Lately, the software-related questions are hitting a new level of "beginner" questions. Many of these questions are really a matter of the user actually reading the help files or doing their own due diligence and educating themselves regarding basic functionality.

While answering some basic questions can be helpful. There are some questions which seem far too simple. A ten second Google search often turns up hundreds of answers in various forms and it is unlikely that GD.SE will ever rank anywhere near the first few pages if simply another answer to a similar question is given.

While posting this question, here on meta, I found another question which had an excellent answer, which refers to the Stack Exchange Blog, as to when to answer and when to vote to close.

A "close as general reference" would seem very fitting for some of the very basic software usage questions. Can it be added to the reasons to close?

Examples of software questions which stretch the relation to design:

selecting inverse an Inner Border on photoshop

How to modify basic paragraph in Photoshop CS6?

Unable to open Movies or Image Sequences in Photoshop anymore

How to control alignment with a reference layer?

Why can I not align these two elements?

Why is the paint brush painting in a particular layer style?

Photoshop - how to get rid of background and resize the image inside it?

How to apply gradient to mask in Photoshop?

How do I add a raster texture file to Illustrator's 3D Extrude & Bevel?

Set PDF "Initial View" in InDesign CS6?

Illustrator CS6 saving as CS5 by default?

I could post a huge list which are essentially "Adobe Help Desk" questions and not really related to design. At least not any more than if I were to post a question asking why my pencil sharpener wasn't operating correctly, or why my tablet isn't seeing the stylus correctly.

Examples of software questions which are more related to design in general:

How to imitate watercolor-esc imperfections and tranparencies in Photoshop

Add imperfections to vector graphics / drawings

How do I create a lens flare effect?

How is this coffee stained design done?

How to setup a duplex document printed both sides with page numbers in InDesign

Illustrator CS5 brick pattern with perspective

Photoshop: How do I keep 1x and 2x (for retina display) images in the same document?

How can I change the color of this black icon to orange, as shown in this image?

How do I get this uneven airbrush effect similar to old art deco posters?

What CMYK values should I use for rich black, and how should I handle tints/shades?

color tint a complex drawing in illustrator?

Additional notes

Okay while looking for questions I quickly realized that a good 60% or more of the questions here are "Adobe Help Desk" questions. So perhaps.... ignore me entirely.

Perhaps it's needed. Perhaps the help desk questions will do more to pull in users than other questions. I guess it depends on the direction the site wants to move. There are certainly more users out there with technical questions then there are users with conceptual questions.

  • 2
    I'd cautiously agree - but we need to be careful to avoid false positives: those tasks that should be simple, that look simple and that people expect to be simple, but actually turn out to be not quite supported and need some workaround or lesser-known trick. Another one to watch out for is, basic tricks that have counter-intuitive names that people not in the know wouldn't think to search on. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 13:18
  • Scott, you have 21k rep here, which is a lot. Have you considered becoming active on the root meta? ;)
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 17:28
  • @user568458 I would agree that perhaps it is too easy to get false positives if there is a large user base. And I'm not referring to "tricks" or "tips' questions. More to the "how do I move a layer", "how do I paint on a layer" that sort of thing.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 18:03
  • 2
    Can you add some examples of recent "General reference" questions? Just to make sure we've all got the same sort of question in mind. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 18:21

3 Answers 3


I'm Grace Note, a Community Manager from Stack Exchange.

If there's a question type that people agree doesn't belong on the site due to its subject matter being some kind of "too basic", the best way to combat this is to make this a component of what your site considers "Off-topic", and include it in your FAQ and About pages. Your moderator team is capable of editing both of these sections with regards to topicality in order to include a solid resource on what is or is not acceptable on the site. I note that "Simple How To" is already on your list of "Things we don't want". The community and the moderator team, which operates as an extension of the community anyway, can discuss the fine details and come to a solid conclusion on what defines something as being too basic.

As noted in this answer by Shog9, a colleague, we're actually reviewing the necessity of the close reason as a whole. Originally, General Reference was intended to discourage questions that could easily be looked up in a source that is specifically designed to answer that question. More often it was misused with ideas like "This answer is Googleable", implying that it is close-worthy to be found on Google. This misuse has led to a decision to not propagate that close reason any further across the network.

Going forward, to summarize, downvote stuff that is reasonable to have, but is so basic as to be unhelpful to store. If there is stuff which the community feels that, as a whole, really shouldn't belong, it can be identified as off-topic and handled that way (though do keep in mind not to end up with some giant laundry list of off-topic items - short and sweet is best!).

  • Thank you, Grace. That seems clear and definitive regarding the matter.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 0:04

I agree with both points you made (the original one and the edit), and I think this brings up a very interesting point: The quality of the site.

There's nothing wrong with good basic questions, they contribute to the site, mostly seo-wise, and they do no harm. But they should follow certain 'standards'. And I don't think this means being elitists, as Tohecz mentions. It has more to do with making sure the questions look more or less elaborated, or interesting, and not like a comment in a forum ("Hey guyz how do u hide a layer!??"). This is what will keep new users interested in coming back.

Also, we can always edit the poor ones :)

  • 2
    Question "Hey guyz how do u hide a layer!??" should be downvoted/commented/ignored. But what about a question: "I'm new to Photoshop and I wasn't able to find the button to hide a layer. How do I hide a layer?"
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 10:26
  • 2
    Then you answer, and you add a new very simple but "potentially useful one day" question.
    – Yisela
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 10:38

More than a half of SO questions are of this kind. The numbers are similar on other software sites like TeX.SX, where many questions do have answers in the manuals, but you often don't know which manual you're looking for, and the manuals are not easy-to-read for everybody.

Your idea is against the spirit of Stack Exchange, which is that dumb questions are completely ok, as long as they are well-stated. As well, remember that simple questions are what people look for the most often, and how people get to know this site.

If you don't want simple questions, then call the site "elitist" and make it be only for the top 10% of the software users.

You significantly edited the question, and I disagree with the "Googleing" part. Real example from another site: There were c. 5 very high quality LaTeX forums when TeX.SX reached beta, now (after 2-3 years), TeX.SX is the top one for vast majority of (La)TeX-related questions. This is partly due Google's interest in the site that brings almost immediate indexing and larger priority of the results (sometimes Google indexes the question before it reaches 2 views on the site). This is done by covering as much of the site's interest as possible.

However, I understand (and may agree with) your point about "conceptual" vs. "technical". I'm just afraid that it is too thin boundary to be well distinguishable.

  • 1
    Well I absolutely didn't mean to sound elitist. I was merely curious since some questions aren't related to design at all, but rather basic software use. IF the site were "Adobe Help" I'd understand it.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 18:00
  • Then the question is whether they are on-topic or not in general. But IMHO it cannot be that "advanced PS questions on and basic PS questions off".
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 18:38
  • It's not about advanced and basic, or even really the "level" of the question... it's about conceptual vs. technical. Conceptual questions about how to use software to achieve a conceptual goal are dramatically different than basic questions asking about software functionality. I've added some examples to my question.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 23:31
  • @Scott Needed to add, the new version of your post is far from being feature-request IMHO, I would upvote it because I feel that such a discussion is important, but the request for "general reference" does not seem good to me.
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 21, 2013 at 10:13

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