Can people stop being quite so snarky when answering questions please? There has been a noticeable increase in answers that begin with snarky/preachy statements followed by an answer, as well as generally snarky answers.

Whilst this may appeal to the baser sysadmin instincts and may get something off your chest, I don't think it does Sever Fault any good at all. If you feel the need to be snarky please don't or go somewhere else and be snarky.

At least one user has been temporarily suspended for being rude. Being snarky, is in reality, no different from being rude. Mods would you mind having a quiet word with someone if snarky answers are flagged to you ?

Everyone - please refrain from snarky answers.

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+1 - though I would be just in front of TomTom but still right at the back of the line for throwing stones on this one –  Chopper3 Aug 13 '11 at 16:02
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can you provide some specific examples? I find it difficult to talk about this stuff in the abstract. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 13 '11 at 23:05
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Kinda surprised this is [now] +10/-2 and the same isn't reflected in the answers yet. –  jscott Aug 14 '11 at 1:02
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@JefAtwood: I deliberately didn't provide examples as I didn't want to be seen to be singling particular people out. –  Iain Aug 14 '11 at 6:06
    
On a related note. I was told linking to LMGTFY has been disabled. Is this a part of the reason why? –  Nixphoe Aug 15 '11 at 1:07
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@Nixphoe, yep, plus this site isn't "questions & how to find answers" it's "questions & answers". –  Chris S Aug 15 '11 at 2:29
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Hmm. Lately I've seen a lot of comments come through the moderation queue as rude/offensive (perhaps the majority of them might belong to a certain user who provides great answers, and was absent for an extended period of time and came back lately), to which when I read them I think to myself "Hmm, just one flag, probably by the op being a bit precious about their mis-guided ideals" and promptly click "dismiss". I guess what others consider to be rude, I don't. –  Mark Henderson Aug 15 '11 at 4:10
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@Mark, I think you've hit the nail on the head. On a global site we're obviously going to see different cultures and degrees which people see as impolite or rude. As you are well aware, Australians tend to say what they think, yet some other places this is incorrectly seen as downright rude. I'm tired of always having to compensate and and make allowances for other cultures but never seeing the same courtesy extended towards mine. –  John Gardeniers Aug 15 '11 at 4:43
    
@John - also interesting to note, the person who has collected the most comment flags lately is also Australian. I'm detecting a pattern here... –  Mark Henderson Aug 15 '11 at 4:47
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This came up a while back and I wrote a post on it (RTFM: blog.serverfault.com/post/1306724710). I think it is something we always have to keep in check. Also. for what its worth, I believe snark usually comes from insecurity. So when someone says something snarky I generally read it as: "I am insecure about my own knowledge and skill -- so I will now berate your ignorance as a way to to try cover up my own." Or, as a more concise version, I read it as "I suck." –  Kyle Brandt Aug 15 '11 at 14:39
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@Mark Henderson: Is there some middle ground of mod action between "ignore" and "mod hammer of doom"? At the moment, you're essentially running an open-loop system where unwanted behaviour can't be gently adjusted via feedback, but only when the car's landed completely in the ditch. To put it another way, since you're clearly referring to me: I had no idea that I was collecting mod flags, and hence had no way to know that I was offending people. –  womble Aug 16 '11 at 0:44
    
@womble - when it comes to comments, no. They don't show up in your flag list, they don't affect any weights, and there's no middle ground. A flagged comment doesn't even trigger a mod alert that there's a flag (we only see them when we look for them). Comments are a 2nd class citizen. But - if we felt that there was a problem, rather than over sensitive people, we would have contacted you privately. –  Mark Henderson Aug 16 '11 at 1:04
    
@Mark, if those flags are due to my comments please say so, although that would surprise me greatly. –  John Gardeniers Aug 16 '11 at 5:29
    
@John - no, I don't think I've ever seen a single flag on your account. –  Mark Henderson Aug 16 '11 at 7:29
    
I am certainly guilty of snark, and was recently called out for sending a lmgtfy link. I'm most tempted to do that when I see a question that is easily pluggable into a search engine, and obviously no effort has been put in by the asker. It makes me think that they are using SF as a search engine to boost their reputation. I know that it's wrong to be sarcastic about it and remind myself to try to be helpful. In the vein of being helpful, at work, I often help people solve their problems and show them how I discovered the problem and came to an answer. –  gWaldo Aug 23 '11 at 14:00
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7 Answers 7

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It's even listed in the faq and everything:

Etiquette

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated.

Be nice.

Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

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+1 dissention begets consent to protest, not break the rules. –  Chris S Aug 15 '11 at 2:42
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@ChrisS - "Bring your sense of humor" makes it a bit of a grey area though. What some see as mean others see as playful ribbing. The key is keeping the snark "playful" rather than "mean" –  voretaq7 Aug 15 '11 at 17:47
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I'm certainly not trying to make an excuse, but every now and then when I see a particularly poor question (often they want to do something totally unsafe, illegal, immoral or downright stupid) my snarky side comes out. In my experience, this is where 99% of all the snarky comments are made.

I have been concious of myself doing this more frequently just recently and it's definitely not a good direction to be headed for me as a person, or the site as a whole. I'm trying to stop my sarcastic comments and replace them with downvotes instead, which is also what I'd encourage others to do.

As for why I do it, I think it's because I really care and take pride in what I do, and it angers me when someone thinks they can do something illegal or shows absolutely no effort in their question whatsoever. At the risk of sounding a bit crazy, passion does funny things to you, and I'm very passionate about what I do and it annoys me that everyone doesn't have the same attitude. If they were asking me the same thing face to face I'd probably also be quite rude to them and make it very clear to them that what they wish to do is a stupid idea and is fundamentally flawed for x, y and z reasons. (Un)fortunately, I will not change that about myself, and see it as a positive thing.

Ultimately, I'm of the opinion that if you're prepared to ask a question here, you should be prepared to listen to and take advice from subject experts, even if it's not what you want to hear. If I think they need a preaching session, I will preach - but only to try and educate them and make them understand why their idea sends shivers up my spine, and not in a good way. What I will say though is that it's very possible to preach without being rude, and simply and clearly explaining your objections to a particular question

I do agree with your overall sentiment though, and I'd encourage everyone to refrain from the snarky comments and instead just downvote. I'd hate for Server Fault to get a bad rep as the place where everyone has a chip on their shoulders, and I wonder what some peoples employers would think if they saw some of the comments people made.

(Sorry for any dodgy looking words, I'm on my phone and autocorrect can be crazy sometimes)

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I too have noticed a recent uptick in snarkiness in myself that edges close to a line or perhaps goes slightly over. I wonder why there seems to be that common experience among some of us here lately. –  Wesley Aug 14 '11 at 1:32
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Snark begets snark. –  Iain Aug 14 '11 at 7:28
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I suspect its battle fatigue - you can only deal with so many really bad questions and 'Can I haz specs for youtube clone hosted on an unexpanded vic 20' before it wears you down, I think. –  RobM Aug 14 '11 at 19:26
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What I would really enjoy seeing is a lack of questions that require snarkiness.

From my experience in what I've seen others go through, and what I've experienced with questions I've answered myself, is that a lot of people are not interested in hearing the right answer, they only want their own mis-guided ideas confirmed.

So, next time someone asks "Can I install 60 instances of SQL Server Express onto a server with 60Gb of RAM running a 32-bit OS", it would be really really nice that they would listen to you when you tell them that what they're asking is a downright dumb move. And after asking them a lot of questions, you discover that the root problem they're trying to solve is to avoid buying an SQL License, and they have some crazy idea that a 32-bit OS is more memory efficient than a 64-bit OS.

After running through the above scenario 10,15,20 times, with the same block-headed ignorance received back in 95% of cases, it's very easy to become upset.

Now, is that an excuse for being rude? No. Of course not. But it happens. And I suspect that rather than there being an influx of snarky answers, you'll find that the cause of the snarky answers is an influx of really poor questions, where the asker refuses to heed the expert advice they've come here for.

Unfortunately there's no real fix for that sort of behaviour, and as this site becomes more and more popular, it's only going to continue. So I suggest that you do as a few others have done (myself included), and take a break. Seriously. Take a week, a month, 3 months, off. Come back refreshed and ready to show that rep who's boss.

Just don't expect there to be any fewer crappy questions when you come back :)

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I see two issues at stake here. One is snark. The other is preachiness. Conflating the two is going to cause problems with the argument. Examples would be nice as this is such a case-by-case topic that there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution. One person's / culture's snark is another person's / culture's legitimate teaching tool.

There has been a noticeable increase in answers that begin with snarky/preachy statements followed by an answer

Let's not conflate snark and sermons. The sermon is often the true answer. The "answer" that follows the sermon is often instruction on how to explosively remove one's foot. So I would argue to not to discourage the sermons. If someone wants to have instruction on how to make an open relay, let's all agree that a sermon is in order. Conceivably, it's possible that an open relay internal to an organization would solve a very speciated problem and so be a legitimate question that requires an answer. However the sermon would be good for any future readers who do not have a legitimate reason to do that.

