I'm having some difficulty reviewing questions which I think fall into the "lacking minimal understanding" category. Where do we draw the line?

For instance, say a question is about how to configure a firewall to open port SSH for a newly enabled SSH server. This is a very easy task IF (big if) you've read anything about the basics of the firewall you're using. Should it be closed? Or do we want to provide a clear cut answer "do this"?

Could the question be salvaged if the question was framed as "how to open any port on firewall X?"

Another example would be how to get more details about a specific RPM package that is already installed. If the person has bothered to read any tutorial or just skimmed over the man page, that should be obvious. Should I vote to close it? Or should I start to write a huge answer explaining all the basics that the person has not bothered to learn somewhere else?

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    You mean like this? Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 2:55
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    Regarding tutorials, many questions we see say 'I am trying to follow tutorial xyzzy and it doesn't work...' They are prime candidates for the minimal understanding close reason.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 7:15
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    @Iain Yeah, a question that says "I followed the steps here (and gives a link to some other site)" is always a big red flag. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:03
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    I should also note that, when the custom close reasons feature was introduced, we blatantly ripped this one off from SO, but they have since gotten rid of it. Its replacement is much more specific about what the problem with such questions is. Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 3:53

6 Answers 6


I only use the "minimal understanding" reason in one scenario. It starts with reading a question and having the instant and immediate thought "$DEITY bless this poor fellow for he knows not what he does", followed by "Even if I was in a good mood for explaining $TOPIC to someone who obviously needs spoon-feeding, I still wouldn't answer this".


To me, the the main use of the "Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved," close reason is cases where the person asking really doesn't know what they're doing.

So, personally, I don't have much of a problem with a very basic questions. I'm sure there was a question one time about some option to ls or they wanted certain info out of ls and they didn't understand some of the options.

The ones I close on sight are the questions where the person clearly doesn't know what they're doing - they want to do something fairly complex but don't understand the basics or they want to do somehing strange but don't (usually can't) explain why a more standard solution would work.

Canonical examples would be the people who ask what DNS records they need to direct a domain to a port or a domain to a sub-domain or the ones that ask about creating DNS records with a hosting provider's control panel.

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    Ignorant questions that fit the description a XY problem also tend to fall into this category. If the asker doesn't understand the subject matter at all to begin with and the discussion starts ten miles down the rabbit hole, there's not a whole lot that can be done. The only possibilities are to either teach the subject from the ground up (which we don't do here), or shut the whole Q&A down.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 4:29

You have to remember that the close reasons are very Pink and Fluffy, they are an attempt to not hurt people's feelings when the crap they spewed got closed.

I generally use minimal understanding when I think that the OP is out of their depth and doesn't realise it. Or the OP is clearly clueless.

If a question is very basic, should it really be on SF? Very basic questions will likely have a better home on another SE site.

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    This is pretty much where I am. If someone's clearly wandered in without the relevant toolkit, and doesn't even realise that they need it, it's minimal understanding time for me.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 20:04

I usually use that reason when: not enough information is available (e.g. log entries, what was tried, etc.) or when you can google it in 5 seconds

The close reason actually states:

Try including attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results

So on your examples, as you can google those in 5 seconds, I would personally VTC them as well as chuck a downvote on them:

this question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

Also, do not try to answer questions that you downvote/close. This only feeds the trolls.

  • I do sometimes leave a comment pointing someone in the direction of the starting point for learning about something if I'm closing a question for minimal understanding.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 11:21
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    Yes, that's OK. But don't just post the answer from stuff you can google in 5 seconds. Or post a link to LMGTFY
    – MichelZ
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 13:50
  • Absolutely. The lelve I'm talking about is adding a comment telling someone to read DNS and Bind while closing their "Halp! I accidentally all the A recordz LOL!" question.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 14:00

I mainly use "minimal understanding" when the person hasn't shown any effort in trying to solve the problem themselves. They come and want us just to tell them the steps. To me that fits with the stated explanation, "Try including attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results."

For clueless questions, I'm more tolerant since everyone has to be a new sysadmin some time and learn somewhere.

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    A new sysadmin wouldn't be clueless, they would have some basics on which to build. The cluelessness we see is largely amateurs way over their heads.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 17:08
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    @Iain And a certain lack of mentorship...
    – ewwhite
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 13:01

Generally I don't like giving newbies the RTFM reply in these cases, even though that is what it technically calls for. It just isn't the best way to get them to actually read the documentation. It instead gets them to go bug someone else, possibly somewhere else, which isn't really good for anyone.

So to resolve this issue, instead I point them to the proper documentation, and where in the documentation to look, as well as giving them the 101 of what's in the documentation. However if they really don't understand the process you need to give them the 101 on that as well, and add a reference to further documentation on that as well.

Basically, I give the basic answer and say that I highly recommend reading further about it at a particular point in the documentation.

  • Further, "RTFM, specifically section 4 paragraph 23 - X means Y and Z" is useful; IMO "minimal understanding" is something like "I came here to fix the plumbing and they want me to do something on the server, help!".
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 4:08

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