Is it frowned upon to answer a question and vote to close it? I did this for MO166234 and received this comment from a high-rep user:

 I really don't think that it's in the spirit of the system to first answer a question, and
 then vote to close it, thereby preventing other answers from being added.

My opinion was that the question should be closed because it seemed more suitable for MSE, but I also felt that I could give an answer which some people (including perhaps the asker) would find easier to understand than the answer that was already there.

In this situation would it be better for me to vote but not answer, answer but not vote, or answer and vote?

  • $\begingroup$ I’d say that in the situation you describe (someone already gave an answer that you find lacking), vote and answer is the natural thing to do. $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek supports Monica May 15 '14 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ That is, I wouldn’t answer a question that I consider inappropriate just because I think I can give a better answer than what is already there, but if I find the existing answer misleading or that it would not be good to leave it alone on public record for any reason, I might give an additional answer. The decision whether to vote to close should be made independently. (This is meant as an abstract discussion, I do not want to judge the specifics of this particular case.) $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek supports Monica May 15 '14 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ But maybe it should be noted that in this specific case the existing answer was not really lacking or misleading. It was perhaps pitched at a slightly higher level than necessary. $\endgroup$ – Derek Holt May 15 '14 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ I was just writing exactly what Derek said: the existing answer was completely correct, but someone who could follow that answer wouldn't have asked the question in the first place. My purpose was just to translate the answer into more accessible language. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion, it seems completely fine to try to help someone by answering their question, even if the question itself may be unsuitable for MO. For example, the question could be migrated to MSE, and the answer would still be useful there. (Note I don't mean things like obvious homework or very silly questions ...) $\endgroup$ – Lucia May 15 '14 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you very much Lucia, that is exactly what I was thinking. I realize I could have waited until after it was migrated before posting an answer, but I probably would have forgotten to do so. I just wanted to record the answer while it was on my mind. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ This is a bit orthogonal but still related: IMO, we should rather avoid to migrate completely anwered questions. I am pretty sure some on the target site do not like this, and there the discussion could arise that somebody got a head start on the question via answering it here, and then migrating it to math.SE. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 15 '14 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Sidenote: As the discussion here shows, it is clearly not taboo, as that would mean it was something the community was unwilling to even discuss (the term "frowned upon" as used in the actual question is a much better choice). $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft May 15 '14 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: you make a potentially important point, which I think merits its own meta question. I personally do not agree with you, since to my mind if someone asks a reasonable math question that is just a bit below research-level, then I'm happy to try to help that person by providing an answer. I don't see the answering of questions as some kind of race in which one can get a head start, I just see it as a way of sharing one's knowledge for the benefit of others. So I don't think people should be unhappy to see that somebody provided a useful answer to someone else's question. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 16 '14 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I am glad you started this discussion. It seems that the community does not view the issue nearly as unambiguously as I thought. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. May 16 '14 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ Other people are doing the same in a question voted -4 What is the prime factorization of these ridiculously big superior highly composite numbers? $\endgroup$ – joro May 16 '14 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback. I might raise the issue latter and/or write something more detailed with a different focus here. For the moment, I just want to note that I am not sure what would be the exact point of disagreemnt. I said we should not migrate answered questions, since I believe some (personally I do not care, I am hardly on that site, and even if I would be, I still would not mind) on math.SE will not like it, giving one possible objection somebody might raise. You say you are happy to help. But how is the migration necessary or relevant to this? $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 16 '14 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ The migration is a maitainance taks, when doing this I think one should consider the interests of both sites involved. One can still reasonably disagree here (and perhaps the objections I mention would not be raised [unlikely] or should be considered as invalid [perhaps]), what is the best course of action, but I fail to see any argument in what you wrote for migrating answered questions. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 16 '14 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ I have run into similar situations on this site. My usual practice if I want to answer, but the question is not suitable for this site, is to leave a comment to the effect of "Once this is migrated to math.SE, or if you ask it there right now, I'll be glad to write an answer there". $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 17 '14 at 13:04

There are already several answers still I would like to add another one to stress an aspect I feel did not get so much discussed in the other answers.

I would not consider answering and voting to close as some major etiquette violation, but I still think that in general it should be avoided. To summarize my position in one phrase:

Avoid answering and voting to close at the same time, when in doubt answer.

I would in particular like to stress the second part since I feel quite some of the discussion focused on: given I vote to close, can I still answer? and thereby somehow constructing a dichotomy between answering and not answering. But this is a bit a false premise. If a question is not that bad, and no one proposed answering really bad question, there is no urgency to close it. If it is a clear case, it will be closed regardless of the answerer voting, if it is not so clear and would depend on this one vote, then perhaps it should rather stay open anyway.

Now, why should one avoid it. I feel that the argument put forward by Alex B. is quite strong. The main purpose of closing a question is preventing additional answers (on this site at least). I feel this is hard to reconcile with adding an answer; perhaps sometimes it is possible but in general it seems mutually exclusive.

