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If you start typing an answer on e.g. chemistry SE, a pop-up appears which says, among other things: "Please be sure to answer the question." I took this to mean: provide a complete answer, not a partial answer or a hint.

(In at least one case, I saw one question where I knew a partial answer that would have helped, but I thought that would get downvoted for not being a complete answer, so I did nothing.)

However, if you follow the link to "tips on writing great answers":
https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer
says "Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer." And: "Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer."

(I know these are customizable by the individual SE sites, but this wording is from the default SE templates.)

So I understood "Please be sure to answer the question" to mean no partial answers or hints. But it sounds like it actually meant: "Please provide something in the direction of a standalone answer, as opposed to asking for help or responding to another answer."

I think it would be more clear to have, after the words "answer the question": "Partial answers are acceptable if they contribute towards finding a solution; hints are acceptable if you think they will help the question author find the answer on their own." (So of course this would be a suggestion for the default template, although I'd have to take it up with Chemistry SE, Physics, etc. if I wanted them to change their custom versions too.)

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    With the exception of on the mathematics site, I don’t think hints (where you know the answer but won’t share) are considered acceptable answers. – Laurel Jun 6 '18 at 3:19
  • @Laurel well according to chemistry.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer and math.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer the detailed descriptions of what kind of answers are wanted on both sites, are word-for-word identical for Chemistry and Math. If you are referring to one of those "unwritten rules" which is different from the written ones, then once again I wish they would put the unwritten rules into writing... – Bennett Jun 6 '18 at 8:18
  • There are few rules and many guidelines. I think most, if not all, of those guidelines and all of the rules are already in writing. – PolyGeo Jun 6 '18 at 11:31
  • @PolyGeo you referred to the guideline/rule that "partial answers are likely to earn downvotes", however that's directly contradicted by the "how to answer" page which says "contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer." (To be clear, I'm sure your statement of the unwritten "guideline" is right. I'm just saying that such guidelines are not always in writing, and in this case what's "in writing" is the exact opposite.) – Bennett Jun 6 '18 at 18:54
  • I actually said that I think partial answers risk downvotes. That's neither a rule nor a guideline. I would not downvote a partial answer for being a partial answer but I suspect some askers do when they feel "short changed". – PolyGeo Jun 6 '18 at 20:03
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While partial answers are better than no answer for the asker and future visitors they are not as useful as complete answers. The latter is likely to earn upvotes while the former risks downvotes.

Partial answers perhaps, and definitely hints, are better written as comments.

  • ... and in some cases, partial answers can actually be worse than no answer at all – Jason Bassford Jun 6 '18 at 14:17
  • Well then the "how to answer" page should not say: "Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer." The instructions should not be directly telling new users to do something that is likely to get them downvoted. – Bennett Jun 6 '18 at 18:53
  • I think partial answers risk downvotes but good partial answers should still attract upvotes because they are useful. – PolyGeo Jun 6 '18 at 20:05

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