# Revise vote down definition to consider appropriateness of answer

This website serves an excellent purpose of supplying answers to those who couldn't find them elsewhere, and I think it's very effective at that... BUT sometimes I find that users miss the point of the website (helping people as best they can) by over complicating some of their responses.

For example:

What is $a$ in $F(x)=\int_a^xf(t)\,dt$?

This user has asked a very simplistic question, and while all of the answers to the question are technically "correct." At the current level of the asker, some of the answers are far from helpful, and only serve as an avenue for reputation building.

I guess, I'm just irritated with obfuscation, and I feel there should be a way to manage that tendency. It would be nice to have some way of judging the "appropriateness" of the answer aside from the answer selection of the asker.

• "Some of the answers"? There are only two. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 17 '13 at 16:30
• @AndresCaicedo , Great comment... You are correct, there are only two... I guess I was trying to give an example without calling out the one person who did it. But I didn't have another example readily available, and I felt that this would serve well. I think your comment serves my point perfectly however.... people on this website are too concerned with being the most correct. It's not about that, it's about helping those move along when they need it. Not bringing attention to pointless details or showing that you are clearly more knowledgeable on the subject. – jameselmore Jul 17 '13 at 16:32
• Anyway, the answers do not need to be for the OP. Otherwise, there would be no point in storing them and keeping them available forever, at least in principle. It may be a question can be answered at several levels of sophistication, or there are technical subtleties attached to it, and even if the OP did not care for those, or does not have the background to appreciate them, they may still be useful to other users. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 17 '13 at 16:34
• There is no reason why an answer can't answer the OP's question (at the level of the OP) and then continue to give more information or resources. But when the answer completely overshadows the scope of the OP's knowledge, it's far from helpful. – jameselmore Jul 17 '13 at 16:36
• "not useful" is already a part of vote down definition. While Andres Caicedo made a good point, there are situations when an answer, while technically correct, is not useful to anyone who would actually ask that question. That makes it a candidate for downvoting. However, I do not think that either of the answers in the linked thread are guilty of that. – 40 votes Jul 17 '13 at 16:37
• @40votes Yes, of course, and I've seen examples of those (unfortunate) answers a few times. In my comment, I meant answers that actually convey information that others may find useful. – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 17 '13 at 16:47
• You could at least have chosen a thread not involving an answer of yours, no? – Julien Jul 18 '13 at 5:40

I disagree with the OP on two points.

First, although of course the point of the site is "helping people as best they can", I think he is wrong to characterize certain types of answers as going against that. The answers left on this site help people in two different ways: first, they help the person who has posted the question (the OP). Second, for ever after they stay freely available and searchable so can help arbitrarily many other people as the years roll by. The first reason is the more proximate, definite one, but the potential value in the second reason is almost limitless. So I think both need to be respected and evaluated when one looks at the worth of answers.

There are important site mechanics protecting the OP. Namely, the OP herself chooses an answer to the question, and that answer gets displayed first, no matter what its vote total. Further the site keeps track of unanswered questions. Everything is set up so that people will continue to give answers until an answer is given which is satisfactory to the OP.

However, often there is more to say about a question than the OP needs or wants to hear. In fact I would say that this is a decent definition of a "good question" on this site, and in its complete absence there is the danger of a question being "too localized". A lot of OP's here have fairly narrow goals -- in fact, it seems that a fair percentage of the questions asked here are simply homework problems -- so that a more ambitious or intellectually curious student of mathematics would want or need to read more than the minimal answer that satisfies the OP.