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I've seen a number of questions recently where the OP explicitly asks for a hint only. In some cases, these questions are closed (or have gotten some votes for closure) because the OP didn't provide any work or thoughts. (Note: I'm not asking about whether posting a hint as an answer is better than posting a full answer in general. There has been lots of discussion about that issue on meta.)

I think this is somewhat different than just posting a question and looking for an answer; it's perfectly legitimate under some circumstances to just close those questions. But if a person really doesn't know how to begin, shouldn't this be a reasonable forum to come to for help?

This also requires some discipline on the part of those writing answers, to give hints only rather than full answers. But I do think that the posters, who are probably largely looking for help with homework, would benefit.

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    $\begingroup$ If they don't know where to begin, they could post about the background of the question, or about where they encountered it, or how they came up with it. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 23 '15 at 1:44
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    $\begingroup$ For me, the primary point of closing questions for lack of context is not that someone is "just posting a question and looking for an answer" but that it is often difficult to give a truly helpful answer. You don't know how much care to take with little details, or what previous results you can assume the asker is familiar with, or whether your answer will only confuse the asker more because actually they don't even understand the definitions they're trying to work with. The fact that someone is asking only for a hint does not always eliminate these difficulties. $\endgroup$ – Eric Wofsey Oct 23 '15 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ IMHO, the criterion should be "do hint only anwsers useful only to the OP". If yes, this Q/A pair will not serve the purpose of this site as a Q/A repository. The question should be closed (IMHO, should be deleted) because it is too localized. $\endgroup$ – achille hui Oct 23 '15 at 5:34
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I don't consider "Hint please" some magic words that make a question immune to closing. If a question is poorly written, I downvote and/or vote to close, hints or not.

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  • $\begingroup$ Certainly. But a well-posed question asking just for a hint to get started seems perfectly reasonable. If you were teaching a class, and a student walked in to ask about homework, and had no idea where to start with a problem, would you simply kick him/her out of your office? $\endgroup$ – rogerl Oct 23 '15 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ @rogerl This answer only says that "Hint please" should not make a question immune from being closed. It does not logically follow that all "Hint please" questions should be closed. (Symbolically, $ (\neg ( \forall x ) ( H(x) \to \neg C(x) )) \not\Rightarrow ( \forall x ) ( H(x) \rightarrow C(x) )$.) $\endgroup$ – user642796 Oct 23 '15 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @rogerl that analogy is very flawed. For one thing, typically in such a scenario, I will know that this is a student of my class and that they ask about an exercise in that class. There is thus no need for me to inquirer about the context for I know it already, I even set it to some extent. (Yet I actually might ask some question beforehand to see what the issue is more specifically.) But if it knocks at my door, and when I open some to me unknown person asks me some math question I do not recognize, quite certainly I would not just answer but first try to ask what this is about. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 23 '15 at 18:33
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I find your suggestion novel. It never occurred to me to fault a Question for requesting hints or "only hints". [I'm more disturbed by hints posted in the Answer box, especially when the body of a question doesn't specifically ask for that.]

When new(?) users post questions giving only as the "context" that they have no idea about how to approach it, my typical response is a comment, e.g. "start with the definition" or something more pointed. It often happens that a user has tackled a problem and posted it in as literal form as possible because they do not understand what was asked. In other cases the motivation for a poorly framed question may be some real world task, and help in better framing the problem is of benefit.

It seems to me our mission is to curate high quality content, in a question and answer format. If this means giving an actual answer, after a suitable "socratic dialog", I'm okay with that. If a hint suffices, I encourage the asker to post an answer memorializing their "lesson learned" for its potential benefit to future Readers.

Clearly the vast majority of users are inclined to offer an Answer rather than engage in "socratic dialog", so I don't think we hope for more than weeding out the awful responses and encouraging edits to Questions as necessary to make them sensible. Provided a Question lays out a clear difficulty/problem to solve, I am personally okay with phrasing that asks for "just a hint".

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    $\begingroup$ I think you misread the question: the OP is suggesting not to close those. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Oct 23 '15 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ @NormalHuman: I see. Then I suppose I'm in agreement with the OP's position. However I'm glad to see the issue brought up, as it had not occurred to me that asking for hints was seen as a proxy for lack of effort/context. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 23 '15 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ That seems right, and something I try to do as well. For a question that seems well-posed and such that the OP seems to understand the context of the question, I try to offer a hint, either in a comment or in an answer. $\endgroup$ – rogerl Oct 23 '15 at 12:20

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