes a good Stack Exchange question? A: Something that doesn't just help you, but is likely to help other people in future. Your question can achieve this by being well researched, easy to find, and general purpose enough to be likely to apply to other people too.
So do your research. Really try to solve the problem yourself, first. If you can't, then cut your code down and down and down, until you have a minimal — smallest possible — example of code that doesn't work, or doesn't do what you expect.
Then check the help links above to make sure that you’re on target and on the right Stack Exchange site. Check other good questions (ones that you’ve found helpful) to see how they’ve been asked. Once you've done all that, you'll be asking a good question… so go for it, ask away!