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@yuttadhammo comments that this question is not a good fit for SE. I can't disagree with that and so on the one hand, one approach is simply to decline to answer, so as not to inadvertently endorse the question as being a good fit. And of course there's always the more substantial responses of voting down or even voting to close.

However, on the other hand, my tendency is always to try to help out as much as I can (see my very limited answer to the above).

Is there a generally accepted best SE practice in these situations? Is answering a bad-fit-question considered unhelpful for SE?

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I answered it too. Erm I guess I felt I had something to add but reading the answer back I don't think it was one of my best but worth keeping on I thought. TBH I was going to improve it but yuttadhammo comments (which i agree with) put me off

But generally I think we should do our best with questions, particularly ones from new users. I would much rather see questions be nudged along to better ones than shut down. Answering them would be part of that nudge i think. I think that asking questions is HARD and maybe those of us who know a bit can perhaps forget this. Philosophy SE does well at this I think. Asking philosophy questions is REALLY HARD and the people there have been really considerate when I tried and I felt encouraged to ask more.

Two of my better (best??) answers have been to questions that were in danger of being closed down - here and here. I think those questions have become decent now because of the answers. Particularly the Western Sutra one actually is decent and meaningful to me but I can appreciate to others it seems like very poor quality.

Bit of a ramble - sorry

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This comes up on stackoverflow a lot. It really depends on the personalities of the people involved. There is a good argument that responding to bad questions encourages more of that behavior, on the other hand, if a stranger came to an office and asked the right question and was reasonably polite, I'd try to answer, regardless to if it was a good question or not.

The goals of the website (a very specific sort of Q & A answers that are high quality and eventually attract high volumes of traffic) are in conflict with the answering crowd, so sometimes just want warm fuzzies for helping someone with a question. (And people with low quality questions have an even greater gap between SE's goals and their own goals, the question asker really just wants an answer, they aren't too worried if the question and answer will get a lot of google hits and page views in the future)

So I sometimes will vote down, vote to close, comment to suggest a fix and then answer it anyhow, if I can.

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This is an important question for figuring out our strategy as to this site. After thinking this over for the last three days, I'm inclining to say, such answers should NOT be answered. In a 1:1 teaching setting, it may be appropriate to answer all questions, including those types that are traditionally answered with a stick. But because, on this site, an answer stays long after OP is gone, the emphasis should be on quality content and not on addressing the OP's (mistaken) mindset.

  • "...an answer stays long after OP is gone..." This isn't necessarily so. You as a moderator can choose to delete a closed question with all of its answers. Also users with over 2000 reputation can vote to delete a closed question (5 votes will delete it). So IMHO there is little harm in answering a bad question before it is closed. – THelper Jul 14 '14 at 23:51

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