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I’m fairly new to the community, but I’ve noticed that a fair number of questions that eventually get closed as off-topic will receive answers before they’re closed. Is it acceptable to answer questions like these?

If it’s not acceptable to answer questions like that, how should this rule be enforced? For example, is a comment telling someone not to answer constructive?


Related StackOverflow Meta: Should one advise on off-topic questions?

Also related StackOverflow Meta: Is a comment telling someone not to answer constructive?

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    Retitled this to more closely match what you're asking. The million dollar question is always whether you know for sure if something will be closed. Sometimes you do and I'll refer to my answer here on a related topic. I'm not sure we can or should turn this into a rule (especially considering the excellent point raised by Joe on the linked answer) but personally I tend to downvote answers like these. – Lilienthal Jun 26 at 6:26
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    Specifically on "For example, is a comment telling someone not to answer constructive?": this would not be considered constructive because the only action that can realistically be taken is answer deletion which is decidedly not an attempt to improve an answer. It's also incredibly unlikely to go over well with the post's author (most people who answer a question take some effort to do so and wouldn't if they didn't think the question had merit). Combined that means such comments are likely to get flagged and deleted. – Lilienthal Jun 26 at 6:30
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    @Lilienthal given that OP is active at MSO I would guess that original title alluded to a canonical from there: Should one advise on off-topic questions? :) – gnat Jun 26 at 8:31
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    @gnat Ah nice catch. Not sure what else needs to be said on the topic as the answer there seems to cover the general recommendation. – Lilienthal Jun 26 at 8:46
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    I would answer them anyway. My will to help fellow human being is stronger than my will to follow the rules – David Jun 26 at 9:03
  • @David "You have it backwards, I think..." (borrowing from another MSO canonical) – gnat Jun 26 at 9:13
  • @grat Although it may seem like that given the number of software developers we find there, this is not StackOverflow! Anyway, I see no difference between the question getting closed after or before the answer is posted – David Jun 26 at 9:17
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    @gnat Yep... I was referring to that one. I'll admit that it was a little late at night when I wrote this and I neglected to link to it. Either way, it seems like the answer is may be different here than there - it seems like answers to questions that are perceived as off-topic or otherwise low-quality there tend to receive much more strongly negative reactions on SO (i.e. negative comments, downvotes, and sometimes flags and delete votes in the VLQ queue) than they do here (which was one of the reasons I asked this). – EJoshuaS Jun 26 at 13:10
  • @EJoshuaS this is most probasbly because SO topics are settled more firmly than here and it's easier for users to decide whether the question is off-topic. You probably would get a comparable effect at TWP if someone answered a widely accepted off-topic here, for example question asking for coding help – gnat Jun 26 at 13:50
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    Sadly, we have some folks who like to close as many questions as they can, rather than provide answers or help edit the question into answerable shape. I answer questions when I think they are clear enough to provide a good answer. I never worry about "likely to be closed". – Joe Strazzere Jun 26 at 22:33
  • @JoeStrazzere If the question can be salvaged through editing, then of course it shouldn't be closed. With that said, I don't agree that the mere fact that something's clear enough to provide a good answer is sufficient proof that the question is a good fit for the site. – EJoshuaS Jun 26 at 22:53
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    @EJoshuaS - we all get to be judges by using our votes. I answer questions when I think I can be of help. You can choose not to do so. – Joe Strazzere Jun 26 at 22:56
  • I think it's worth pointing out that TWP is far different than most other SE sites in that almost every single question gets at least one answer. The site is based more on personal experience and opinion than some other sites where opinion-based questions are explicitly not allowed. Questions requiring closure are somewhat more difficult to define in that respect. – Steve-o169 Jun 27 at 18:08
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    @Steve-o169 Some of the other sites allow for more opinionated questions too (e.g. Literature), as long as there's a way to reasonably defend answers. It's obviously up to the individual sites to define exactly where the line is in terms of when a question becomes so opinion-based that it's no longer possible to reasonably defend answers anymore. – EJoshuaS Jun 27 at 18:33
  • The difference is that it reasonably hard to defend any answer on TWP. Sources don't exist that say "quit your job, find a new one" in many given scenarios. That advice is based purely on opinions of what is acceptable in the workplace and experiences as such. I'm not a member of SE.Literature, but I assume literary analysis is something that is more often sourced than not. Opinions may exist, but those opinions can still reference the literary work in question. There is no specific book or source that covers common workplace scenarios. Regardless, my comments are somewhat off-topic here... – Steve-o169 Jun 27 at 18:45
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It's a bit of a grey area as some people's idea of off-topic are different to others - this is why questions are closed after a consensus has been reached.

