There are two ways we answerers can approach most questions:

  • Literally interpret the question, answering directly and unambiguously what the asker had in mind, or
  • Read into the asker's purpose in hopes of providing a better solution to the high level problem than the specific question seeks

Barring language in the question that eliminates one or the other possibility, I feel that either choice is perfectly valid. In most cases, both types of answers will garner up votes, and then the asker will select whichever style (s)he prefers. In this way, the top-voted non-accepted answer is one of the best features of SO.

However, I'm an eclectic person. There are many other SO users who seem to think that one or the other style of answering is the only correct one. I've seen answers down voted for nothing more than this petty squabble.

I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to have a way to mark answers as addressing high level problem or the low level details of the question. Ideally any given answer will address both, but it's frustrating to see people negatively impacted for acting in good faith.

Or possibly, instead of marking answers, the asker could mark the question as desiring one or the other. It seems many askers aren't even aware that they "should" be asking higher-level questions (as evidenced by this entry in How to ask questions the smart way). Presenting this question to them might open them to the possibility they're doing it wrong.

FWIW, I am aware of some previous discussions on the topic, but they were all regarding how to act; they address whether it's OK to provide one or the other type of answer. This question, on the other hand, is meant to spark discussion about a possible feature addition to help mitigate the problem in the first place (preventing down votes for dumb reasons, informing askers that they may get better advice than they were originally seeking, etc).

  • I don't see how this question significantly differs from the previous discussions. Perhaps elaborate more on the differences. – matt wilkie Jul 13 '10 at 20:39
  • This question is proposing a feature (or more accurately discussing the possibility of a feature proposal) to help keep the other questions from needing to be asked. I'll try to edit my question to clarify. – Cogwheel Jul 13 '10 at 20:56
  • Anyone care to comment on the down vote? – Cogwheel Jul 13 '10 at 21:37
  • I think this is an interesting suggestion, but don't see how it can be implemented well. I personally have a few dozen accepted answers that were just "perhaps you should look into this area." So I see the different kind of answer all the time. But, like any fence-sitter worth his salt, I can see @Shog9's point as well. Give an answer, let voters and OPs grade as they see fit. I can imagine several BAD ways of doing this, but no GOOD ways. – MJB Jul 13 '10 at 22:23
  • Just out of curiosity, is the etiquette on meta to down-vote feature requests that you don't agree with or is there something materially wrong with the way I suggested it? – Cogwheel Jul 13 '10 at 22:50
  • @Cogwheel: yes, downvotes on meta simply mean "I disagree". Don't take it personally! – Ether Jul 13 '10 at 22:58
  • For some insight onto the machinations of Meta, Cogwheel, see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/47634/how-does-meta-work. – Grace Note Jul 13 '10 at 23:29

Answer according to your conscience. Leave scoring to the voters.

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