Answering a Question Vs. Solving a Problem
People don’t always say what they mean.
I’ve run into cases that go something like this. The question was quite clear on what it was asking, and I answered it (correctly as far as I know) according to what the question was actually asking. But then someone else posts an answer which speculates that the asker might have actually meant something else and answers that question.
That’s fair enough of course: the asker probably asked their question because they don’t fully understand the problem they’re having, so it may be genuinely difficult to describe the problem. But what happens then is that the speculative answer gets upvoted and accepted, despite not answering the question as it is stated. Even if the question doesn’t describe the asker’s actual problem, someone else finding the question and actually wanting to know the answer will find a non-answer.
What would be a good course of action in these cases? I can think of several, but they all have downsides:
- Edit the question so that it asks the question that the accepted answer is answering. This may be seen as too intrusive: it actually changes the meaning of the question.
- Post a comment asking the asker to edit their question appropriately. This is futile. Even after knowing the solution they may still not be able to phrase the problem, and of course they are not interested in doing so because they’ve already got what they wanted.
- Post comments on the question and the accepted answer pointing out that the answer is wrong and everyone should upvote my answer. I think the problems with this are obvious: it is more likely to encourage downvotes than upvotes.