What is the current policy about questions which are easily answered googling?

(This question is probably a duplicate but I'm trying to find a definitive answer since most of them are quite old).

I have this doubt because I've seen so many questions that can be answered with I'm feeling lucky.



I haven't found any consensus about low effort questions.

Some people are against asking them:

In fact, asking a question on Stack Overflow is the absolute last thing you ever want to do. You want to avoid it at all costs. You want to think of it as a horrible shame1 that will forever haunt you and pass down from you to your descendants. You want very much to find your answer some other way.

Others think the opposite:

On the contrary, you should ask first before googling, so that the information gets here :) you don't even need to search SO first, just as you're asking check the list of possible duplicates

Search SO first If no answer, then Google If answer found, post community wiki If no answer is found post question on SO

No question is too trivial or too "newbie". (This has been removed from the FAQ)

If it's not on Stack Overflow already, then ask.

There's nothing wrong with posting questions that are easily Googled. I've sometimes found answers to my questions with Google and still gone to SO to ask. How will SO have the answer for future Googlers to find if nobody asks the questions? There are two FAQ entries about that, too: one and two.

In the case they are discouraged but can't be flagged what should we do?

  1. Downvote and comment
  2. Answer quoting Google's first result and include keywords

I think it is ridiculous to encourage them and still apply 1).

Correct flagging

I've seen that this question (How Was the Speed of Light Discovered?) was closed as off-topic. I think that the selected flag was:

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem. We want our questions to be useful to the broader community, and to future users. See our meta site for more guidance on how to edit your question to make it better

But this applies only to homework-like questions.

Is it possible to create a new flag like no research effort (which is much more clear)?

I am sorry for asking this question :(


Do you google before asking on StackOverflow?

Embrace the non-Googlers

How should we deal with Google questions?

To Google or not to Google...Complexity of SO questions?

How should we deal with Google questions?


Level of questions: what do we do now ?

Wikipedia like questions

How basic is too basic?

Are some questions too simple?


4 Answers 4


While I agree in with the principle here, I tend to err on the side of "sure, Google can say something but does it actually lead to a great answer?"

For example, someone could very well show how the long-compared-to-focal-length limit turns the Fresnel equations into Fraunhofer ones, and maybe give a great physically intuitive reason why Fraunhofer diffraction leads to Fourier transforms (I've seen it done). Or take that meteor question. A very similar one was asked by another user, with about as much prior research being done, but several great answers resulted anyway. Maybe it was more than the OP "deserved," but I certainly had fun researching an answer for that, and the end result is a synthesis of ideas that was not found in the first page of Google hits, and indeed may not have been written quite like that anywhere else on the internet.

So yes, we want to encourage better questions. But at the same time I feel bad neglecting a good scientific inquiry just because the first person to ask it here did so flippantly.

It is also worth noting that, unlike SO, we deal more with conceptual issues ("why?" "how?") rather than one-word answers ("what is the name of the function...?" "which package has...?"). Or at least that seems like a reasonable ideal. Look-up questions should probably deserve more scrutiny, since if the number is easily found (such as "depth of the deepest mine") there is little more we can add. Difficult-to-locate numbers are better ("what is the current limit on Lorentz violation from astronomical observations?"); actual concepts are still best, though, as even if these can be found using a simple search, there's always room for giving a better exposition.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For many standard questions, it can be difficult to create (in a limited time) better answers than Wikipedia (which is a collective work effort of many authors over several years now). Sure, there exist of course sunshine stories where a Googlable Phys.SE question gets better than expected answers. However, it is my experience that (unless heavily moderated) such questions often degenerate into link farms. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic Mod
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Qmechanic I'd like to know your opinion. Should those kind of questions be closed? How should I flag them? You said this question is off-topic: physics.stackexchange.com/q/78706, but I don't know if this is an official SE rule. $\endgroup$
    – jinawee
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 18:05

I personally don't like when questions are easily found with a search on Google. But I recall reading something on SO's meta where they wanted an answer from the SE network to always be the first one that shows up on Google when people search.

So if you found the info on Google on another site, you should reproduce (without copying obviously) the answer here so the SE answer becomes the easily Google'd answer.

Of course that's SE's view -- they want to always be the first link. I still personally don't know that I agree, but I usually just happily skip those questions (usually with a downvote) or I will leave a comment that says "Have you tried typing [really obvious search term] into your favorite search engine?"

That usually gets the point across.

  • $\begingroup$ Not always, if something is answered well by Wikipedia then there's no reason to change that. However, if the question is answered in a confusing or complicated way by the Net (often the case), then reproducing it is great :) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 6:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth Like I said, I don't agree with it but I do understand why SE would like their answer to appear first, especially before wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this: it makes me wish we could offer bounties on meta, so that answers like this could be properly rewarded. The official SE policy that you've outlined should be definitive here. $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 7:57

If it's a really basic Google search that yields the answer - as in, you copy and paste the question title into Google and the answer is in the top 4 or 5 results then I'd say a downvote is warranted. After all, the tooltip that pops up when you hover over the downvote button includes a statement about insufficient research effort, which is exactly what you're talking about. But beyond that, I don't know that there's a policy about it. In addition to the downvote, you can of course comment or answer the question, as tpg2114 suggested. If a close reason happens to apply, certainly vote to close (and don't answer in that case), but I don't think any of the close reasons apply to insufficient research specifically, and I'm not sure that's the sort of thing closing is meant to address.


Ideally, OP should before asking his question X on Phys.SE:

1) Google X.

2) Check Wikipedia. In practice this means Goggle X wiki.

And that's it! The two internet searches (1) and (2) constitute a sufficient research effort for a question on Phys.SE.

[The rest of this answer is meant as helpful suggestions to potential questioners, and should not be considered mandatory.]

It would be great (but optional) if OP would also:

3) Search Phys.SE for related posts: is:q X.

Chances are that [with OP's knowledge from the above queries (1-3)] he will able to pose a better and more focused question.

4) Finally, OP could pepper his question post with relevant links (from in and outside Phys.SE), spell out abbreviations, etc., to make it accessible to the reader.

  • $\begingroup$ -1. I disagree that it's even possible to provide an algorithmic manual for this. Point 3 should be 'considered mandatory' or we'll be flooded with dupes. Finally, the tone and style of this post are hardly helpful to a new user. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 13:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ (i) This answer is not supposed to be an algorithmic manual that apply to all questions but mainly a simplified test that applies to a type of questions that runs the risk of already having adequate answers via top hits of a Google search; (ii) I didn't include (3) as mandatory to keep the test short, but needless to say that duplicates will be closed as usual; (iii) This meta answer was provided with the best intentions in mind for everyone. How such policy is best communicated to new users can undoubtedly be improved. However, the above meta question is mainly about the policy itself. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic Mod
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 14:27

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