As an anecdote: I've learned much from forum posts and magazine articles that didn't answer the direct question, but instead preached against the original idea. I just didn't know that what I wanted to do was a bad idea. (Thoughts of trying to finagle a Windows SMB share to mount as a drive letter a few years back come to mind)

But I don't want to pull things off topic as I think the problem you're mostly addressing is snark and rudeness.

At least one user has been temporarily suspended for being rude.

My first though when reading this sentence was "Rude and snarky are not quite the same thing" And then I saw the next sentence...

Being snarky, is in reality, no different from being rude.

I am not yet prepared to agree with this statement. Perhaps it's a misunderstanding of terms though.

Everyone - please refrain from snarky answers.

We will first have to define the terms. What exactly is a snarky answer? As it's subjective, I think people will always have disagreements on this topic until the sun goes nova. Another anecdote: I'm an American. I've worked with Australians for a few years now. Our two cultures have caused some mild clashes, misunderstandings and dinged feelings. There have been some cases where I thought to myself "I guess that person just doesn't like me," when in reality there was no such dynamic. I later discovered that what I thought was rude was in reality not rude by another culture. In fact, I was actually liked.

Rude may not be rude. Snark may not be snark. We must define terms as concretely as possible but leave wiggle room for a variety of communication styles. Certainly questioning the virtue of a person's sister is always going to be rude in any culture. Saying "are you kidding me?" to a proposed design isn't, however, black and white. Some places would call you into HR for that. Others wouldn't even know that a trip to HR could even be considered in that scenario.

I've seen posts that I thought were rude, but they might not have been. There are posts that others have written which I've read that some people would take offense to, but I am completely oblivious to any rude undertones.

Summary

On the topic of preaching. I cannot get behind any effort to keep the true motives of a poster from being found out and the true solution to the true problem from being given. Question A does not always need Answer A. It might need Answer 14c § 9. But to reiterate, I don't think this topic is at all about "preaching" as it is about rudeness.

On the topic of snark and rudeness. I do support the increase of politeness and hope we all do too. However, the perception of snarkiness is what's always going to cause trouble. I think we all know that "a certain someone who was recently banned who shall remain nameless" crossed lines because his snark was most certainly ad hominem. Personal attacks should never be okay in a public place for discussion. Certainly, there are some users who are more sarcastic than others (I'm thinking of two non-ban-hammered people in particular). Can it be called outright rudeness? Only that person can say for sure since only they know the intent to their words.

For myself, I'll try to be more careful with possibly ambiguous statements and be more cheerful and openly polite. Perhaps that's the only option that will ever be acceptable in a public forum with so many different people and cultures.

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"snarky - informal unpleasant and scornful" vs "rude - unexpected and unpleasant"; "not the same" is splitting hairs. I agree that preachy is different than snarky/rude, but you lost me on the rest. –  Chris S Aug 15 '11 at 2:33
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Hah, Australians are terribly rude in the way we express things, especially to Americans, but we usually mean it endearingly. Perhaps that's why I dismiss so many "rude" flags without action... –  Mark Henderson Aug 15 '11 at 4:12
    
+1 on preaching. Just because we're a Q&A site doesn't mean we need to A all Qs. Very much like how when MacGyver made explosives they would always leave out some key ingredient so kids at home couldn't kill themselves, so too must we look out for those who may not know better and bring their careers to a crashing halt. –  voretaq7 Aug 15 '11 at 17:50
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I submit a couple of possible example questions:

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Yay, 2 out of 3! I'll stick to down- and close-votes in the future. –  womble Aug 14 '11 at 1:22
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@womble - well you do have good input. It could just be put more tactfully. "The right answer is to FIX THE PROBLEM, not bandaid it into submission" is the honest truth with out calling the person a moron for not having the same common sense that others might. –  Nixphoe Aug 14 '11 at 3:27
    
The problem with tact is that it's rarely effective in actually getting through to the person who needs it. I've got plenty of examples where subtle and tactful just resulted in persistent idiocy. The choices really boil down to "ignore it and perpetuate unchallenged stupidity on the Internet" or "challenge the ignorance robustly so that it is clear that this is bad". I guess "flag for incineration so the bad information doesn't hang around" could work, if the mods want to deal with it all, but that does nothing to fix the larger stupidity problem. –  womble Aug 14 '11 at 3:58
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Iv'e read each of your three examples and can't for the life of me see what you believe is snarky about any of them. Maybe it's a cultural thing but if you find those snarky perhaps you're just being over sensitive. Sure there have been some real snarky posts but those three are not amongst them. –  John Gardeniers Aug 14 '11 at 9:26
    
