N.B. Be sure this post is not about points. Seriously, the 2 points from downvote is the last thing I'd worry about. It is about what an answer should be (or not).

The situation: user asks for a solution to start his application without having to type a complicated command each and every time.
He obviously isn't familiar with existing possibilites, and so he says. He even makes clear he is looking for options: "something like a bat-script or .lnk in windows" we read. Looking at the issue, a much better fit to his problem is available than what he literally asks for, and after posting, OP confirms that's indeed the solution he was looking for.

Then, the answer gets downvoted by someone, because although it solves OP's issue, it is not what OP himself had in mind for his problem.

from the comment:

You're probably right, but this is not the correct answer to the question. I see this as a problem (not the suggestion itself, but this post being the accepted answer), as some scripts may be longer and the actual answer to "how do I make a sequence of commands a script" is another one. Also note that your .desktop file does not do the same as the commands in the question, when MyDirectory does not exist.

Seriously? We answer questions to provide solutions. Nothing more, nothing less.

This has happened to me a few times lately. Again, it is not about the points. It is about what an answer should be (or not).

Please don't downvote an answer because it solves issues in another way than OP initially had in mind.
It is like insisting on selling someone a €100,- screwdriver because he doesn't know where the cheaper ones are in the store.

  • 1
    I think the correct answer accepted, as it more elegant solution then my answer. For other users, who will search for similar - there are two answers to choose from. Btw, I upvoted you
    – LeonidMew
    Apr 1, 2019 at 18:15
  • 1
    @LeonidMew Thanks! probably good to mention that IMO there is absolutely nothing wrong with the other answer. This post is just about downvoting answers that do solve the issue, but in another way than OP imagined. Apr 1, 2019 at 18:19
  • 3
    Is this a good candidate for editing the question or question title? If the title was something like 'How do I automate starting my app?' there would be no ambiguity as they're no longer explicitly asking for a script.
    – Arronical
    Apr 2, 2019 at 8:32
  • @Arronical Excellen suggestion! Apr 2, 2019 at 8:41
  • 1
    @Arronical, bad for searching though. The question should reflect the logic of the one who asks, not the one who answers. Back to the original discussion: there is nothing more infuriating than an accepted non-exact answer when the exact answer is not present among the answers.
    – Velkan
    Apr 3, 2019 at 9:16
  • @Velkan ...unless OP was actually looking for a solution to issue X, but due to being inexperienced, made the question more specific than it should be. Editing the question + title is then the good thing to do unless it makes one or more answers look silly. Don't think that is the case here. Apr 3, 2019 at 9:59
  • 1
    @JacobVlijm, exactly no. The ones who search for the answer are also inexperienced. So due to being inexperienced they type the same keywords as that guy. That's the fundamental mechanism of how StackOverflow system works.
    – Velkan
    Apr 3, 2019 at 12:57
  • @Velkan not sure what you are suggesting. Use incorrect title/body keywords? How would "script to open an application" be a good search definition to anyone looking for an advanced launcher? Apr 3, 2019 at 13:08
  • @JacobVlijm, multiple wrong questions cast a wide net to catch all these users with different backgrounds and levels of language skills who are searching wrong. There isn't much space for the "right" question to do that because the variations are limited, "Truth is singular. Its 'versions' are mistruths."
    – Velkan
    Apr 3, 2019 at 13:29
  • 1
    @Velkan I kind of agree, but that is mostly the task dupes should fullfill. We should have at least one Q with the correct naming and such. Not sure we are still talking about this question though :). Apr 3, 2019 at 13:42
  • @Velkan The question should reflect the logic of the one who asks, not the one who answers.: not really, no. The question should be as good and clear as we can make it. We do not answer for the person asking, we answer for the thousands or even millions of visitors the site gets. So changing the question is absolutely fine. And don't attach much importance to which answer is accepted, that's the only thing that is indeed about the asked and the asker only. That just means "this is the answer I preferred", it doesn't imply that the accepted answer is better or more correct than the others.
    – terdon
    Apr 5, 2019 at 9:06
  • @terdon, "we answer for the thousands or even millions of visitors the site gets" who are more likely to have the logic of the one who asks. The "good and clear" is relative: it's normal for a community to converge to some standards, but it's important to not get out of touch with the wider society. There is no actionable advice I can formulate here, just "think harder about edits".
    – Velkan
    Apr 5, 2019 at 9:50
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    @Velkan that's kinda my point: when thinking about edits, think more about the site and future visitors than about the OP. Of course, you shouldn't ignore the OP, but the objective of this site is to amass a collection of useful questions and answers that can help multiple people, not just one.
    – terdon
    Apr 5, 2019 at 10:06
  • @terdon, I don't understand the point about thinking about the OP. The OP doesn't care about how you call him or his question (as long as you've understood him and given a workable answer). Keeping or editing the question is entirely about the other people.
    – Velkan
    Apr 5, 2019 at 11:50
  • @Velkan I mean that when you edit, you should be thinking primarily about how to improve the question for the site. So it shouldn't always be a case of making it "reflect the logic of the one who asks". For example, if I ask "how can I make my prompt red" and an answer gives solutions for all colors, then changing the question to ask "how can I set the prompt's color" is a good edit.
    – terdon
    Apr 5, 2019 at 11:57

4 Answers 4


Of course you should provide the best answer you can, even if it isn't the one the OP was thinking of. And of course people are free to downvote you for that. Personally, I would upvote you instead, but everyone is free to vote as they like.

