EDIT: After amWhy brought the term "abstract duplicates" to my attention in the comments below, I thought some tidying-up was in order. The original body of the question is mostly intact below; I have removed one paragraph containing a link to another meta question, which does not seem as relevant any more, in light of these:
Coping with *abstract* duplicate questions.
The highest-scoring and containing the largest sample of user opinions on this topic question. Most answers and comments are from 6 years ago. Out of that discussion arose the idea to create wiki-style generalized answers for such questions, and keep a catalog for easy reference here:
List of Generalizations of Common Questions
While in no way implying that this list is the ultimate solution to this issue, I would like to keep this question open, as a place to discuss (among other things) ways to make the best use of it.
[To be perfectly honest, the original intended focus for my question was somewhat different: how to induce posters of new questions to search first. I am considering forking that into a new question, where I will make that clearer. My reasoning for separating that discussion from this one is that not all methods of coping with abstract duplicates will necessarily have a positive effect on the adoption of search-before-asking practices; in other words, there may be a conflict of interest here.]
Original wording of question:
I know there have been a lot of questions here on meta discussing what should be done with questions that provide no context, or loosely speaking, don't indicate that the asker has given much effort to solving the problem themselves. What the upvote/downvote guidelines call "shows no research effort."
Now, it would be embarrassing if this present question itself were guilty of exactly what it complains about, so let me make clear how what I am asking is different from all those (or at least as far as I managed to find). When you go to ask a new question, if that is your first time, you are strongly encouraged to follow these steps:
Make your question clear and precise
Show what progress you have made with it yourself
This second one is what I have seen debated to great lengths (what to do with apparent copy-paste homework questions, CPHQs). But there is another one:
- Search for previous questions that might address your difficulties
And this is what I want to discuss here. Let me illustrate with an example. In the probability and combinatorics tags, there are hundreds of questions of the kind "in how many ways can [...] be distributed/arranged/divided so that [...]" or "what is the probability that if random [...] is/are drawn from [...] then [...] is true." Many of those are, while not exact duplicates of things that have been asked before, certainly close enough, so that if the asker looked at some of those previously answered questions, he or she could at the very least get some ideas on how to tackle the problem.
Now, I try to put myself in the asker's shoes to see why they don't do that. I myself, when I encounter any problem I don't know what to do about (not limited to math), always try searching before asking on forums; one of the reasons is that if the answer is out there, I'd have it right away rather than have to wait for someone who can help (and is willing to help) to come across my question. But this "deterrent" doesn't work when there are many users here on MSE who jump at the opportunity to provide full detailed answers (to what for them is a straightforward question) within minutes. So the askers "learn" that there is no need to bother searching: it's faster just to ask, and you'll have your answer in no time.
So my questions are two:
What should be done with questions which are endless variations on the same themes that have been asked many times before? Flag them as possible duplicates? Downvote as "no research effort" (even if the asker did share some thoughts on the problem)?
What can I (or the community as a whole) do to discourage "immediate answer dumping" (that's what I call it in my mind; the word "dump" is not meant offensively, but as a synonym of "output") to these repetitive questions, and thereby encourage the askers to search for similar ones first?