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Sometimes I see off topic questions which have a very simple answer. Here's an example: https://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/254623/confidence-interval-for-anova-in-spss. It's clearly off topic, and I voted to close.

I answered it in a comment. I don't think it was worth putting that as an answer, as it was so brief, and I suspect the question will be closed. Is that the right thing to do (make the user happy) or the wrong thing to do (encourage them to come back with more off topic questions)?

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    $\begingroup$ Nothing says that you shouldn't try to be as helpful as possible while simultaneously explaining why the question is off-topic. I sometimes have no inclination to put more work in than just the policing action that goes with an off-topic question, but I am happy whenever people are nicer and their examples help my own style. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 5 '17 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to follow that if a question is off-topic, then an answer to that question is too, but in practice people rarely criticize an answer that is relevant to the question. Also, if the question belongs elsewhere then any answers may be on-topic there. Unfortunately, many of the code-based questions we get here would be poor SO questions as they lack self-contained reproducible examples. (In fact, I see many poor questions lacking self-contained reproducible examples on SO too.) $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 5 '17 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ While I'm happy to see people helping each other (often I do answer questions that I flag to be closed), I can think of an argument against it, the same some people feel towards users that don't search and post duplicate questions: namely, doing so encourages some users to not look the guidelines, as they get an answer anyways. $\endgroup$ – Firebug Jan 7 '17 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Another POV is: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/133552/…. $\endgroup$ – Andre Silva Jan 8 '17 at 15:40
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I sometimes answer questions and vote to close them at the same time. I don't see any problem with that. What I would do is leave a comment to the OP explaining that the question is off topic and why. I may point them towards another resource (stack overflow, the r-help listserv, our meta thread with software links, etc.) as well. I don't necessarily expect many upvotes for answers like that, and I typically get few, but people don't downvote either. In a sense, our 'real' purpose here is to build up a permanent repository of high-quality information about statistics and machine learning, but helping people out is a close second. In the big scheme of things, it doesn't hurt to serve the second goal exclusively once in a while.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. I would fully agree as long as it is about "answering" in the comments. But I am not so sure about proper answering. Threads closed as off-topic are automatically deleted after some time (unless they are upvoted), but once there is an upvoted or accepted answer, they will stay forever. To me this is aesthetically disturbing. $\endgroup$ – amoeba says Reinstate Monica Jan 6 '17 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting point, @amoeba. You could still vote to delete, I suppose. It doesn't really bother me that much if a closed question remains on the site, but I can see your point. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Jan 6 '17 at 22:14

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