I seem to recall reading on some help page that an answer must in fact answer the question posed. Yet I often see Hint answers, and sometimes want to answer with hints as well. So are Hint answers "allowed" or are they discouraged?

I tried searching for meta questions on "hints" but didn't immediately find anything concrete.


In the "duplicate" thread, what is the final answer? Are hint answers allowed or are they not?

  • $\begingroup$ @amwhy: Fixed before your comment. $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is a duplicate of the question linked above. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @amwhy; I'm aware of that thread but I don't see a final answer to the question. $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Jens It's a recent question I linked, and the fact that there are varying opinions, recently, should lead you to conclude that asking, far too soon after a duplicate, the same question, is rather ineffective. It is most often the case that answers that begin with: Hint: are actually very poor, occasionally, very occasionally, for a very few skilled users who know how to actually provide just enough information to enable an asker to proceed on their own, it may work. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ @amwhy: Thank you for your comment. What I understand from this is that there is no clear policy regarding hint answers on MSE. Is this correctly understood? $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Have you ever been able to function with an answer of the form: "It's not usually a good idea. However, there is currently no law forbidding doing so. Use your best judgement after viewing a couple of dozen answers given as hints, and make sure you don't repeat the mistakes made by those posting ineffectively." That's not a license to justify writing inappropriate hints. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ @amwhy: I can function very well. I just wanted to understand if there was an official policy. It seems there isn't. $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As per the above linked question, there is no "official policy" and there is not a great deal of consensus about what that policy should be, or even if there should be a policy. Basically, use your best judgement. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 11 '18 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Xander Henderson: Does this mean that my idea that I somewhere read on the Help pages that an answer must in fact answer the question posed, is wrong? $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ What constitutes "an answer"? Clearly, there is a vocal contingent on MSE which believes that hints can constitute an answer (under more or less stringent circumstances, depending on the person you ask). $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Sep 11 '18 at 22:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The concensus is that it is usually not a good idea to write as an answer, with only a "hint". You can hint in comments. Only very rarely is a hint effective; but the fact is: there are too many answerers that think their "hints" make good answers, but in fact, are not. I'd suggest you not find yourself being added to the list of "too many answerers that use a hint inappropriately, believing it is sufficient for the asker (who may not be at their level of math knowledge)." $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ From any viable hint, the asker should be able to fully solve the problem. (That's not to say that for you, if given such a hint, you can then answer the question.) $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Xander and Amwhy: Thank you for your inputs. I must admit I'm no wiser regarding the answer to my question, though. $\endgroup$ – Jens Sep 11 '18 at 22:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jens Why didn't you come out from the beginning to ask what is wrong with your answer. Given your "answer" to consider, if falls short of any appropriate hint or answer. Sorry, but it would have been better had you not wasted my time. Larry B. was and remains correct. Your post does not answer the question. Now, please stop playing games with meta posts; all you managed today was to waste a number of peoples time. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 11 '18 at 23:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The jocular saying is that, in England, "everything which is not forbidden is allowed", while, in Germany, the opposite applies, so "everything which is not allowed is forbidden". This may be extended to France—"everything is allowed even if it is forbidden"—and Russia where "everything is forbidden, even that which is expressly allowed". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Sep 11 '18 at 23:34

This came up recently as mentioned in a comment: Is it acceptable to leave hints as answers?

As can be seen there the notion "hint" is not well-defined and even if it were opinions would still be mixed. Since you look for a definitive answer, let me try to record some things that are, I believe, mostly consensus.

  • It is allowed to post something as an answer post that does not literally contain the answer. For example, a good description of the steps needed to solve a problem can be given in lieu of a literal answer.

  • It is allowed to post a partial answer.

  • Sloppy and and poorly crafted posts are discouraged. (Not all hints are sloppy, not all literal answers are not sloppy.)

  • Posts prone to be misunderstood are discouraged.

  • Posts should be able to stand a bit on their own. Of course it is sometimes, even often, not possible to be self-contained. Yet consider the thought-experiment that for an hour all links are broken. Would the post be interesting during that hour? If not, it does not stand on its own.

If somebody concludes that a posts does not meet these criteria, they might decide to take action against it via downvote and/or delete votes. This is also allowed.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Your last point is an interesting one; it seems to capture all the cases I can think of flawlessly, including reference requests! $\endgroup$ – user21820 Sep 12 '18 at 2:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .