So last night I allowed myself to get sucked into answering a somewhat involved question where the user was neither particularly helpful nor clear about what they wanted, and hence the question currently has a down-vote count around 4.

Moreover after each possible answer the user simply said something to the effect of "no, this isn't right" without indicating that they had any interest in doing any of the heavy lifting to get the algorithm to work.

The question itself, though, once I figured out what it was, is reasonably interesting, although admittedly more from a graph construction perspective than a Mathematica perspective.

My question for discussion is then should one take the time to answer an interesting, but poorly explained question for an unhelpful user?

My reasons against this are two-fold:

As the question is often down-voted owing to the lack of helpful explanation, it's less likely to be seen as relevant to queries (I think) and thus investing the time to answer doesn't necessarily help anyone outside of the poster of the question--and of course the real point of SE is to help the people who don't actually spend much time on SE.

Secondly--and I'm much less certain of this--this might degrade the quality of the site overall, as it demonstrates that someone who asks a question need not always put in effort to get an answer that takes a non-trivial amount of work.

On the other hand, I think there's a very good reason for this, in that an interesting question deserves a well-thought answer, even if the poster of that question isn't terribly helpful nor willing to clarify their question much. I say this partly out of an ideology that prizes intellectual stimulation, but also with the person who stumbles upon the question despite its downvotes in mind.

What do you, users of this site for much longer than myself (or not), think?

  • 3
    If you can, via edits etc, make topic unambiguous - go for it. I am quite often annoyed by OPs' attitude but it does not matter if I am really interested in the topic. Working on an answer is also a good test of my understanding of the subject. (sounds selfish but it is helpful as a side effect so who cares :)) p.s. -4? would be nice to join reversal club too:
    – Kuba Mod
    Mar 16, 2017 at 20:14
  • related: mathematica.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1735/5478
    – Kuba Mod
    Mar 16, 2017 at 20:15
  • @Kuba that's a good point. I did do some editing of the question to make it more clear, at least per how I understood it. Interesting linked discussion, too.
    – b3m2a1
    Mar 16, 2017 at 20:30
  • 3
    I also sometimes answer interesting/challenging questions even if the attitude is annoying, condescending, etc. However, I'd like to think I usually only do it once for that OP and avoid any future responses for that OP after that (if I remember, that is).
    – JimB
    Mar 16, 2017 at 23:47
  • Also related, I think: mathematica.meta.stackexchange.com/q/274/121
    – Mr.Wizard
    Mar 17, 2017 at 5:32


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