This has inspired some discussion and I may be just splitting hairs, but I've always been confused by this strategy. The specific example I'm referring to is here: https://3dprinting.stackexchange.com/a/29/60

In many cases on SE, I see people post "Answers" that basically say "Don't do what you're doing. Instead you can get to your goal by doing this." While it is often helpful, this form of answer is the bane of my existence as a user of SE sites.

There are often cases when I am googling a difficult problem because I cannot do "alternative a" as suggested by the answerer. Then, I get to an SE question that asked about exactly the situation I am having. An answer of "Don't do that, do this instead" is upvoted, accepted, and the only answer. Thus, I am unable to solve my problem using SE. In other words, the Answer didn't apply to the question, and so SE led me down the wrong path.

Am I doing something wrong here? Is this an expected/accepted pattern? Or is this something I should go the route of downvoting? Or like the poster of the above answer suggests, flagging?

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for bringing this up on meta, consider leaving a comment in the related question and/or pinging the related users next time. $\endgroup$ – the third dimension Jan 13 '16 at 18:08

Sometimes, "don't try to do what you're trying to do" is the only valid answer, see e.g. XY problem.


If it tries to answer the question, it's still an answer...

But it doesn't mean it's always a good one.

Generally, in these cases, you would be able to flag such an answer as Very Low Quality, especially if they would fit better in the comment space. The reason why you can't here however, is because the answer has a positive score.

So what can we do?

You can't really stop people from writing answers. If you want them to improve, leave a comment, and ask them to elaborate. Otherwise, downvote and move on.


The ultimate goal of any answer should be to solve the problem that the asker is facing. Sometimes that involves not going to what they directly wrote, because sometimes that's not the most effective way to go about it. For much the same as there are people who can't use alternatives, there are people who didn't think about the alternative options in the first place. It's very easy when some askers run into a problem, to tunnel-vision that "I must solve it this way" and then someone provides a very enlightening view by working outside the box the asker had situated inside.

That said, this is also part of the very nature as to why these sites permit more than one answer to a question. It is to allow different routes to solve the same problem. Some will be the direct route that is asked, others will take shortcuts as they see fit.

It remains though that naturally, sometimes an alternative, be it a particular one or just in general, is not permissible. When this is the case, that kind of a restriction is part of the problem. As such if the asker can't work with a given alternative, and if the only answers they're getting is that alternative, it's to them to modify their question to exclude that alternative as an option. Or if it is a known quantity to begin with, a pre-emptitive exclusion present in the question when asked is very appropriate. On the other side, if a reader happens upon a question and cannot utilize the alternatives that exist there, then they are welcome to recreate the question in a fashion which excludes the alternatives since their situation cannot cater to it.

Sans such an explicit exclusion, if the asker can work with the alternative, or if they still receive other answers that do not employ that alternative, there's no foul going on as a result. It's fine to dislike something being provided as an alternative, but it's by no means something we're going to discourage on a level to the point of flagging. Downvotes, those are yours to give as you see fit to things that you believe are not helpful - I could say something like "It's probably more appropriate to downvote if a particular alternative is actively unhelpful to you, as opposed to a post which you stumble across in random browsing which just happens to be an alternative", but at the same vein, you could still deem it unhelpful and the vote is yours to cast. Just be open to the fact that if the alternative does work for other people, it's going to remain acceptable on the site.

  • $\begingroup$ in the case where I encounter these questions but the answers ignore the restrictions stated, wouldn't re-asking the question be marked duplicate. $\endgroup$ – deltree Jan 13 '16 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ If the restrictions are in place and they are still providing answers that ignore the restrictions, downvote those answers and if no one else has yet, post a comment telling them "Oi, you, there, the asker can't use this because it's totes restricted" or something far less colloquial but the meaning is the same. Likewise, if there aren't any restrictions placed but they just provide a bad alternative, that's also not helpful either but just in a way independent of the nature of being an alternative. $\endgroup$ – 2D Printing Grace Note ModStaff Jan 13 '16 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ I am trying to determine whether you are trying to send a signal... $\endgroup$ – Zizouz212 Jan 13 '16 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Zizou I dunno what you mean by signal - my main point is essentially, the nature of an answer as an alternative probably isn't important unless in doing so, it actually fails to address the problem provided. It can fail to address the problem on an individual basis (reader can't use the alternative), on a direct basis (asker can't use the alternative), or just on a tangential basis (it's a bad alternative in the first place), all of which are solid things to criticize the answer for when applicable. $\endgroup$ – 2D Printing Grace Note ModStaff Jan 13 '16 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Oh no, I was meaning in your username :) $\endgroup$ – Zizouz212 Jan 13 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Zizou Oh, that's purely because I'm user #2. $\endgroup$ – 2D Printing Grace Note ModStaff Jan 13 '16 at 21:01

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