What is Work-in-Progress answer ?
- an answer that partially answers that the question asks
- an answer which already answers the question, but the author is seeking improved approach or refining their existing answer to make the answer more efficient or more general
- an answer that has a solution but not enough explanation (which is something I often do - post an answer with a command or two, and then edit it to explain each part piece by piece so that users understand what commands do).
NOTE: the emphasis is that solution has to work and to get at least some of the things that original question aims to achieve, if it doesn't - that's not an answer. See "Additional Comments", #1.
Are they acceptable ?
If you refer to the How do I write a good answer article in the help center, you will see the following:
Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer. That way, even if we can’t figure it out, the next person has more to go on.
This means that even partial solutions are allowed and considered helpful ( so long as they help resolve the issue/question that OP asks). Many good answers are product of lengthy and time-consuming research (often to solve very complex questions), where the answerer has spent time and effort to find a solution. I consider work-in-progress part of research and we could call it part of "documenting" the process. In fact, some of the highly-voted answers on this site have evolved overtime and that can be seen in the edit history. At one point they've also been work-in-progress answers.
IMHO, in general they are OK so long as they meet two requirements:
- they address the question ( i.e., they're not off-topic) and . .
- provide at least partial solution to what has been asked (i.e. contribute value).
In fact, StackExchange sites are considered as Wiki by some people rather than a "Support" or general "help-me" sites. As such, information can be added perfectly fine as the author progresses in their research. The answer's aren't required to be 100% correct (and in many cases they can't be as there are way to many possibilities for solving an issue).
Addressing your concerns
Isn't posting such an answer likely to reduce attention to the question?
Not necessarily. Good and interesting title will always attract views. Those who intentionally seek questions with specific tags or specific content will find your question and address it if they can.
People will just edit my answer to fix it, thus won't be able to get any upvote/accepted answer reputation.
Good answerers, especially those who have been on the site for long time, will come to your question and assess what has been done, which issues have been resolved and which haven't, and if they can help you find a solution (especially if it's alternative and requires multiple steps), they'll likely post that as separate answer. If the fix is trivial, they'll probably edit your answer or comment. There's really nothing wrong with that. Don't think too much about reputation points. While it's nice to get them, providing proper answers and contributing to the community should be more important.
People will think that this question is already answered but just not accepted
Again, good answerers that intentionally seek your type of question will see whether what you posted actually answers the question, or will see where you've left off and if they can they will complete your solution.
In general your questions seem to be based more on perceived fear of not having your question answered. This is understandable, but I hope I've conveyed clearly enough that there are people who dig through posts based on tags or titles, and see what they can do about it. I personally do that a lot.
Addressing potential critique:
In the comments Braiam mentioned:
An incomplete answer is not useful as it's not complete. The answerer has all the time in the world to post an answer when he's ready, nothing is forcing them to post an answer ASAP.
Again, as mentioned in the comments and as referenced in the help center, the only requirement is helpfulness of the answer. There is no requirement for completeness. In addition, it seems that Work-In-Progress answers are often misunderstood as "rushing in to answer". Not always. I've already mentioned - they're show documentation and progress of the research to solve a particular part of the issue. Heck, professional developers will recognize and agree that software is often developed in "sprints" so why can't answers follow such model ?
As for placing partial answers into comments and asking OP if that works, if an answer is supposed to be a script or long procedure of steps, you can't contain that within the limit of a comment. Besides, comments are for discussion and while they can be used to figure out if one or two commands work, they're generally not for the sake of documenting potential solutions.
Some users might misinterpret what I'm outlining here as allowing to post stuff that doesn't work as an answer. No, the answer has to work, and that's what I'm advocating here:
- if an answer solves a problem at least half-way, then it deserves to be posted as answer.
- If it doesn't work, that's not an answer.
- Things that might seem useful probably should be posted as comments.
Muru has provided a related post on Unix & Linux site , namely this. From reading that post over several times, it seems that the issue is more about the author of that question posting what appears to be not an answer, rather than partial answer. As goldilocks pointed out that the post by the author of that question was more of an addendum and Giles pointed out that muru's answer was more of a partial answer. Again, the documentation for at least Ask Ubuntu site does not restrict in any shape or form the author of a question from posting partial answers which bridges closer the solution of the original problem.