Sometimes I see a question that is clearly and indisputably off-topic (wether it's opinion-based or too broad etc.), and I vote to close the question for the appropriate reason. However, just because it's off-topic doesn't automatically mean it's a bad question. Every now and again I come across a very a good question that just happens to not be a good fit for SO, and sometimes I have in mind a good answer that I believe could truly help the OP.

My question is: is it bad to answer these questions, knowing they are indeed off-topic? I am perfectly aware that the question will likely be later closed/removed, but the OP will still likely benefit from the answer. I personally see no harm in answering these questions.

  • 5
    I know others will disagree with me, but I think it is bad to answer the question. Answering the question gives the impression that the question is in fact okay for SO, and only encourages more questions of the same nature. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:05
  • Oh, didn't see that question. It's exactly what I was wondering: thanks!
    – arshajii
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Yes, it is bad to answer off-topic questions. What on earth is the point of defining them as off-topic if you're going to answer them anyway?

Think about what happens if, instead of scolding your dog for peeing on the rug, you reward them with a treat. They're going to keep peeing on the rug.

Don't encourage our users to pee on our rug.

  • Ok, I understand your point. So is it also bad to give the OP an "answer" through a comment? Would that also encourage him to pee on our rug?
    – arshajii
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:11
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    @arshajii yes! The OP doesn't give a crap if they got the answer from a comment or an answer. Their tactic worked. For their next question they'll do the same thing. Let's stop encouraging people to use the site in ways they're not supposed to, and reinforce the concept that off-topic means "don't ask" and not "go ahead and ask even if it's not cool."
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:12
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    @AaronBertrand - not sure if this belongs here or the new pets private beta ;)
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:21
  • @Oded ha, I actually went and checked that out yesterday. There was a question right on the front page I wanted to see the answer to, but I couldn't figure out how to see the answers (I expect they don't exist yet). :-)
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:24
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    @Oded it seems like the similarities are increasing daily.
    – swasheck
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:29
  • Bad user! You are a very bad user for peeing on our rug.
    – saluce
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:03

Yes, that's bad.

If users get answers to off-topic questions anyway, then this won't stop them from asking. It encourages asking them actually.

In order to make clear theses questions are not welcome we should not provide answers to them.


Yes, it's bad to answer them.

  1. It encourages people to continue asking questions even if they know they are inappropriate, because who cares if it's downvoted/closed if it gets an answer first. This results in even more poor quality questions on the site that make it harder and harder to clean them up.

  2. It makes it harder for the questions to be improved and reopened. Questions are closed because, as it stands, good quality answers can't be given to them. This means that if you do answer, it's likely to be a rather poor quality answer. This detracts from the ability to shape the question, can confuse future readers, or even the author.

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