If you personally feel that a question has enough topicality and information for you to post a relevant answer, then there's nothing stopping you from submitting that answer.

If you feel that the question is off-topic, then flag it as such.

If you feel that a question can't be answered effectively enough without some missing information, then leave a comment on the question asking for that clarification.

We don't leave comments asking people not to answer.

  • I don't recall seeing many comments like this, but if I did run into a comment telling someone not to answer, should it be flagged as Unfriendly or Unkind? Or just No Longer Needed? – EJoshuaS Jun 26 at 13:05
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    NLN covers many sins. – Snow Jun 26 at 13:21
  • Also, how should we handle cases where someone answers a question that's unclear, missing context, or overly broad to the point that we can't really tell whether the answer is correctly addressing the OP's problem or not? In those cases, should we downvote and/or comment asking the poster to wait for the OP to clarify the question? Is it ever acceptable to flag these as VLQ or NAA? (A good example of the kind of answer I'm referring to is here). – EJoshuaS Jun 26 at 13:22
  • @EJoshuaS If I know it's unhelpful I downvote. If I don't know, I can ask for clarification in the comments; lack of response would be a downvote. Worst case scenario I do nothing. – lucasgcb Jul 4 at 9:59
  • @licasgcb But couldn’t you argue that it’s not helpful to guess at what the OP’s problem is if their question is not clear? – EJoshuaS Jul 4 at 14:29
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When it comes to answering questions, I start with a few assumptions:

  • The OP is genuinely interested in getting an answer, may not be used to thoroughly describing complex problems, and may not be aware of site guidelines or rules which may lead to closure.
  • As a community, our first responsibility is to be helpful to people asking questions (versus, say, being primarily responsible for curating/maintaining the site). Sometimes the best way to serve these people is to close their questions and guide them on how to get the help they need, but other times there may be situations where things aren't as black and white.

Given those, in most cases, even if I feel a question has a strong chance of being closed, I will often still post an answer. Sometimes this means posting a general answer and, at the same time, commenting and asking for clarification - then you can go back later and make the answer more specific if the clarification ever comes. In other cases, this approach may mean answering and commenting and voting to close, i.e. if the question is potentially a duplicate - you can post an answer, point out potential duplicates in a comment, and ask the OP to clarify if their situation is markedly different. And, of course, there will be cases where an answer isn't appropriate at all, if the question is an obvious duplicate or it's really just so ambiguous that it's unanswerable - but I find this is often not the case.

This is a different approach than may be typical on other SE sites, but I feel that is appropriate given the nature of TWP. We are much more focused on human problems (versus technology problems). By nature, that means the problems are harder to define (it will not be natural for people to give enough context to distinguish potential dupes, for instance). And, it also means the answers will naturally be less quantitative and factual, and more driven by opinion and experience.

It may make sense to rapidly close (and not answer) questions on a site where there is a black and white manner in which a problem can be defined, and a single right answer that's easily written and verifiable. But I don't think that's always the case on TWP.

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    As a community, our first responsibility is to be helpful to people asking questions... Not sure I agree with that point. Couldn't you argue that the purpose of SE sites is to serve as a repository of useful Q&A, not just to be a help site? – EJoshuaS Jun 26 at 16:46
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    At some point it becomes a rhetorical distinction. If we aren't helpful, there's no way to generate content and no value in the repository. And, of course, "being helpful" sometimes includes things like closing a question because it's a dupe, and by doing so you can point the asker to the great information on the dupe that they may have otherwise missed. I guess my point was, we shouldn't care so much about curating Q&A that we lose perspective on where the Q's and A's come from or who they're meant to help. – dwizum Jun 26 at 16:50
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    @dwizum - well said! – Joe Strazzere Jun 26 at 22:38
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Sometimes I race against close votes to answer a question. Sometimes I get easy rep for it. Sometimes OP never comes back, answer or no.

I've never had anybody complain about me answering the question, though I've had a few downvotes I suspected were for answering a bad question. Funny how nobody wants to own up to it. You know what I think. I think if nobody's going to own up to it I'm going to continue, and I think you should too.

To be fair, I'm likely to vote reopen on such a question that I'm likely to race against the close votes.

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