Beware! This is my first SE post, so some of what follows may be seen as taboo by more experienced or professional community members. I wrote as clearly & well-formatted as I could.
For TL;DR, just read MAIN QUESTION paragraph. (But please read before responding). If you interested but don't have time to read all this, make sure to also read DESIRED SOLUTION.

Prior Hypothetical Context:
This question assumes that you (a person planning on posting a response to a question) have already decided that the content you wish to post is more appropriate to submit as an answer to the question than as a comment, as you believe it to still directly provide information that is potentially useful to answering the main question, and is not simply discussion or counter-questioning better suited to be a comment. (read: I am not asking about whether to post partials as comments vs answers; this is already discussed in posts such as Why do some people answer in comments? (Stackexchange link) ).

When wanting to post a response to a community question (assuming the question is already about something specific such as language/type/structure/method/etc.), if that question asks for a specific type of answer (opinion, code suggestion, example request, problem identification, low / high level explanation, comparison, application, etc.) how would you go about submitting an answer that is only partial or of the wrong type (diverging from/ sidestepping the request of the question) and designating or tagging your answer as such? If there is no way currently, what are the chances & thoughts on a way being implemented? The intent being to let readers know your answer is only a supplement and they should look towards more direct/complete answers first.

I will use the post Accessing dict keys like an attribute? (Stackoverflow Question) & its responses for exemplifying the primary concerns of my question.

In the example post, the questioner posts some code to implement functionality for an alternative -and initially presumed more user friendly- method for writing executable code syntax; he then asks why this functionality is not an in-built feature of the language and wants explanations of the problems associated with using this self-coded syntax.

A concise, detailed, & direct answer by Kimvais naturally is the highest-voted answer for the question. The answer first provides a short suggested improvement to the questioner's code (though it has near identical functionality & involves the same potentially problematic processes). It then quickly describes pros & cons of using the new syntax, provides a clear & likely reason as to why this syntax is not in-built by the developers, as well as a language-level explanation of what the code does and how this translates to differences in functionality. This answer clearly is good enough to be the first a reader sees (voting system handles this fairly well), and on its own can likely satisfy the questioner. (This answer by Doug R. is arguably the best one given, even though it's only the 4th highest rated; however this is not important to my post.)

That is what is normally desired from proper answers, next we will look at other answers that don't quite hit the mark, but are still valuable contributions that provide insight into the subject matter yet are not treated as kindly.

This popular answer by Hery is a great example of a partial answer that -while quite limited in content- still directly & clearly addresses the question by identifying a situation where using the new syntax won't work; this is exactly the type of answer the questioner requested. Expecting a more complete response, a user commented on this answer saying:

How does this answer the question. This answer just says that keys can have any name.

Unhelpful comments & criticisms for not being able to provide a perfect answer only causes pain, and preferably we want these to be avoided if the answerer is already aware that their response is insufficient to resolve the problem. It would be helpful if there was a way to tag an answer like this as "partial" or "incomplete" (I.E. not detailed enough to fully address the question, but still directly useful to the explicit question).

This question by slacy was met with some strong disapproval for not directly answering the explicit question requested (problem identification / comparison), it instead provides an alternative code that is -apparently- superior to the code initially supplied by the questioner. This code is only 60% the length (in both characters & lines), is reported to avoid problems the original might encounter, yet should still achieve the intended functionality. While this answer does not directly address the primary question, it provides a different type of answer that can still provide very useful insight into the problem, which could still lead to a usable solution. Its content could be used to potentially work-around the problem in a way that might even avoid needing the answer to the intended question in the first place. Again however, there is still unhelpful backlash towards this answer; a particularly bureaucratic commenter bluntly responds saying:

"-1 for sidestepping the question" & "Read the full question ... It's not asking about how to do this, but about problems that may arise."

