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One encourages better quality questions, the other helps a person with a problem. Both admirable goals. Right?

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No idea if it's ethical or not, but I do it all the time. – Yannis Dec 20 '12 at 23:34
I would say that is much more ethical than the more common practice, which is to upvote a crappy question that you have answered (to draw attention to your answer). – Asad Saeeduddin Dec 20 '12 at 23:57
I normally tend to do that. That way we can tell the OP that the question is not a good one but by answering we can make sure that he is getting some help with problem he is facing. – iDev Dec 21 '12 at 0:24

I would say it is the opposite of unethical! (very ethical?)

Just because you don't think it is a good question or there are issues with it does not mean you can't provide an answer. I think it is very honest to do this.

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Good answer, but I don't think ethics really applies here. Is it good/not good for the site, maybe. – Michael Petrotta Dec 20 '12 at 23:37
@MichaelPetrotta I would say it is still good for the site. If the question warrants a downvote and you can answer it, then I think you should. Almost obligated to do so! – Austin Henley Dec 20 '12 at 23:38

There is only one thing that's a bit concerning, answering a sub par question gives it a (mostly false) sense of legitimacy1 (assuming of course the answer is good). If the question is truly crap, I would probably not answer it and go for the downvote / close vote combo.

If, on the other hand, the question isn't that bad, but still worthy of a downvote, I'd say go for it. It would be nice if you also spend some time helping the OP fix the question (commenting / editing), and awesome if you retracted your downvote if they actually fix it, but you've already done enough by answering the question, it's completely up to you to decide if you'll go the extra step or not.

1 The "Eeek! How can it be not a real question when someone answered it!" phenomenon.

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True.. If it takes you more than the comment limit to explain how someone is wrong, might as well post an answer – slhck Dec 21 '12 at 21:37

Most certainly not. This is the reason there is an independent score for the question and each answer. A terrible, un-researched, l337 sp33kin' question could be downvoted to oblivion and still attract a fantastic answer. There's even a badge for extreme cases.

Remember that votes are not permanent and can be removed if the post was edited since the vote was cast. I use downvotes sometimes (along side a comment) to encourage the user to improve their question. Once they have done that, I'm very happy to remove and possibly even reverse my vote. Till then, if I can help the OP out by providing an answer there is no reason not to.

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Upvoted although you misspelled 1337 5p34k, please fix. – Daniel Fischer Dec 21 '12 at 0:32
@dan - this is a just a different dialect. Facebook tags... go figure. :P – Lix Dec 21 '12 at 0:36
You are good man, if you downvote you must explain... to help the one who ask the question to improve... – toksis Dec 21 '12 at 1:09

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