Several focused on the migration aspect, so one does not really want to prevent answers but one wants to move everything elsewhere. Yet, especially this scenario I my opinion should be avoided as commented. And this is not just my opinion but (semi) official SE guideline, form the meta.SE FAQ on migration

Avoid migrating answered questions. The point of migration is to send the question to an on-topic place when it can get answered. If the OP already has an answer, then we've already defeated the purpose of migration and the destination site won't have anything to do with the question. Avoid migrating these questions unless they are of extremely good quality and risk deletion on the current site.

Now, MO does often not follow SE guidelines closely, but migration is inter-network and thus I feel we should not take this quite clear guideline too lightly.

So, frowned upon on MO or not, at least voting to migrate and answering is (typically) in conflict with SE guidelines and thus should be avoided.

Additionally, it was brought up that the vote to close is to indicate that it is better suited for another site. Two points on this.

First a detail but somewhat relevant: that something is better suited for another site is no valid reason to close. A question most be not suitable for this site to vote to close it (leaving dupe votes and similar aside).

Second, a vote to close is not even a good way to indicate something. It is not very visible, at least not until it takes affect. And also as long as it did not take affect there is (normally) no way of knowing if an answerer voted to close or not. This is particularly relevant as normally I take somebody answering as indirect endorsement of the question (and I feel this is somewhat widespread and came up in discussion frequently, like 'look xyz answered, the question should be alright').

Thus if somebody wants to convey something else they better make this explicit, via a comment. This, for the purpose of indication, is also clearer, and might minimize the necessity to express it via a vote in addition. In brief, closing is not for indicating, but for enforcing.

Two footnotes:

  1. I chose the formulation 'at the same time' to convey that if there is a relevant gap between the two acts so that the situation could have changed, this is a different situation.

  2. Duplicates as usual could be a special case. And, also I can imagine other exceptions, but as a general guideline I would avoid doing both at the same time. Especially, as typically there is no compelling reason/relative inevitability for doing both.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this explanation. Even though you say "when in doubt answer", now I'm not sure that's always completely desirable. If a question gets migrated to MSE then it lives forever in the sense of appearing in MSE searches when people ask related questions, so that people besides the asker can benefit from the answer. So if answering a borderline question at MO should prevent such migration, then it would lead to either a borderline MO question staying open at MO or the question being closed everywhere. Both outcomes seem undesirable. Is it really best to not answer such questions? $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 18 '14 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that in theory there could be some merit in having the archive of questions better sorted over the two sites. But in practice this does not work so well and trying would cause a lot of issues (there once was a fierce debate in the converse direction on meta.math.SE). Also, in the current case one can note that in the end the question was in fact not migrated but put on hold here. If no more details had been provided OP might have taken the Q to math.SE themselves. This could be considered as argument for not answering here. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 18 '14 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ Generally speaking I think: .) one should not answer a question if one thinks it is a problem it stays open on this site. .) one should not try to optimize the location of a question via migration; try to migrate only if the question cannot stay here. Having some overlap is desirable as it is the margin of error for placement of questions. One can and likely should still guide the OP via saying it would be better on the other site. But if it also somehow works here than do not use "force" to move it away. And if it does not work at all here, then one should not answer here. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 18 '14 at 8:46

It's certainly true in "MO culture" that users who choose to answer a question that others feel is clearly inappropriate are often criticized for doing so, typically with a comment which says something like, "Please do not answer questions that do not belong on MO; it will only encourage the asking of more such questions." Such an answer is also often downvoted. I think many users see the logic of this type of reaction and support it, in the interest of preserving MO as a domain of high-level users (i.e., at the post-(under)graduate level and beyond).

From this point of of view, it's easy to understand Alex's first point, that there is seemingly an inconsistency between wanting to dissuade the asking of a certain type of question at MO by casting a vote to close (or migrate), and at the same time lending some implicit encouragement to it by answering. I also see the logic of his second point. For example, if we take a more extreme situation where a hypothetical someone sees 4 votes to close as off-topic, swoops in to give an answer, and then casts the last vote to close as off-topic -- that would definitely leave a strange taste in the mouth for many. It could definitely strike one as a somewhat cheesy move, and certainly Alex's point, that at the very least it smacks of being territorial, would have validity.

All that being said, after reading Michael's post, his intentions seem eminently honorable. It's good we're talking about this here. I think what might definitely help in this type of situation, if one wants to help the OP in this manner but still thinks the question is not appropriate for MO, is to make one's answer CW along with a vote to migrate (correction: see quid's comment below), to avoid giving an accidental impression that one is somehow hogging either the stage or points. Perhaps a comment in addition, to explain one's thinking, would help. [Or -- and I think this is something I might do -- if the question is migrated, just to follow it over to the other site and answer there. Although I can certainly understand if someone doesn't like using the other site.]

Anyway, I hope we can acknowledge that the situation is a little bit tricky, and that there are valid points in both Alex's and Michael's positions.

