I'm noticing a rise in questions that could easily be answered with a Google search and/or Wikipedia article. For instance:

The second question at least begins from a specific text but could easily be rewritten as "Describe first-century Roman slavery practices." The top answer for the first question is a direct copy and paste from Wikipedia and a comment linking to a Wikipedia article sufficiently answers the second.

I know that SE believes that it is rude to post LMGTFY links in response to such questions and has officially banned it, but I tend to side with this user (whose comment got more upvotes than any response on this question):

Questions with an answer that is trivial to find on Google are not helping the SO community. They are generating superfluous reputation, lowering the bar for asking genuine questions, and generally wasting people's time. Furthermore, the answers to these questions are almost always summarized, plagiarized or synthesized from the Google search results. Posting a LGTFY link is like tough love. It points the user to the right answer and does it in such a way that they will hopefully turn to Google for simple questions and SO for their more difficult questions.

Despite this stance, I understand that most consider it rude and an inappropriate way to answer such questions. At the same time, others have suggested that an acceptable answer could simply be showing someone the terms you used to Google the result and linking to the top answer. Would this be an acceptable response here on BH.SE - for instance on the above-listed questions? Would linking to a quality source be sufficient or would it be expected to summarize it even though the question shows no research effort?

Related, from Christianity SE: What is the C.SE equivalent of “What have you tried?” –  Wikis Aug 6 '13 at 6:36
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2 Answers

I'd like to see a "general reference" (or "trivial") close reason here at BH.SE.

General reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

As mentioned over at C.SE when dealing with this very same issue, this has been addressed by SE before. Jeff Atwood posted the following helpful chart in a blog post:

Chart For Simple Questions

Jeff further elaborates:

The key distinction to make here, in my mind, is that all questions are ultimately in service of the people answering them. That is the audience you need to satisfy if you want to have any hope of creating and sustaining a community of peers learning from each other. The minimum bar for a question is not “is this on-topic?”, but rather “is this somewhat interesting and on-topic?”. I’m not saying every question needs to be utterly fascinating, but please endeavor to make your questions more than a constant stream of no-duh underhanded softballs requiring nothing more than a quick cut and paste from Wikipedia, IMDB, or some other standard internet reference site.

There’s nothing useful any expert can learn from ultra-basic questions. Allow your Q&A community to fill itself with enough “General Reference” type questions and you’ll soon find no experts there at all.

I'd like to see a "general reference" (or "trivial") close reason here at BH.SE. I believe this is the best solution to this problem.

General reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

yes, sorry. I will clarify –  Daи Aug 6 '13 at 18:09
Here is the relevant off-topic close reason from ELU: "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references " That last part is a link to a meta post, which we ought to have if we're going to do this. –  Gone Quiet Aug 6 '13 at 21:05
@GoneQuiet: That would help quite a bit. I don't like the idea of the general reference hammer being wielded because the answer turns up on the third page of a Google search or an introductory text for a college class. But if we could agree on finite number of references like ELU has, this could make a lot of sense. –  Jon Ericson Aug 7 '13 at 0:48
@JonEricson, I agree. See also the flowchart in Dan's answer; something has to be in the first few hits (not first few pages) and clear and coherent to qualify. So we've got two different approaches here, that flowchart and the specific list of references. I wonder what the latter would look like for us. –  Gone Quiet Aug 7 '13 at 0:51
@GoneQuiet: I don't much care for "do a web search" in the chart. I'm convinced that finding stuff on the internet is an ability that some folks aren't blessed with. If you use the wrong search term, you could easily miss the relevant answer. It would have to be something closer to every hit on the first page. –  Jon Ericson Aug 7 '13 at 0:56
@JonEricson, true. –  Gone Quiet Aug 7 '13 at 1:14
Here you go: meta.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/639/423 –  Daи Aug 7 '13 at 2:08
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I'm separating this from Dan's answer in the same vein to separate the general-reference part from the Google/flowchart part (since discussion in comments there suggests that we might not want Googlability to be a factor).

We should have a "general reference" closure reason modeled on EL&U's. The close text is:

Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: (link goes here).

This question compiles basic reference materials available on the web, but we still need some carefully-written language around it. People use sources in that list to answer questions all the time; those shouldn't become a "forbidden list" or the like. I think the close reason we're looking for is along the lines of: questions that can be answered by a simple look-up in one of those sources are too simple -- not "questions that use them".


  • What does such-and-such (non-controversial) word mean? close: answered by lexicon lookup

  • What does such-and-such word mean? In verse X it seems to mean A, but in verse Y it seems to mean B where A is very different from B. Huh? leave open: yes, a lexicon will be a stop on the way to the answer, but it's more complicated

  • How does such-and-such interpreter understand X (e.g. Rashi)? close: answered by consulting an online commentary

  • How should we understand X? leave open: even if Rashi, the Rambam, S'forno, and Augustine all comment on it and it's all online, a good answer will synthesize, compare, and contrast

Like EL&U, we aren't in the business of doing simple lookups that askers could do themselves. But we are in the business of answering deeper questions and trying to gain understanding, which involves consulting some of those sources. On EL&U a question that can be answered by Merriam-Webster is off-topic, yet questions about nuanced meanings (based on word roots, grammar, or history) are welcome. That's a good model to follow.

(N.B. I'm a 10k user on EL&U but I haven't been keeping up with recent developments there. I think what I've said about them is accurate and uncontroversial, but I could have missed something.)

I'm torn on lexicon lookups because for the Greek all that is online and free is Thayer's or some derivative thereof, which was outdated before it was even published. At the same time, we don't want to just copy and paste from the BDAG all the time, either. –  Daи Aug 8 '13 at 0:18
@Dan, thanks for that information. I meant to scope this to "lexicon (or other source) that is adequate to answer the question and freely available online". If that doesn't exist for Greek, then Greek primarily-lexicon questions would be on-topic -- we'll make the internet a better place by answering them. Feel free to edit the examples in this answer if you like. –  Gone Quiet Aug 8 '13 at 0:21
@Dan, thanks for that info! –  Gone Quiet Aug 8 '13 at 16:53
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