This kind of attitude unfairly punishes an answerer that was genuinely trying to be helpful and positively contribute to the community. While this answer diverged from the explicit request of the questioner, it provides useful material & insight that might not have even been considered by those only caring about the explicit request. It would be helpful if there was a way to tag an answer like this as "an alternative solution" or a "diverging answer" (I.E. not addressing the explicit question asked, but provides directly related details that could implicitly lead to a solution).

This hopefully demonstrates why I believe there is a need to be able to tag these variable "scopes" of an answer before you post it. Others could update this tag when editing it, either to declare an insufficient but useful answer as incomplete or diverging, or to remove these tags after sufficiently updating the answer for it to be considered complete.

With implementation of tagging options such as these, the way answers would be viewed and treated could then hopefully benefit both those answering and anyone seeking answers. When answering one won't have to worry as much about being criticized for answers that aren't explicit and complete, and they may be more willing to submit these smaller answers which would increase the total available answers (each potentially being useful). Those seeking answers could be better directed to what may be most useful to them, with full answers taking viewing order precedence over partials & alternates; this also in general allows splitting up answers into usable categories.

By the presence of these tags, readers would already know not to expect a complete explicit answer. Answers already admitted to only partially answer the question would not need to be down-voted or criticized for not being enough to solve the problem on their own, and could simply be judged by whether they provide any progress or steps towards achieving a solution. Alternative answers could be treated like extended comments, where they would be judged by if they provide useful insight to the situation that might aid in reaching a solution from a different angle or otherwise help improve comprehension for readers that can't follow the direct answer. The reduction in unhelpful comments and destructive criticism towards good contributions to the community would be its own reward.

Notice, that in no way does this "negate the purpose of voting". This should have little bearing on how incorrect answers, answers providing nothing of use (from either lack of content or poor composition), or answers that violate relevant guidelines/rules would be treated. Highly rated answers can have special weightings on their default viewing order based on these new tags. This could reduce situations where a good partial/alternate answer posted shortly after the question is asked gets massive upvotes and ends up completely overshadowing a more complete & useful answer made much later.

Until a more official and functional implementation to achieve this arrives, are there any existing conventions or rules of etiquette when posting answers to informally mark them with these partial/alternate identifiers (even if as simple as writing the tag at the very beginning of the answer)?

If you have read this far, thank you for showing interest in my question and proposition! Please leave a response with any answers, suggestions, or comments you have for me about either the question itself, or my presentation throughout this wordy post.

  • 3
    Welcome to Meta Stack Exchange! I see this is your first feature request, so I wanted to point you to an important piece of policy regarding voting here on this site: on questions requesting new features, voting is used to signify agreement or disagreement with a given proposal, so if your question gets downvoted, it may just mean that people disagree with your proposal, not necessarily that your question is bad for the site. – Sonic the Stay-Home Hedgehog Oct 20 '19 at 23:00
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    That said, the policies regarding this tend to diverge per site (with, e.g., Puzzling being completely OK with partial answers). – Sonic the Stay-Home Hedgehog Oct 20 '19 at 23:04
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    I don't recall seeing a backlash on stackoverflow.com when post is prefaced appropriately. (Scope is limited, XYness is addressed, etc.) (Interestingly, you just did that here.) Many a comment on stackoverflow.com is essentially a partial or laconic answer. (Interestingly ....) That is not considered a problem there. However I realize that some sites are stricter re not answering in comments. Note also that many questions should be closed because they are too broad, and helpful answers don't change that. – philipxy Oct 21 '19 at 0:25
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    Possible duplicate of Does Stack Exchange allow for answers which question the validity or stance of the original question? - It's simply a "Frame Challenge", and there's no need to mark it as such. Be aware that if you don't answer the question exactly as asked you might get flagged NAA; it depends upon community support for your self-proclaimed better idea. You other choices are downvote or flag. – Rob Oct 21 '19 at 2:25
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    Not a dupe: Good but partial As may be valuable, often more so than some lower quality complete As. Can we mark them as partial/incomplete, to avoid voting them down just because they are incomplete, but also to encourage other answers? E.g.: this A is partial and good re grapes, but not blueberries. What is the evidence on the danger of feeding whole blueberries and grapes to infants and toddlers? parenting.stackexchange.com/a/37660/33055: "This is mostly about grapes, not blueberries, but blueberries are probably similar. ... they are "5–16 millimeters ... in diameter". – Timur Shtatland Oct 21 '19 at 17:34
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    That is an excellent example @TimurShtatland , I do agree that markings for a partial or incomplete Ans would be a more significantly meaningful & useful feature. It allows multiple users having great partial Ans (each of different portions) to build off each-other to eventually generate an great complete Ans. Or if a question has no decent Ans yet, a user can post a partial Ans giving specific info of a vital (but maybe easily-missed) step needed for getting the correct answer. Another user may make a great near-full Ans but is lacking that key detail, and the partial helps them finish it. – abmays Jan 24 at 10:38
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    We noticed you seem to have two active accounts - and they seem to be interacting with each other - doing suggested edits that way isn't quite fair. Could you request an account merger via the contact link at the bottom? – Journeyman Geek Jan 27 at 8:46
  • @JourneymanGeek I had tried merger before that activity and it was not working properly. I accidentally made a big post meant for my main account while logged into the account I wanted merged, I didn't want to lose valuable responses from trying to repost on the main and deleting the old one. I also extremely tired and wasn't quite making the best decisions at the time. I tried again just now and the merger worked perfectly this time, but I had to use two separate browsers in order to achieve this result. (Trying in just 1 browser wasn't working before). – abmays Jan 28 at 18:56

