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Should I warn people if I am planning to self-answer a question immediately after asking it? I did this at this question and was immediately sent a number of downvotes.

UPDATE: This question is not about immediately self-answering questions. This is a well accepted practice.

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You should totally post your answer first and then ask the question. Clears up any ambiguity. –  random Oct 31 '09 at 15:23
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8 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Though I don't think the downvotes are deserved, I do not think you handled this particularly smart.

As the first comment by Ólafur shows, a warning indicating that you know the answer and will post it in a couple of minutes puts other people off. For a reason: no person receives help in the short term and your hint that you already prepared an answer does not motivate others to formulate an answer of their own.

The effect is that indeed most people will (at least initially) not answer your question, even though they may have a different, useful answer to the same question. Often there are multiple ways to attack a problem; the power of this site is that there are plenty of users that can bring distinct insights to the table. It is important to keep them motivated to actually post those insights.

  : Of course, in the long term this question is useful, since other people will find it though Google.

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Just to note, even though I commented and was put off to answer, I did not downvote. I know you don't state that, but I wanted to get that out there. –  Ólafur Waage Oct 31 '09 at 11:27
    
Sorry, if I put your comment out of context. With regards to putting people off answering, as can be seen from the actual thread there is still the ability for significant rep gain for an answerer if you add information which the OP does not already have. If an answerer is not going to add anything more than when I posted the original question, there is nothing to be gained from them posting. –  Casebash Oct 31 '09 at 14:42
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No. Why would you?

If you plan on posting an answer immediately, then the warning is redundant: they can see that you self-answered.

If you plan on sitting around and watching for other answers before posting your own, then the warning is counter-productive: you may not get any good answers if you imply that you've already made up your mind as to what the answer is.

And if you don't plan on answering, but then find the answer after asking the question, it's too late for a warning anyway, as folks may have already written answers, or be in the process of writing them.

The only thing I'd caution you about would be waiting until someone's already written an answer roughly equivalent to yours, and then posting your own. First off, there's no need for it at that point... but also, it can seem to the author that you're trying to cheat him out of up-votes after he took the time to answer you. If you have an answer prepared, either post it immediately after the question, or post it only if no one else provides a similar answer.

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Asking a simple yes/no question that you already know the answer to probably seems to many like a ploy for rep. I don't think that there's anything necessarily wrong with it if the question doesn't already exist, but be aware that it may not be well received. A warning in that case may not be advised to avoid the appearance of trying to gain rep.

If, however, you have a complex problem that may be of interest to others and have a solution to it, then I think it can be appropriate to let people know that you have solved it and will provide your solution in an answer. Answers are the right place to provide answers. Answers should not be provided in questions. You should be open to other answers and I would indicate that in your warning. Providing a warning, though, can serve to help others not waste time trying to find a solution to a problem you have already solved. Indicating that you are open to other solutions lets people who have also solved the problem or a similar one know that you value and will upvote their answers if provided and appropriate.

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This was actually a question I was going to ask on Stack Overflow, but I stumbled across the solution while looking up something else and so I decided to post it –  Casebash Oct 31 '09 at 14:54
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If you are going to self answer a question immediately after asking an effort should be made to ensure that other people don't waste their time looking up information that you already know. Some people may be posting on Stack Overflow not for rep, but actually in an effort to help people, and they may quite rightly feel you have wasted their time if you already know the answer.

One disadvantage of leaving a message is that it discourages other people from answering the question as they may feel the OP will be more likely to select their own answer. This may lower the quality of the answers provided.

If you are going to warn people, you want to do it in a way where you are not discouraging people from answering, but rather encouraging them to wait until you have answered so they can see if they can think of anything better.

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I agree with Stephan202, warning people in the initial post will discourage people except if they are looking for a challenge, which is not the real purpose of SO (or associated sites). For some cases when the question is interesting, I spend some time to look for a solution instead of giving it off the top of my head, in any case I try to include relevant links to have a useful post for the OP and the long-term. There would be much less motivation to do that if I was told the OP would answer the question in two minutes - I didn't see the original post but I gather it was the general idea.

As I see it there are two cases:

  • either you have the beginning of an answer or a "workaround" you are not really satisfied with, or you have doubts. Just post it directly in the question and ask if that is the way to do, or whether anyone sees a better way to handle the problem;
  • or you honestly don't know yet, but you happen to figure it out later. Then simply post your solution separately in the thread (telling you just found out), examine all the solutions later, once there are significant answers and decide which is best.

All that being said, I don't think it deserved any downvote.

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Why don't you post both at the same time? Whenever I post a question I'm going to answer, I compose the question and the answer, make sure I thought of all the nuances, and then post them both in rapid fire.

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I think this is probably the best solution. –  Casebash Oct 31 '09 at 19:49
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I don't see why you should warn people. Post your answer and let others post theirs, you might get duplicate answers but that's just hoe SO works. Either one of these "duplicate" answers is better than the others in a way and it gets voted up, or people delete their answers when they see that someone posted the same answer, or people vote up the first of these answers.

With that said I don't think the question should've been downvoted for disagreeing with what you did.

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Doesn't duplicate questions harm StackOverflow and make it harder for someone who comes up with a new better solution later to get it noticed? –  Casebash Oct 31 '09 at 10:38
    
Surprisingly few people delete their answers even when they are almost exact duplicates –  Casebash Oct 31 '09 at 10:39
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@Casebash: I am not sure your last statement is correct. Neither of us has 10K, so we cannot see deleted answers, but I imagine that lots of people delete their answer within a minute after posting if they notice it's a duplicate. And of course we cannot know how many answers were never submitted at all because a similar answer was posted while another user was in the process of writing one. –  Stephan202 Oct 31 '09 at 10:44
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I couldn't recount how many times I aborted my answer 1/2 way through when a similar or better answers popped in. I always try to up-vote those answers instead. –  o.k.w Oct 31 '09 at 10:53
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In most cases, if you already know the answer, then dont bother posting a question. Wait until someone else asks the question, then answer it. That way we get questions that people actually want answered on the sites, not questions that people think will be asked at some point in the future. There is some judgement to be used about if a specific question is going to be helpful to others. Your specific question appears to have been easily answered by yourself from existing documentation, meaning the question is probably never going to be asked for real on SO.

If you have a suggestion for a solution, and are wanting a discussion about if that is the best solution, then include your solution in the question, and phrase the question along the lines of "Is this a good way to do xxx, is there a different/better way?" Or, even better, be specific about what you dont like about your solution, and ask for solutions that avoid that specific issue.

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I disagree. If you have had a problem and figured out a way to solve it, I think it's legitimate to post a q/a on SO so that others can simply find an answer instead of having to first ask a question then hope that you see it and provide your answer. I've done this on at least two occasions with issues that I ran into with beta software where existing answers are hard to find. –  tvanfosson Oct 31 '09 at 13:45
    
Sorry, I had managed to miss a bit that I had included in my head when I thoght about the answer. I didn't mean it to be quite so "hardline". –  pipTheGeek Nov 1 '09 at 10:23
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