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In response to a question that is not well-developed (one-liner, trivial because it asks for the definition of a common technical term or a comparison of common technical terms), we sometimes suggest in the comments to google it.

It takes one glance at the right sidebar to check if there are potential useful Q&As on our site itself, and these might be more helpful to the OP. If that is the case, suggesting that the OP read these posts before editing the question to improve it serves two purposes:

  1. It promotes our site.
  2. It illustrates to the OP how one might ask a well-developed question (e.g. saying what about a definition is unclear, or applying it to which example is confusing), and how you then are more likely to receive a relevant answer.

I'm not saying that StackExchange Chemistry always already has the best material - there are certainly areas of chemistry that nobody asked about before. But if material onsite is relevant to get the OP started on reading up on the topic of interest, we should point it out. This is slightly different from the situation where the OP's question is well-developed but identical or virtually identical to another question already answered on the site (in that case, you would tag the new question as duplicate).

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    $\begingroup$ I try to do that, sometimes in the list on the left side there are already related questions, sometimes even duplicate appropriate ones. And a special nod to Mithoron, who has posted/ is posting most relevant links all the time. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン May 19 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ +1 I'm guessing people will start doing it more often anyway as more and more duplicates of the same posts appear. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. May 19 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. But in some cases, a google search may lead them back to the site! $\endgroup$ – William R. Ebenezer May 20 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to say this, but promoting SE is not a primary concern of mine. This is a q&a site, and there is no sense in linking to (or writing new) answers for questions that are already perfectly answered on i.e. wikipedia. $\endgroup$ – Karl May 23 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ I am personally opposed to encouraging the use of the expression "to google", even if it has been commonly adopted (irreversibly). What's wrong with "search for", whether online or in a book or other source? $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn May 30 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ As an advert for the SE site this is of course a great strategy. There is of course the idea of pointing to duplicates and related questions, which serves the same purpose. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn May 30 at 8:23
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I have told people on several occasions to Google certain phrases. I think there is plenty of merit in that. Instead of merely giving them a link to the correct answer and being done with it, it's much more beneficial to tell them how they can find the answer for themselves using the power of modern search engines and databases.

And for the purposes of finding information, I will flatly say that Google and SciFinder etc. are far superior to Stack Exchange search. If the information is on SE, it will turn up on Google anyway, as long as you use the correct search terms, which is a skill that more people should learn.

Give a man a fish versus teach them to fish, and all that.

What doesn't help is to be condescending, either in terms of tone, or by posting a LMGTFY link (these should be flagged as rude/abusive, because they are rude).

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    $\begingroup$ The only problem I see with this is when someone Googles this question at some later time, the stackexchange page is a top Google result, and the answer to the question is cryptic/unhelpful or there are only comments telling them to Google it. I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we are trying to build a repository of answers to questions. For this reason, I think telling them to stackexchange it before answering the question is a good alternative (to avoid duplicates while still getting them to do some research). $\endgroup$ – ringo May 23 at 21:18
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I agree that asking pipl to duckduckgo to the start page and searx for a qwant of information about Swiss cows called Shodan until they hear a "bing!" or LMGTFY a user is no different from the good old RTFM, and sometimes may be considered impolite and counterproductive for both the questioner and the community.

The things with the suggested Q&As on the right sidebar that somewhat bother me are:

  • As user composes a question, the suggestions are already popping up in real time, and if a person doesn't notice those or considers them irrelevant, re-posing one of the suggested topics in the comments won't help.
  • To the best my knowledge, related Q&As are collected from the current SE site only and a question might already be answered on another SE site. Usually, it's Physics.SE for us.
  • Arguably, in terms of finding the best suggestions, Google still outperforms SE (use of synonyms, better heuristics, larger database, higher speed etc.).

However, some of these drawbacks can be sorted out if one finds the most relevant question on the SE network using Google, and then posts a link to that question in the comment instead of just sending user to the Googland.

Technically, this can be done by using a simple search query on Google.com like this:

site:stackexchange.com <keyword1> <keyword2> "<exact> <phrase>"

For example,

site:stackexchange.com stellar "gibbs energy"

yields in fairly relevant results across Chemistry.SE, Physics.SE and Worldbuilding.SE. From here one can pick the best fits and supply the corresponding URLs to the SE posts in the comments. This way comment section looks clear and concise, there is less chance for a flame war to start (meaning less flagging and mod work), and the user is shown the capabilities and usefulness of the SE network.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that it is really on the OP to do this work (that is why I call these type of questions underdeveloped). On the other hand, it is easier to find sources when you know the answer to the question than it is to find an answer when you are puzzled about something. Also, most folks answering know the site better than an OP asking their first question. Thanks for the cross-site search tip - that is very useful. $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis May 19 at 11:55

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