This is somewhat related to this discussion, but different enough to deserve its own thread, I think.

What would be the site policy regarding questions that are generally considered "easy", but may be asked during the first semester of studying computer science. Example:

"How do I get the symmetrical difference of two lists in Java?"

This question would, in my experience, be downvoted on SO. Would it be an acceptable question here? How would a question that would be generally considered "trivial" on SO have to be asked to be okay here? Any special quality guidelines in addition to the regular ones (Share your research, don't just ask, but give your current progress, paste your source code, etc.).

Somewhat related: If those questions are okay here, how do I decide if my question should be asked here or on SO? Based on perceived difficulty? Based on if it is something I am doing for the university vs. a part-time project? Something else?

I'm interested in your opinions.


3 Answers 3


I don't think pure programming questions should be on topic here - no matter how easy or difficult they are.

You should decide whether to ask here or on Stack Overflow based on the topic, not the difficulty. Questions of all levels of difficulty are on topic on Stack Overflow and the same is true here. Questions should go to Stack Overflow if they're purely programming related and here otherwise.

I also don't think basic programming questions necessarily get downvoted on Stack Overflow. In my experience they only do if they show a clear lack of effort. However I'm not very active in the Java tag - maybe Java programmers downvote more easily than others.

So to summarize: In my opinion the policy on easy questions should be that they're perfectly acceptable (though you shouldn't ask questions that you can easily answer yourself just to ask a question and you should make an effort to come up with the answer yourself first) and the policy on programming questions should be that they belong on Stack Overflow.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You are probably right about SO. Now that I think about it, just about all of the (downvoted) easy questions were of a generally poor quality, while other (easy) questions that had a decent quality were at least not downvoted, if not upvoted. $\endgroup$
    – malexmave
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 15:37

I think algorithms and data structures should be on-topic, but not going from theory to the actual implementation. So regarding your example:

How do I get the symmetrical difference of two lists in Java?

We should remove the "in Java" and address it at a more theoretical level.


In this case, we probably should ask the questioner to generalise their question, e.g. "How to efficiently compute the symmetrical difference of linked lists?". This general question is ontopic (even if very basic) and the user should be able to apply answers (which are now useful to more people!) to their specific language setting.


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