I'm looking at this question. I gave the answer that was accepted. Please bear in mind that, when I answered this question, it was a different edit. In particular, there were more parts to the question.

The reason I'm here is because my question got a few up votes as well as a few down votes, attaining a score of $-1$ at its nadir. I was wondering, was I justified in giving this answer?

I'm aware of the guidelines about good questions for the site, and also aware that this question fails them. I've also seen this meta post.

The reason I gave my answer is because I believed the asker really did have little clue about how to go about these questions. I figured that all the asker needed was one good, fully justified worked example, and they could do the rest on their own. The asker's comment at the end vindicated this view, and they changed the question so that my answer would more comfortably fit it!

I understand that it's generally not preferable to reward poor quality questions on the site. I don't want the quality of questions to (further) drop. But, I do think that, for many people, these first steps are the most daunting. It's very hard for a new student to produce the work they've done, when they haven't done any. First and foremost, I want to help people on this site, as I'm sure most other people here do as well, and part of me finds it hard to accept that these people, who are genuinely confused at the first hurdle, cannot get help.

I know there are ways around it too. I know that a more savvy user of the site knows that they can mitigate this, for example, by copying out the relevant formulae they know. However, this is not something that new users pick up easily. I don't think it necessarily indicates laziness, or a lack of due consideration of a problem, merely an unfamiliarity with the subtler workings of this site.

Bear in mind, I only answered one part of the question too. I wasn't giving out all the answers for all the parts, for the asker to present as their work. The asker would still be required to do most of the work in order to answer the question. I was just using one part as an example to impart the necessary tools for the asker to answer the question.

So, with all that said, was I justified in giving this answer? Or were the downvotes justified instead?

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    Thank you for thoughtfully asking this question here (although you may not like the response from certain of the more toxic users...). A comment about your fourth paragraph could be that the student probably has a ton of worked examples already - from their lecture and textbook and so on, so I don't really agree with the second line. It was certainly good that you only did part (a) of the five parts of the problem - it was certainly a well-intentioned and well-explained post, so I don't think it was a big problem to answer it. But questions like this are generally bringing down site quality. – T. Bongers Feb 28 at 2:03
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    So my humble opinion in short: Yeah, you probably shouldn't have answered it and it's likely the question will get deleted. But it was well-intentioned and certainly wasn't just doing a student's homework for them. – T. Bongers Feb 28 at 2:07
  • @user296602 In my experience of tutoring students, I find that the examples they have on hand varies substantially. Some teachers will give one example in class, before a student has time to digest the necessary material, and say most of the explanations verbally. The student is left with a bunch of calculations without context, which they don't have the requisite skill to properly understand. Sometimes, a good, written explanation is what a student needs! But, certainly, other times it's because they're too lazy to figure things out! – Theo Bendit Feb 28 at 2:09
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    Yes, that's true; on the other hand, there are tons of posts here already addressing geometric series (so this question should have been closed as a duplicate regardless). // Oh, and another comment: Because you linked this question on meta, you're likely about to attract a whole pile of downvotes. Don't be too demoralized. – T. Bongers Feb 28 at 2:11
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    Very good to have asked here, Theo. I agree with much of what @user296602 has stated. I have no doubt that your intentions were simply to be helpful. I just checked out the post more carefully, and it seems clear, from the askers comment "Thank you so much this makes a ton of sense" and the asker's acceptance that they found your answer helpful. Not everyone agrees about the answering poor questions. But when you do so, I hope the thanks and appreciation from an asker means more than upvotes and downvotes. – amWhy Feb 28 at 2:12
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    @user296602 I also agree that the question, along with all its answers, should be deleted. We don't want more of these questions to populate the site. But, I'm also happy that I did answer the question, and help the asker. I can accept the down-votes too (thanks for the heads up), but is it good practice to down-vote such questions? Do I deserve less reputation because of this answer? – Theo Bendit Feb 28 at 2:14
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    @Theo Don't worry about it; downvotes on meta questions are not to be taken personally....You wrote your question here very well, acknowledging the tension on the site regarding low-quality questions, and whether they should be answered or not. Your question was sincere, and asking for honest feedback. I don't anticipate any likely hood that you will attract downvotes. – amWhy Feb 28 at 2:32
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    Since in the post you write "this question* I suppose you wanted to link to the question rather than to your answer - which is why I edited the link. If your intention was to link to the answer, feel free to revert my edit. Apart from the question Is it acceptable to answer a poor quality question? - which you linked in your post - this one is related to this general topic, too: Downvotes on answers to 'poor' questions. – Martin Sleziak Feb 28 at 2:34
  • @amWhy Oh no, I meant the down-votes on my answer to the geometric series question! Although, I do think it's good advice not to care too much about down-votes when answering poor quality questions. – Theo Bendit Feb 28 at 2:54
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    The question was apparently deleted. – Arnaud Mortier Feb 28 at 11:28
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    I would like sincere attempts to help people not to be punished by the system. – abnry Mar 6 at 23:30

I think better of thorough answers to poorly stated Questions than of fragmentary "hint" posts.

I suspect there is a temptation for many to give hasty replies to substandard Questions, accompanied by frequent rationalizations that "I didn't want to give the OP a full solution that can be copy-pasted in their homework".

A good Answer is apt to provide value to future Readers, so I prefer that to cryptic replies in the Answer box to "make the OP think for themselves.'

I figured that all the asker needed was one good, fully justified worked example, and they could do the rest on their own.

Doing the OP's exercises isn't the only way to achieve this goal.

Instead, you could find (or create) a well-posed reference question that has the desired good, fully justified worked example, and then vote to close the given question as a duplicate of the reference question.


Over mse history, there have been a number of drives to create repositories of reference questions (such as this one) to be used for precisely this purpose; the key phrase for searching on this topic is abstract duplicate.

Interesting question.

In general, I try not to answer short questions showing no work - commenting instead with boilerplate welcoming a new user (often that's the case, though not here) and a "show your work" prompt. There are folks here who will jump in with quick correct answers. I will often comment disapprovingly on those, though don't usually downvote. They are after all correct.

But occasionally I sense genuine confusion coupled with an ability and willingness to learn. Then I may invest some time (as you did) in an answer I hope is instructive as well as correct. Sometimes my words vanish into the void. Sometimes the OP turns a corner and offers genuine thanks (whether or not s/he knows about accepting or upvoting). Those are the times when I feel rewarded and appreciated. That's what happened to you this time.

You weren't wrong. There really is no "wrong" or "right" on MSE, just varying views of proper conventions. Keep on helping.

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