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Is “Don't do it” a valid answer?

More specifically, what should be done when an "answer" simply says "you're doing it wrong". All questions have answers, but even "the wrong way to do it" could still be the right (or only) answer.

For example:

How do I jump off a bridge?

Bad answer: You shouldn't do that, you could kill yourself. Why would you want to jump anyway?

Good answer: Step up and take a leap of faith! Consider using a cord to catch your fall!

I feel like I am being a complete prick if I down vote or flag the answer, but is that basically what needs to be done?

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marked as duplicate by Michael Petrotta, LeakyCode, fretje, Pops, Jon Seigel Jun 8 '11 at 17:02

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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+1 the MOST ANNOYING THING IN THE WORLD is the first kind of answer –  Mehrdad Jun 8 '11 at 4:42
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Please see: Is "Don't do it!" a valid answer? Spoiler: Yes. –  Josh Caswell Jun 8 '11 at 4:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

True/False Answers

It depends on the question. Sometimes the question is of the form "Is this possible?" or "Is this a good idea?" Such questions are strictly answerable with "Yes" or "No" but that's not a very good answer to even a blatant true/false question. An answer in the negative is a perfectly good answer in this situation if expanded and justified.

Sideways Answers

Other questions are not asking whether the approach they are using is a good idea but asking for help on how to do what they are currently doing. This is where it gets tricky. If upon review, you feel that the approach they are currently using is seriously flawed, then a possible answer in the negative is "Your question only makes sense if you do it that way and I don't recommend you do it that way." A simple answer in the negative, even with explanatory text, doesn't really answer the question as stated.

To handle this situation gracefully, some people simply provide some direct answer to the question and then qualify it with their reservations and the answer in the negative. This gives some respect to the asker by acknowledging the validity of their literal question but allows the answerer to complement the answer with an alternative viewpoint. This is more work but more diplomatic. A answer in the negative will also likely get more credibility if it includes a direct answer to the literal question.

Surprise Answers

But there are even cases where the asker's question is based entirely on a misconception and an answer that exposes that misconception politely and goes on to try to address the real question that we think the asker is asking is a good answer, even though it is still an answer in the negative and doesn't answer the literal question.

Handling Answers

Finally, what about other people's negative answers? How should we react to them? Well, there are good negative answers and there are bad ones. Bad ones disrespect the asker or the asker's point-of-view, don't justify their answer, or attempt to ram what is an opinion down the asker's throat.

If it's not an answer at all or abusive, then flag it. If the answer is terse and holier-than-thou, then maybe downvote it. If it's negative answer but one that might help the asker, then it's candidate for upvoting. Reinforcement from votes can help the asker come to accept the "bad news" about their current approach. In any case, as long as it is an answer, then judge the answer based on its merits like you would an answer in the positive.

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As I understand it, StackOverflow is to be considered a community driven question/answer wiki. It just strikes me as pointless when an "answer" says "don't do this, and for these reasons..." That should be a comment, as we've discussed here. If you don't have the privilege to comment, then leave it alone. To me, the only way to answer a "bad question" is to say "Here is how it's done, but you shouldn't do it". Thanks for the replies! –  Tanner Jun 8 '11 at 13:46

IMO "You shouldn't do that" is not an answer. It's an advise, and only eligible to be posted as comment if that's the whole statement. - A answer should at least be able to fall into the right or wrong category. ("You can't do it" on the other hand would be a valid answer. If it's true anyway.)

The flagging as not an answer would be appropriate in such cases. But that's a highly controversial flag. And you cannot expect it to be honored by all moderators if you haven't at least also qualified your stance with a downvote.

But of course downvoting is also always bordering on rude. So I would base my decision on if another non-answer criteria is met:

  • It's a one-liner.
  • Provides no reasoning whatsoever over the "you shouldn't do it".
  • Mostly expresses disagreement with the question or opinion on the topic.
  • It mets any other non-answer rule of http://stackoverflow.com/privileges/comment

Don't do it advises can be helpful. But only if posted appropriately, not in place of answers.

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