75

It annoys me when people post answers to obviously off-topic questions like this one, especially after those questions have already received several close votes. Migrations seem to happen rather infrequently these days, so there's probably no reputation to gain for questions that are likely to be closed. And although sure, the answer may help the OP, it also encourages bad behavior (posting off-topic questions.)

Is it appropriate to downvote these answers?

Personally, I think I could make a case for both sides.

78

Yes. Answering obviously off-topic questions encourages people to ask them.

I've seen so many "This is probably off topic, but I'm asking it here because of the amount of traffic Stack Overflow gets!" questions I've lost count. And people still love getting book recommendations as much as people like giving them. Answering these questions only justifies the decision of the OP to lay their steaming question on us.

Sure, wait to downvote until after you've cast your close vote. But as soon as you've done so, ding 'em. Cackle a little while you do it.

  • 1
    What do we do when they ask why there are downvotes and they reply rudely "well, use your time fixing the question instead of downvoting a perfectly good answer"? – Cole Johnson Aug 28 '13 at 16:59
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    @ColeJohnson I would say that the actions aren't mutually exclusive. I can both fix the question and downvote your answer. Also, for a question that's just offtopic, it's generally beyond fixing. Changing it enough to make it on topic generally makes it an entirely new question. For questions with problems besides just being on topic, that may not be the case. Finally, you can just ignore such comments if you want. You aren't required to justify your downvotes to others if you don't want to. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 17:19
  • @Servy yeah, but then I feel guilty about not educating people about not doing this. Might just need time off... – Cole Johnson Aug 28 '13 at 20:29
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    If I have limited time, I would much rather spend it downvoting bad content than polishing turd questions. – Cody Gray Aug 28 '13 at 23:19
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    Should we ridicule people who post off-topic questions instead of trying to help them? – Anderson Green Sep 6 '13 at 0:43
  • @AndersonGreen: Depends. Are they honestly stupid or willfully so? Mock the willful, use a whiffle bat on the honest. – Won't Sep 6 '13 at 12:30
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    @Won't I'm a bit alarmed by the pervasive culture of hostility that has become so prevalent on Stack Overflow in recent months, so I try to avoid being condescending whenever possible. I don't want other Stack Overflow users to feel unwelcome here. – Anderson Green Sep 6 '13 at 17:15
  • @PeterMortenson, If the implied question is "Did you bump it?" the answer should be "No, I did not bump it" not "yes". – Mari-Lou A Jan 12 at 12:33
42

There are clean up scripts (see this answer for the specifics) that will clean up closed questions with certain attributes.

One set of the requirements for one of the scripts contains:

  • has no answers with a score > 0

Downvoting answers of questions that really shouldn't be will help coax these questions to automatic deletion, lest they serve as bad examples for other people to ask similar questions.

Please remember the bit of the downvote tooltip of "this is not useful" is still the guiding principle for what to downvote... but if it isn't useful, by all means, downvote it.

  • 5
    The answer is "Yes", and this is the why -- because you don't even have to remember to come back and clean up in order to make the site better. – Josh Caswell Aug 28 '13 at 18:55
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    Shog has since announced that downvoting posts purely to qualify them for Roomba is altogether wrong. – TylerH Dec 13 '18 at 21:46
33

I'd focus on closing such questions as fast as possible. And perhaps even deletion if justified. If they can't answer because something was closed, you've solved the problem without muddying the meaning of votes. And if it gets deleted in a relatively short period of time, there is no gain for the answerer in any case.

21

I tend to agree with Bart's answer, in cases where the question seems "borderline" or if it's a case where the questioner and answerer simply didn't know any better. On the other hand in the more blatant cases that Won't points out where the OP actually indicates that they are aware that the question is off-topic, down-voting the question and the answer seems completely appropriate.

Perhaps part of the solution to this problem would be to institute some sort of "Please don't feed the animals" policy in the answering section of the help center.

Much like feeding the wildlife, the more you feed them the more they're likely to come around. Sure they may seem cute and harmless in the beginning, but sooner or later someone is going to get bit.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Cute and compelling analogy, but ... and damn I hate to make Godwin right, but you know, holocausts and slaveries have been brought to you by people who call people animals. Might this be a line of disrespect we don't want to cross? At least not until we accept answers from orangutans, literally. – Bob Stein Mar 7 '14 at 14:51
9

No. You should vote on answer regardless of the quality of the question (e.g. downvote if it is incorrect). If the question is off-topic, close/flag the question.


EDIT 2019

This thread is now outdated, please see https://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/255460/ for up-to-date policy guidelines.