@womble - I totally agree with you. I think the line gets drawn at where do we as a community draw the line? Do we want to be as helpful and profession as possible? Or do we want to call names to try and get our point across. I think if you called anyone an idiot, the knee jerk reaction is to hyper focus on the name calling, and less on what the subject matter is. I'm mainly coming fromt he point of view of customer service (a daily thing I have to work with) and less from a professional-to-professional point of view. –  Nixphoe Aug 14 '11 at 16:21
    
A look from the outside in, or if we're trying to grow a community, if someone random from Google comes across a question that he has the same issue to and they see name calling they might not think this is the community they would want to stick around long for. I’m all for preaching as in other answers here, as it helps with why we hold those views. –  Nixphoe Aug 14 '11 at 16:22
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@Nixphoe: When you get the "security auditor is an idiot" question deleted, your point about not calling people names will be less hypocritical. In the meantime, I'll just say that while I'll often be sarcastic and what you might call "snarky", I do try very hard to play the ball and not the man; I feel "that is a stupid idea" to be very different from "you are a stupid person for having that idea". –  womble Aug 14 '11 at 21:03
    
@womble - understood, and that's a great way of putting it, "that is a stupid idea." By no means was that me calling you out. It was me more being preachy about my philosophy of the OP's question/comment. –  Nixphoe Aug 14 '11 at 21:42
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@Nix - "if someone random from Google comes across a question that he has the same issue to and they see name calling they might not think this is the community they would want to stick around long for" - years ago, before I knew what I was doing, google was how I fixed all my problems. And often I would see forum posts saying "Why are you doing that, that's downright stupid/dangerous/impossible", which then caused me to re-evaluate my techniques. Telling people they're jamming a round peg into a square hole is important, and sometimes shock tactics are the best way to get through. –  Mark Henderson Aug 15 '11 at 4:21
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I honestly don't see the problem with those 3 examples. They show people pushing the asker hard to address the real problem rather than the perceived one. While some of it is phrase rather brutally, I think that addressing the real issue rather than working around it is a good honest professional approach. –  RobM Aug 15 '11 at 8:06
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There's definitely a line between "good snarky" (where the question gets answered or the poster gets pointed at the right solution) and "bad snarky" (where we're just being mean) -- I can't think of any SF regulars, myself included, who haven't occasionally stepped over the line into being mean, and I think it's something we all need to remain cognizant of when we answer "marginal" questions.

That said, sometimes I feel a little snark is called for -- not to be mean, but to remind certain folks asking questions that system administration is a specialist profession that is perhaps not for everyone, people who are substantially out of their depth and need to Seek Professional Help, or when dealing with folks who "just don't get it".


A couple of cases in point from my answer history:

reaching 99.9999% uptime - slightly snarky, probably preachy, but explains why they're looking in the wrong rabbit hole and aims them at a solution.

Am I getting DDoSed, and what should I about it? - 99% pure snark and I'll admit it - This was "HALP! I R BEING DDoS'D!" question number 1472 for the week and this poor guy got hit with the deadly snark-ray.

I deleted files from my Linux box's /boot directory and now it won't boot - Preaching from on high, with plenty of extra snarkbiscuits, but in the grandest tradition of system administration "Ok, you broke it - YOU get to fix it. Here's the instruction manual and a screwdriver".

Pretty much every DNS question I've ever answered - Which all begin or end with some variant of "If you do not currently own a copy of DNS and BIND you really need to go buy one and read list of chapters before continuing to mess about with DNS".

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I got to watch another drive-by from the "Server Fault Welcoming Committee" today.

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The author ended up deleting the question, and I doubt he'll be back to SF now.

The question wasn't the greatest but the author said he was just promoted to Network Admin and was learning things. Instead of being helped out on rewriting the question, he was told to get some training and come back later on top of collecting a quick 3 close votes.

This site serves to help people, so please stop making comments if that is not your goal.

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I can still read the question and I don't see any snark in the comments at all. It's unfortunate that people get 'promoted' (or dumped on) without having the (basic) skills to do the job in hand but companies can't expect to get everything for free. Madhatters advice about getting some education is entirely sound and more people need to realise that. –  Iain Oct 17 '13 at 15:04
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I can assure people that snark wasn't intended. I personally think that wandering onto the site, posting a question, and having it closed with no feedback it all is more demoralising than having some human interaction, so when I voted to close it, I felt obliged to offer some sort of feedback. This site exists to help people, sure, but not all people, nor all the questions they might wish to ask. I'm definitely not authoritative about what's on topic, and what's not, but the three close votes collected in so short a time suggests I might not be alone in feeling that his question wasn't. –  MadHatter Oct 17 '13 at 15:08
    
