# When should an answer be given as opposed to just giving a hint

It's my impression that on this site (and https://math.stackexchange.com/) that many times questions aren't answered but just hints in the comments are given. (This is different on https://mathematica.stackexchange.com where unless it's obvious a homework problem or self-study a detailed answer is many times given.)

If my impression is not wrong, are there guidelines as to when to give hints as opposed to detailed answers? If my impression is wrong, I'd like to hear about that, too.

• I am not gonna give a full answer but just leave a comment. I believe that in statistics it may also play a role that it is not always possible to give a conclusive answer but people still want to provide comments. After all, how many statisticians does it require to change a light bulb? It's many. May 13 at 14:32
• @Sextus I thought the answer to that joke was "it depends." ;-)
– whuber Mod
May 17 at 17:39
• @whuber, I thought the answer was 3, one to change the light bulb and two to comment on it. But sure, statisticians might criticise this number. Anyways, it is more than one. May 17 at 19:05
• @Sextus Be quantitative! One answer is $2.32 \pm 0.59.$
– whuber Mod
May 17 at 19:19
• "Anyways, it is more than one" Actually, a statistician might approximate it with a normal curve and state something like $1.32 \pm 0.59$, including less than one. May 17 at 19:55

When it's not a homework-type question, a full answer is merited. People nevertheless sometimes leave hints in comments: I can't presume to speak for anyone else, but when I do that it's usually because I can't answer properly (or find a suitable duplicate) owing to lack of some combination of time, brains, & interest; yet hope that the hint will help someone else to. From time-to-time it's also a factor that I feel the O.P. will find it satisfying to arrive at the answer for themself, given a nudge in the right direction (as with homework-type questions).

I don't know why the practice should be more prevalent on some sites than others. Perhaps on sites with higher answer rates, people assume hints are otiose—an answer's likely to come along anyway. Perhaps on some it's more the case that you know the answer or you don't, & if you do it's not much trouble to write it out.

• (ctd) -- so comments are needed to encourage more detail or focus. Occasionally the discussion in comments is as or even more interesting than any answer.... May 13 at 11:36

There's no particular need to use the commenting feature. You can use comments or the answer field. The issue is that if the post is a homework-type question (people will sometimes say it's not homework), then our policy is to provide hints to help the OP figure it out for themselves. Once they've figured it out, you can post a final, complete answer. This only applies to homework-type questions, though. Our homework policies are listed here; you can peruse out meta.CV threads regarding the policies by clicking on the tag; you can see examples of how I've dealt with such questions here and here.

• Sometimes answers are converted into comments when the answers are not substantial enough. So there is some basis for a need to use the commenting feature instead of the answer field. (I would agree if one would counter with an argument that often these conversions are made when the answer field is abbused by somebody to place a comment, but at least sometimes these conversions occur because some answer is considered as not enough answer). May 13 at 14:59
• I occasionally convert poor answers to comments to protect the respondent from suffering from too much downvoting ;-). The moral of this is that even when you post an answer in the form of a hint, you ought to be sure it's a well-founded one!
– whuber Mod
May 17 at 17:41

When should an answer be given as opposed to just giving a hint

As often as possible, regardless of the question. Up to the readers to make the most of it. A few reasons: "homework-type questions" may very well appear outside a classroom, humans are lifelong learners and some students like myself learn faster with full answers.

• Homework-type questions needn't of course be homework (in fact we tag them with 'self-study'). But they are all exercises; homework or not, the point's to practise by completing them rather than to obtain the solution. When a student's stuck the best help's the least needed to enable them to complete the exercise for themself. May 21 at 12:14
• @Scortchi-ReinstateMonica disagreed. homework-type questions" may very well appear outside a classroom, so the hints will waste my time when I run into the same issue. Also, some students like myself learn faster with full answers. May 21 at 12:24
• Our policy does allow for providing fuller solutions when appropriate: "In the spirit of creating a resource, you may come back after a suitable amount of time and edit your response to include more details, if the question seems like such information will have lasting value." In most cases, though, it would be pointless - & tedious. May 21 at 19:35
• @Scortchi-ReinstateMonica thanks, I vote to amend it to "you may write the entire answer". The "after a suitable amount of time" is what I dislike as a student: not my learning style, as if I wait then I'll likely forget my chain of thoughts and why I got stuck. Also answers shouldn't be written with the OP in mind, but any reader. May 22 at 0:28
• Your chain of thoughts & why you got stuck ought to be documented in the question. The suggested delay here is so as not to facilitate students' cribbing. May 22 at 7:18