A recent post has garnered the attention of a 'hint' which was inserted into the form of an answer. By definition, a hint is not a solution to a question though it may lead to one. I believe that hints such as these are more appropriate for a comment to an original post rather than be listed as an 'answer'. Of course, a hint in the comments may always be transferred to an answer given some tweaking and expansion on the concept(s).

I just wanted to clarify. Are 'hints' answers? Are they more appropriate as comments or is this against the rules?

I believe SE:Chem has historically allowed for hints such as these to be placed into the comments section for questions (particularly homework questions) to help guide a poster to the solution. Once the OP has figured it out or is imminently close, then the solution is posted.

EDIT: Taking into account Martin's reply, I think a better question would have been What makes a hint a good answer? A hint should very likely contain enough information that will benefit the community and not just a single person.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that question should have been closed, for starters. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ (I'm going to leave that in a comment for now, so some others can weigh in) $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ I have seen in other S.E. sites that hint are allowed as answers. Especially in science S.E. I feel hint are sometimes more important than answer, so I it should accepted as answers. $\endgroup$
    – Freddy
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 4:51

2 Answers 2


I just went over to that post and it may serve as one of the prime examples, that need to be closed immediately. I then voted to close (obviously). In addition I downvoted the answer and flagged it as non-answer. It should have been a comment. But why do I think it should have been?

I believe an answer can be a series of hints, that will ultimately lead to the complete solution. It should contain at least an explanation and some background information, further reading, definitions, keywords, etc. I believe it is not always necessary to give the full solution to the problem. I believe this would serve as a rather good example for the procedure I just described.
The given answer (to the linked post) instead offers a formula without any mentioning which variables where used and why this formula should be applied in the first place. (I would not really consider it a hint either.) It also is almost the full solution, as punching in some numbers in a calculator is not too difficult. However, from this style of answering, no one will learn anything from this. As a comment this might be okay, but definitely not as an answer.

I believe whenever hinting is necessary, then the question itself might not fulfill the requirements mentioned in How much effort is "enough" with homework problems? We would like to hear all ideas! (please) or in the original homework policy. In consequence it should be closed, as hints can still be given in the comments.

  • $\begingroup$ Stellar presentation of 'hint' criterion. I agree hints can indeed be answers but only if certain quality checks are met (just like a HW question can be appropriate given a series of requirements that are met). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 11:42

From here, If it's a homework question:

If the question is tagged homework, I will post hints as answers, since I hate questions showing up in the "unanswered" queue despite being fully resolved in the comments.

If I strongly suspect the question is homework, I will post hints as answers to discourage others from spoiling full solutions.

Otherwise, if the hint is very short and I expect others will soon flesh out a full writeup (especially if the "hint" is just a link to Wikipedia) I will leave it as a comment.[user7530]


A lot of questions have a clear-cut answer that is right for them. For example, someone with little knowledge of a particular field might have a specific question about that field that someone who knew the area better would be able to answer. In that case, hints are pretty much useless. A lot of the time, however, the person asking the question could answer most of it on his own (I decided the sex of the questioner by tossing a coin) and has just got stuck somewhere. In that case, a hint is the best sort of answer as it lets the person asking the question think for themselves and gain a deeper understanding than a question would do on its own.

Between these two extremes, you have to use your judgement when answering a question. If you don't think that the person answering the question could answer it themselves, even with a hint, then don't just leave a hint. If you do, then leave a hint.

Note that leaving a good hint is harder and requires a deeper understanding of the subject than leaving an answer. It's also tempting to leave an answer in order to 'show off' your ... knowledge, though I think users of this site aren't particularly prone to that. I would find a really good hint more impressive anyway.

So, to answer your question: yes, I think that a lot of the time a hint is the best sort of answer and should absolutely be posted as one, rather than as a comment. Hint answers are one of your most powerful tools as an answerer.[Donkey_2009]


Leave it as answer so the question is no longer "unanswered" (assuming someone upvotes it). If you are pretty certain that the hint may not be enough but are not willing to expand the answer yourself at some later point, that's what the community wiki checkmark is for. If you know a short concise hint that may however spoil the fun of solving the problem, put it into a spoiler tag >!

Like so

But please don't leave a hint as comment. Comments are intended to clarify the question's intend or point out flaws in it.[Tobias Kienzler]

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    $\begingroup$ With all due respect, you call my statement just an 'opinion' but you list a series of opinions from random people. My 'opinion' is based on the general practice of Chem:SE over the past two and a half years, not on what some other person or website decided to do. In any case, hints should be meeting the standard for good 'answers' if left as one. Your response (to use as an example) was simply an equation with nothing else which did not make for a very good answer on its own and therefore would likely have been better left in the comments. Please read @Martin's post up above. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ @LordStryker atleast those random people spent more time than you. BTW the 2 opinions are : hints are useful - are not. I agree my earlier answer was not a good hint, now it might be? $\endgroup$
    – RE60K
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @LordStryker BTW did u read those "opinions" as you say, anyways they're useful. You shouldn't downvote if you think someone is disrepctful. $\endgroup$
    – RE60K
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ My downvotes are parsed soley on the basis of adherence to Chem:SE policy and quality. Cheers. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ I have explained to you (very carefully) that we are not Math.SE. They have certain philosophies that most other sites on the exchange don't agree with. If you want to express those as possibilities for us to consider on our site, that's fine, but this reads like we have to do what Math.SE does. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 4:17

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