This is an exact dup of a question I asked on meta.SO a year and a half ago, but it didn't get any useful answers back then, and I've noticed a lot of this sort of question lately, so I think it's worth revisiting.

Examples of the type of question I'm talking about:

I'm obviously not shy about voting to close these (which I couldn't do when I first asked this) and with the Vote to Close chat room these get closed pretty quickly when necessary.

I think they should be closed because they're almost always overly broad (NARQ), often they're shopping questions (what equipment is the best value - Too Localized), and many times the person asking doesn't seem to have some basic knowledge a SysAdmin should.

Is closing them quickly a fair way to deal with this type of question?

3 Answers 3


When I see such questions I try to determine, mainly from the way they are asked, whether they are being asked by a complete noob, who really doesn't fit the professional sysadmin/IT person profile, or whether it is being asked by someone who is simply working outside their comfort zone.

For the former case I vote to close. For the second I treat it as a legitimate question.

  • 3
    +1 for 'outside their comfort zone'. The SA space is large, not all of us do everything in it.
    – sysadmin1138 Mod
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 11:33
  • +1 - Although I'm both a complete noob and often working outside my comfort zone. :)
    – boehj
    Commented May 28, 2011 at 23:42
  • 1
    Truth is you can't expand your comfort zone without working outside of it Commented Aug 28, 2013 at 8:15

Is there some kernel of an intrinsically useful beginner sysadmin question in there somewhere?

If there isn't, definitely close them with extreme prejudice! No argument there at all.

If there is, I would try to have a canonical question of that type and close them all as dupes of the canonical "Sysadmin beginner HOWTO: {topicname}" question.


Help us build a great library of canonical answers. If you keep seeing the same form of questions, whether it’s mod_rewrite rules on Server Fault, freezing computers on Super User, or how to use regular expressions to parse HTML, write a great, canonical answer, once and for all. Make it community wiki so that as many other people as possible can make it great. Work really hard on writing something that is clear, concise, and understandable by as wide an audience as possible.

  • +1 - there's already a few of these floating around, we could do with a few more though Commented May 25, 2011 at 5:07
  • 2
    When someone did write a canonical answer and we started closing questions as a dupe of it someone took exception to us doing so just 3 paragraphs earlier than your quote above.
    – user9517
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 14:31
  • @iain it still takes a judgment call in any case, obviously Commented May 25, 2011 at 21:04
  • @JefAtwood: Indeed, and I just realised I forgot to add a smiley to my comment too.
    – user9517
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 21:06

This comes back to one of the most common problems for sysadmins: people don't know how to ask good (smart) questions.

Asking smart questions is a skill that is increasingly being lost. I blame Google :-) I have proof of this, and it's not just an online problem.

Asking smart question isn't difficult, but it takes thought and a few seconds of planning.

When you see vague and open-ended questions like the ones you've shown above, just closing the question "with extreme prejudice" ignores the opportunity to help the person learn.

Send them here, instead:


This is a high-leverage response. It lets them know that you've heard them (which is important!), that you're trying to be helpful, but that they have a little work to do before anyone will be able to help them. It offers them the possibility of learning a useful skill.

"Answer a man's vague question, and you've taught him to ask more vague questions today. Teach him to ask good questions, and you've taught him a valuable skill that helps you both forever."

  • 4
    While there are some good points in that FAQ, it's written in an extremely offensive and patronising manner. I totally agree with some of the tips for asking better questions but that document itself is a charter for acting like a cranky jerk to anyone who doesn't ask a perfectly formed question, and I like to think we're (mostly) a little better than that around these parts. I hope we can take the good from that guide and leave the bad behind. And I wouldn't want to encourage the idea that people have to read a massive long document like that (whether rude or not) just to ask a question
    – Rob Moir
    Commented May 28, 2011 at 21:53
  • 1
    I'm with Robert. I enjoy ESR, but he can be a bit much sometimes. Also, this assumes that the OP wants to take the time to better themselves. Frankly (and maybe this is my cranky jerk sysadmin coming out) I feel that if they couldn't take the time to string together a coherent thought and reasonable question for a problem that is obviously vexing to them (and possibly costing money), then they aren't going to take the time to go to another site to learn how to do it. In which case, I'm not going to be bothered trying to decipher their half-assed question. Commented May 29, 2011 at 2:41
  • 1
    Also, we can't be expected to provide what basically amounts to hand-holding for things that in reality require an onsite paid consultant to figure out. That's way outside the scope of SF, not to mention what anyone can reasonably provide doing drive by refreshes during the workday. Commented May 29, 2011 at 2:44
  • I've read this several times but can't for the life of me see how it addresses the question that was asked. Commented May 29, 2011 at 7:52

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