Under the focused Q&A format used for Stack Exchange sites I do not think the situation that you describe should arise, and when it does it should be addressed by improving questions and answers to focus them.

Every Q&A should be seeking a straightforward answer to its single focused question, albeit with some variation around what that single answer might look like.

I see no reason to complicate the focused Q&A format by encouraging askers to place all sorts of scope relaxations to that when they phrase their question.

I think unfocused questions lead to convoluted Q&A, and forum-like threading.

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  • I never meant the questioner was to change their behavior in any way. In the end, the desired answers that hope to be achieved would be exactly the same. Perhaps I made a mistake when explaining. I mean primarily that less complete or direct answers shouldn't be treated as inherently "bad answers" to be tossed into the trash alongside useless answers that have no value at all. – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 1:36
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    @abmays I think upvoting/downvoting already achieves what you are after "good complete answers" tend to attract lots of upvotes, "good partial answers" tend to attract some upvotes", "bad partial answers" and "bad complete answers" tend to attract downvotes. – PolyGeo Oct 21 '19 at 1:43
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    I think this answer is more relevant than mine. If the community actually used the tools given to them to improve their questions and answers, then the tags are superfluous. I get that it's frustrating to see an answer that makes no sense though. – The Anathema Oct 21 '19 at 1:54
  • @PolyGeo Vote system does alright job, but still have severe flaws. As second quoted comment in answer demonstrates, some people will attack & DV a decent & still useful answer that positively contributes to the discussion. Vote system also still gives no consideration for "early answerers" getting much more points even if the answer is incomplete; followed by someone coming up with a good complete answer, it is hard for someone to find the new good answer as the UVs of earlier answers will "hide" the new answer. New answers only really get points from users willing to sift through all answers – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 2:40
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    @abmays focused Q&A works best when there are 3-5 answers (or less) offered. These are easily and quickly re-arranged by users exercising their upvotes and downvotes. Unfocused questions lead to larger numbers of answers and the easily avoidable issue raised in the asker’s question here. – PolyGeo Oct 21 '19 at 3:03

I think it's a cool idea, but it has some issues. I put together an image.

Answer Tags

Problem 1: I assume you intend for there to be one tag. Otherwise, there would be a conflict. The one I gave is obvious. You would have to make rules where contradictory tags cannot coexist on the same answer. Complete cannot coexist with partial. However, there are cases where you could have multiple tags. Partial could certainly coexist with your idea of a diverging answer. There's complexity on both sides.

