So, today someone asked a school question

AES-ECB chosen plaintext attack with long secret

Usually, I don't answer those but I decided to help the OP by giving some clues about how to solve the problem. To my dismay, other members started to down vote my answer without any explanations. I then decided to provide a full answer and members started to up vote my answer...

I felt like helping the OP but in the end, I'm not sure if it would have been better to do nothing and let him think. Just giving some clues was what I thought to be the best course of action but the harsh reaction make me think otherwise now...

Any guideline to follow?

  • 2
    I think this depends on per-site culture. While in Math.SE they encouraged to give hints on homework questions, it doesn't mean that every site will have such policy (especially not in SO). So I guess this is a perfect time to know and establish the guideline for such case.
    – Andrew T.
    Oct 12, 2015 at 8:13
  • @Gudradain, If you want to give hints, by all means do so. Why do you post an answer instead of a comment?
    – Pacerier
    Oct 19, 2015 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


I know what you are talking about. I've puzzled over the same thing.

Answers need to be Answers and stand alone as definitive. Hints and prompts are not Answers.

So, how can we provide help without providing an Answer? I use the Comment section to provide hints, and if the discussion gets long, I move it to chat. Once the OP comes up with an answer, I either convert it into an Answer or encourage the OP to post their own Answer.

  • Exactly. It's a balance between doing what's right for SE, and what's right in terms of not helping the student to cheat.
    – MEMark
    Oct 9, 2015 at 18:51
  • 2
    I also (often) add a link to Open letter to students with homework problems to make clear that they cannot expect a full-blown answer, and/or, if the hints make up a substantial text, do write an answer with a comment on the top of my answer that this is not a complete answer. Here is an recent example of someone else doing something similar.
    – user13695
    Oct 10, 2015 at 17:55
  • 1
    You should look at the Math StackExchange site. Their culture is a bit different, they generally dont like full answers for homework problems and upvote clues and leading answers. That being said, they get a ton more homework questions than we do. Oct 19, 2015 at 16:25

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