There's nothing new here. We've been doing this (providing better solutions than the OP asked for) for years and have been getting the occasional downvote for years. No matter what we do, people will downvote. I'm sure at some point I will get a downvote for not having enough cowbell.

That said, this particular case is not quite as simple as you make out. The comment (which I have edited your answer to quote in its entirety) gives specific reasons why the poster doesn't think yours is the best approach. And it isn't simply because "the OP asked for something slightly different". So reducing that comment to just "I was downvoted for not giving the exact solution the OP asked for" seems unfair.

A user has objections to your answer, and expressed them in the best possible way: a downvote and an explanatory comment. Yay! The site is working exactly as it should!

  • "...but everyone is free to vote as they like. ... There's nothing new here." <- of course, but also there is nothing inappropriate in discussing here what an answer should or should not be, nor mention what my opinion is on that. Also nothing new in that. I can't make it clear enough: It is not about the two points. In a relatively short period of time, seeing a few of these "not literally what OP asked for" -votes, hence the post. Apr 2, 2019 at 11:34
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    @JacobVlijm there's nothing new about treating XY problems the way you did: you give the best answer you can, not necessarily the one the OP asked for. And there's nothing new about random users finding random problems and giving random downvotes. I don't know why you keep insisting it isn't about the points. Nobody said it was.
    – terdon
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:41
  • 1
    Ah, ok, English is a complicated language, I got the impression that was the impression you got (points). Don't have an issue with random downvotes, but as said, got a few for reasons of not posting what OP literally asked for. A bit less random then. Apr 2, 2019 at 11:50

I suppose the ideal answer would have been a combination of the two answers in this case. Present the script, then explain there is a better - more elegant - way to solve the problem, and then let the OP choose.

But I agree, downvoting any answer that actually solves the OP's problem is ridiculous, especially if the OP has already accepted that answer!

For what it's worth, I upvoted both answers in this case. As far as I'm concerned the only criteria should be whether or not the answer is useful - which is exactly what it says on the tooltip:


  • 2
    That! If applicable I like to split my answers in two parts, one with the heading “Solution to your problem” and one titled “Answer to your question”. If those are two different things, you help OP (and others!) a lot by giving both and explaining the differences.
    – dessert
    Apr 4, 2019 at 20:24

Short answer: it depends on the question and OP's requirements. In cases of scripting or making small applications, like in the question you've linked, we have some room for interpretation, and often there are better or more practical ways to approach a problem. For instance, OP may want to make a shell script to parse a text file, but an awk or grep solution that needs just one line of code or less may be more practical, faster, and portable.

But there are cases where we absolutely have to do things a certain way. Consider a question "How do I compile a kernel module against 2.6 kernel ?" We cannot suggest compiling against 4.19 kernel because OP's organization/development environment relies heavily on 2.6 kernel. Or consider a case where OP is writing a Gtk application in C - we can't suggest "just use Python". There are many cases where we have to keep in mind dependencies, and no matter how elegant or short, clever or fast solution we provide - if it doesn't take into consideration critical parts of OP's question, it won't do any good.

Remember also that OP chooses answers that work best for their situation. We can suggest alternatives and better/practical ways, and OP can be rigid in their requirements and disregard our suggestions however good they may be. That doesn't make an answer less valid, but it also doesn't mean it has to be chosen as "the best" by OP.

In general, the person answering has to use their discretion and knowledge to decide whether or not OP needs exact solution or whether there is even a room for alternatives, and OP has their free choice to stick with their own requirements or embrace alternatives. Provide an alternative where possible, but ultimately RTFQ.


If you helped the OP pinpoint their problem more specifically than they had before, it would probably be best to leave your answer as stands (since it does answer the real question), but also to edit the original question to clarify the actual issue.

Though I wasn't following the exact post, this seems like a nice hybrid; the answer answers both the real question and the answer posed.

I can see where the downvoter was coming from; someone in the future with the question posed by the OP could come to the post thinking that they will find the solution, only to be disappointed to see that the accepted answer does not actually answer the question posed, and that the OP was not actually clear on what they really wanted.

Consequently, it would probably be best to edit (or encourage the OP to edit) to explain what the real problem was.

After all, this is basically what happens (with the timeline slightly different) when a question is put on hold as unclear what you're asking, is edited to clarify, and answered. Obviously, it can get a bit messy and require some case-by-case evaluation when there are other answers on the post; this is why it's a good idea to vote to close the question temporarily if it's unclear until the OP has time to clear it up.

  • It is a good approach, but i would be cautious when applying it. Otherwise we can easily end up with situation where UserA asks a question, UserB answers a different question and then edits the question to fit the answer, UserA then edits the question to remove the 'clarifications' and is quickly labelled a vandal
    – v010dya
    Apr 7, 2019 at 17:33

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