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I've seen a number of off-topic questions recently which have answers from members with high reputations (e.g. not new users).

Here is one recent example, though I don't mean to pick on an individual.

When considering whether to ask this I did consider that bad questions can sometimes be saved by good answers, especially when somebody sees through language barriers or fundamental misconceptions (these are often excellent answers). I do not mean to question that situation.

However, it's clear this isn't a good question and in this case the person who answered also voted to close. I was the person who downvoted (after it was closed as off-topic) and I admit I did so out of frustration.

I doubt whether these answers encourage people to ask bad questions or set a precedent that they will be answered, but I wonder if it wouldn't be better to simply downvote/flag the question and move on.

Should we be answering off-topic questions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point, +1. Additionally, I think the same applies to poor questions (example), unclear questions unless you're sure you do understand the problem (you're not going to help OP much with guessing), etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelan Jan 6 '15 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Closing Etiquette: Why Do Some Answer and Close? on MetaSE. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelan Jan 8 '15 at 11:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ The way I often do it: Leave a comment, starting with "This probably isn't the place to ask this, but..." and then follow with some quick tips. That way they get answered, but they know for next time. \$\endgroup\$ – felixphew Jan 9 '15 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good thread. I'm somewhat new here myself. I don't think the website is harmed by answering first questions that are somewhat off-topic. When considering the effect of rewards and punishments, it is important not to think of newbies in aggregate. If you punish a newbie by not answering an off-topic question, this does nothing to deter subsequent newbies, and there is an infinite supply. People who have asked previous questions should be guided in a friendly way to ask good questions. Ideally, all of us should be guided by the more experienced. \$\endgroup\$ – mkeith Jan 13 '15 at 21:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is offtopic for if people get their answers anyways? By answering offtopic questions you send the signal "Hey, this wasn't quite the question I expected here, but let me answer anyways because I want to save the world, next time I will surely do the same, so don't bother about thinking whether it is on or offtopic." \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Jan 16 '15 at 10:41
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I think there can be several problems with answering off-topic questions or ones that have other clear close reasons. Everyone likes to think they are being helpful to new / newish users but here's a perfect example from yesterday of how it can back-fire. I came across the following question yesterday and voted to close as opinion-based without down-voting:

Where is the best place I can go to learn everything about the electronics-side of computers?

When I came back later it had an upvote and several answers, if you check the revision history this question was asked a few minutes after that received the second answer:

Professional certifications for Electronics Engineers?

While of course it's pure speculation the two were related you could hardly blame the second person for asking a somewhat similar question to the first thinking they must be welcome. While anyone can see the total vote count on a question only a 3k user can see the close votes on another question.

Not that I blame the two people that answered the original, it wasn't the worst question ever and they wouldn't have been able to see close votes (if there were any at that point) but I do get disappointed to see higher reputation members answer some of those and throw in random opinions / vague answers before they get closed.

The automatic deletion rules won't remove a question with an upvoted or accepted answer so it also means they hang around forever. Apart from the possibility of attracting similar questions via search engines I'm sure around the Stack Exchange network they'd be many people that have learnt from early mistakes and wished their question with -10 votes would just "disappear" from their profile.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm one of those guilty of shooting my mouth off in response to the certifications question. But it was as a comment, not as an answer. I think comments (even upvoted ones, which--by the way--provide no reputation) don't prevent a question from being deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 7 '15 at 17:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RespawnedFluff, odd I didn't get a notification for your comment and just noticed it. But yes you're right comments don't affect deletion (unless the question is not closed and it has a few) so that is a much better way to give the OP some useful feedback, well done! \$\endgroup\$ – PeterJ Jan 8 '15 at 12:31
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Well, that explains the down-vote! I wondered about that.

I closed the question because it was so obviously off-topic, but I also answered it first because I didn't want to send the OP away frustrated. (To be fair, the information was not easily found on the page.) I also thought other EE.SE members would have a passing interest in the answer, too, but would not want to take the time to dig for it.

Since the question is closed, it will go away in due time anyway.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks - I didn't realise closed questions disappeared but that makes complete sense. It was just one of a number I'd seen recently, hence the question above. \$\endgroup\$ – David Jan 5 '15 at 22:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually I'm pretty sure it will never be deleted automatically with an accepted answer, the rules are here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5221/… \$\endgroup\$ – PeterJ Jan 6 '15 at 0:10

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