Today someone asked a question about software requirements specifications. I answered the question, but then he followed up with a comment that sounded a lot like a request for homework help. I replied that the question was out of scope. Someone else questioned whether that was valid justification, because having a solid understanding of SRS's is part of a tester's job.

I agree with that. I think there are a lot of skills that benefit a tester, e.g. verbal communication, writing skills, conflict resolution, time management, familiarity with programming, and detailed technical knowledge about specific areas. However, are questions about those areas fair game in SQA? It helps to know SQL if you are testing something that uses a relational database, but I am not sure we should invite questions about the difference between an inner join and an outer join.

Should SQA welcome questions about how to write an SRS for a specific problem?

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4 Answers

I think the framing is key here, and unfortunately, that's what's most commonly missing from questions from newbies, who often need a little help to tease out the motivation for their query. I think questions here need to be framed in terms of a testing problem, otherwise as you say, given that testing requires a very broad skillset almost anything is on topic, and that will do us no good as a site.

For example, it's not uncommon for testers to get drawn into business analysis on a project when doing their job as testers of questioning and clarifying the requirements. So a question framed around a genuine problem encountered during that, would be clearly on topic IMO, whereas a more theoretical question such as the one you're referring too risks being off topic. (I'd agree with you on that particular example, with the follow up comment it seemed out of SQA scope.)

So... in my opinion:

ON TOPIC: "I'm a tester on a project where there are no written requirements and I'm finding it difficult to be sure I'm covering the right areas in my testing. I don't have a lot of time, but I think Impact Mapping might be an useful tool to help me to clarify requirements with our stakeholders and discuss my test coverage with them - has anyone used this on a project, and was it helpful?"

OFF TOPIC: "I'm reading this book on Impact Mapping, and I'd like to hear more about how you'd create an impact map for your project. Has anyone used this on a project and was it helpful?"

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Unless it is a direct question that xyz does not work or regarding a specific issue, I try to provide a pseudo-code type answer which is more like guiding the person to the right direction than providing the solution. I also try to search online before posting a response. If the solution is in abundance in the outside world or there are multiple references, it shows me that the OP has either not done enough research or wasn't searching for the right thing. That's where I like to post the search result link.

As far as the above referenced question is concerned, I actually loved your approach - you started off with a guidance and left the OP with enough direction to search online.

For the questions related to concepts, I think there is a lot of material available to read. People can then post a specific question if they are not able to understand any specifics or do not agree with what's out there. Discussions are always welcome and I understand the desire to get quick answers but I think it's not fair for people to expect SQA to replace wiki or help them avoid reading and rather have someone provide a summary or a one line answer to a question.

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When reading the question and the current answers, two points come to mind:

  1. Testing is not just testing. By this I mean that there are a lot of things which come under the SQA moniker. Test theory, practise, management, and documentation to name a few. People should be able to ask about theory and practicality.
  2. Another facet of testing is learning. I feel someone should be able to come on here with a question related to something they read in a book that they would like guidance on. The off-topic example by @testerab I feel is defined correctly. However, if I was reading a book, wanted to know more about a topic, and wanted help to work out the best direction to take with the search result, I would want to ask here.
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If you wanted to ask that question here in order to discover how you could apply what you were reading to a testing problem, I would agree that is on topic. However, learning in general without a stated direct application to the site's topic might be on-topic for exploration in a forum site - but isn't on topic for a Q&A format as we have here, IMHO. –  testerab Jan 17 '13 at 11:13
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The answer is in the name of this SE site: Software Quality Assurance and Testing

So questions outside of simply Testing, are per se on-topic here as long as they relate to Software Quality Assurance (SQA).

And SQA covers a whole gamut of issues, relating to the software development life-cycle... of which requirements capture is but one very under-rated part.

Having said that, and while SQ needs all the traffic it can get, I personally feel that the referenced question is OFF-TOPIC here as it related to specific but generic {*} terminology - and is therefore more suited to Programmers, or probably even more appropriately, StackOverflow

{*} I can't believe I wrote "specific but generic" but it captures what I mean?!

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