# Am I allowed to answer even if I am unsure that my answer is correct?

Sometimes I want to try answering someone's question to receive feedback for my answer from more qualified people, because I am not sure if my answer is valid. I am willing to take my answer down if it is completely wrong; I just mainly want the feedback.

Of course, I will try not to be the first person to answer as to lead the OP onto the wrong path but rather, after someone else has put up a correct answer. Is this within the rules of MSE?

• I think what you want to do can have the positive side for both, you and the OP. How? Via chatrooms, not via the math.SE page (which is to strictly ask and answer (correctly or having no doubts of the corectness) questions) You could set up a chatroom or go to the Constructive feedback, inviting OP, and clearly state at the beginning what you plan to do. Jun 15 at 15:56
• Thus in the chatrooms, you both could try to figure it out the correctness of your answer to the problem, discussion, etc. Of course, it could be that OP or other users aren't interested in this kind of interaction. heh, but you lose nothing in trying. Jun 15 at 16:11
• Please post an answer only when you are sure that you have no mistakes as per your understanding and knowledge (except for a typos). It may happen that your answer turns out wrong and you are notified via feedback in comments or through downvote. But unless you are sure in your mind, please don't answer. This is not exactly like an exam to assess you.
– Paramanand Singh Mod
Jun 17 at 7:12
• You may ask a question to verify your solution but even then you should be able to identify the confusing part of your attempt which needs clarification from experts. In that case add the "solution-verification" tag to your question.
– Paramanand Singh Mod
Jun 17 at 7:14

Answering people's questions without knowing whether your solution is correct is not a good idea. The OP might not be aware of any potential faults in your answer, and there is a risk of them accepting an invalid solution. I don't know of any rule you would be breaking by doing this, but this behaviour appears to runs contrary to the goal of Stack Exchange, which is to create a "library of high-quality questions and answers". Inaccurate answers don't just affect you and the OP, but anyone who visits the site later on.

• I think that this is not very good advice. If someone posts a question whose content is, essentially, "I would like to answer this other question, is my answer correct?", then the question is, almost by definition, a duplicate of the old question. This seems like a poor strategy, and will have the effect of making it harder for future readers to find authoritative answers.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 12:42
• @XanderHenderson: Do you think it would be a better idea for them to ask 'is my (potential) answer correct?' in a chat room instead?
– Joe
Jun 15 at 12:47
• If they have the reputation to use chat, certainly.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 12:48
• @XanderHenderson: Okay. I can modify the advice I am giving. Right now I see $4$ possible routes that user71207 could take, none of them ideal: (1) don't answer the question at all—leave it to people who are confident in their answers; (2) make a new question asking whether their solution is correct; (3) ask in a chat room whether the solution is correct; (4) post the answer anyway, but preface it with "I'm not sure that this part of my solution is correct, but...". Are there any other options available to user71207 that are worth mentioning?
– Joe
Jun 15 at 12:55
• I'm not sure that I see a problem with (1). Answers on Math SE should be authoritative. If you lack the confidence in your authority to answer a question, they not answering seems entirely reasonable. Or, as Dr Edgar points out, one can answer, but this risks downvotes. I would categorically advise against saying "I don't know if I am right..." This immediately undercuts the authority of an answer.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 13:02
• @XanderHenderson: From what I understand, user71207 wants to answer in part for their own benefit—to see if they have understood the concepts at play correctly. If they don't do anything, then they will lose the opportunity to learn. Moreover, I don't think it is necessarily true that if they ask a new question, it would be a duplicate. If I try to solve an integral using a technique that may or may not work, then the question of "is this technique valid?" might well not be a duplicate. This question could also be of benefit to other people (but this is very context-dependent).
– Joe
Jun 15 at 13:11
• If I'm answering a question, I'm not always (perhaps even only rarely) reviewing different answers for correctness. People are talking about the risk of being downvoted like it was a worst-case scenario, but the worst case is posting a wrong answer that stays forever because nobody voluntarily takes on the task of reading it critically.
– user694818
Jun 15 at 14:21
• @MatthewDaly I am generally inclined to agree. If you don't know if your answer is correct, don't answer.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 21:42
• @Joe "Giving people the opportunity to learn by posting (potentially wrong) answers" is not one of the goals of Math SE. My feeling is that if you aren't sure, you shouldn't answer. I will hedge a little, and suggest that if you are relatively sure, but not certain, then you could post an answer, and rely on the community to check your work (via downvoting or deletion). I am, perhaps, a little more optimistic than Matthew Daly, in that I believe that most truly wrong answers will be handled appropriately by the community (note: most, but likely not all).
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 21:45
• @XanderHenderson: I think there has probably been a misunderstanding, because I'm not saying that simply posting a potentially wrong answer is appropriate. However, if user71207 has received confirmation from chat rooms, or from posting their own question, that their answer is indeed correct, then I would say that it is appropriate to answer. If user71207 does this, then they would have the opportunity to learn, and it seems that there is no risk to anyone else. However, I am interested to hear your opinion on this.
– Joe
Jun 15 at 21:53
• @joe How does posting an answer enhance their opportunity for learning beyond engaging in chat?
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 15 at 23:18
• @XanderHenderson: Once user71207 has received confirmation that their answer is correct, then posting the answer will mainly be of benefit to the person who asked the original question. If the answer is correct, I don't see much harm in doing this.
– Joe
Jun 16 at 18:00
• @XanderHenderson: By the way, I upvoted your answer to this meta post. I don't think we disagree as much as you think we do.
– Joe
Jun 16 at 18:02
• @Xander I'm really not convinced by the idea that they "ask in chat". Checking proofs is hard, and having one person say "this is fine" is no guarantee that it is. (I recently came across a "check my proof" question with a +4-upvoted comment saying "yes, your proof is OK" and yet it had fundamental issues.) The main site has many more users who can and will give opinions (while I suspect chat attracts a specific demographic), and has the proof-verifrication and solution-verification tags for questions of this type. Jun 17 at 9:11
• Also, as the question is a "check my proof" question, I cannot see why it would be a duplicate of the question being asked. Closing it as a duplicate would make sense if one of the answers were similar to the OPs attempt, but as they are asking this question having read the answers it is reasonable to assume that this isn't the case. Jun 17 at 9:11

