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I had just discovered that I lost 35 rep points because of the deletion of a question I answered some time ago.

I was puzzled because looking at the cached version in google (I cannot view deleted answers) it doesn't seem to be such an ugly question.

Yes, it is not a great question, but it has no downvotes and although it was closed as off-topic (the user was a newbie), the problem is not utterly trivial (pointers in C are tricky and the error of the OP is not blatantly stupid).

Besides the lost rep (it hurts a bit, but it is not such a terrible loss) this made me realize I had spent some time in trying to build a complete and (hopefully) useful answer. Maybe I haven't got the hang of it yet, but I thought that trying to answer questions from newbies was not "frowned upon" even if they are not super-great.

So do I have to refrain from thoroughly answering a simple (but decent) question for fear of seeing my work deleted? And if the answer is affirmative, doesn't it mean that newbies will find SO a less welcoming place?

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    In short: Yes. One of the purposes of closing and deleting bad question is to help break the vicious cycle of: Help vampire asks bad question -> gets answer -> help vampire comes back to ask another bad question -> ... Harsh it is, but that's how the current system works. I'll pass judgement on your particular case. But this is how it generally works. – Mysticial Nov 6 '13 at 19:42
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    Whether a user is new has nothing to do with whether the question is of good quality or bad, and subsequently whether the question should be closed/deleted. Some new users ask great questions, and lots of users have lots of rep and are "veteran users" because they've asked a few hundred questions, most of mediocre/poor quality. You absolutely should avoid spending time answering poor questions that are going to be closed. If they were questions that we wanted to encourage answering we wouldn't close them in the first place. – Servy Nov 6 '13 at 19:43
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    I don't really see how that question is off topic. I would have closed it as a duplicate. For example consider Pointer to local variable which is essentially the same question, has a bunch of upvotes on both question and answer and no calls for closure. – CodesInChaos Nov 6 '13 at 19:44
  • @Servy Yes I understand it, but my point was that that question didn't seem so terrible to me. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 19:45
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    It is not always clear as to which questions are poor quality. – user234239 Nov 6 '13 at 19:45
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    I'd be curious though what value there is in deleting such a question 53 days after it was asked, and not waiting for 60 days. The OP obviously already got what they wanted, and doesn't get any negative reinforcement from the question getting deleted long after they've solved their problem; as a moderator I probably would have waited until after 60 days had passed. You know, because this. – Aaron Bertrand Nov 6 '13 at 19:47
  • @Mysticial Yes, I do my best to avoid feeding an help vampire when I detect one. But sometimes I find newbies that actually want to learn. My gut feeling in such cases is not to scare them off. After all SO is advertised as friendly for enthusiasts programmers, many of which have no formal education in programming and sometimes learn only using sources from the Internet. I feel that educating such motivated people will make the Internet a better place. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 20:13
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    I was cleaning out a meta tag and ended up deleting the post as part of the effort (as it was already closed and not a great question). The answer is good though - so reinstated the question. Perhaps, as Kate answered, improving the question will let it live for posterity, instead of getting it deleted again some time in the future. Sorry about the trouble. – Oded Nov 6 '13 at 20:21
  • @AaronBertrand - my bad there. I was cleaning out the bugs tag and didn't notice the question date otherwise would have left it open and simply retagged. – Oded Nov 6 '13 at 20:23
  • @Oded no problem! :-) Thanks for your efforts. I understand that keeping SO clean is a daunting job and these janitorial tasks aren't much rewarding. BTW, as CodesInChaos already said, improving that question is hard without completely altering what the OP asked, since it is a toy program probably written while learning. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 20:29
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    @LorenzoDonati - yeah. But there is a lesson there about answering questions that you know will get closed and encouraging help vampires... – Oded Nov 6 '13 at 20:30
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    @Oded As I've written in a comment to Kate Gregory's answer, I don't really think the OP was an help vampire (at least in that context). Of course today I would have marked the question as a duplicate, but the question in itself is IMHO a legitimate question. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 20:36
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One approach you could take when you meet a bad question that you still want to answer is to make it a better question. Edit it, add comments encouraging the OP to edit more info into it, and so on. That makes it a little safer to answer such questions.

As a behavior modification technique, it does work. Some number of people will refrain from answering questions that will obviously be deleted. Others will improve the question to prevent losing the rep they got from their answer. Both approaches make the internet better, the second more directly and the first by withholding rewards (answers) from those who write bad questions.

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    IMO the only major flaw with the linked question is that it has already been asked quite often. It contained a short piece of code that reproduces the problem and a description of what's going wrong. So I don't think editing it would have done much. – CodesInChaos Nov 6 '13 at 20:02
  • Thanks for the detailed explanation. At the time I answered that question probably I wasn't fully aware of this. Nevertheless, my current problem is not about answering poor questions or help the OP improve them. Now I'm well aware of this. The problem is that even now I would have judged that question a legitimate question. Yes, not a challenging question, but I wouldn't rank it as poor quality. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 20:03
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    @CodesInChaos Yes, exactly! Today I would mark it as a duplicate. – Lorenzo Donati Nov 6 '13 at 20:07

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