This question was inspired by this question Relationship between $\operatorname{ord}(ab), \operatorname{ord}(a)$, and $\operatorname{ord}(b)$, which I first came across while reviewing close votes.

While this question was marked as a duplicate, the user requested "tips to start this" and not a full answer. Redirecting the user to the other question would essentially be providing a full answer, which I thought was counterproductive since the user is making a real effort to solve the problem.

If a user is asking for hints and not a full solution, should we still mark the question as a duplicate and direct the user to a previous solution?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's rare that I come across a hypothetical question that leaves me stumped. I have no idea what my opinion is on this issue. Great question. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander Gruber Mod
    Nov 10, 2013 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question clearly demonstrates the conflict between being a queryable repository of knowledge and the homework help paradigm. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Nov 11, 2013 at 1:28

2 Answers 2


It could be argued that the issue is not how the questions are answered, but how they are asked. Posting a question and asking for a hint seems like it could be considered a poorly written question.

If it is a multi-step question and the user wants to understand the first step of the question then the question should be asked (and answered) in that manner. Now you have a situation where you have completely answered the question asked.

As a simple example: The problem might be Factor$x^2+2x+4x+9$.

If the user wants help with the first step, but not have someone actually factor the question then the user could ask: How to simplify$2x+4x$ ? for which the answer would be $6x$ with an accompanying explanation. (This is obviously a simple example to make my point.) I understand this won't work in every case, but if the asker puts some thought into it he/she could word most questions in this manner.

I know that I am not very active on this stack exchange site, but I have been very active on other stack exchange sites with asking, answering and viewing questions. I used stack exchange sites as a student and I use them regularly in my job.

My OWN philosophy:
A duplicate of an answered question (except the new question says but just give me a hint) should be closed as a duplicate or even as a nonconstructive question. If the user only seeks a hint to the homework problem the user should be able to word the question in such a way that a complete answer to the actual question posted can be given without answering the homework problem that the user is working on (as my example above). If the user is so stuck on the question that they cannot break it down, then they would likely end up needing the full answer anyways, not that this is for us to decide.

I wonder if asking for hints should really be considered as not a question and closed with the idea that we want to be a site of full and complete answers to questions so that users can read, understand and learn from the answer as they go to apply that knowledge to their next question.

  • $\begingroup$ NB. manor $\ne$ manner. They're just (close to being) homonyms. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Nov 13, 2013 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ Fair points, but I think the user makeup of MSE differs from that of other SE sites. Stack Overflow, for instance, often gets questions from people running into real-life problems with their code, and a smaller proportion seems to come from students and homework assignments than for MSE. I think MSE serves a different audience than most SE sites, not only in the topic of interest but also in the proportion of students to professional users (who typically consult Math Overflow instead). So the question of good pedagogical practice comes up often here. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2013 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin - Thanks, spelling is not my strong point :). And thanks for reformatting my equations. $\endgroup$
    – kralco626
    Nov 14, 2013 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @kigen - You make a good point. Like I said, I'm not a very heavy user of this SE site, just thought I would offer my opinion :) I just believe that even if it is conceded that most questions are for homework assignments, I still believe that the answers should strive to fully answer the asked question so that people searching will find the answer the question suggests they will find, hence y I believe questions should be asked in such a way that they can be fully answered. $\endgroup$
    – kralco626
    Nov 14, 2013 at 13:16


For, closing a question as duplicate requires that:

  • Someone find the duplicate;
  • Five persons vote to close.

In almost all cases, these actions will take long enough for the time window for posting hints (which usually don't require a lot of time to write) to be wide enough for one or more satisfying hints to be posted. (In the case at hand, the closure occurred about five hours after the answers were posted.)

After the OP is satisfied, we definitely want to tie the questions together to make it easier for future visitors to find the information.

That said, if one is concerned about premature closing (i.e. before hints are posted), one can post a comment linking to the to-be-duplicate without casting a close vote. This will introduce some further delay.

Once in the closing queue, I see no harm in the question being closed -- stronger, I think this is a good thing.

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    $\begingroup$ I usually find myself agreeing with you, but not this time. I think some other approach is called for, although I frankly am not sure what approach. $\endgroup$
    – dfeuer
    Nov 8, 2013 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ So maybe the question isn't whether or not such questions should enter the queue, but when? I think it'll be good to come to some unofficial consensus about this. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2013 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ It might be nice if there were some sort of delayed-close feature. I agree with you that the questions ought to be closed eventually since they really are duplicates, but disagree that the time window is long enough. It's quite routine that the close vote takes under an hour, in my experience. $\endgroup$
    – user61527
    Nov 8, 2013 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ @dfeuer: Leave it open, but post a comment directing people to the earlier question. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2013 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott, I think that may be best. $\endgroup$
    – dfeuer
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I also think that's the best we can do as present. For now I'm going to try out a policy in which I post such links in the comments, but encourage the user to solve the problem on his/her own. Then I'll try to nudge the user toward a solution as I've done so far, and if the user solves the problem he can post it as an answer and accept it. Merging duplicates can come after that, and I agree that this is important and should be done eventually. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2013 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin For the record, I upvoted this answer because I think there are good points being made here, even if I lean toward disagreeing with the main contention. I think we even agree on the "when": "After the OP is satisfied." $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2013 at 4:09

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