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A recent newcomer posted this question, and it was closed within 2 hours and I was among those that voted it as "too broad."

But before I voted, I decided to post an answer anyway.

My goal in answering was to give the newcomer some direction towards useful information so that, hopefully, he could do some research and come back with a better idea of what he's looking for. This seemed a better option than either closing the question as too broad without an answer or leaving a couple long comments. Also, there are questions that get put [oh hold] as too broad, yet they are marked answered because the asker got what they desired from the simple posts.

Michael Kjörling noticed that I had both answered AND voted to close the question and stated

"Please do not answer questions that you think are close-worthy; it risks encouraging posting further bad questions. In my opinion it looks particularly bad when someone who votes to close also answers the question." (Please view comments of the original post for full conversation)

He also states

You also took part in depriving others of the same opportunity, by voting to close. If the question is on-topic and clear enough that an answer can be written, then the question is likely not close-worthy. If the question is so broad such that an answer cannot properly address all aspects of the question, then it makes no sense to post as an answer; instead, get the question put on hold, get its quirks worked out such that it is answerable, have it reopened, and then post an answer to it.

What would have been the proper action in this scenario?


Michael please feel free to edit any of your parts.

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    $\begingroup$ Added some tags to better categorize this question. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 29 '16 at 23:13
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While there is no explicit rule against answering a question you voted to close, Michael is right in what he said. If the question is too broad, you should not answer it. Apart from the fact that it encourages people to ask poor question and not improve them ('But I got my answer, so I don't care about improving it'), the question is also likely to change invalidating your answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ But this seems to go against other instances. There are plenty of times where the asker will narrow the scope as they go, especially if they find an answer they like and want to continue on that path. These questions don't start as broad, but where is the limit? The comments in this one have been shortened, but this is an example of when I continually clarified and expanded the scope of my answer as the asker adjusted their question. You'll see the first version was quite short. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/37784/… $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 29 '16 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ That follows the assumption that narrowing the scope of your question after people have started answering it is also the way things should be done. In an ideal world, at least in my opinion, once a question is asked and has answers that people have taken time to write, the author of the question would not narrow the question and make the answers invalid. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Apr 29 '16 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ The point here however is that you know the question is too broad and likely to change, so you shouldn't write an answer to a question that will not be the question you answered. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Apr 29 '16 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ If the answer is broad to match the question, and can be narrowed as the question narrows until it is acceptable (with the original answer still being useful for context), why not answer? I fully expect the future question (if they return to edit it, which is an entirely different point), to still have a benefit from my current answer, regardless of how it is narrowed. Also, my answer was essentially an extended version of what Cort Ammon posted in the comments, but it was too long for a comment. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 29 '16 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ You posted what amounts to an extended comment as an answer to a question that you thought was too broad, trying to help them narrow it, you have a) misused the answer process to post a comment, b) provided what will eventually be a poor answer when the question is changed, c) potentially encouraged the user not to modify the question if he got what he wanted from your answer. d) voted to close a question, which prevents people answering, and the reason it prevents people answering is because the above. I, personally, disagree with you actions and agree with the actions/opinions of Michael. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Apr 30 '16 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ This is a discussion topic, so I'm sure some other opinions will be along at some point, and then people can vote on which they agree with. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Apr 30 '16 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ A) We seem to differ on what I posted. I consider what I posted to be an answer. It may not be extremely detailed, but it does provide an answer to the core parts of the question. Cort posted a partial answer as a comment, I posted a complete answer as an answer. B) When the question is updated, I will update my answer as well. Regardless, it provides context for the question and, unless he completely changes topic, it will still be relevant and better than some of the answers i've seen on here. C) If that's all he wanted, I doubt he would bother to come back anyway. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 30 '16 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ so what's the harm of him getting what he wants and leaving the question the rot? D) If I hadn't voted to close it, then all of this would be normal? You seem to want him to know that the question is broad and want it flagged, but I want to provide him some direction. - I see no additional harm in doing both. I see the possibility of helping someone when I can. I would have condensed my answer and still tried even if the question was closed. Is it bad practice to try and help anyway? $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 30 '16 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ChronoD The issue with letting him get what he wants and then leaving the question to rot is that it provides "bad examples" for people like you to point at. Questions that are not suitable should never be answered, but because there are people who think like you just did, there are now bad examples of questions that were too broad yet have answers. Also, not everyone checks back on their answers to edit them if the question changes - there are no notifications just from question edits. Also, a broad answer to a broad question is something that shouldn't happen. $\endgroup$ – Aify Apr 30 '16 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify I still don't see an issue since the question should be just as likely to rot regardless of my answer or not. I would assume getting some kind of feedback would actually reduce those chances. But since multiple others believe otherwise, I shall adjust my decisions. If I intend to close, I shall at least refrain from posting an answer and vice versa. Although I would rather people look back on "bad questions" and at least see attempts by the community to assist them instead just stating their question isn't good enough. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 30 '16 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ The community can assist. Via comments, to get them to improve their question to the point where it is a good question and a question can be given. I think the mismatch might be that while you always check back on your answers when the question is reponed, most people do not. There is no notice to let you know the question has been reopened and most people do not bother checking back on previous answers. Hence answers should not be given until the question is of decent quality. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos May 1 '16 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ Except it's established that Community deletes comments that may otherwise help questioners to refine future contributions. Whether the original questioner benefits from an evidence trail is all but irrelevant when one is arguing that the problem with 'bad questions' is their impact on the public. If there is no answer to be found, the question will most certainly be asked again. $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Dec 2 '18 at 15:58
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Since I basically was the one who started this, I might as well elaborate on my reasoning.

