Recently I've noticed a pattern of comments being left for new users who leave "late answers" which show up in the "late answers from new users" review queue. The general gist of many of the comments I'm recently encountering is as follows, whether the answer is well-written or not, and whether the answer is excellent or not:

"Why would you want to answer a four-year-old question with an accepted answer?" (Substitute one to seven for four, depending on the question answered late.

Sometimes the comments I've been seeing recently are even nastier, and may go on to include:

"Do you really think your answer is an improvement over the accepted answer? Are you kidding?"

I'm not here to name names, so I'm not citing "real" reviews displaying such sarcasm; but I think some new users wanting to participate by answering questions may first take a stab at answering old questions, just to get their feet wet, before "jumping in" to the "race" to answer new questions. It's safer to do that, or so it should be, I think.

Don't get me wrong; sometimes "later answers from new users" are mere spam, or un-formatted and nearly impossible to decipher, or are not answers, but questions, or consist of opinions and rants, or are just plain wrong. Those posts should be addressed, in comments, or by voting appropriately.

But when a new user interested in answering questions first takes a stab at answering an old question, takes the time to learn and practice using mathjax, and meticulously writes a good, correct, and careful answer to an old question, I think we should be encouraging them, even if just to say: "You did a really nice job answering this question; I'd encourage you to expand by answering newer questions." Or: "this was really well-written!", or "Thanks for the use of mathjax; in the future, you might find it even easier to use ... instead of ...".

Reviewing late answers from new users, when they are sincere attempts to master the art of answering a question, should not be met with sarcasm or disparaging remarks. We are given a great opportunity to pass along encouragement when appropriate, and/or helpful suggestions how to improve an answer.

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    Just to record in writing my view that this is spot on - as an antidote to the disagreement which the dynamics of the site seem sometimes to bring to the fore. We should be helping each other to be good citizens, and this is a great contribution. – Mark Bennet Nov 14 at 18:29
  • Worth pointing out as well is that 90% of the posts are considered old so anyone browsing a question type or tag is highly likely to find such a post. This is completely ridiculous behavior. If I were a moderator, I’d be having a word with whoever made those comments. – The Great Duck Nov 24 at 0:31
up vote 23 down vote accepted

I agree we should be encouraging for attempts by new users to tackle difficult (possibly unanswered) Questions, though these will more often appear in the First Posts review queue. A typical phrase I use is to congratulate them on having chosen "a particularly challenging" unsolved problem for their first post.

But if the attempt is inadequate, I think it more than fair to point out (ask about) the perceived gap in a solution. It is not rare for these responses to repeat observations already contained in the Question formulation, so that reasonably the poster might be directed to a more careful reading of the problem.

In reviewing Late Answers that are incomplete or even perfunctory, I often comment that brevity in posting is of little value for a Question that is years old. This is not to say no one should attempt to make such posts, but rather that the haste with which some posts seem to have been written is not appreciated.

Further if there is an Accepted or upvoted Answer, I will often comment that attention should be paid to those existing responses in order to highlight what new information the user wishes to add.

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    I just came across a comment you left on a late answer, an hour ago! and found it to be very helpful, suggesting that the answerer merely asserted what was correct, without arguing or proving why it was correct, and suggesting they supplement the answer with an argument/reasoning/explanation. The examples from you that I recall are all written in a helpful manner and are not dismissive in tone. By no means am I encouraging praise for work that is lacking. I'm more interested in keeping the tone as helpful as possible, when improvement can be made. Thanks! – amWhy Nov 11 at 20:58
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    Also, you make a point I entirely overlooked: that in the "first posts" review queue, one encounters users' very first question and very first answers. – amWhy Nov 11 at 21:06

I find myself being a newbie who answered a question long after the problem was debated. I thought on one hand that people will keep calling up that old issue and find a more versatile answer - I consider my answer as a real contribution since I've done some research on the topic already. On the other hand I wanted to get my first reputation points to be able to comment and so on and participate properly in other topics. Furthermore, I wanted to give something back after asking something.

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    Did you delete the mentioned answer again? I could only find answers of yours that were posted fairly close to the question being asked. – Tobias Kildetoft Nov 13 at 7:08
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    I answered a question from 2013 in mathoverflow – Nodt Greenish Nov 13 at 9:09

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