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Last night I answered a question which at first glance was quite silly (the person phrased the question poorly) but I figured out his problem and addressed it directly in my response. The community agreed with me, and gave me three up-votes. At that point I went to bed knowing I was super awesome. I woke up this morning and there is no evidence of any of this happening!

Was it all a dream? Did the universe correct itself? Or maybe the question was deleted and I didn't end up getting credit for the time I put into answering it?

I'm assuming the last point... In which case I call shenanigans. As it stands I feel like it would be foolish to put effort into helping people whose questions aren't super well formed. I can't even view the work I put in for myself!

So yes, my question is simple: what are the policies regarding good answers to bad questions and why can't I access my content?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

What Oded says is one way to look at it — if it's a bad, poorly phrased question, then vote/flag to close it as such instead of wasting your time. People who are aware of this and yet choose to answer the question simply to help the OP, accept the loss of points when it is eventually deleted.

There is another course of action here that a very tiny fraction of users do. That is to edit and improve the question to prevent it from being closed/deleted. StackOverflow, because of its size, attracts votes from people who don't necessarily have the technical expertise to recognize the hidden question and vote to close because it's filthy on the outside. You can't blame them — their efforts are integral to house keeping. However, people like you, who can understand the half-baked hidden question (perhaps it's in your niche area of expertise...) and answer it, should at least attempt to improve the wording in the question and fill in the missing pieces so that it doesn't get removed by the janitors. If you are not willing to do this that's fine, but don't be surprised if the question is eventually removed.

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@MrLister You can't delete your own questions if there's more than one answer or if it has upvotes... – Lorem Ipsum May 13 '12 at 19:52
I've had it happen to me that a question was closed and deleted (by a moderator) before I could finish my answer to it. The answer in question sounded a lot like a hopelessly unanswerable mess, but I had a good one anyway; it happened to be about a former specialism of mine, so I was able to reply with references to a broad range of work over a long period of time. Except I wasn't. I was very cross, I must admit (especially as I lost the entire contents of the answer). Some moderators are a little too inclined to wield their powers for my taste… – Donal Fellows May 13 '12 at 22:58
(No, I won't tell you which SE site it was on. That's not important.) – Donal Fellows May 13 '12 at 23:01

a question which at first glance was quite silly

So, it was a question that did not really belong on the Stack Exchange site.

As such, it was deleted and all answers, comments and associated votes went with it.

The question you should ask yourself is - if the question doesn't belong on the site, why answer it?

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Why should my good effort lose recognition because of someone else's mistake? Your proposed mentality would result in citizens who are less helpful members of the exchange. They would not answer questions unless they were completely sure the question will stick around. I would argue that friendly respondents should be able to keep community rewards if their answers were good enough to warrant Upvotes. Bad questions should also be removed of course, but I do no disservice by answering bad questions; I would be doing disservice by not answering questions in general. – slifty May 13 '12 at 18:33
To be clear -- once I answered, people realized the actual question being asked. My point here is that the question could have just as easily have been edited instead of deleted. – slifty May 13 '12 at 18:35
@slifty "I do no disservice by answering bad questions" -- yes, you do; you encourage people to ask those questions. If a question is good you answer it; if it's bad you fix it or vote to close it – Michael Mrozek May 13 '12 at 18:35
@slifty - We are having a discussion. And if you did understand the actual question, why didn't you edit it into shape? – Oded May 13 '12 at 18:40
(I'm referring to the downvotes I'm getting to the question) -- herp derp sorry didn't know the protocol. I should clearly lurk moar. – slifty May 13 '12 at 18:40
@slifty - Voting on Meta is different – Oded May 13 '12 at 18:41
Anyway I understand. I do think that there is a grey area / possible cases where this policy is unfair to the good contributor. For instance, users could ask a fine question, get a fine answer, and delete their question for selfish purposes. In my case I should have edited the question but I honestly didn't realize it was going to be deleted -- it was a fine question, just silly at FIRST glance. I'd point you to the situation to show you but I can't. In the mean time I guess absolutes are the only scalable policy :( – slifty May 13 '12 at 18:44
@slifty - We can't ever tell that a question might get deleted. I have lost reputation that way as have many of those who answered. That's life. Perhaps you can find comfort in the fact that such lost reputation is a rare occurrence. – Oded May 13 '12 at 18:46
@Oded TBC: that's not necessarily life -- That's the invoked system decision which could easily be changed :) || Reputation aside I do feel that people should always have access to their answers and contributions. – slifty May 13 '12 at 18:48
@slifty - It is a soft delete and can be undeleted if enough votes crop up. 10k+ users can also view deleted posts, so if one has a link to it, it can still be seen. – Oded May 13 '12 at 18:49
At the very least, let @slifty view his/her own work after it gets deleted out from underneath him/her. Just restrict access to only the answerer(s). And can we get some notifications for these things? It shouldn't feel like a "dream" as slifty put it. – Funktron Jul 26 '12 at 3:02

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