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I have a question with very few views. To attract some attention, I started a bounty, which resulted in one answer. The answer didn't completely address the question, at least not in the manner I was looking for.

Nonetheless, the responder made an effort, and did offer a solution, to some extent. So I feel inclined to award them the bounty (without accepting their answer), instead of letting it disappear into oblivion.

The question is whether it's ethically OK to do so? Especially since awarding bounty might signal that the answer provided was complete and correct?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

A bounty is not always awarded on "the complete and correct" answer. Often it is simply a reward for a good answer or substantial effort. I've received bounties on answers that helped other people other than the OP, and who knows if they actually addressed the exact same issue?

If you appreciated the effort and it helped (even if not completely), and you are unlikely to get more answers as a result of the bounty due to time, you may as well award the bounty to the one person who helped you. Otherwise you lose the reputation anyway, and there is a chance that nobody earns any of it, or only earns half.

There is also nothing wrong with leaving a comment explaining that you awarded the bounty even though the answer didn't completely address the issue (and why as a bonus), so that future readers aren't mislead.

Whether it is ethically ok, well, that is pretty subjective, and up to you. Personally I think that is fine, especially if you explain.

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I had always viewed awarded bounties as an additional indication of the quality of an answer. Thanks for clarifying that bounties can simply reward effort. – Arman H Jul 10 '13 at 0:16
@ArmanH sure, I was surprised to not see anything more specific in the help center but I guess the point is that it is subjective. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 10 '13 at 0:19

It is your bounty, you are free to award it to whichever answer you want. If you feel it is warranted you are free to comment indicating why you choose to award the bounty to a particular answer, but no person can say that your choice is "wrong" or that you're not allowed to award a bounty to a particular user (with the exception of rep fraud in the case of awarding a bounty to, for example, another account you created).

If you feel the answer warrants the bounty, even if it wasn't what you were expecting or hoping for, that is your decision.

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Thanks Servy. My confusion stemms from viewing bounty awards as an extra-proof of the answer's worthiness. Now I'm starting to see it differently. – Arman H Jul 10 '13 at 0:27
I was gonna offer a bounty for this question, but then you answered correctly. – Cole Johnson Jul 10 '13 at 1:18

I have been in a similar situation before, except that I offered the bounty as a result of an exceptional answer even though it did not answer my question. It was a rather technical question and at the time the reason for it happening was not very clear (it turned out to be a bug in an oracle library (link to question if you were curious).

At the time I did not mark the answer as correct, it took several months to get to the bottom of the issue. However, the effort put in by the person who answered helped so much that I felt it was deserved to award a bounty. Without their help the problem would have definitely taken more time to solve.

In the end, it is the checkmark which indicates to people what solved the question or issue at hand. The bounty is available for so many reasons that it does not necessarily have any one strong indication when awarded.

All that being said, there is one situation that I think is important to keep in mind. If an answer posted somehow poses a disadvantage in the future and a bounty is awarded to that answer, then it is important to leave a clarifying comment so that future visitors do not use the disadvantaged portion.

Ethically, I see no downside to award credit to someone who put in a very good effort and helped to at least narrow the problem down.

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