Quite a number of questions posted require debugging of an individual situation. I don't think any of us volunteers are longing to be unpaid technical support, especially without the tools required to gather the appropriate background information.

Example: User can't delete a file, presumably because of a rights issue. This is a situation akin to diagnosing your neighbor's/grandmother's midnight computer problem by phone. If you were there, you could spot the problem in a few minutes, but because you must presume their ignorance and you don't have VNC/RDP/SSH/SCP access, it becomes a painful, time-consuming interchange.

Is there an official SE procedure for responding to questions that are going to require diagnosis? Are there tools available that I may not be aware of? Newbies don't have access to chat.

I almost wish there were a flow chart for qualifying how to handle a question.

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    In addition to what bmike explained below: it helps to keep in mind that nobody has any obligation to answer any question at all. So if you don‘t know the answer or consider it too mach a back and forth to identify the cause of a problem, just move on ;-)
    – nohillside Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 21:01
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    @bmike &nohillside Thanks for the wisdom...very relevant to my experiences here so far. I loved the reference to "Family Tech Support, Web 2.0 version" Nothing is as frustrating as remote debugging with a clueless person by phone or text. In the future, I will consider whether I'm encouraging the question poster to do their own homework first or more vampire-like behavior. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 21:11
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    You‘re welcome. Sometimes the challenge is to figure out whether somebody is skilled enough to do their homework first (but just didn’t do it yet) or whether they are far out of their comfort zone and need detailed handholding ;-)
    – nohillside Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 4:39

1 Answer 1


This is a hard problem and I’m glad you are approaching it from the viewpoint of how to be helpful of people asking for help and respectful of the time and effort to properly answer a question.

It’s trivially easy to write “I am stuck doing X - HELP!” and it’s hard to look the other way when you know some version of 20 questions or basic troubleshooting might get to a question that can be answered, but that this situation is almost certainly not refined enough for someone to answer directly.

In the past, people felt they needed to close questions where a quick search gave an answer, and I think we’re all in agreement we want these - and we want an answer that shows how to search, why to search, and how to use the answer.

On other sites, there are some excellent guidance like MCVE on Stack Overflow in an effort to combat poorly researched and documented code questions.

What I see you pointing out are questions where the asker hasn’t isolated the issue or documented why they can’t self-research an answer or way to troubleshoot.

If that’s the real issue you see, we have the beginnings of a close reason for the “lacks basic troubleshooting” and the proper way to handle these is a -1 vote if the question is not useful or not clear. A constructive comment if there’s really no way to do the work for someone.

About the only way to answer these questions is if Apple has published how to troubleshoot the issue and you could answer - here’s a framework to isolate what’s happening, please ask a follow on question once you’ve done the work to isolate the issue to a specific error or one step in this troubleshooting guide.

I see your question to be really about us helping people feel more comfortable closing questions for the off topic reason:

Questions must demonstrate a reasonable amount of research & understanding of the problem being solved. Please edit to either a) clearly describe your problem and the research done so far to solve it or b) include attempted solutions plus why they didn't work. In either case, be sure your expected results are clearly presented.

Do you see any examples of questions you are uncertain to vote to close using the above reason when they are really lacking basic troubleshooting?

Lastly, don’t confuse Help Vampire with rules of thumb. If troubleshooting is really a manifestation of someone exhibiting symptoms from this post - just walk away from that post and disengage.

So if I were to categorize certain questions you might be tempted to close:

  • Can you do my debugging / troubleshooting for me? - bad - Vote to close if research and results aren’t up to community standards.
  • Can you search for me how to solve a specific clear issue? - good - Answer with where to find the answer and possibly how you found that or what knowledge let you connect the dots.
  • Can you do my thinking / homework / work for me? - bad - Vote to close if research and results aren’t up to community standards.
  • Can you read my mind (or an XY problem)? - bad - You may have to think how to vote / answer this, but in the end, if we could read minds, wouldn’t we be out making millions of dollars and then retiring on the beach spending money on friends and family?
  • Well, sometimes the next steps aren't immediately obvious...like the person who can't delete a file on their system, but has tried "sudo rm -rf" and such and is getting read-only filesystem notifications. It could be a group or owner issue...a rogue process. He may be trying to delete a file inside a compressed volume. He seems to have done basic troubleshooting at an amateur user level. Maybe we could have a flag for "may require extended troubleshooting?" Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:48
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    @BillSmith In that case, if it’s immediately obvious, then the question is clear enough for someone that cares to answer. We shouldn’t close it if we know how to answer it. Now, others may and will vote to close when they don’t know how to answer it, and that’s not wrong. The system can correct that vote to close when needed and someone knows how to answer it.
    – bmike Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:51
  • ...or consider apple.stackexchange.com/questions/358580/… - I'm hesitant to put in a ton of time to figure out his unique situation because ultimately he will want the same apps installed and will install the command line tools. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:51
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    @BillSmith Walk away from that comment thread. Help Vampire tendencies are being exhibited there.
    – bmike Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:52
  • Help vampire? Would love an explanation...sounds very Game of Thrones Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:53
  • @BillSmith I did a Google Search for "Help Vampire" and got meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/258206/what-is-a-help-vampire Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 23:32

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