# How to avoid hint answers

I know some people like to give hints because they're concerned that they'll be doing some students homework for them or they're genuinely trying to help teach the matter at hand by offering a hint which gives the asker the ability to figure it out for themselves. However, for me, I usually don't get hints that are all that helpful. I don't mean to disparage the hint providers, far from it, it's entirely on my own density that hints are often unhelpful.

I think (rather strongly) that if I say at the end of a question "please just give me the answer, not just a hint" that people who would have otherwise wanted to help will immediately assume I'm trying to fast forward homework or something like that and choose to not help.

btw: I know there are several similar questions about how to ask a question and only receive hints but this is the opposite and in this direction I don't think it works to merely mention what I want in the question.

• – Gerry Myerson Jun 8 '18 at 4:15
• In my opinion @GerryMyerson has already said what need to be said, but if you can always request clarification, at the comment section under the answer , from the user in order to get clearer answers. – The Integrator Jun 8 '18 at 4:49
• I will add that youtube link in the first comment is to You Can't Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones. (For the benefit of users who do not want to click the link.) – Martin Sleziak Jun 8 '18 at 5:04
• In my experience hints are too often useless or worse, The hinters making vague, irrelevant comments showing they probably can't solve the problem themselves. I have often challenged those users and without exception they retracted their useless/sloppy/false hints. My position is that, with a few exceptions, you should give detailed, complete proofs or abstain. And, finally, I find it quite disrespectful to put on airs and pretending you know better than the asker what is good for him. – Georges Elencwajg Jun 8 '18 at 10:00
• There are homework help web sites elsewhere on the web. One fear is that if the math.se site becomes such a site that does your homework for you, then those questions will become more and more common, and other types of questions will be few and far between. Some se forums, like physics.se, have a strict "no homework problems" policy. – GEdgar Jun 8 '18 at 13:20
• @GeorgesElencwajg Really? Of course, I have seen bad hints like you describe and they should dealt with as you suggest. I wouldn't describe it as happening as too often, though, at least not enough to discourage hint-solutions. To the contrary I think I have seen lots of good-to-excellent hints that were far better medicine than complete solutions. Could have just been the luck of our draw on viewing solutions, too. – rschwieb Jun 8 '18 at 18:01
• @amWhy I chuckled at the first reference to that song but – Frank Shmrank Jun 9 '18 at 19:30
• Well, the last line: ...but if you try sometime, you just might find ... you get what you need, is especially fitting for you. Beggars can't be choosers; but if you bring something to the table, you'll enjoy a bigger feast. – Namaste Jun 9 '18 at 19:31
• @amWhy well done sir (or ma'am). I'm sure you feel like you've put me in my place yet again. – Frank Shmrank Jun 9 '18 at 19:34
• No, I don't, and that's not my aim. That's never my aim. My aim is always to gain a bigger perspective of things, and to help others see through others' eyes, if I can, not that I can, and others help me to see through their eyes. It's called life. – Namaste Jun 9 '18 at 19:38
• @amwhy you think repeating the same song reference is going to help either of us gain a bigger perspective of things? – Frank Shmrank Jun 9 '18 at 19:55
• What defines a "hint" answer? The fact that it starts with a "HINT:"? I've given answers in my time here on this site that were fully, extensively (even painstakingly) explained and which were not understood by OP (who would require "further details") and answers which were hiding some details which should be checked and they were not considered "hints" at all, but instead full answers (by the community, OP and etc). What is or not a hint depends more on the context of the question and OP than a preamble. So, if you want a specific answer, give specific context in the question. – Aloizio Macedo Jun 14 '18 at 18:13
• To add to that, even explicit "hints" can be useful pedagogically speaking. If a hint is phrased in such a way that makes it a bad answer (not enlightning, wrong, not useful etc), it should be voted down accordingly. "Hint" is a red herring, I think: all parameters which judge a good/bad answer should apply all the same. – Aloizio Macedo Jun 14 '18 at 18:19
• @amWhy Does saying that I'm acting like a spoiled brat still fall into your aim of gaining a bigger perspective of things, and/or helping others see through others' eyes? If so, I'd sure like to understand the perspective where your obvious insult falls into your aim. – Frank Shmrank Jun 15 '18 at 3:52

The best way to avoid hints is to make it very clear that you tried already to solve the problem, and where you got stuck.

I leave hints when I feel that the question is "I just don't get it, and I have no idea where to start" (admittedly, leaving hints was more fashionable in the past, I don't do that as much anymore). In those cases, I feel that a hint might be the gentle push needed for the OP to get their footing and start rolling the ball. Or maybe not the OP, maybe the OP seems lazy, but future readers which are not lazy and have a footing problem.

When the question is genuinely "I got stuck here, because X", it's easier to write a full solution and explain how to proceed through X, or why X is the wrong strategy, or why the question is ill-phrased and admits no solution.

If you do all that, and you still get hints, you have two options:

1. Ask the answerer to elaborate on their hint. This might piss off some answerers, but if you show genuine effort to process the hint, it doesn't come off as "do my homework for me".

2. Ignore the hint entirely. Trust me on that, when I feel that the OP is ungrateful for my effort, I don't make them. If people insist on writing hints, and the first option failed repeatedly, then there's going to be little hope for more.

It's fine. Some people just don't interact very well, and just learn to avoid one another.

Good luck. And remember, many problems on an undergraduate level can be solved by writing down the problem completely. Namely, restate it in "simpler terms", and repeat that restatement, until you essentially found the solution. Most difficulties occur when you don't see how people move from one definition to another, and restating the problem in "simpler" terms is often a way to see that. Work slow, work carefully.

(Here "simpler terms" could be more complicated. For example $\lim_{x\to 5}f(x)=3$ should be restated as the $\varepsilon$-$\delta$ definition, which is much more complicated than the above, but is given in simpler terms.)

• I think hints are wonderful. I am a student. I love math. I want to be provoked by people with higher education and knowledge than me to think. This is kind of like office hours with a bunch of PhD's. I love that. I want hints. Not "this is that because of x theorem Keep hints. I give hints. They are helpful. – Prime Jun 16 '18 at 9:39