But since some people are still voting on this answer many years later, let me explain the reasoning behind this a bit. In my view the most valuable resource in possession of Stack Overflow, is the large number of volunteers that answer the new questions as they are asked. This process is what ensures that the content on the site remains up to date with the current best practices.

Some people complain that by answering "bad" questions, they encourage more of them to be asked. But even so, I believe that we still shouldn't try to discourage well-intentioned answerers. The cost of losing potentially valuable contributors is too great. Instead of downvoting, we can refrain from upvoting, and maybe add a comment if the question is completely out of the scope of the site.

If someone keeps answering "bad" questions anyway, and it bugs you too much, vote to delete the question in case it gets closed, and if deleted, the answer will go down the drain too, so he will lose any points he gained by it.

  • 16
    There are plenty of reasons to downvote an answer beyond just correctness. You should downvote an answer based on whether or not it is helpful, which is an entirely different matter. Perhaps it uses an undesirable approach to solving the problem, perhaps it's poorly explained, perhaps it has major security vulnerabilities, or perhaps the information is offtopic, and thus won't be helpful to future visitors of the site. "helpful" is intentionally given a large degree of room for interpretation by the voter. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:05
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    @Servy I agree. My point is that the quality of the question should not have a bearing on the answer. Updated my answer – user000001 Aug 28 '13 at 15:17
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    While I usually agree that an answer shouldn't be evaluated based on it's question, a question asking for good chicken recipes, and an answer with a recipe for fried chicken doesn't seem like helpful content on this site, and so shouldn't be upvoted, even if it happens to be a fantastic recipe that also exactly answers the question. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:20
  • @Servy: so how do you feel about the specific question and answer I linked to? Not chicken, but LaTeX (only superficially similar :) ) – Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 28 '13 at 15:25
  • @ErnestFriedman-Hill Well, it's been migrated to a place where it's on topic, so all votes are moved to a site where they are appropriate. Personally I don't really understand what's being asked enough to comment further on that question. – Servy Aug 28 '13 at 15:29
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    I totally disagree with this answer. While the quality of the answer matters, it also matters whether the poster is actually trying to be helpful (which also includes actually participating here) or is just trying to gain rep by answering everything possible. I used to leave a comment explaining that off-topic questions shouldn't be answered, but don't bother anymore because I got tired of reading "Too bad for you. Vote to close the question. I'm leaving my answer anyway."; now I just vote to close, downvote the answer, and move on. – Ken White Aug 30 '13 at 2:57
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    How is the "up-to-date (from 2014) policy" you linked relevant? Bad questions are not off-topic questions. Answering a bad question is not the same as answering an off-topic question. – Wrigglenite Jan 14 at 10:22
  • @Wrigglenite: One is a subset of the other – user000001 Jan 14 at 10:36
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    Definitely not, in that link a "bad question" is understood to be at least on-topic. Not every bad question is off-topic and not every off-topic question is bad. Every off-topic question is, however, bad for the site. – Wrigglenite Jan 14 at 10:39
6

It's between you and your conscience, I'm afraid. The question may or may not be off-topic (it's not for you to decide - it is the community that does the deciding bit), so it's rather rude to presume that one can punish somebody trying to be helpful just because his/her answer is annoying.

In the end, voting is personal and secret. What works for you does not necessarily work for others. If you feel like downvoting someone's answer for any reason, please do it.

-3

Questions that have not been closed or migrated have not been determined to be off topic, no matter how "obvious" some members think it is that they are off topic. I've seen plenty of questioned flagged as off topic when in fact they are clearly on topic and the people doing the flagging just haven't read them carefully enough to understand them, or are just trying to get some rep from the flags.

Better to spend your time going through the low quality question queues and getting the questions closed if they really are off topic.

  • 3
    "or are just trying to get some rep from the flags" I agree this is a most pointless activity, in particular in view of the fact that IIRC none can be gained in this way. – quid Apr 27 '14 at 1:02
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    Stack Overflow, "How do I make a blueberry pie" - Sure, not off-topic yet. - Still not off-topic, and I know how to make it. Better write it down. - Aw, snap, now it's off-topic now that I have already almost answered. (even worse: erase "almost". Now you have a blueberry cake recipe on Stack Overflow, blessed and upvoted by you) – John Dvorak Apr 27 '14 at 1:07
  • Warren has a good point. Its a procedural technicality, but he is still correct. Part of the problem bigger seems to get the Stack Overflow community out of "apathy mode" and into "involvement mode". Put another way, we do an awful job of policing ourselves. Maybe that's the problem that needs to be addressed. I suspect a fair portion of the issue is the loss of reputation when downvoting a bad question. Its negative reinforcement applied at the wrong place. – user173448 Jun 12 '17 at 8:46

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