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I'm new to stack overflow, made a few responses. I responded to a question that was something like:

"I need to do X, I found a sed one liner that almost does it, but not quite"

And was tagged 'sed'. I assumed the user just wanted a solution and tagged it with sed because it was a possible answer. So I suggested an alternate way using another tool that was more concise and didn't involve regex (another one-liner).

I received a down vote for not meeting the requirement of the user.

Since I'd like to make sure I conform to good forum etiquette, my question is:

Are tags considered hard requirements that should limit the scope of responses? (within reason of course, a .NET question with a .NET tag obviously shouldn't receive a ruby answer).

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Apr 6 '10 at 16:18

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4 Answers 4

Unless the OP specifically requires it in the question, I would say that solving the problem is paramount. If you have a different way of solving the problem that doesn't involve the subject tag, then I think you're ok. That's not to say that someone won't downvote you -- I'm sure it happens all the time. I wouldn't downvote it though unless it were actually wrong or unhelpful. For example, suggesting that they change platforms so that they can use a tool that solves the problem better is probably not all that helpful. Suggesting that they use awk instead of sed, certain could be.

To protect yourself from overzealous down voters, you might want to include either a disclaimer: I realize this doesn't address your question exactly, but have you considered... or a solution based on the tag and your alternative using a different tool.

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If you are going to offer an alternative employing tools other than those in the tags say so.

I know you asked for a solution using sed, but if possibly you might be better off doing ...

may or may not get a great response, but will almost never generate any down votes.

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To put it in programming-lingo:

Tags should be a function of the question.

Responses should be a function of the question, not the tags ;)

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Tags should be an argument to the response generator function. –  Humphrey Bogart Apr 7 '10 at 1:17

In general, a tag does specify the scope of the OP's interest. Any potential answers have to target that scope, even if they might expand outside of it.

I personally tend to leave alternative solutions (when I can't also provide a solution in within the OPs requirement) as comments on the question, rather than answer. This way the information is there for OP's perusal, even though it does not exactly meet the requirements of the original question.

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This assumes that the person who doesn't know how to solve the problem always knows the exact parameters of the solution. That seems somewhat dubious. While there are situations where a particular solution may both solve the problem and be an unhelpful answer, that's probably the exception rather than the rule. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '10 at 16:26
    
@tvanfosson - you are correct. IN the case where the OP has put the wrong tags, because they don't have good understanding of the problem, the correct answer might as well be to switch to a different tool/approach. However, such an answer will still cover the original scope of the question if it explains why it does not work by either clarifying the actual problem, or by giving details on the potential cost or drawbacks of the initial approach. –  Franci Penov Apr 6 '10 at 16:35

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