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So, someone posts a question that is bad - it doesn't contain all of the information needed to really answer the question. Fortunately, it's pretty easily fixable by adding more information.

In this example, people asked for clarification (the full error message), which reveals that the problem is in code the user hasn't given us. Fair enough, we then ask for the missing code.

At this point, someone posts an answer which guesses at the problem, while I understand the want to answer quickly and the logic of guessing the issue, I feel this kind of answer really isn't useful, as it could be wrong and it could mean the question just gets left in that half-asked state.

I would argue the better course of action is to get the asker to clarify until the question can be answered with more certainty.

These kind of answers tend to, however, get upvoted pretty fast, so I'm not sure whether that just means that I'm wrong and that's just the way the questions should be handled, or whether there is an action I should take (downvoting the answer? I would already downvote the question until it was fixed).

So, to clarify the question at hand, should I be downvoting answers that guess at a (very) unclear question?

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I recall answering a very similar question to this recently: Should I answer a partial question? –  Rachel Dec 3 '12 at 16:21

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Part of it depends on context, and just how confident you are in your guess. Sometimes it may be a complete guess, but if I'm 90% sure that I'm right because it's just the most likely cause of those symptoms I'll probably answer. When I'm not all that sure I'll tend to just comment or wait for more information from the OP.

However, when you do guess, it's rather important to state right at the start what your assumptions are. If you do that then your question will be factually correct, and it's simply a matter of determining if it's relevant to the OP or not. You should also be prepared to delete your answer if those assumptions are proven false when the clarification questions are answered. Even if your answer is correct, if it's irrelevant you're adding noise to the question.

There are also situations where it's clear that the OP is having one of just a few problems. Either it's A or it's B, I don't know which, but it couldn't be anything else. In such cases it's sometimes appropriate to just provide solutions for both A and B, so you know that whatever the answer to the clarifying questions are you'll answer the question. This doesn't scale up though; you shouldn't be writing giant guides on what to do for every possible problem. It may also be appropriate to edit the answer if/when the OP clarifies which solution helped them to either emphasize the correct answer or eliminate the irrelevant one.

As to your edit of whether or not you should downvote such answers, that's entirely up to you. Nobody can tell you how to vote, it's an entirely personal decision. Part of it depends on your personal guess as to how likely that answer is to be correct. If I know it's a guess, but also know there's a 95+% chance of it being right, and it's well written, I generally upvote and just reverse it if the OP later said he was in the 5%. If it seems very unlikely that the guess is right it may be appropriate to comment on the answer indicating that the OP didn't provide enough information to indicate that it's the problem. I have occasionally downvoted such posts when I felt there was just no basis for thinking it was the answer, but I don't do so frequently. Whether or not that's how you should treat such questions is something only you can answer.

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+1, I'm definitely not grouping every question into the same lot - sometimes it's clear what the issue is. My issue is I'm unsure what to do where that isn't the case. –  Lattyware Dec 3 '12 at 16:18
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@Lattyware Wait for the OP to provide clarifying questions. If it's very obvious that nobody could possibly answer the question given the information provided then consider voting to close as "not a real question". (Particularly if the OP doesn't answer the clarifying questions.) –  Servy Dec 3 '12 at 16:20
    
Cheers for the extra update at the end. I wasn't looking for someone to tell me how to vote, but rather if there was a community consensus that there was particular value to aggressively trying to stop people doing this or not. It appears that there isn't, so I'll carry on as I normally would have. Cheers for the viewpoint. –  Lattyware Dec 3 '12 at 23:20

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