I recently flagged an answer as not an answer because its entire content was something along the lines of

Hint: Consider these two mechanisms. What would happen in case one? What would happen in case two?

It was an answer to a (heavily downvoted and thus no link) homework question. I assume its intention was to nudge the OP towards an answer while not giving away the answer itself.

I was then informed in chat that two mods had had a discussion on whether these hint-type answers should be considered answers or whether they should be considered deletion-worthy as non-answers. This question exists to establish community consensus on whether these should be deleted or stay. Note that a previous meta-discussion also concerned hint-answers — the question whether they are comments or not.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, but there are quite a number of these around from the early days. If we're gonna delete them, should we go through deleting them all? (Also they're from respected users, like Klaus) $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 28 '17 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. The one I flagged was old, so yes. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 28 '17 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ o.o But that's massive rep loss to some users, I reckon . . . $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 28 '17 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. We could set some sort of rep threshold, and if it's above it then we ask permission of the still-around users that are involved if they're okay with deletion. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Mar 28 '17 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. I don’t think so. If anything, it’ll be a steady rep loss trickle. We won’t be doing all at once anyway, we need to find them one after the other. And none of these posts will have any really high score. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 28 '17 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, this is not meant to be ‘what should everybody do when they find this.’ It should be ‘if I find these and want to see them gone, am I allowed to flag them?’ — which means you are free to poke the user to allow them to edit accordingly pre-deletion. $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 28 '17 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Well, there's that good ol' "don't touch old stuff" guideline, which was created because moderating old posts creates more headache than help, and ends up in lotsa users ranting on metas, but since we have ignored that and the only thing we hate more than double standards is double standards, whatever, I guess. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Mar 28 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. Most of TRE was tampering with old stuff, so … $\endgroup$ – Jan Mar 28 '17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ We dig up old stuff so often, I am not sure that guideline even exists here. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Mar 28 '17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ This meshes somewhat with the policy on homework policy. The general policy on "self study" type question on SE is not to provide a direct answer, but instead guide the OP toward the correct answer through hints. Since how we handle homework style questions is under re-consideration, that might change, but that's at least where people posting these are probably coming from. $\endgroup$ – R.M. Apr 3 '17 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ That said, giving hint answers on non-homework/non-self-study questions is a bad policy, and even on homework questions, they should not be as terse as the paraphrased example. (Though I could see a greatly expanded version of that potentially being a decent "homework-style" answer.) $\endgroup$ – R.M. Apr 3 '17 at 17:54

I would like to reiterate what I have written in the linked post, because I find some differentiation very important.

Personally I think that answers should be more than just a hint, but not all hint answers are terrible or not actual answers.

An answer should be complete enough to explain the methodology, the concept, the background, etc.. An answer that fails to do that is not helpful, and as a result I down-vote them. If such answers in the long run create more questions and a comment discussion, then it is ill-fitted for our format.
If they are the only answer on a closed question and effectively prevent the deletion of such a question (that is likely not helpful) I would argue to delete them regardless of some reputation losses. I am against deleting them as a standard go-to method.

However, when an answer consists of a series of hints, that will ultimately lead to the complete solution, it can be almost seen as a recipe for success. I think it is not always necessary to spoon-feed the full solution to the problem.

It is not easy to decide whether to delete or to keep, I don't think that is a black/white issue. It depends on the question, too. We need to first decide whether the question is worth keeping. If not, we need to decide if an answer is extraordinary. If both is a no, we may want to reduce noise.

(Such questions could always serve as a template for a canonical post though.)


In my opinion, these hint answers are not answers. If you take a look at the text box that accompanies not an answer in the flagging dialog, it reads:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.

I see that this hits hint answers bang on the head. These typically do not attempt to answer the actual question. Instead, they attempt to provide food for thought so that OP may — maybe — be able to answer the question themself. That is not what answers are for.

Therefore, I am in favour of deleting hint answers.
(If they are short enough, moderator conversion to comments may suffice. However, they should be removed from the sub-$\pu{10 krep}$ user’s answer spaces.)


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