Let's say we have a question of the form "How can I make X do Y?" and it is a perfectly valid, on-topic question. Now suppose someone then posts an answer which basically says "Forget X and just switch to Z", even though an answer on how to make X do Y would probably be feasible or is already provided by someone else. A typical example of this might be a question like "How do I configure Ubuntu in this particular way?", and someone responds with "Don't use Ubuntu, just use Windows/Linux Mint/Arch/whatever".

I have noticed a few users posting answers like these, and they don't seem to quite understand that their proposed solutions are not helpful because they do resolve the issue, if only by running away from it.

For actual examples of where this occurred, take a look at the following:

I think this is getting to be enough of a problem that we should have some sort of policy and procedure for handling these.

1 Answer 1


Just to address these cases:

All these share something: they're unhelpful in some way. Giving an answer which is dangerous, obvious or is just wrong is a good way to get it voted down. If it goes too far in one of those directions, the mods step in and shut it down.

That's the policy and I don't think it needs expanding. It's always going to be fairly subjective based on the nuances in English, the mood of everybody involved, etc. As soon as we start writing what can and can't be written in answers, we risk treading on what might actually be very helpful posts.

Sidebar: It's important to note that there are already helpful examples of "No, but what about this" answers. "No" is a valid answer and you can provide helpful alternatives in your answers. Here's one I gave on a networking question How to share my WiFi Internet via WiFi? where over half my answer is not to do it the way the user was planning on. I think it's helpful, you might disagree.

Another thing to note is that it doesn't matter how many policies we write, an unhelpful poster is going to post whatever they like. We don't hold seminars for new users before they can post so a lot of people learn what is acceptable on-the-job.

  • Thank you very much for the thorough answer. I wrote this post mainly to address the fact that many such answers (though not the additional one you provided: a suggestion that a different approach may be better suited to the task at hand is certainly more acceptable than outright telling a user to entirely replace their OS, for example) are, as you pointed out, not helpful, and to have something to point users who do write such answers to so as to help them understand why such posts are not helpful. I think my wording of the last sentence of my question wasn't very good in this regard. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 14:10

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