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    $\begingroup$ I for one am very happy to acknowledge that there are valid points in Michael's position, and that his intentions were honourable. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. May 15 '14 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelZieve the question is now closed (technically on hold) and you still have the points on MO. And except for unusual events you will keep them here. So, your point is not completely valid. Even if the answer should get migrated, you would then have the points there. The only situation in which you really would loose them is deleteion without migration, which however is not done (for better or worse) for questions with upvoted answers. So, almost whatever happens you keep points; (To be clear I do not consider this as very important, the points, but abstractly what you say isn't clear.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 15 '14 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, answers to closed questions can be edited, voted on, commented on -- what closure does is prevent other answers from being added (part of Alex's point). See here for more information: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10582/… $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble May 15 '14 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: you're right, I hadn't thought of that. I deleted my wrong comment. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I'm not sure that what you say about the points is correct. The very first question I answered (and hence ended up getting sucked in!) was trivial and rightly migrated to MSE. But I lost the points from it when the question went to MSE. I always assumed that points would disappear with the migration of the question. $\endgroup$ – Lucia May 15 '14 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Lucia is correct too, but the situation is further amplified here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6378/… $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble May 15 '14 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Lucia what should be incorrect? It seems what you say does not contradict what I say in any way. Please note in particular (added emphasis) that I wrote: "Even if the answer should get migrated, you would then have the points there." which acknowledges (indirectly) that in this scenario (that did not [yet] happen in the present case) the points gained here would be lost here but not completely as they preserved/gained on math.SE (at least if one has an account there which is the case for the user to whom I said what I said). $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 15 '14 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: I didn't fully understand what you said. Todd Trimble's comment clarified it. $\endgroup$ – Lucia May 15 '14 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Surely the appropriate reaction depends on the level of the question. We sometimes see very elementary questions, like help me solve this quadratic equation, and then it a bad idea to answer at all. But the question under discussion is at advanced undergraduate or beginning postgraduate level, so it seems reasonable to answer it, but at the same time to indicate (usually by voting to close or to migrate) that the question would be better suited to another site. $\endgroup$ – Derek Holt May 15 '14 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Derek: thanks for articulating this, that was exactly my thinking. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 16 '14 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DerekHolt votes to close (and to migrate) are not to be used for indicating a question is better suited for another site. For this you should use a comment. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 16 '14 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure if you are/were aware of the information I provide regarding migrating questions with answers. I consider it as not optimal that you suggest something (voting to migrated something with an answer) that is in direct conflict with established guidelines. I do not mean to say we should never migrate anything with an answer, but to basically suggest answering+migrating as standard accepted procedure could raise problems. Especially, if doing this should become popular, which seems quite possible. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 17 '14 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: Thank you for raising this point. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble May 17 '14 at 15:13

Me being the "high rep user", I might as well give my reasons for the comment.

Firstly, I would say if one thinks that the question is inappropriate, then one shouldn't answer it, regardless of the circumstances. In the situation that Emil hypothesises about, one can leave a comment under the misleading answer. In the situation at hand, if the OP receives an answer at a level that he cannot process, it is solely because he asked it on the wrong site, and that situation does not need to be corrected on that site.

But secondly, and more seriously, closing a question stops others from answering. So this combination, answering/closing, sends the message "I believe that I have a privileged right to answer this question, and once I have answered it, I do not want anybody else to be able to answer it".

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    $\begingroup$ Of course I don't feel I have a privileged right to answer a question, nor do I have any desire to have such a right. I just thought I could do something that would help somebody. It's strange to get attacked so viciously for doing that. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelZieve I am certainly not intending to attack you, or anyone, viciously, and I apologise if you feel viciously attacked. And I am objecting much more to the combination answering/closing, than to answering itself, simply because of the strange secondary message that this combination implies (in my view). $\endgroup$ – Alex B. May 15 '14 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your edit, which removes the attack from your answer. I don't agree that if someone votes to close then it means (s)he doesn't want anyone to answer the question. In fact I can't understand how it's possible to think that. This seems to be where we differ. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ But that is the only effect closing has on a question: preventing further answers. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. May 15 '14 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Closing for the purpose of migrating to another site obviously has another effect besides what you say. Namely, it has the effect of putting in motion the migration to the other site. $\endgroup$ – Michael Zieve May 15 '14 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ Other people are doing the same in a question voted -4. What is the prime factorization of these ridiculously big superior highly composite numbers? $\endgroup$ – joro May 16 '14 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ More people doing the same: mathoverflow.net/questions/194556/… $\endgroup$ – joro Jan 23 '15 at 15:46

I remember doing this once. There was some combination of factors that made it make sense to do so at the time. All I did was to check my answer as Community Wiki. I won't say that addresses all the concerns in the two other answers here, but at least it meant that I was not taking points for a crap question. I think I was the first vote to close, and the thing stayed open for a long time...


There is clear-cut guidance when it comes to dealing with likely duplicates - the most objective reason we have for closing a question. Remember that these become 'stubs' to lead people searching for the same problem in different ways to an (ideal) well-curated canonical question on the matter.

When you vote to mark something as a duplicate, it's very nice if you can take a moment and provide an answer that helps frame the best answer on the target duplicate to suit the question at hand a bit. Explain that the answer fundamentally applies, and then go on to tie it in with whatever specifics the person has provided. This helps make these 'stubs' much more valuable and informative to the people that happen upon them.

Just something to keep in mind (and entirely optional) since the subject came up.


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