Several of my questions can be summarized as "I was trying to do A but the closest I can come is B. Is A even possible? If so how?"

The usual response to this is a few people telling me to do B or something very similar to it. I never get anything that says I can't do A and should do B just that I can do B which I already knew. I'll reply saying something like I'm looking for A not B and then after a matter of hours the responses stop all together. Sometimes people will vote for the answer telling me to do B but I don't usually accept the answer as my question hasn't actually been answered.

I usually end up sticking with B but hoping someone will post something that will help me do A someday. If I accept any of these "answers" then I'm not likely to get a answer about A. Once I tried putting a bounty on the question which resulted in no new answers and forced me to mark the question as answered even though it wasn't.

My question is when, if ever, should I give up and accept the lack of someone saying A is possible as proof that it is not and how should I "answer" the question? Should I mark one of the answers telling me to do what I'm already doing as the accepted answer? Should I post my own answer saying that it appears that it can't be done? Should I leave it without an accepted answer?

  • 1
    You should associate your accounts; that will give you 100 reputation.
    – SLaks
    Apr 19, 2010 at 19:20
  • Thanks! Have you always been able to do that? I thought I tried to a million years ago when I first created my meta account.
    – drs9222
    Apr 19, 2010 at 20:15

3 Answers 3


Don't ask if it's possible, just ask how to do it. Also, don't answer your own question by providing the B alternative right away. Give people a chance to ponder A for a while first. If someone else comes up with B independently, then odds are improved that it's the best way to proceed.

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    I guess I try to make it clear that I know B is possible and I don't want it so I don't have people tell me if I googled it I would find B.
    – drs9222
    Apr 19, 2010 at 20:21
  • 3
    @drs9222: There are definitely certain types of questions where you want to mention up front that you've already considered and discarded B for whatever reason (the whole "you should be using jQuery" meme springs to mind). I think in those cases it's important to present a good reason why B isn't what you're looking for. Apr 19, 2010 at 21:01

The only way that "no, that's not possible" is a valid answer is if it can be proven to be impossible. Otherwise, it's really "that's not easy to do", or "no one has done that yet", etc.

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    Exactly. That is why I currently let them hang without accepting an answer.
    – drs9222
    Apr 19, 2010 at 20:17
  • Yep, I do the same.
    – retracile
    Apr 19, 2010 at 20:27

Bill's Advice sounds good.

However, if it gets lots of views and nobody knew how to do what you really wanted, then there is a good chance someone who was trying to do the same thing found that question. If they ever figure it out and have a stackoverflow account, they can still post the answer and you envelope icon will turn red :-)

I think the chances of that are good because if it is obscure and hard, if someone figures it out they will probably look for at least one person who cares.


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