There are some questions about issues that, rather than a deterministic answer, could require an heuristic approach (try & error, troubleshooting, etc.). Sometimes this could be because the user didn't understand yet the operational model of the web application (i.e. spreadsheets), other times because there are several scenarios that should be considered (i.e. connected apps like Gmail, Google Drive, etc).

Are this kind of question considered on-topic in Web Applications?

Troubleshooting questions examples

How to recover the label 'Deleted' in Gmail

3 Answers 3


Normal Human's advice is spot on.

Stack Exchange works best for questions that have a clear, understandable problem that has (the potential for) a single, correct answer.

A question that's going to require a lot of back-and-forth or some hands-on debugging interaction is not a good fit.

One of the tenets of Stack Exchange is that the questions and the answers aren't really for the person who actually asked the question. It's for the people who follow who have exactly (or close to) the same problem. If you're doing a bunch of "try this", "do that", waiting for the results, and then offering new things to try, the only person you're really helping is the person with the original problem, and that wavers awfully close to the definition of a help vampire.

If you really do want to help someone with such an issue (and those of us who answer questions here want to help people, otherwise why are we here?) then perhaps pulling them into a private chat room is a better way to go.

Of course, if you can devise a decent heuristic approach to a problem that a lot of people run into, a canonical community wiki question and answer could be very useful for pointing people to (and as a duplicate target). This question on Android Enthusiasts is a decent example, I think.

  • Please take a look to Web App <X> isn't working correctly. How can I fix it?.
    – Rubén Mod
    Jun 12, 2015 at 22:30
  • 2
    As I mentioned in a comment to that question, I think the reasons for web apps failing are not within a countable set of problems as they might be on an Android phone. I don't think @Rubén's question helps anyone, honestly. If anything we need more of our Google password retrieval type questions.
    – jonsca
    Jun 21, 2015 at 9:00

If a question cannot be answered based on the information given, it is reasonable to

  1. Add a comment asking for clarification. For spreadsheet questions, the best clarification is a shared editable spreadsheet in which the problem is encountered.

... and if that fails,

  1. Flag/vote to close as unclear (the closure reason says: "Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need").

For some such questions, an answer of “contact the webapp’s support: see question ‘How do I contact support for «webapp Y»?’” might be appropriate.

For other such questions, especially if the question indicates that the user has hit some quirk of the website, an appropriate answer might be a short step by step troubleshooting guide or to close the question as a duplicate of a freshly created or well-known “What steps should I take to troubleshoot «issue X» on «webapp Y»?” question.

Even if some back-and-forth commenting on the question is required to ascertain the issue, I think it is valuable when a question with a commonly encountered issue has an answer describing why you might have encountered the issue. If users of a particular webapp frequently ask a particular question and that particular question generally can be solved by the user with some guidance, that guidance would be useful as an answer. Rejecting such questions outright will prevent those answers from ever appearing.

E.g., sending message to specific contact fails describes a misleading error message in a webapp. The asker eventually submitted an answer which might help other people wondering why messages mysteriously fail to deliver when using Hangouts.

  • We certainly need more people participating frequently. One way is by reviewing that the wiki tags include clear instructions about what should included on questions with that tag and if it includes the basic steps to do before posting a question. In the case of the google related apps, how to check the app status (this link apply to many Google apps) and the known issues (this could need to be reviewed once a year or something) could be very helpful, I think. Another think to include is help about how to know if the issue is due to an app bug or not.
    – Rubén Mod
    May 17, 2017 at 17:35
  • @Rubén Stack Exchange’s Ask page does not actively show you the descriptions of tags, so I’m not sure if someone asking a question about e.g. GMail would actually see those tag descriptions. If Stack Exchange had a way for you to pin tag-specific instructions like GitHub’s issue templates sort of, maybe that would be more appropriate. But as it is Stack Exchange will show you “similar questions”, so if there is a “Error 500” question in your tag…
    – binki
    May 17, 2017 at 17:55
  • …it will probably at least be seen by the user if they try to make another “Error 500” question, for example.
    – binki
    May 17, 2017 at 17:55
  • The How to Ask form on Stack Exchange sites certainly has room for improvement, but that is something to discuss on another thread or in the Web Applications Chat (I'm sorry, I can't now)
    – Rubén Mod
    May 17, 2017 at 18:02
  • 1
    Maybe we should start looking at Display tag excerpt when asking a question
    – Rubén Mod
    May 17, 2017 at 18:06

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