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One of the things that draws me to Stack Exchange sites is a focus on what Eric Raymond calls smart questions. Quoting the NE about page:

Ask about:

  • Specific issues with network engineering

  • Real problems or questions that you’ve encountered

Don't ask about...

  • Anything not directly related to network engineering

  • Questions that are primarily opinion-based

  • Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer

My complaint is that too often people like poll or discussion questions (which are primarily opinion-based), so they slip under the NESE moderation radar...

Below, I am listing some questions that I categorize as discussion questions, or polls... most of them are not closed (today). Interestingly, most of them are also tagged . I personally think that gets abused to sugar-coat discussion / poll questions onto the site...

My question:

Could we build some guidelines for what good questions look like?

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  • tangent: where would the results of our labor end up? Do we have to leave it here as a Meta Q/A, or is there some place in Help we can edit? – Craig Constantine Dec 1 '13 at 17:24
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For experts in NE, the best practices questions would seem open-ended and difficult to answer. For those people just cutting their teeth in network engineering, wouldn't we like this site to provide relevant information for them as many junior- and mid-level questions can just be seeking general direction as a starting point? To be able to ask a question in such as way as to provide all the relevant details assumes someone knows which details are important to satisfy the experts and that's not always possible.

So a junior engineering starts by understanding big-picture elements in network design such as where firewalls go in relation to switches and routers and how to work with more VLANs and basic routing. Over time, questions start coming in with trunking, STP (various incarnations), OSPF/EIGRP/BGP, or L2 vs L3 in the access layer. Eventually, they get to discussing timer adjustments in OSPF or migrating STP from short mode to long mode.

Some of the best practices questions I asked were either to seed the site or to confirm/augment what I already knew/suspected. In any case, they were questions I deemed would be a value to others starting out.

I agree the questions do need a certain level of quality to be asked, but do you want network engineers going to other sites for best practice questions or here where they can progress towards enlightenment and help to build the site in the process? Using Cisco certifications to help illustrate an extreme point, do we want a site where only CCIE questions are welcomed or are CCNA noob questions desired as well?

I would support making best practice questions into community questions out of the gate which would probably alleviate some of the concerns and encourages ongoing development and refinement of both the question and the answer(s) for posterity. However, I think this feature might have been deprecated by SE.

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    I can't possibly respond to every nuance of this answer, but I will simply point out: 1) Nobody is proposing that all best-practice questions are unwelcome, rather that historically they haven't been so great and I'm suggesting that meta NE build guidelines for good questions. 2) You suggest that junior engineers don't always know how to ask a good question. I am hoping to help junior engineers identify what elements are relevant to good questions. Learning how to ask good questions is part of becoming a better engineer. 3) Community wikis don't help a vague question... – Mike Pennington Jun 6 '13 at 9:34
  • @MikePennington, I subjectivley took your examples and complaint at much stronger weight than your last sentence as a preference to not have those types of questions. And I apologize for my use of extreme examples to make my points. I too hope everyone comes out better network engineers from this site with all good/great questions and answers. Just as I've learned a thing or two from you already, I hope I can impart some knowledge to those who are encountering problems I've already solved (by doing tasks the right way, not quick & dirty). – generalnetworkerror Jun 6 '13 at 9:37
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    @generalnetworkerror I like the idea that best-practice questions could be community questions from the start, with answers being community wikis etc. One thing about BP's is that there often is no single right answer, the community needs to bang heads and formulate an optimal solution. – jwbensley Jun 20 '13 at 8:15
  • I'm not a fan of the counter-argument that could say we shouldn't have best practices because each environment is unique. Best practices are understood to just be guidelines and give a framework for someone trying to understand a technology from which to work. There are a great many people that could benefit from this best practice knowledge imparted by the experts. – generalnetworkerror Jun 20 '13 at 9:21
  • I couldn't agree with this more. NE has become an environment riddled with extremely complex (CCIE) questions; much more-so than many other SE sites. I, personally, would love to see best-practices thrive here. That is one of the core reasons I come. While I can only imagine someone asking "When do I route?" That would actually be a jumping point for a great writeup on what other shops are using as a guideline. – Ryan Foley Dec 2 '13 at 21:32
  • @Fizzle, if you want broad best practice discussions, Network Engineering Chat is the perfect forum for that. However, the main NE site does not cater to open discussion, and probably never will. The site wasn't built for that kind of interaction, but chat was. – Mike Pennington Dec 6 '13 at 21:42
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Overall, Stack Exchange has banned best-practice questions. I agree with the accepted answer, which says that many questions about best practices tend to come down to:

I have no clue, plz give me a tutorial or code

The logical fallacy behind many "Best Practice" questions

Many people hope or assume that there must be some globally accepted way of building networks that would suddenly remove all doubts and fears they have about building something they're unfamiliar with.

Speaking very bluntly, this notion is mistaken; designs are based on budget, personnel, schedule, and technical requirements. It's rare for people to truly have the same combination of those things.

There are some axiomatic rules we all follow in IT (see The Practice of System and Network Administration for good examples). But even within those rules, there is still a lot of room for judgement calls. As RFC 1925 points out, "(10) One size never fits all"; in other words, what works for one group of people might not work for you.

So what do you do if you need to design something and you aren't sure how? Don't be afraid to ask questions about how to implement a design, assuming you document what you're doing. There are a lot of people on Network Engineering who can help. However, the take-away is that broad network design best-practices are just wishful thinking.

Good questions (including "Best Practices") are situational:

At this point, I don't think we should get hung up on the term "best practices" itself as an automatic close trigger. It's possible to ask a good best practice question, if you include enough information about your situation. Speaking personally (i.e. ignore the unicode after my name) if people use the word best-practice in their question, I think they must include:

  • A statement summarizing the business need: Networks cost money, and money comes from supporting a business. If we understand something about the business traffic that the network carries, we get much closer to understanding the tradeoffs the OP might be facing
  • A description of what alternatives the OP has considered and why the OP is stuck: If the OP hasn't done enough research to tell us at least one possible solution to some problem, I argue that the OP is not ready to crowd-source the question on Stack Exchange. Stack Overflow members frequently summarize this by asking "What have you already tried?". I think this is relevant to best practice questions because it gives us some idea of what the OP wants and doesn't want.

I think best practice questions should include (where relevant & possible):

  • Specific information about HW Models, Firmware levels
  • Topology Diagram
  • Device configuration excerpts

Bad "Best Practice" questions don't describe a specific situation:

Alternatively, if someone comes to the main NE site looking for overall "best practices for [insert-something-here]" and provides few other details / context around what they have already tried, then we definitely should put those questions on hold as "primarily opinion based" or "too broad".

Even though the question isn't suitable for the main NE site, best practice questions and recommendations are welcome in Network Engineering Chat.

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  • +1 for the bit about supporting the business, that should certainly be a big factor when we're dealing with questions that could have many answers – Libbux Jul 10 '13 at 17:54

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