# How should we deal with easy syntax-error questions?

Perhaps this is a duplicate, and I know this has been discussed on SO.meta, but I wanted to bring this up in the EE meta context:

Today we got several (to my mind) low-quality posts having to do with Arduino code (here, here): silly syntax errors, and things of that sort. Personally, I don't think these posts are particularly useful in the long term: I mainly want to see them go away, though it can be fun finding a solution quickly.

It seems that the preferred method that has been decided on for SO is

• Answer as a community wiki
• Then kill the question

What I have in mind is here, here, and there was a more recent one that I can't seem to be able to find. But given that EE != SO, I was wondering what are the methods that people here prefer for dealing with those questions.

The effect, so far, has been to encourage more questions of a similar sort (yes, small sample size). I don't know if it is a Good Thing, or a Bad Thing, or neither...

EDIT Meta$^2$ issue: I don't think I'll be accepting an answer on this one, it hardly makes sense with a question like that right? The up/down votes seem much more relevant.

Questions about syntax errors might be useful to other users. Let's use Arduino - Return String for an example.

Not the same problem, still useful

It's not very likely that a user will get here with the exact same code and problem. This however does not mean the question can't be useful. There will be a lot users coming with the same error message, and to them, the answer will be useful, although they don't have the same question. This is because too much background information has been provided.

The real question is:

What does error: expected primary-expression before ‘;’ token mean?

Don't remove or close!

I think removing these questions is a bad idea, since they sure can be useful. They shouldn't be closed as too localized, since the actual question isn't too localized. No, instead we should edit these questions to give them a wider scope, like the real question quoted earlier.

From that moment, we have a question which deals with "What does the error message x mean?", and we can mark all questions with the same problem as a duplicate.

• To play devil's advocate, wouldn't that make us a human cdecl machine? Basically it is compiler error message translation task... – angelatlarge Mar 31 '13 at 19:55
• @angelatlarge isn't the whole point of this site being a human textbook? (here, here, here, etc.) Then what's wrong with providing information about weird error messages, especially when arduino.cc does not provide information? – user17592 Mar 31 '13 at 20:01
• Sorry, I think what I was trying to say is that there are some good questions, and some questions (what's your favorite color? How to sew a nice pair of pants?) that are not good. I am not sure myself whether decoding error: expected primary-expression before ‘;’ token is a good question for EE... – angelatlarge Mar 31 '13 at 20:22
• @angelatlarge clearly Stack Overflow could answer that question, but it is a common error for those that are EEs and starting to program also, probably more often as EEs can make some pretty terrible programmers, just don't tell us that. It makes sense to me that the error you describe would probably have a question here somewhere. – Kortuk Mar 31 '13 at 20:32

The answer depends on how much the question is a generic language problem versus something actually to do with electrical engineering. If it's just a generic language problem, such as Arduino - Return String, then it doesn't belong here. The fact that it happened to run on a arduino is irrelevant. I voted to close that, but it only got one other vote up to now. Today was a particularly slow day though, so on a good day that might have been dispatched faster. I would have preferred you didn't answer this question. Now this OP will be back asking more off-topic question. Answering it also in a little way legitimizes this sort of question by providing a precedence.

If the question is about a problem in software that touches hardware or is unique to running on a small resource-limited system like a microcontroller, then it is fine here. The OP needs to keep in mind, however, that such a problem is likely to be platform dependent and had better explain what tools he is using and what hardware it is running on.

There has been a disturbing trend lately in that arduino users think we should be able to answer all things arduino, whether it has anything to do with electronics or not. They also seem to think that they only need to say "arduino" and we're supposed to know all about their development environment and specific hardware and the like and that somehow absolves them of the obligation to provide proper context to their questions. We need to be especially vigilant with any question that has "arduino" in it somewhere, particularly in the title.

This is not to say there aren't legitimate electrical engineering questions related to arduinos, but we aren't seeing many.

• My original thinking (perhaps I didn't make that very clear) was to answer the question as CW, and downvote it, hoping that the question goes away and the user is happy. If they come back with more syntax errors, and those questions are similarly dispatched, then no harm done, right? But, in general, Arduino is a kind of grey area, both in terms of "is it software or hardware?" questions and in terms of where the people who can answer hang out (here or SO?). – angelatlarge Mar 31 '13 at 21:58
• Also, one difficulty is that people who post such questions often have no idea whether it is a software or a hardware issue: "maybe the code doesn't compile because the fourth GPIO pin isn't connected to a long antenna?" – angelatlarge Mar 31 '13 at 22:11
• Olin, you might be interested in the "ignored tags" feature on the right sidebar. – markrages Apr 1 '13 at 0:13
• – user17592 Apr 1 '13 at 6:46
• "arduino users think we should be able to answer all things arduino, whether it has anything to do with electronics or not" - Maybe it's because the moderators of this very board are active over at the Arduino proposal site telling everyone to come over to EE.SE, and that they don't need their own site, and maybe it's because the previous Arduino SE proposals were shot down as duplicates of EE? Just because you don't like something doesn't mean you can unilaterally declare it unwelcome here. – Tim Apr 2 '13 at 17:11
• @Tim: But if they don't ask proper questions, they aren't welcome here, just like anyone else asking bad questions. We've been getting flooded with ardweenies asking bad questions here lately. I didn't realize the mods were actively trying to recruit them. I think that's a bad idea because they seem disproportionately likely to ask poor questions. Also, note that I was objecting to questions that aren't really about electronics. That is clearly off topic here. – Olin Lathrop Apr 3 '13 at 18:42
• Olin, I'd be interested to hear your definition of an 'Electronics' question, as I fail to see how almost anything related to Arduinos could be otherwise as they're a microcontroller. I agree with you that a large proportion of Arduino questions are of lower quality, but IMO that's inherent due to the nature of Arduinos - as an entry point into the world of Electronics. As such, it would make sense that people using them aren't familiar with all of the ins and outs of electronics, so are likely to overlook something that those more experienced would consider 'obvious' – Matt Taylor Apr 16 '13 at 16:02
• @Matt: There is a lot around arduinos that is not electronics. In fact, the main point of arduino is to hide all that stuff. Also, people use arduinos because they don't want to have to know how it works. Their questions then are mostly about why this "shield" won't work with that "sketch" or whatever. – Olin Lathrop Apr 16 '13 at 18:32
• To be honest I completely disagree with your conclusions that Arduino isn't electronics. People use arduinos to get into electronics, and when it doesn't work, we can given them an answer that teaches them about the very field they're trying to get into. Yes, there's going to be a fair few people who just want to get something to work, and will post a "dzn't work, fix plz" question. However I think it's very unfair to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and close/downvote/ignore questions just because they use the Arduino tag – Matt Taylor Apr 17 '13 at 8:11
• Oh, and in case you were wondering, I've never touched an Arduino, I do all of my micro work on PICs using assembler – Matt Taylor Apr 17 '13 at 8:12