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It annoys me when people post answers to obviously off-topic questions like this one, especially after those questions have already received several close votes. Migrations seem to happen rather infrequently these days, so there's probably no reputation to gain for questions that are likely to be closed. And although sure, the answer may help the OP, it also encourages bad behavior (posting off-topic questions.)

My question is: is it appropriate to downvote these answers? Personally, I think I could make a case for both sides.

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Heh. I notice that (probably in reponse to posting here!) the question has been migrated! Long live the Meta Effect! – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 28 '13 at 15:27
I do this and every once in a while, you get an arrogant snob who complains that it's a perfectly valid answer although the question is bad. Should we point them here now? – Cole Johnson Aug 28 '13 at 16:59
I propose that this be [faq-proposed]. – Josh Caswell Aug 28 '13 at 18:54
@JoshCaswell Added faq-proposed tag. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 30 '13 at 2:39
I proposed an addition to the help center "What types of questions should I avoid answering?" – apaul34208 Aug 30 '13 at 2:42
@JoseManuelAbarcaRodríguez The point of Stack Overflow is not to earn as many points as possible. The point is to help build a knowledge base, which is useful for many future visitors. If you are only here for the points then you are here for the wrong reason. – ProgramFOX May 24 '15 at 14:00
up vote 59 down vote accepted

Yes. Answering obviously off-topic questions encourages people to ask them.

I've seen so many "This is probably off topic, but I'm asking it here because of the amount of traffic StackOverflow gets!" questions I've lost count. And people still love getting book recommendations as much as people like giving them. Answering these questions only justifies the decision of the OP to lay their steaming question on us.

Sure, wait to downvote until after you've cast your close vote. But as soon as you've done so, ding 'em. Cackle a little while you do it.

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What do we do when they ask why there are downvotes and they reply rudely "well, use your time fixing the question instead of downvoting a perfectly good answer"? – Cole Johnson Aug 28 '13 at 16:59
@ColeJohnson I would say that the actions aren't mutually exclusive. I can both fix the question and downvote your answer. Also, for a question that's just offtopic, it's generally beyond fixing. Changing it enough to make it on topic generally makes it an entirely new question. For questions with problems besides just being on topic, that may not be the case. Finally, you can just ignore such comments if you want. You aren't required to justify your downvotes to others if you don't want to. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 17:19
@Servy yeah, but then I feel guilty about not educating people about not doing this. Might just need time off... – Cole Johnson Aug 28 '13 at 20:29
If I have limited time, I would much rather spend it downvoting bad content than polishing turd questions. – Cody Gray Aug 28 '13 at 23:19
Should we ridicule people who post off-topic questions instead of trying to help them? – Anderson Green Sep 6 '13 at 0:43
@AndersonGreen: Depends. Are they honestly stupid or willfully so? Mock the willful, use a whiffle bat on the honest. – Won't Sep 6 '13 at 12:30
@Won't I'm a bit alarmed by the pervasive culture of hostility that has become so prevalent on Stack Overflow in recent months, so I try to avoid being condescending whenever possible. I don't want other Stack Overflow users to feel unwelcome here. – Anderson Green Sep 6 '13 at 17:15
@Anderson Green: I wouldn't mind being unwelcoming to people who, on purpose, post off topic questions. Frankly, they can go piss up a rope. The rest can be split into two groups--honest mistake makers who are quick to correct their errors, and idiots. The second half, they can join in the rope-wetting ceremonies. They are the help vampires, the low quality question-eers, the people who scrawl "am try parse xml not working help" on the bathroom wall in hopes they'll get an answer. The first half, sure. Be nice. The rest? The rope with them. – Won't Sep 6 '13 at 17:41
lol. I laughed reading the above comment – Amal Murali Feb 9 '14 at 19:33

I'd focus on closing such questions as fast as possible. And perhaps even deletion if justified. If they can't answer because something was closed, you've solved the problem without muddying the meaning of votes. And if it gets deleted in a relatively short period of time, there is no gain for the answerer in any case.

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There are clean up scripts (see this answer for the specifics) that will clean up closed questions with certain attributes.

One set of the requirements for one of the scripts contains:

  • has no answers with a score > 0

Downvoting answers of questions that really shouldn't be will help coax these questions to automatic deletion, lest they serve as bad examples for other people to ask similar questions.

Please remember the bit of the downvote tooltip of "this is not useful" is still the guiding principle for what to downvote... but if it isn't useful, by all means, downvote it.

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The answer is "Yes", and this is the why -- because you don't even have to remember to come back and clean up in order to make the site better. – Josh Caswell Aug 28 '13 at 18:55

I tend to agree with Bart's answer, in cases where the question seems "borderline" or if it's a case where the questioner and answerer simply didn't know any better. On the other hand in the more blatant cases that Won't points out where the OP actually indicates that they are aware that the question is off-topic, down-voting the question and the answer seems completely appropriate.

Perhaps part of the solution to this problem would be to institute some sort of "Please don't feed the animals" policy in the answering section of the help center.

Much like feeding the wildlife, the more you feed them the more they're likely to come around. Sure they may seem cute and harmless in the beginning, but sooner or later someone is going to get bit.

enter image description here

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Cute and compelling analogy, but ... and damn I hate to make Godwin right, but you know, holocausts and slaveries have been brought to you by people who call people animals. Might this be a line of disrespect we don't want to cross? At least not until we accept answers from orangutans, literally. – BobStein-VisiBone Mar 7 '14 at 14:51

No. You should vote on answer regardless of the quality of the question (e.g. downvote if it is incorrect). If the question is off-topic, close/flag the question.

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There are plenty of reasons to downvote an answer beyond just correctness. You should downvote an answer based on whether or not it is helpful, which is an entirely different matter. Perhaps it uses an undesirable approach to solving the problem, perhaps it's poorly explained, perhaps it has major security vulnerabilities, or perhaps the information is offtopic, and thus won't be helpful to future visitors of the site. "helpful" is intentionally given a large degree of room for interpretation by the voter. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:05
@Servy I agree. My point is that the quality of the question should not have a bearing on the answer. Updated my answer – user000001 Aug 28 '13 at 15:17
While I usually agree that an answer shouldn't be evaluated based on it's question, a question asking for good chicken recipes, and an answer with a recipe for fried chicken doesn't seem like helpful content on this site, and so shouldn't be upvoted, even if it happens to be a fantastic recipe that also exactly answers the question. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:20
@Servy: so how do you feel about the specific question and answer I linked to? Not chicken, but LaTeX (only superficially similar :) ) – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 28 '13 at 15:25
@ErnestFriedman-Hill Well, it's been migrated to a place where it's on topic, so all votes are moved to a site where they are appropriate. Personally I don't really understand what's being asked enough to comment further on that question. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:29
I totally disagree with this answer. While the quality of the answer matters, it also matters whether the poster is actually trying to be helpful (which also includes actually participating here) or is just trying to gain rep by answering everything possible. I used to leave a comment explaining that off-topic questions shouldn't be answered, but don't bother anymore because I got tired of reading "Too bad for you. Vote to close the question. I'm leaving my answer anyway."; now I just vote to close, downvote the answer, and move on. – Ken White Aug 30 '13 at 2:57

It's between you and your conscience, I'm afraid. The question may or may not be off-topic (it's not for you to decide - it is the community that does the deciding bit), so it's rather rude to presume that one can punish somebody trying to be helpful just because his/her answer is annoying.

In the end, voting is personal and secret. What works for you does not necessarily work for others. If you feel like downvoting someone's answer for any reason, please do it.

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Questions that have not been closed or migrated have not been determined to be off topic, no matter how "obvious" some members think it is that they are off topic. I've seen plenty of questioned flagged as off topic when in fact they are clearly on topic and the people doing the flagging just haven't read them carefully enough to understand them, or are just trying to get some rep from the flags.

Better to spend your time going through the low quality question queues and getting the questions closed if they really are off topic.

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"or are just trying to get some rep from the flags" I agree this is a most pointless activity, in particular in view of the fact that IIRC none can be gained in this way. – quid Apr 27 '14 at 1:02
Stack Overflow, "How do I make a blueberry pie" - Sure, not off-topic yet. - Still not off-topic, and I know how to make it. Better write it down. - Aw, snap, now it's off-topic now that I have already almost answered. (even worse: erase "almost". Now you have a blueberry cake recipe on Stack Overflow, blessed and upvoted by you) – Jan Dvorak Apr 27 '14 at 1:07

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