Scenario: someone asks: "Let such-and-such. How do I prove X?". I answer "Hint: because blah, blah, blah, all you have to prove is Y". Their response is to ask a new question: "Let such-and-such. How do I prove Y?".

See Proving a property of a Logic Formal Language and Proving some property of a Formal Logic Language for the case in point. The potential infinite regress bottomed out because someone else answered the second question with more details on how to prove Y.

I voted to close the second question. Should I just give up answering questions with hints?

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    $\begingroup$ "I should just give up answering questions with hints." Yes. That. $\endgroup$
    – user147263
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ I find this to be even more infuriating when the user accepts your answer. In general I find giving good hints to be a difficult task, which is sometimes harder than writing the complete solution. And I also feel that good hints are valuable in the future, for future readers. I truly understand your despair; but I think that hints are good, and if only because they help to drive away the people who refuse to think for themselves. (I know, there are a lot of bad things people do with hints, like lazy hints sometimes; but I wanted to highlight the good parts of hints.) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Woodface: Why? $\endgroup$
    – Rob Arthan
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Meelo: I've turned it into a specific question. What I wanted was advice about hints. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Arthan
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, note the lovely post number on this question. Kudos! :-) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila Good catch! $\endgroup$
    – user142198
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Woodface I think answering with good hints is better than giving a solution, especially if the problem just needs some trick that you might not otherwise come up with. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @CameronWilliams - where a question is of the "homework/assignment" type, where it's the kind of question that gets asked in classes as a test of a student's understanding, good hints work best. The best hints help the person to understand the general concept of the approach, rather than spelling out the specifics - like explaining (x+y)^2 = (x+y)*(x+y) instead of spelling out the full process - spelling it out means the student is less likely to understand when it comes to doing (x+y+z)^2 or (x+y)^3. $\endgroup$
    – Glen O
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


There are a number of ways that OP's might give an unsatisfactory response to a comment. I often say that they should do some trivial exercise which will show them what is going on; few try, and often enough someone gives a complete answer anyway. Some are like your guys, I think they are generically called Vampires on SE...

I probably used to try to get such people to improve. For a few years I've just been deleting my own comments or answers. I mostly cannot get the kids (sometimes older) asking to behave better, all i can do is make it so that I am not notified of further messages from that person.

one reference:

Etiquette: How to deal with "spoon feeding" requests?

which points to this http://slash7.com/2006/12/22/vampires/

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the pointer. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Arthan
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 10:06

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