Often I see threads with an "accepted answer" that contains a hint and nothing else. That's absurd.

Instead, how about:

  1. Supplying a full answer? There's a reason it is called "an answer"...
  2. Settings up functionality for hints, so that the OP and other guests to read before the rush to the answer. (Assuming you want people to learn...)

I wouldn't like to see SE becoming of something different than it's initial purpose.

This takes the site to a whole different theme!
It's not a Q&A site, it's a Q&Hint site..!


My question was flagged to be similar to the following question:
Do hints belong in answers or comments?

I think that they differ because that I don't ask "what is the place for hints?", though I do ask:

  1. To provide a full answer when filling the field entitled "Your Answer".
  2. To add a functionality especially for hints.
    This way, when some guest views the thread and he sees that hints are available, he'll first view the hints. Then, if he tried to solve the problem w/o success, then he'll refer to the full answer.
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    $\begingroup$ Well, sometimes the OP asks only for hints. Sometimes, the question is easy enough to deserve more than a hint. So, I'll think a little more before writing "That's absurd.". (-1) $\endgroup$ – user26857 Sep 18 '15 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857 Don't you think this is absurd: math.stackexchange.com/questions/1441163/… $\endgroup$ – Dor Sep 18 '15 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ I can't see any accepted answer there. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Sep 18 '15 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user26857 Indeed, no "Accepted answer", but 3 "answers" which contain only hints. $\endgroup$ – Dor Sep 18 '15 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm fine with this. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Sep 18 '15 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor: the purpose of this site is not necessarily the same as the purpose of StackExchange. In particular, hints are more accepted on this site than some others. That is not to say that the question or answers you linked to are very good - they aren't, and you should consider voting accordingly. But this site is much more like "MathOverflow.net, but for non-research questions" than it is like "StackExchange.com, but for math questions". $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 18 '15 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert I don't have a problem with hints. All I say is that hints have their own place. The answers should contain a full answer. $\endgroup$ – Dor Sep 18 '15 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor: the general practice on this site is that hints are often posted as "answers", and they get a decent number of upvotes. The point of the answer, in the end, is to help the person who asked the question, not only to record a full solution. And, who knows whether some later reader might also find a hint useful. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 18 '15 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ The flip-side is this question. I found it extremely sad that the OP walked away with an answer to a problem they clearly had not even thought about. All it took was a little experimentation, but Bam, they now have a fully-formed solution and zero insight into the problem... $\endgroup$ – pjs36 Sep 18 '15 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor you might consider adding complete answers. Ideally, I think the OP should add a complete answer once they understand and follow through on the hint. $\endgroup$ – davidlowryduda Sep 18 '15 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor: exactly, this site is not a pure Q&A site in the sense that StackExchange.com is. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 18 '15 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I view MathOverflow as a replacement for walking into an office and asking a colleague some question. I don't see any reasonable scenario where I walk into an office of a colleague, ask a question and the answer is "Let me give you a hint ..." :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 18 '15 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf indeed this is one of the reasons why it does not happen. However, beyond that it is my perception that the culture of MO is rather so that the threshold for what makes an answer-post (as opposed to be just given as a comment) is typically quite high and plenty of information is communicated in comments. Indeed, so much so that this sometimes goes too far, in my opinion. The point is though that the reasoning of the user to which my comment was directed is pretty questionable given this state of affairs. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 18 '15 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor In particular, note: 1. you could've found and read that thread before posting; 2. ref'd question is asked in a civilised manner; 3. ref'd question displays effort on the part of the poster to read previous discussions on the subject. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 19 '15 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ Theoretically, you should downvote hints as answers. But in practice that's likely to have bad consequences for you. And then there's the people who answer in comments. $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Sep 19 '15 at 15:11

In my opinion, what you observe is a symptom, not the root of the problem.

MSE, like other popular SE sites, gets a lot of "do this for me" questions, such as the question you linked in the comments. Unlike other popular SE sites, MSE culture had been incredibly resistant to the idea of closing such questions.

In other media (e.g. office hours, tutoring, forums), such questions are less inappropriate, and the point of an exchange is not to give the student the answer, but to guide them through doing the problem.

The SE format is not well suited to such a dialog. Unfortunately, that alone isn't enough to stop people from trying! Ultimately, the effect you observe is people trying to interact in a way not well-suited for SE in response to questions not well-suited for SE, and ultimately results in a site that is not well-suited for the things SE is normally well-suited for.

And yes, I have been guilty of this too; it's hard to adapt (or even be aware of a need to) when so little negative reinforcement is given. And even if you recognize it as a problem, it's going to happen anyways, why not get in on the action, right? :(

  • $\begingroup$ You said "The SE format is not well suited to such a dialog". Well, my offer here is to expand SE's format in order for the Q&A format to work well. Why do you think that the current format is enough? The community is strongly pro-hints and you think that they are better than a full answer. Ergo you should supply the functionality that will distinguish hints from answers. Hints & answers are completely different things - a site that it's theme is Q&A should know to include characteristic features for hints as well as for answers. $\endgroup$ – Dor Sep 19 '15 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor who is "you" especially in "you think that they are better than a full answer"? $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 19 '15 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ @quid "You" = the community. $\endgroup$ – Dor Sep 19 '15 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Dor Thanks for the clarification. On the one hand a sizable part of the community does not think hint-answers (and the questions they are given to, typically) are any good and do not have any desire to support them. On the other hand a sizable part of the community genuinely sees no problem with hint-answers. Finally a sizable part of the community just does not care for much anything but their own "answers" or getting some help on their queries. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 19 '15 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ There is also an intermediate option: for many homework-type questions, I think the main benefit of making "hints" into answers instead of comments is that it discourages others from thinking the question is unanswered and thus needs a complete answer written for it. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 19 '15 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl sometimes it is an incentive for me answering that the existing "answers" are lacking. If something does not get answered, it is not great but not a big deal either. But if it gets answered only poorly it really reflects badly on the site as a whole. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 19 '15 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ I down vote hints. The whole concept of "if you can't beat em join em", when its not something one agrees with, is a fairly absurd philosophy IMO $\endgroup$ – Brad Thomas Dec 21 '16 at 13:54

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