MATLAB Answers

MATLAB Answer need better policy

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Michal Kvasnicka
Michal Kvasnicka on 11 Feb 2020
Commented: Walter Roberson on 13 Feb 2020
Just one remark regarding current situation on MATLAB Answer portal:
A lot of people (including highly trustworthy) aswers on many qustions only by Comment not by Answer. In this situation is very complicated to find any relevant answer by searching in MATLAB Answer.
Could be possible to change MATLAB Answer policy and make MATLAB Answer more useful again?


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John D'Errico
John D'Errico on 13 Feb 2020
Do I not see a need to change things?
Since I cannot effect any change, lacking code control over the site, the question is somewhat moot. At most, I can offer advice, and a group of us is given some opportunity on a periodic basis to do exactly that by MathWorks.
Is there a crying need however? I don't know there is.
As I have said, it is always possible to post an answer. Some questions are too vague, or are posed in a way that do not allow an answer. That some people answer them anyway is fact. Or that some people post what is equivalent to an answer as a comment. Do we really care?????? NO.
In the end, what matters is if the question poster gets some resolution to their question, if one is possible. If it lies in the comments, so what?
I'd also comment that SOFlow is not perfect in this respect either. Having spent a lot of time on that site in the past, I found that the community admins were rarely consistent in their judgments. In fact, they could be amazingly arbitrary.
Adam on 13 Feb 2020
What constitutes an 'answer' is very subjective.
I'm probably one of the worst 'culprits', if this is a flaw, because I probably make about 80% of my contributions to the forum as comments rather than answers. I believe an answer should be something where the person asking the question can go away and use it and it will solve the full problem they ask.
One of the issues with this is that people often ask rambling questions that are so wide in scope that no answer short of doing all their work for them could really fulfill what I call an 'answer'.
Sometimes what I post as a comment ends up solving the user's problem, but when I post it I'm still either probing for further information or just throwing out what I hope will be a helpful suggestion. Some people asking questions are willing to do more work themselves so a helpful suggestion is all they need to work out the answer. Others want to be literally given everything.
Frankly I don't want the hassle of someone coming back saying my 'answer' didn't fully solve their question or whatever, so I make it a comment, which is me saying 'This may be helpful, it may even allow you to find the answer easily, but it isn't a fully working copy-pastable solution to everything you asked in the question so don't expect me to add any more to it. I may do or I may not do'.
Some people have a lot more time to give detailed answers, others of us just pop in from time to time for a short break from coding or while some code is running and just try to provide a few helpful hints quickly.
So personally I don't intend to change the way I approach that. But its personal opinion. In my opinion some people post far too dubious responses as Answers that seems more like chasing reputation points than actually answering a question, but in the end it is up to them. If someone accepts their answer then it was valid.
What I would say though is that if the forum had more editor functionality for those of us with editor privileges (or even for our own comments) I would maybe more often move a comment to become an answer once it is found to satisfy the problem. when I have to copy-paste it sometimes I just can't be bothered!
John D'Errico
John D'Errico on 13 Feb 2020
I only disagree on one minor point of Adam's, in that sometimes people post what are incorrect answers, which can even get accepted. Accepting an answer does not in fact make it truly valid. In some cases, I see the OP answering their own question, with what I would argue was the incorrect answer. (One such case happened quite recently in fact.)
The problem with accepted answers that are clearly incorrect is this sends a message to some future reader of the question and the "accepted" answer, that the solution posed was correct in some way.
If the wrong answer gets accepted, this is not the end of the world of course. But to a large extent, this site is a teaching tool. I dislike seeing a falsehood presented as truth, and I certainly dislike seeing a falshood propagated to new users.
In the end, an answer is sometimes worth no more than what you paid for it - answers online are free. We can only do our best.

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Answers (1)

Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 13 Feb 2020
No, it is not possible to change the policy to force the volunteers to create Answers instead of Comments. The volunteers would react by saying "Get stuffed! I am going to go elsewhere!"
The volunteers contribute the way that they feel best, when they have the time and inclination. If they happen to feel most comfortable adding a suggestion in a comment rather than writing up a complete wrap-up solution, then we thank them for what they did take the time to contribute, rather than nagging them for not taking even more time.
It is common that the person asking the question does not explain the situation well, and that even if they take the time to say that the situation is resolved that they do not take the time to explain what they were really trying to do and what actually works for them.
It is very common that people ask for assistance with homework or a project, and that the best thing that the volunteers can do is to guide the person to a solution without ever posting a complete solution. Not posting a complete answer is often deliberate in such cases.
Sometimes the volunteers just can't be bothered providing more than a brief outline of steps that can be taken towards a solution. I know that is the case for me; sometimes I can only muster enough interest to write part of a sentence. If the policy were that I had to write up a complete solution then in such cases I would just post nothing.
We get quite a few cases where the person just copies an assignment, or just says that something needs to be done, without asking a question. No-one owes such people a complete write-up solution.


Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 13 Feb 2020
Like I am in a cab now. Lucky if you get complete sentences from me.
Walter Roberson
Walter Roberson on 13 Feb 2020
At one point, a poster who was not satisfied with general solutions to a particular installation-related problem, asked that I create a video that walked through the steps one by one.
This was an installation problem whose details depended on which MS Windows operating system one had, and which Microsoft Knowledgebase patches one had installed, and for Windows 10, whcih "creators edition" one had installed. It also depeneded upon what kind of MATLAB license you were using, and depended upon whether you were using a stand-alone computer or a computer that was part of a business network, and depended upon the details of which (if any) network file systems one was using.
It would have taken me several months of work to research all of the possible causes for all of the different situations, and work out (or build software fixes for) solutions for each of them.
And then there would be the effort of putting together a video that was correct and engaging and somehow worked through all of the possibilities step by step without going on for hours on end.
From past investigation, I also knew that it would cost me $US6000 per year to get access to the software licenses I would need to do the investigations and work through solutions. And I would probably have needed to buy another computer to work on.More correctly, I would probably have needed to buy at least 3 computers, because some of the issues were manufacturer or model specific.
Michal Kvasnicka, what would have been your vote in that situation? That policy should be that I should have had to spend all that time and money for the sake of providing a complete relevant answer? Or that policy would say that I was entirely justified just telling people, "Contact Mathworks Support, they can help for this kind of problem", which is an accurate but not clear or complete answer ?
I have a fair bit of experience in providing answers that are complete answers that deal with all of the known possibilities. Such answers typically take six or more hours to write, thinking about and researching all the ways something could possibly happen, and describing exactly what to do for each.
I essentially never provide those kind of answers anymore. It isn't worth my time. It isn't worth the time of the person reading the answer, who probably doesn't know their system all that well and probably won't recognize the solution that is relevant to them out of the long list of all the things that the problem could be. What is more effective use of time is to ask questions of the user until they manage to get down to the key details needed for a specific solution. Because the questions and responses deal with the user's specific situation, the result is often something that is not immediately clear to someone who has a related question.
Now, Michal Kvasnicka, should the policy be that after we have managed to figure out what the user's specific situation is and solve it, that I should be required to go back and write up a summary report to make clear what the solution was for that particular user's situation? Or should policy be that I should be required to go back and write up a summary report to make clear what the solution would be for the entire class of similar problems ?
Or... should policy be entirely open to the possibility that the volunteer feels that it is a much better use of the volunteer's time to move on to providing solutions to as many people as feasible on as many topics as feasible, rather than going back and writing reports about problems that are already solved and which onlookers are free to ask for clarification of if they need it?

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