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Sometimes I see a highly voted excellent question on the Unanswered list and have some useful things to say that fall short of fully answering the question. But if I leave an answer with my partial thoughts, and someone upvotes it, then the question disappears from the Unanswered list and the odds that someone else will come along and give a complete answer decrease.

I'm thinking of writing "PLEASE DON'T UPVOTE THIS" at the top of such answers, with a link to this meta thread. Does anyone see something wrong with this plan?

Of course, another solution would be for math.SE to add the ability for me to declare that votes for my answer will not remove a question from the unanswered list. I believe that upvoted CW answers do remove questions from the list, so CW mode wouldn't help.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea, though I am not sure if it would work (whether people will actually refrain from upvoting). If a question has 0 or lower total score but a positive number of upvotes, will it disappear from unanswered? $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 1 '13 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Is your partial answer too extensive for a comment? $\endgroup$ – robjohn Apr 1 '13 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ This is a nice idea. If people object, an alternative is to post a comment simply saying "Partial solution" (or whatever) and a link to an answer that was posted either on this thread or this one: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/4666/… $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Apr 1 '13 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ It does, experimentally, seem that upvoted CW answers still remove a question from the unanswered list. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Apr 1 '13 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ From the experiment it seems that as long as the vote total is not positive, the question will appear unanswered. So if people do upvote, it can be put back on the unanswered list with a downvote (possibly with a comment as to why the downvote), and this will still not be a net loss of rep for the answerer. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 1 '13 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft: On the other hand, that assumes that there are some altruistic users who will spend the -1 penalty for downvoting an answer in order to keep the question on the unanswered list ... unless the answer was CW to begin with, in which case (I think) it can be downvoted for free. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Apr 1 '13 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm Right. So a solution could be to make it CW and if someone upvotes it, ask on this question for it to be downvoted. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 1 '13 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ There is also the option of a self-answered question which you could then link to in a comment in the first (unanswered) question. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Apr 1 '13 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Based on some of the answers, it seems that some readers don't realize the important motivations for leaving the answer in the Unanswered Questions list, e.g. that some experts look at questions only from the unanswered list, assuming them to higher quality, or more difficult, etc. It might help to explicitly mention that. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 2 '13 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ Another point worth emphasizing is that having a list of (usually) interesting, non-elementary "unanswered" questions not only helps us to retain experts, but it also helps to attract new expertise. If partial answers removed most of these questions from the Unanswered Questions, then there would probably be no easy way for potential new users to quickly see that the site does have many questions to engage their interest. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 2 '13 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is not people upvoting your answer, for example you may provide an excellent partial answer. The problem is that upvoted answers remove a question from the unanswered list. You are missing the point by asking for people not to upvote your answer: ask the right question! You should continue to provide excellent answers, it is the system that needs to be fixed. $\endgroup$ – AXH Apr 3 '13 at 18:43
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I'm just going to expand my comment from above into a possible solution that shouldn't step on too many toes.

It should be possible to construe a partial result as the answer to another question (possibly even one of independent interest, though considering the nature of a large number of questions on math.SE we probably should worry too much about this). As the SE system allows for self-answered questions, you can take advantage of this by posting a new question, and immediately answering it. The new question can contain all of the details about how its answer relates to the old question, and also what is left to be done to resolve the old question. The old question can then also be edited, adding a link to the new question and whatever other details seem pertinent. Editing the question will ensure that this information doesn't get lost in a possible sea of comments. It would, of course, be wise to state that the added material comes from someone other than the OP.

Other users will then be free to vote on your partial solution, and there is no risk of this causing the unanswered question to enter an "answered" state.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, good solution. $\endgroup$ – joriki Apr 4 '13 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ I just applied this solution here. $\endgroup$ – joriki Apr 20 '13 at 14:28
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I'm thinking of writing "PLEASE DON'T UPVOTE THIS" at the top of such answers, with a link to this meta thread. Does anyone see something wrong with this plan?

Yes.

  • It is asking people to limit their own use of the website so as to conform with your judgement of which posts should have higher priority in the questions list

  • which means that you are asking for a measure of control (beyond what the software gives you) over the appearance of someone else's question. Well intentioned control, but control none the less.

