The recent question "What to do if I am sick and can't drive myself home?" has received many answers. One such answer suggests that the OP take public transportation. Based on the OP's description of their illness and commute in the question and in comments, public transportation is very clearly not an option for them. However, one user commented on the answer (emphasis mine)

I think we don't need to get worked up over this answer, although the tone of the answer does contribute to that. Question asked for other options to consider, and this certainly is an option. It may not work for the OP but it may work for others. (Yeah, remember, we want our site to serve the general audience, not just the OP.)

We should also avoid getting fixated on a specific example given in the question. A couple of years ago, I tripped and fell down from a staircase at work, and hurt my back and knee. I had to go home immediately, but I certainly could not operate the pedals in that state, so taking public transport is a useful option. (Yeah, I still have to manage limping to the bus stop.) It is another matter that I use public transport anyway to commute to work, so I did not have to deal with the "can't drive, now what?"

Is this practice acceptable here? To me it seems counter-intuitive; if an answer is clearly not suitable for the OP from the outset, then it should not be considered. I do recognize that we want our answers to be useful to many people, not just the OP, but if it doesn't even apply to the question being asked then it's not relevant at all. The only place I could see this type of answer as acceptable is in a comprehensive answer which gives multiple options, including some that do apply to the OP.

What are your thoughts? Are answers like this acceptable, or should they be downvoted and deleted for not answering the question?

2 Answers 2


Is this practice acceptable here?

The practice seems to favor more generalized answers that apply to a wide audience.

For example, if someone asked about drilling a hole and indicated they have a 1/4 inch drill, it wouldn't make sense to confine answers to only those involving a 1/4 inch drill bit when other readers might use different sizes.

Answers should stick to the topic at hand, and provide a real answer to the question being asked, but also strive for more generalized answers that would apply to many.

(At least that's how I interpret the "common practices" here. I don't make the rules, I just try to follow them.)

All that said, I don't think the specific answer to which you refer was very good in general, and certainly not in this specific case. That's what downvotes are for, I believe.

  • So would a good answer that applies to many types of drills but specifically NOT a 1/4 inch drill be acceptable?
    – David K
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 15:59
  • 2
    @DavidK to extend the analogy, the size of the drill bit would be irrelevant if the answer was focused on techniques, how much heat is a factor, how frequently the bit should be oiled, and various other conditions. I could see the answer being invalid if, and only if what being ignored (the 1/4 inch bit) is critical to the question asked. The caveat to that, is say, someone says substitute a 6mm bit and the OP comes back with the fact that they don't have access to metric bits. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 16:12
  • Exactly. Downvotes are approriate and if you feel like a delete vote and have the rep for it thats good too. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:44
  • @DavidK, this answer itself is an example of giving a general answer and answering the specific instance (question) asked about. :)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 10:24

It was not clear to me at the time of posting those comments why the answer wouldn't apply to the OP's case. I understood the following from his question:

  • OP has a certain sickness on certain days (~1 day/year) due to which he has to return home immediately, and cannot drive himself.
  • He feels better if he is left alone for a few hours.

As the OP chose not to discuss the details of his sickness (which is perfectly reasonable), I misunderstood "hole myself in a bathroom"1 to mean he needs some private time to recover. I could relate that to one of my own issues. Drinking certain beverages sometimes give me throat issues (I will also spare you the details), and then I need to do some "breathing exercises" to get back on track. As I work in a "cube farm", I prefer doing this in a bathroom to avoid (well meaning) inquiries, "What are you doing?", "Are you not feeling well?", "Shall I take you to a doctor?", etc.

"Take public transport if you cannot drive" seemed to be a reasonable option, especially if the sickness only occurs once a year. This is hopefully clear from the full context of my comment. In view of certain details of his sickness that OP has since disclosed (barfing every few minutes, etc.), I see why my comments no longer make sense.

In general, though, I think an answer which does not address the question asked, but hits a set of "close enough" issues, should be considered on a case-by-case basis rather than rejected outright, especially if the answer acknowledges that "this solution may not be a best-fit for your problem, but here is some general advice for a set of scenarios similar to yours."

That brings me to the problem with this specific answer which led to the negative reception: the preachy tone. If the answer had been worded differently on the lines of "you could consider public transport as an option, although this depends on the severity of your sickness", then people may have read it more favourably.

Closely related is an example of what we (as a community) should not be doing: https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/82578/3192

The OP's issue is convincing the boss that something is a lot harder than he (the boss) thinks, but this answer focuses entirely on how to use Adobe Muse. That may help the OP in this specific situation only, and it would hardly help anyone else. (Disclaimer: I have my own "general advice" answer to that question, which applies to OP's specific problem too.)

1 I distinctly remember reading it somewhere on that post, but I don't see it anymore. Perhaps OP posted that in a (now deleted) comment?

  • Thanks for clarifying. It wasn't clear to me how much of the OP's situation was clear before the answer and comments were posted, but I thought this made for a good question in the general case anyway. Also, yes, I agree that you linked example is what we should be avoiding.
    – David K
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 19:19
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    @DavidK Just to be clear, I did not take your question as a personal attack or anything like that. It was good to bring up this question. I have myself wanted to post this question here after that Adobe Muse thing, but since I had posted my own answer there, I decided to wait until next time. Moreover, that answer was posted by a relatively new user, while I have 11k reputation, so I didn't want to give an impression that we "bully" newbies here. :)
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 3:34

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