First of all, the reason why we put questions on hold (which results in them changing status to "closed" if not reopened, but technically there is very little difference between "on hold" and "closed" and for a long time questions were "closed" immediately) in the case of questions which are on topic but simply poorly done, is so that we can figure out exactly what the asker is looking for without the question being a moving target for people trying to answer it.

So much for background. Now, why is it a bad thing to answer a question that is close-worthy? For one, as has already been said, it encourages behavior we do not want to see. We want to provide specific answers to clear, specific questions. We have had lots of discussion previously both on Meta and in chat as to what makes a good, answerable question in our case, particularly since worldbuilding questions have a tendency to actually be rather broad. Those discussions have more or less resulted in a site consensus for what is narrow enough to be answerable, and what is too broad to be answerable. This naturally results in some questions falling to the "not answerable" side of the spectrum. Because newcomers tend to not be familiar with how the Stack Exchange system works, and be familiar with each site's specific guidelines, this happens more often with questions from low-rep users. That is normal and expected. (We shouldn't lower our standards just because a question is from a new user; however, to be able to fix the problems with their question, they may very well need more guidance than an experienced member of the community would.)

  • The nominal use of comments is to request clarification or suggest improvements to a post.

  • The nominal use of answers is to answer the question.

See the difference here? Only if an answer actually answers the question should it be posted as an answer. If an answer simply requests more information, then it should be posted as a comment. The difficult part comes when an answer does both. At that point, it becomes a judgement call whether the answer is primarily an answer (however incomplete it may perhaps be) or if its primary purpose is to somehow request clarification from the person asking the original question. (Rule of thumb: if you even think about clicking "close" or "flag", or starting your answer with something like "you really should clarify X, Y and Z, but...", then the question is likely not good enough to be properly answerable.)

The problem is when someone comes across a question that they feel needs clarification and vote to close for that reason, yet feel the question is clear enough that an actual, possibly incomplete, answer can be written. The two actions are mutually exclusive! A question either should be put on hold because (a) it is a poor fit for the site's subject scope, or (b) it cannot reasonably be answered in its current form; or it is a candidate for answering by someone with the subject matter expertise needed. A single question cannot simultaneously and in a single person's judgement be both answerable and not answerable!

By answering the question, you imply that in your opinion the question is clear enough that an answer can be given. But by participating in closing the question, you deprive others of even the possibility of posting answers of their own until the question is reopened -- which, depending on circumstances, may or may not happen!