Problem 2: Who controls these tags? The community, or the user, or both? I can foresee a few things happening with this.

  • Tag edit wars start to occur.
  • Users can disagree on whether or not it was a properly tagged answer. You said they're unfairly punished sometimes. Sure, but if I see a glaring "Partial" when I know for a fact my answer is not, then we've solved nothing and now I am irritated.
  • If it's OP, then they may simply not tag it at all. They already leave without ever marking an answer as accepted. They'll just do that here as well.
  • If it's the answer giver, I can easily see them marking themselves as Complete even when it's not. And if they can't tag themselves, then that also means they can't fight against a tag that was improper. Again, a problem on both sides.
  • It could be combined with a vote or request somehow but the process would have to be simplistic and not introduce a lot of confusion.

I will say though, it's a really cool idea. It could draw attention to useful answers when accepted answers are entirely nonsense. I see that all the time. It could look so nice in the UI and be a really nice stylistic change and informative change. I just think it needs to be fleshed out a bit more in order to work.

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  • P1: There would be 2 tags. A={partial,complete}={0,1} , B={alternate,direct}={0,1}. A "proper" answer that the community deems acceptable would have A=complete=1, B=direct=1, having both these tags indicates a "proper" answer. A answer with A=0, B=1 would be classed as a simple "partial" answer that does not fully answer the intended question but has made some progress (flipping these tags likewise gets a "alternate" answer). These 2 combos would be considered worth less than a "proper" (but not necessarily be equal value). An answer with A=0,B=0 would likely not be useful so should avoided. – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 1:51
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    P2: To avoid "tag wars", Id say mix old & new for best result. Have tags initially only be set by answer poster. Then it is up to them to carefully decide if their answer is A=complete and B=direct.Then community would be in charge to "agree" with answerer's tagging. If for ex. answerer claimed their answer as Complete, but those who read it consistently agree that it is far from complete, they will likewise DV the answer to oblivion. So over-tagging would risk mass DVs for lying about the "goodness" of your answer. Under-tagging risks noone seeing it because it would have lowest view priority – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 2:03
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    @abmays For P2, that's a fair idea. For P1, that's even more confusing to me. Partial and Complete are fine, but your concepts are confusing, and even more confusing to non-English speakers on the site. I don't think you could properly display it well from a UX perspective. I don't think you could define them concisely where users didn't have to go research what it meant. Also, alternate answers are already upvoted a lot. Off-topic or low quality answers have flags for them already. – The Anathema Oct 21 '19 at 2:10
  • P1extra: Possibly add extra middle option for each tag indicating "unsure" : {<poor>,unsure,<good>}. It would have middle view priority, but less likely to anger people if you overestimated your answer's goodness. P2cont: After initial posting, tag can only change by community vote to "upgrade" either tag if they believe the tags are "under selling" the goodness of the answer. This continues to work with edits to it later that add sufficient content which may be recognized by community and likewise have tags upgraded. (Need safety system to freeze DV reputation penalties after an upgrade.) – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 2:17
  • sadly, I can't really describe the tag scheme any better. Alternate vs direct tag really would be for "it is still on topic, but answering request indirectly" (such as giving code instead of an explanation), but yes community already is more friendly with alternates anyway. But I do agree, UI would for the site would have to be adjusted to give room for these tags, and overall implementing this would be a nightmare. (From last comment), "Safety system" would be to prevent DVs from community upgrading too soon from damaging answerer's rep. (DVs would still reduce answer rating). – abmays Oct 21 '19 at 2:25

This is a good proposal. I suggest to test it experimentally as it was done with many other UI ideas on SE. Maybe SE developers can randomly assign a few thousand questions to several experimental conditions each implementing a variation of the proposed idea. Measure and report the page rank, number of votes, or other metrics typically used to assess how well UI features work.

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