Doug, if I'd felt his question could have been improved by a rewrite, I'd've tried to help. But the OP, by his own admission, knows next to nothing about networks. I didn't feel this was a question that rewriting could have improved. –  MadHatter Oct 17 '13 at 15:13
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That question is essentially "how do I expand my DHCP scope?" Very borderline on whether or not that's an acceptable question. Would you think bicycles.se would be a good place to ask how to put air in your tires? It's a problem we face with quality content lately. When SF started, there were marvelous architectural question, lots of very high-level and very detailed discussion amongst professionals in the field. Now it's turned into a place where a high rep user like myself isn't learning much from the content. I'm simply an answerer to others and that gets old. –  MDMarra Oct 17 '13 at 15:30
    
(continued) so there's been a backlash against very basic questions like this from people that used to get a lot more out of the site than they do now, like myself. It's unfortunate, because some of us have started to leave and the "high end" of the site that used to exist is shrinking while the majority of new questions are entirely googlable or off-topic, which is a shame. I like to share knowledge and give to the community, but with the mountain of terrible and very basic questions lately, there's not a lot that I'm getting back. I think that leads to some of the backlash against easy Qs. –  MDMarra Oct 17 '13 at 15:32
    
My intention is not to pick on you specifically @MadHatter, but for me it is a good example of how newbies are treated in general on this site. According to Iain this treatment is fine and its ok to reject questions (and people) like this. But to me, you would not see that type of response on Stack Overflow and most other SE sites. It is probably a good reason why there has been a steady decline in SF usage. –  Doug Luxem Oct 17 '13 at 15:32
    
@MDMarra "Discussions" are not allowed on the site so I don't think you will ever see a lot of that content here. There's only so much you can do within the Q&A format. –  Doug Luxem Oct 17 '13 at 15:35
    
Doug, understood, and thank you for the clarification (though I still don't think I treated the OP badly). But what makes you think there's been a "steady decline in SF usage"? My vague understanding from the Powers That Be is that it's been expanding steadily, and arguably that's been causing some problems - possibly even this problem. –  MadHatter Oct 17 '13 at 15:37
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Discussion was a poor word choice there, but it's undeniable that in the 2009-2010 era, the majority of the questions were much more advanced than they are now. I'm in the top 5 for rep on SF, I understand the difference between Q&A and discussion. Perhaps it's because of the google pagerank now compared to 2009, which is driving more googlers here than high-quality sysadmins looking to form a community. Back then it seemed like a lot more people wanted to be part of a community. Now people seem to want to leave a drive-by question rather than reading the docs themselves, lowing the quality. –  MDMarra Oct 17 '13 at 15:38
    
@MadHatter, I will also add that your comments were not "snarky", but this is the only open question on Meta discussing this topic. SF traffic may be expanding, but the # of questions is declining and it seems anecdotally that the voting is too. –  Doug Luxem Oct 17 '13 at 15:39
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And also "good subjective" questions are allowed, which are the exact kind of questions that we're missing. Something like How should an IT department choose a Linux distro is a recent example of the type of "good subjective" question that used to generate excellent content here. Now there are a thousand "how do I give my scope more addresses?" for each of them. The signal-to-noise ratio for good sysadmins wanting to further their professional knowledge is terrible right now, partially because of the type of question that you linked to, –  MDMarra Oct 17 '13 at 15:42
    
Could someone please post the comments, and possibly the question, here? –  dcaswell Oct 17 '13 at 16:27
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I read the question and I think it has a place here on SF. It's not great, and probably deserves a downvote unless expanded/revised, but not sure if it is close worthy. The biggest issue I see is that the OP needs to understand if those 20 additional addresses are in use somewhere else before expanding the scope. If it's Windows DHCP, then answering how to expand it is simple enough. While it may be a basic question, there are PLENTY of basic questions from years gone by here. I get everyone's arguments here, but I think this question could probably have been helped along and stayed. –  TheCleaner Oct 18 '13 at 13:54
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@dcaswell I've posted a screenshot. @others the question is not about "how to expand the DHCP scope". It is about the possible implications of doing so. Folks really should develop the habit of actually reading and understanding a question prior to hitting the close link underneath. –  the-wabbit Oct 18 '13 at 19:59
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@syneticon-dj are you seriously defending that question? To answer it, you would need to either be in that user's environment or be a mind reader. Would you care to explain how that question is valuable or topical to the Server Fault community? (Also, the fact that he brings up superscopes and VLANs does indeed lead me to believe that it's about the act of adding 20 addresses, but if we really have to argue over what the question is actually about, isn't that another sign that it's not a very good question?) –  MDMarra Oct 20 '13 at 0:42
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