Also, by answering the question, you give the OP what they are after (even if only partially), which as has already been pointed out reduces the likelihood that the question will be revised. By putting the question on hold without answering, we basically force the OP to clarify the question if they want answers (which is usually, but not always, why people ask questions in the first place). We also post comments describing what's wrong with the question and ideally how the OP can fix that so that answers can be given.

Further, editing a question that has answers requires much greater care than if the question does not yet have any answers. While not spelled out in the terms of service or anything similar, it is considered good form to ensure that any edits made to a question that has answers will not invalidate any existing, previously valid answers. Note that significantly deviating from the intent of a post's author is a reason to reject a suggested edit; while the owner of a post can always edit the post, this remains a good guideline even when the edit is being made by the OP.

Putting the question on hold ensures that no answers are added while the quirks of the question are worked out and fixed. This gives the community greater latitude in suggesting how the OP may improve the question, including narrowing the scope of the question in ways that would come with a high risk of invalidating existing answers if there were any. This saves time and grief for everybody involved.

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  • $\begingroup$ While this answers what the general policy is, I would like to ask: how should we handle this issue if we encounter it? When I see people answering and VTCing or answering and mentioning that it should be VTCed I point them to some resources and tell them that it's confusing, especially for newcomers. Some may act on this, but a lot will ignore my comments. They are getting rep after all and they are probably one of the only answers on the question when they closed it. Is there some action we could/should take when encountering this? $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus I'd actually say "that depends" very much on specifics. That distinction might actually make for a worthwhile Meta question on its own; if that was your intent with the one you posted, maybe highlight that and we can reopen it. The only really clear-cut case is if the answer isn't actually an answer at all; then you'd be well within your rights to perhaps downvote, definitely flag, and treat in the review queues, as any other non-answer. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 20 '17 at 10:59
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I've been guilty of doing the same a couple times, I even answered expecting a proper edit, voted to close the question once I saw the author didn't edit it, and then retracted the closing vote because I answered it...
I also have been victim of seeing a few (proper) questions in other parts of SE being closed right away with an unclear explanation of "too broad" when people clearly didn't spend any time understanding them, and even a shadow of answer would have been helpful. In one case the question was answered properly and got closed anyways and I'm really grateful to that person. However, in WB, I see that generally users are helpful in trying to maintain a question and helping narrow it down and ultimately answer it, at least I haven't seen questions asked and closed in a matter of minutes without any useful comment. I do understand the desire to help somebody but maybe, at least in WB, that help can be better directed in indicating how to narrow the question down rather than answering as it is. When the community is willing to give that support at the end the author will get what he needs (or I should say deserves since a bit of work is required from their part).

I dont fully understand the "depriving others of the same opportunity" (I guess its the opportunity to leave an answer). Whenever we vote to close a question we are always contributing in taking away the opportunity to answer it from everybody else. Probably Im missing something here (I hope its not some rep thing).

What I would wonder is: if what you have done is seen so badly by the community why there isn't a rule against it? Cant we have a "you cant vote to close because you answered this question" message and call it the day? It probably isn't something that happens that often but I'm sure you are not the only one that did that. (I know that there cant be a rule for everything, but since we know it can happen and its seen as "harmful" for the site can't we eliminate the possibility?)

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  • $\begingroup$ "Why isn't there a rule against it?" That's partially why I started this thread, to clarify if there should be a rule since others already seem so opposed, although I don't see why it would become one. $\endgroup$ – ChronoD Apr 30 '16 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ The depriving others is basically: If the question is closed, you can't post an answer. By answering and voting to close, if the question is closed, your answer becomes the only answer that ends up being there, thus meaning your answer is the only one with the opportunity to get votes. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos May 1 '16 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Mourdos, thanks for clarifying, I didnt think an answer to a closed question could get any vote $\endgroup$ – Erik vanDoren May 2 '16 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ErikvanDoren Answers to closed questions (as well as the question itself) can be voted on. The only way to stop voting is to lock a question, which as far as I know is reserved for diamond moderators only (and has many other implications as well). $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 8 '16 at 10:39

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