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I recently posted the only answer to a question which for whatever reason the OP felt did not fully address his concerns. (It currently has more upvotes than the question does, FWIW.) So he posted a bounty. No one responded. He awarded me the bounty, commenting on my answer:

I have to award the bounty to this answer since no other answer has been offered, but this answer doesn't deal with the actual question - it rather answers the question of [XYZ... etc.]

I feel bad for him that he didn't know he could have just chosen to not award the bounty. Can we change the text for the OP somehow to clarify that he need not award a bounty (particularly in the case where the auto-award won't be kicking in AND it wasn't a "Reward Existing Answer" bounty)?

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I don't think we should promote not awarding a bounty too much.

I'm not saying they should just be awarded to any old answer, but the OP loses the rep regardless, so why not someone who spent their time trying to help?
An answer might not be perfect or even answer the question, but it might have given the OP food for thought.

The current text seems pretty clear, and isn't exactly pushy:

Please review the answers. If you feel one of them deserves your bounty, award it by clicking the bounty icon to the left of the answer. Otherwise, you might consider providing feedback in the form of comments or edits.

It's up to the user if they want to award it, including if an answer didn't really answer their question.
And messages from the site shouldn't try to sway their decision one way or another. So you have to be careful with what you say.

The site should only inform of the options, not be too suggestive towards how and when a bounty should applied.
I think the current message "if one of them deserves.." is enough really.

Bounty is a chance. You pay rep for attention on your question, but doesn't guarantee good answers.

Look at it this way:

  1. If user gets no answers, OP loses bounty rep
  2. If user gets answer(s) but is/are rubbish, OP loses bounty rep
  3. If user gets answer(s) but don't really answer the question, OP loses bounty rep

1 has no choices with the bounty, and 2 I would likely not award (no control of potential auto award). If 3, then someone has tried to help, and while might not be a perfect answer to the question, the choice is let rep go to waste, or award someone for their time and efforts.

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