The first step is thus to search Google. This step alone should answer 95% or more of your questions so, as basic as this sounds, we cannot emphasis this enough: FIRST SEARCH GOOGLE. For example, if you received an error message from the program you are trying to use, cut and paste the message directly into Google. Posting a forum question that could have been easily answered with a simple Google search is often seen as disrespectful of other users, and such a question will potentially be closed or deleted on many forums.
In various comment sections on Biostars, it has been argued that people who fail to do the above are wasting the community's time, they are lazy and so on. I don't think it's an attitude which meshes well with the philosophy of Stack Exchange.
I would argue that: any easily googled question, as long as it's not off-topic, badly written, too vague or too localized, deserves to be asked once on Biostars and answered definitively.
Ideally, in the most general circumstance, a question posted on a stack exchange should be an improvement over search.
Quoting Joel Spolsky (one of the founders of Stack Exchange) on ways in which the Stack Exchange improves upon forums (Google search results):
- "... don’t have voting, so you have to read through every answer and decide for yourself which one might solve your problem."
- "They don’t have reputation, so there’s no way to see whether you’re getting an answer from someone who knows what they’re talking about."
- "They don’t have wiki-style editing, so collaboration is impossible."
- "You have to log on to ask or answer a question, so the burden of participation is higher."
Let me add a few additional points:
- What is easily googled changes over time.
- Biostars ends up being less comprehensive
- What is easily found via expert search terms is not necessarily easy for a novice to find.
- Biostars community might be able to improve on the most answers available via a google search.
I think a certain level of indifference to how easy a question is to google is an important part of how Stack Exchange works and adopting this attitude more widely as a community-wide ethic within Biostars might be beneficial to Biostars members. If you think of the Stack Exchange as a service we (collectively) provide to the individual questioners, then it makes sense to prompt askers to prove to answerers that they have done a minimum amount of work. If you think of Stack Exchange as a collaborative Wiki-type environment where both questioners and answerers collaborate to make a definitive community resource of high-quality questions and answers, then I think we should only care about good quality questions wherever they come from. I believe the Stack Exchange format is more conducive to the latter. In other words, I think the primary users of the answer to a question will be all the other people in the future that use that question and answer pair as a resource.
[Note: In this post, I set up a dichotomy of Biostars content vs. Google search results. Clearly, not mutually exclusive. Basically, I completely agree people should at the very least search Biostars so I am conceding that point.]