There is No Such Thing as a Stupid Question

27 Jan 2021

According to Carl Sagan:

There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.

Please ask questions!

Questions are essential to life. If we ask questions, this means we are curious and constantly learning. This is why students are always encouraged to ask questions; questions show interest in knowing more. Some questions are asked because the speaker wants to gain more knowledge about a certain subject. Some questions are asked for clarification and these questions are usually helpful for everyone in class because there are those who are too shy to speak up. However, I do think there is such thing as a useless question. When I say useless, I mean questions that have been already been asked and answered. For example, if a professor is explaining something (e.g. the syllabus or how to fill out an assignment) and a student continuously asks the same question that has been answered multiple times, that student is just wasting the professor’s and their classmate’s time. It’s one thing to ask for clarification, it’s another thing to ask because you weren’t paying attention.

Learning to ask Smart Questions

As students move up to higher levels of education, the phrasing of questions become increasingly important. This is especially true when you ask questions on open forum communities such as Stack Overflow where developers answering questions are volunteers. According to Eric Raymond’s essay How To Ask Questions The Smart Way, there are many steps you need to take before even asking a question. He emphasizes that a question should be concise, informative, and easily accessible.

Smart Question

This is a good example of asking a smart question: TicTacToe minimax AI in Javascript. First of all, the person asking this question gives a clear subject header that describes what he is having trouble with. Throughout the question, he uses proper grammar and all of his code is in an accessible and standard form. After introducing the question, he gives his code and highlights the section which he thinks is returning errors. This shows that he is tracing through the code and identifying the possible problem. Lastly, he concisely explains what the problem is with the minimax function in his code. Everything this person did when asking his question fit Raymond’s criteria of a smart question. The person who answered his question gave him advice to learn how to use the debugger tool as well as helped him solve the problem with the function.

Not So Smart Question

Here is an example of a not so smart question: Get data of game “AmongUs”. This question is checking off all the boxes of things Raymond said not to do when asking questions on forums. The subject header is vague and the contents of the question are even more vague. This person states “I know stackoverflow is not a coding-center. I also have no code but this is because I cannot even start.” This statement is clearly not going to get answers because it doesn’t describe the problem and it even acknowledges that Stack Overflow is not a coding-center. In addition to vagueness, the grammar and punctuation throughout this short question is not proper and actually hard to understand. Before asking this question on a forum, they should have researched more about the game’s code (if it’s even available).


After reading Raymond’s essay, I have a better understanding of how to better format my questions whether it’s on the internet in forums like Stack Overflow or just when I’m in class. As people learn, naturally they will get stuck and the way they ask questions can be a game changer. People on websites like Stack Overflow have a no nonsense attitude when dealing with questions so if your question is deemed not smart, it will be ignored.