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This is a question about Stack Overflow culture: What's an "answer"?

I recently got dinged by someone because my "accept rate" was so low. So I went back and clicked the Accept checkmark on a couple more questions. But it's true that I've left many questions un-checked.

Sometimes I find that I'm getting responses that are wide of the question. Or that the answerers didn't read the question carefully, so they're answering some different question. Or that I said I'm looking for this not that, but they give me that anyway. Or that answerers say, "try this," but when I do, it either doesn't work or creates a new problem.

One time I asked about commercial IDEs for Android development and I got one response, but when I looked at the product it didn't look like it corrected any of the problems I listed for the free IDE, so it's not what I said I was looking for.

So what's the etiquette on Stack Overflow? It's not fair to ding the questioner if he doesn't get good answers. But it's dishonest to mark a question as "the answer" if it doesn't satisfy what the the questioner asked. What do most people do? Should there be two categories of "Accept"... "This is the answer" -or- "I accept that I'm not going to get a good answer to this question"?

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By dinged did you mean downvoted? That's counter to the intent of the voting system and one of the reasons I've come around (from first supporting) to believing showing accept rates is overall worse. –  Gnome Sep 2 '10 at 7:00
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The only thing I'll add is that you should at least leave comments that an answer is inaccurate or not what you asked. –  Moshe Feb 1 '11 at 14:53

3 Answers 3

Whilst you're correct that you should not accept answers that don't effectively answer your question, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind:

  • Not every question has an answer you want to hear, but that doesn't change the fact that the answer is correct. For example: if there's no commercial Android IDE that fixes those problems, that user's answer is probably as good as it's going to get.

  • Giving the correct answer often depends on the quality of the question itself. So if the answers don't address your problem, perhaps you should edit your question and emphasize why some of the answers aren't working for you. Now, there's no feedback as to whether you're satisfied with the answers as they currently are.

So my advice would be to first look critically at your own questions, because they're likely to be the source of poor or incomplete answers. As some guidelines for improving the quality of your questions, have a look at these rules of thumb composed by Jon Skeet:

Writing the perfect question

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"For example: if there's no commercial Android IDE that fixes those problems, that user's answer is probably as good as its going to get." I phrased my question very carefully - "IS there one" but that's not the question the responder answered or the IDE he suggested, so I wasn't sure his knowledge was authoritative enough to conclude there wasn't one. I've done more research on this and I've also talked to the commercial company in question, and as far as I can tell there isn't one. So what's the etiquette of posting an Answer to that effect and checking it "accepted"? –  Peter Nelson Sep 1 '10 at 20:33
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So @Peter, if I give you the answer "No", will you accept it? –  malach Sep 2 '10 at 11:24

Stack Overflow is based on a system of rewards. The first, and paramount motivation should be helping your fellow programmer solve a problem with the reputation awards being incidental.

It doesn't always work that way in reality. I suppose it is conceivable that someone could ask a dozen well written questions and yet fail to receive a satisfactory answer, however I find that scenario extremely unlikely.

If you've been a member for several months, asked 20 questions and accepted only two answers, I might politely remind you how the accept button works, just like I would point out any other feature of the system that I feel someone has overlooked.

If you're a relatively new member, I'm not going to pay much attention to your acceptance rate, nor would I pressure anyone into accepting an answer that did not adequately answer the original question.

If you aren't getting answers with the detail that you want, double check that:

  • Your questions are clearly written, as brief as possible and appropriately tagged.
  • You alert people who have left answers after making important edits to your question
  • You reserve an hour after asking a question to engage people who want to help. Be sure to be available to help them help you.
  • You (eventually) reward people for sharing expertise with up-votes and acceptance.

The accepted percentage is only a very rough indicator that tells people how likely you are to accept a suitable answer. For the value to mean anything, people need to spend enough time looking at your profile page to see how many questions you've asked, how old the questions without accepted answers are, etc.

In short, don't get pressured into doing anything - but do try to work within the system so the system works for you. From your stats and as @Grace Note points out in comments, your acceptance rate is just fine.

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In this case, Peter only has 8 questions and a 60% accept rate (which is actually pretty good!) –  Grace Note Sep 1 '10 at 15:01
    
@Grace - Yes , that's more than enough to say "If you spend your time answering this, I'm likely to accept your answer" –  Tim Post Sep 1 '10 at 15:05
    
Note that it was only 5 questions that counted toward accept rate, as 3 of them were new. –  Gnome Sep 2 '10 at 10:18

Welcome to Meta, Peter!

It's perfectly normal to have <100% accept rate. There are, to oversimplify a bit, two cases here: the first is you, based on this question and your SO profile; the second is the guy who asks dozens of questions — often low-quality — and maintains a 0% accept rate because he just doesn't care about anything beyond getting his immediate question answered. Some of our fellow users have just gotten so tired of running into "that guy" that everyone, including you, starts to look like "that guy."

One of the first responses I got here on Meta was "don't let the CW police get you down." That was before "accept rate" was displayed publicly. My advice to you: don't let the accept rate police get you down.

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Great answer. I will say though that the "Accept Rate Police" are really weary of those "dozen-or-so-and-no-accepted-answer" users. –  Moshe Feb 1 '11 at 14:55
    
I do not agree. When the accept rate police mention your accept rate as a comment to your question without an answer, they are deterring people from answering your question. So, they indeed "get you down". –  Jono Apr 4 '12 at 20:18

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