(removes moderator hat)

The following is an un-nuanced and declarative answer. I acknowledge that there is room for discussion here, but I think that it is worthwhile to have a general policy which is clear. Edge cases can be handled as they arise.

Is it acceptable to post an answer that has a chance of being incorrect?

No.

Answers on Math SE should be authoritative. If an author is not certain of the correctness of their answer, they should not answer.

A potential answerer who is seeking feedback on an answer is invited and encouraged to engage with other users in chat. The Mathematics chatroom is a good place to start with mathematical inquires. One might also ask for help in the Constructive Feedback chatroom, though this room is generally used for requesting feedback on existing questions and answers, and (per a recent change in the room topic) focuses mostly on the technical aspects of posting on Math SE (as opposed to the mathematical merits of a question or answer).

(puts moderator hat back on)

• I'm not sure the constructive feedback chatroom is the correct place for this - I'd rather people asked non-maths questions about how to ask, or make something clearer, than ask for specific maths advice which requires some level of knowledge or expertise. Jun 16 at 8:17
• @user1729 Good point, I believe the CF room should be used to improve questions from a site-rules point of view, in terms of what context can be added to a question, what can be clarified, what can be cut etc. (and for answers, suitable expansions for link-only answers, notation clarification for slightly opaque self-answers etc.). For mathematical feedback, I believe the best (acceptable) personalized feedback would come from the Mathematics chatroom. Jun 16 at 9:50
• The room topic for Constructive Feedback is "Feedback and advice to help improve questions, answers and comments." The question here seems to be about what to do if one wants to post an answer, but isn't sure it is appropriate. This seems to fall under the purview of Constructive Feedback, as it is about improving a (potential) answer. That being said, note that I did not make a strong recommendation in my post regarding CF "One might..., though..."
– Xander Henderson Mod
Jun 16 at 12:44
• @XanderHenderson Okay, I've updaded the room topic to say "Feedback and advice to help improve questions, answers and comments, with an emphasis on quality and legibility rather than mathematical content." Basically, I don't want to have to think about maths when people ask there. Jun 17 at 8:46

You may try answering. But, if it turns out not to be an answer, you may get downvotes. Are you willing to suffer downvotes? Then go ahead! This is how you learn, and this is how math.se gets good answers.

If you also have many correct answers and/or many good questions, then a bad answer or two will not be a problem. However, if you get negative score on many answers, you may get into trouble with the automated system.

• i am personally surprised at the disagreement here (also on the question). Maybe partly a reaction to ‘are you willing to suffer downvotes?’ Even research papers have errors and are sometimes retracted. We have downvotes as a correcting mechanism, and I think it is good to use it. Jun 17 at 5:07
• @CalvinKhor Reading this with a critical eye, there are a few issues. Firstly, posting speculative answers is not "how math.se gets good answers" - it seems like a recipe for poor answers! Jun 17 at 8:54