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Thus far in my StackOverflow career, there seem to be two groups of question askers:

  1. Experienced users who know how to ask great questions.
  2. New users who need guidance on how to ask useful questions in a clear, concise manner.

Regarding This Question in particular, I know the original question was pretty unclear. However, I assumed I'd try to get some code up that the OP could look at and ask questions about later.

I feel like this is not a bad idea, because this seems to produce quicker responses than asking for the OP to clarify his / her question well enough for the general group of answerers to understand. However, there are others who think that, if the question is too unclear to understand right away, one should only comment on the question and inform the OP of their confusing words.

Thoughts?

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I feel like 95% of the problem is ... knowing how to phrase the problem. I really appreciate people who make the attempt you're talking about and give people the benefit of the doubt that they're not dumbasses, that they did some basic googling but just lacked the necessary experience to use the right keywords to get the right kind of help. –  user2483724 Feb 20 at 0:32
    
Is a quick response worth more than a useful response? –  Raedwald Feb 20 at 8:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Answer away. But if you feel the question is unclear enough to be put on hold, don't answer.

Questions that are unclear ideally get put on hold as soon as possible so they can be clarified. This isn't a way to punish the asker; it's a way of helping both us and them.

Consider a theoretical unclear question: it receives three different answers, with each answerer interpreting the question a different way. When the question is updated to be clear enough, one answer needs updating, and two are entirely invalid answers (dealing with an issue not asked) which means they should be downvoted — regardless of whether they were answering a former version of the question, they're not answering it now.

This is a messy situation that we should avoid. That's why unclear questions should be put on hold as soon as possible. We need to get it to a clear state and then answer.

So if the question would be closed as unclear, don't contribute to that messy state. Just wait until it's clarified.

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If you feel that you know what the poster is asking then feel free to answer it.

Also, please feel free to edit that question into shape.

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One problem with this is when the question is ambiguous and the answerer edits it to suit their own particular interpretation which may or may not be what the OP has intended. I have seen this happen. –  Martin Smith Feb 19 at 23:18
    
@MartinSmith, yep, that can be a problem. I've been involved in those kinds of incidents before. –  Lance Roberts Feb 19 at 23:19
    
Which is why I tend to do my best to double check in the comments when I do that kind of edit. –  Dennis Meng Feb 20 at 0:42

So my thought process with the question in..umm..question..is that they were

  • clearly new to development
  • created a posting that contained at least a couple of implicit questions

They could have been asking about how to generally attach handlers and get/set text, they could have been asking about how to replace a phrase in a string, or they could have been asking about the validity of the design in general.

How would answering the wrong question help the OP? What everyone did is jump at the question that was easiest and most obvious but if the solution is a completely different design then these will only confuse the poster more.

I think ambiguous questions are by their nature a bit of a judgement call and difficult to form a policy over, but you have to keep in in mind that the format of SO is only suited to specific questions. , The responsibility is therefore sometimes to help posters formulate better questions. Asking for code is simply one of many techniques for forcing people into realizing and identifying their specific issue so that we can get those good questions.

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Personally, I think that if you are posting answers/code that is relevant to what you interpret the question as, then sure - go for it! In a lot of cases, the users asking these questions literally have no idea where to start and have turned to StackOverflow for answers - it's not necessarily fair on those users to immediately downvote and vote to close because they haven't shown any attempt at a solution...

It a case recently I answered a question asking for a more complicated solution than necessary (regex vs inbuilt language functions), and I suggested using inbuilt language functions to achieve the result he'd asked for. While it worked for the question in particular, it turns out that his particular use case was more complicated and that his question didn't actually represent it accurately.

If I had have known that, should I have instead posted a shorter version as a comment and ask for more clarification...? I chose to share an answer with code that I thought was relevant to a specific angle/part of his question - it turned out to not be what he needed but it answered his original question and I'm sure it will be useful for somebody in the future...

However, all that being said - I do not think that it is fair to downvote answers like this, unless the question is very clear. Any amount of ambiguity should void the ability to downvote a potentially useful answer (obviously this functionality is up to the user and can't be regulated like that).

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The outlook on this scenario seems to go back and forth. To my knowledge the current outlook seems to be that if a user wants to answer the question, regardless of its quality, then they should not feel deterred.

In relation to this are the close reasons, which also fluctuate a decent amount based on which questions should be allowed and which should be answered (closing prevents answers).

In my opinion, posting what looks for the most part like a solution to a question shouldn't be a negative thing if you are up to it. If not, move on to the next question (possibly downvoting or voting to close the question on the way out). That said, I don't think it is beneficial to downvote legitimate answers to these questions.

If you do decide to post an answer, be ready for some turbulence. Answering vague/incomplete/gimme teh codez questions can have unpredictable results.

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