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Writing an answer takes anywhere between two minutes and 30 minutes. Many a time and oft, another user has been writing the exact same solution as me, which caused a sad waste of time for both of us.

In order to solve this, I usually write the general solution in a sentence or two, and add "WORK IN PROGRESS" at the bottom of my answer. I then edit the answer and save every minute or two, so that the answer is updated often.

Is this a bad habit? I think it saves time and energy for other users, who won't write the same solution. I always write this message after I have a short, concise solution in pseudocode or text.

I've been recently downvoted for this habit (after years of using it), and wanted to consult about it here.

Clarification:

I never leave loose ends; before the in-progress note there is a self-contained, clear solution, albeit short and codeless.

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just forget it and go ahead –  YOU Apr 6 '11 at 15:51
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There was some discussion on this subject on Seasoned Advice, early on. Some insight might be found there. –  Grace Note Apr 6 '11 at 15:55
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@Grace Note, @Adam: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/769/… sums up my reason for downvoting quite well. –  Benjamin Apr 6 '11 at 16:03
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@Benjamin - there's a difference between a placeholder answer and a complete answer that will be elaborated on. One can certainly answer then illustrate the answer with an example. The answer without example must still be a useful answer, but it doesn't have to be as useful as it will be after the example. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:11
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I personally take answers that are the same as mine as additional confirmation that I'm posting a viable answer. To me it's as good as an upvote. –  squillman Apr 6 '11 at 16:13
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FWIW, the presence or absence of a "work in progress" note probably wouldn't sway me. I would go by the actual answer. I might be tempted to edit a question without an example to add one (or add an answer with an example) if it's missing since examples are really important to a good answer. "Work in progress" doesn't really tell me that an example is assuredly coming so I would treat it as a no-op. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:19
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If your first answer is short, complete and self-contained, you shouldn't need a "WORK IN PROGRESS" banner. I would find such a banner off-putting. –  Robert Harvey Apr 6 '11 at 16:39
    
This question is really similar to the question of when you should ship. Sounds like you're "shipping early, shipping often", with a fat BETA label on the box. Similar dangers seem to apply: if somebody else waits a couple of minutes longer to post their first answer, it's less likely to get ignored: people who have already seen your early answer might not notice the edits. –  intuited Apr 12 '11 at 3:30
    
+1 for good use of MSO, although I don't necessarily agree with this practice. –  Pops Nov 16 '11 at 22:46

4 Answers 4

I usually write the general solution in a sentence or two, and add "WORK IN PROGRESS" At the bottom.

This is the problem.

If the answer you post is truly a useful answer, then it can stand on its own. If you happen to continue editing and submit an update, fine.

Don't add "WORK IN PROGRESS". That indicates that your answer is incomplete, and you should NOT submit an incomplete answer.

Submit a complete, short answer, then extend the answer as required.

If you can't overcome the temptation to alert other users that you are adding to your answer, you might instead consider adding a comment to your own answer that says specifically what you are doing, "I'll add an example in a moment..." or "Gathering a few links for you now..." etc. Do not post an ambiguous "work in progress" or "I'm still editing my answer, come back later"

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I agree that specific messages are better. I'm not sure that they need to be in comments, though, since they would likely be deleted once the action is done. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:32

Each answer you write (save) should form a complete solution. I don't have a problem with a message that indicates "Example coming...", "Will add links soon...", or "Details to come...". I would have a problem with an incomplete solution that seems to simply be posted quickly just to get the jump on others. It doesn't sound like that's what you are doing, though, so I wouldn't worry about it. Just make sure that whatever you post can stand on it's own each time in case you get delayed in your update.

EDIT: Just looked at the question you linked to. I'm not sure I wouldn't have just taken the time to complete that one before posting. Being more specific with your message may also be better received than "WORK IN PROGRESS."

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Sticking a "work in progress" note is like the coin you leave on the glass at the arcade, telling/warning others that they should stand back because you're up first, genius at work.

It's akin to "F!RST POST!!!11" and all that jumping of the gun inb4 others.

You can either post a partial and take the hits as other answers come in with complete solutions or post when you're done and brawl it out in the votes then.

You don't have to be first if you're right.

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What about the time waste for few nearly identical answers? –  Adam Matan Apr 6 '11 at 16:08
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@Adam Is the presence of time waste any less if they already spent time writing that answer prior to the "New answer has been posted" thingadongdong? –  Grace Note Apr 6 '11 at 16:10
    
Bite the time and move on. Or delete. @ada –  random Apr 6 '11 at 16:11
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@Adam, what if nearly identical answers are actually very different because of a little oversight in yours? Then that other answer might never be posted because someone saw the warning, then expected exactly the same answer to be on its way, and moved on? –  Arjan Apr 6 '11 at 16:13
    
I would agree if all the answer said was "Work in Progress" or if it was incomplete (and deserved a downvote, therefore), but the addition of a "Work in Progress" line in an otherwise acceptable (and upvotable) answer shouldn't prompt downvotes. If an answer can be upvoted (or is neutral) without the line, why would knowing that the user is continuing to improve it prompt someone to downvote it? –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:15
    
The "work in progress" line isn't needed and is just noise. There is no need for such a warning and if left there does send a signal to others. However it's interpreted. @tva –  random Apr 6 '11 at 16:18
    
@random - I agree with that specific text. Note that my examples were "example coming", "links coming soon", etc. I think these communicate specific information about things that will make the answer more useful. It's also a signal to me, as an editor or potential answerer, that if my only contribution would be to add an example or links I needn't bother. I have on occasion used this myself when I know the answer and can answer quickly, but the process of coming up with an example or finding a link will take much longer. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:22
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@tvanfosson: for me it's a question of intentions. There are two reasons why one would do this i) to have the first answer on a simple question which increases the likelihood of getting the accepted answer and rep, and ii) to give some information rapidly and add more later, to get the OP started in the right direction. It seems like discouraging the former is more important than encouraging the latter, since there are a lot of users on SO and a good, complete answer will come. We want the objective to be providing a useful answer, not gaining rep. –  Benjamin Apr 6 '11 at 16:24
    
@Benjamin -- if an answer does not answer the question you're absolutely right in downvoting it. If it answers the question and contains an indication that more is coming, how is that bad? It's only bad if it doesn't answer the question the first time. If that's the case, then it's fair game to downvote. Anyone else can feel free to add their own answer regardless. Note: I'm assuming that more actually does come. If it still contains the "work in progress" line days later, it's probably fair game, too. –  tvanfosson Apr 6 '11 at 16:29
    
@tvanfosson: I agree that a downvote is not warranted based only on the fact that placeholder text is there. However, that small fragment or thought could have gone in the comments (where mine went) until it was a fully formed answer, a habit more consistent with wanting to help get the person started (and not discouraging others from posting answers). –  Benjamin Apr 6 '11 at 16:35

My vote is no - it is perfectly good etiquette. I do this on occasion for questions or other long winded posts.

WORK IN PROGRESS

j/k.

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...why? Surely nobody is going to post the same question before you do? –  Arjan Apr 6 '11 at 15:55
    
To save it. I think i did it before the draft feature was implemented. –  Daniel A. White Apr 6 '11 at 15:55
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And here you have it: major edits in the grace period are confusing. Already my above comment has been kind of invalidated by your edit. Should one wait until the grace period has expired? –  Arjan Apr 6 '11 at 15:59

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