  • the request is for an unstable equilibrium that one upvoter can spoil

  • if others have held their votes as requested, and the equilibrium is later spoiled, they have no way to become aware of this and add the missing upvotes, so that both their judgement of the answer and your judgement of the question become ineffective.

  • games to restore equilibrium by downvoting the answer are counterintuitive and do not solve these issues.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the third and fourth point but not the first two -- it's not an attempt to control according to a judgement -- the "unanswered" feature is officially meant to show unanswered questions; that's not just David's personal judgement; he's not preventing (and can't prevent) people from upvoting anyway if they wish, just alerting them to the consequences they might not be aware of. The wording could be adjusted from a polite imperative to a statement ("If you upvote this, the question will be marked as answered, so I suggest that you don't") to reflect that the intention isn't control. $\endgroup$ – joriki Apr 4 '13 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ @joriki, I think that the gentler wording does change some things (for the better). $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 7:14
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If a partial answer merits upvote, so be it. To use the upvotes for "not answered" seems backwards to me, I had (wrongly, as I now see) understood that "unanswered" meant there was no accepted answer for the question. That makes sense to me, as OP is saying "I asked, and this answer helps me/did clear the matter up for me". That others find an answer (partial, total, doesn't matter) nice, clever, well organized and upvote is totally independent.

Just MVHO.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this. Rather than words that ask for "no up votes", it is likely more constructive to clarify in the opening paragraph what part of the question will be answered, and at some point in the discussion note the missing cases, unproven assumptions, or other lacuna wanted to complete an Answer. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Apr 1 '13 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ OK, if we go this route, then perhaps we could suggest to the OP to post a follow-up question linking to the first one, and indicating what remains to be addressed. Depending on the progress made in the partial answer, the form of this follow up may actually look rather different or much more specific than the original question. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Apr 1 '13 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ If the unanswered tab was changed in this way, it would fill up with questions that had been answered sufficiently for the OP, but where the OP did not accept the answer, which happens for a lot of questions. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 2 '13 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ Your answer seems to hint that you may not understand the OP's (very good) reasons for wanting to leave such a question in the Unanswered List. See my comment to the question, and tp mezhang's answer. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 2 '13 at 16:54
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Most people already do this in the form of Comment-Answers. In general the only thing you can do, if you want to prevent removal from the Unanswered list is leave your contribution as a comment only. You could link to your blog or another website with the rest of your thoughts as well.

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The canonical way to invite additional Answers for a Question which you believe has not been sufficiently addressed (even by your own efforts!) is to offer a bounty. More expensive than asking non-votes in a partial answer, but hopefully more effective also. Keep in mind the bounty only lasts for a set time period, so gauge when you think the added attention will bear the most fruit.

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Why not upvote? Upvoting does not say that your answer is complete, it just says that one agrees with and perhaps likes your reasoning and it is relevant.

EDIT:

Now I see the point. Would it be possible to add an option called moderator accepted, where moderators check if there is an answer that could be accepted though the asker did not. Of course if the asker then accepts, we can make his choice appear top then moderator's choice second or something like this.

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    $\begingroup$ The question explains why. He's hoping that readers will respect a request not to upvote, so that a partial answer will not cause the question to be removed from the Unanswered Questions list. Some experts only browse questions from that list, so removing it would have the effect of (greatly?) decreasing the chance that it receives a complete answer. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 2 '13 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MathGems, then the "Unanswered" clasification is wrong... but I fear any definition will be wrong some of the time (I've seen upvoted, accepted answers which were very much incorrect too...) $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Apr 2 '13 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's part of the point of the question, which, apparently, some readers seem to have missed. We can often devise workarounds to SE design limitations. But this will work only if the community agrees to respect such (which, generally may not be enforcable without SE support). Such a workaround is what the OP is proposing. $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 2 '13 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MathGems Ok I see the point now. I also think there is should be more discussion on how to classify questions to be answered. $\endgroup$ – mez Apr 2 '13 at 17:42

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