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Inspired by this answer.

When I see a question on the site and I think of an answer but not sure if it's true (as opposed to "think it's true" but eventually being proved wrong), I start off by commenting on the question, maybe suggest my answer but not answering it, to make sure my answer could be correct. I risk, of course, being correct and letting someone else answering before me and getting the credit, but I'd rather have that than posting an answer that might be wrong.

Am I correct to act so? Is there a certain "ethic" for posting an answer?

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I shall quote the Skeet, 2009, Chapter 2, Verse 17 (Read this whole article! It's very good!):

It's okay to guess, but be honest

This may be controversial. I've certainly been downvoted twice on SO for having the temerity to post an answer without being 100% sure that it's the right one - and (worse?) for admitting as much.

Sometimes there are questions which are slightly outside your own area of expertise, but they feel an awful lot like a situation you've been in before. In this kind of case, you can often write an answer which may well help - and would at least suggest something for the questioner to investigate a a possible answer to their problem. Sometimes you may be way off base, which is why it's worth explaining in your answer that you are applying a bit of educated guesswork. If another answer is posted by an expert in the topic, it may well be worth the questioner trying their solution first... but at least you're providing an alternative if they run out of other possibilities.

Raise the overall accuracy level

It should go without saying that a correct answer is more helpful than an incorrect one. There are plenty of entirely inaccurate answers on Stack Overflow - and on newsgroups, and basically every online community-based resource I've ever seen. This isn't surprising, but the best ways to counter it are:

  1. Challenge inaccurate information

  2. Provide accurate information yourself

One of the key aspects of this is to provide evidence. If you make an objective statement without any sort of disclaimer about your uncertainty, that should mean you've got good reason to believe you're correct. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to provide evidence, but as soon as there's disagreement, evidence is king. [...]

Another source of evidence is documentation and specifications. Be aware that they're not always accurate, but I generally believe documentation unless I have a specific reason to doubt it.

Amen.

In practice, I generally say things like "I believe" or "If I remember correctly" if I'm going by things I remember about games I played previously and/or am not sitting in front of. I find that even when I feel sure that something happened a particular way in a game, I'm more often than not wrong when I trust my memory, and I feel like there should be a disclaimer when I'm feeling sure I know, versus when I have multiple and/or authoritative references.

If my source is non-authoritative, I'll say something to the effect of "(game) community consensus is" or "forum threads indicate".

If I'm citing a fairly authoritative source (ie, a game wiki or FAQ) I try to judge the reliability of the source and note this when posting the reference.

In general I try to focus on providing as much information as possible when I answer, and sourcing that information and it's trustworthiness as thoroughly as possible.

Sometimes, especially with ITG and other "no canonical sources exist" questions, the only way they get answered is with an educated, "best information we have indicates" answer. Sometimes I get it wrong, and I've learned to live with the fact that, I, as a person, am capable of being incorrect.

Once I invent agentBot2000, though...

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  • I think it's a little disingenuous to link that quote without quoting the one right below it which says: Raise the overall accuracy level. While he may say that you can have less that 100% confidence, that doesn't mean you should post answers you have no confidence in. – tzenes Jan 9 '12 at 16:19
  • @tzenes, I think the quote stands alone just fine. I've added the next section to my answer as well. I think the section after this one in his article (Provide links to related resources) is appropriate too. In the original quote, He specifically mentions that you should make it clear the level of confidence you have in the answer. I certainly am not advocating completely guessing. – agent86 Jan 9 '12 at 16:37
  • For me, educated guesses (that prove to be false in the long run) are useful because they at least show that the answer does not lie in that area, and can help to lead to the right one. The only real problem with a guess being wrong is getting downvoted, after all. – Xkeeper Jan 9 '12 at 16:52
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In the case of , all anybody is doing is guessing. That's kind of the primary problem of the tag, and it's one of the reasons I (and many others) happen to think it's a terrible class of questions. So no, there's nothing wrong about doing so in those circumstances.

As for other questions that are more concretely answerable: A lot of it is situational. The key is, even if you're conjecturing, you'd better be able to a)back it up, b) hit up The Google and do a sanity check to make sure you're not way off base, and c) provide a 'complete' solution via your conjecture, not just take a stab at the right direction to head.

Here's a pretty good example of an answer that's just taking a stab at things. - There's a pretty good chance he's wrong in this case, but he's basing his conjecture on actual knowledge, pointing out that it is just an idea, and most importantly, even if it's a wrong answer, it's still a complete answer.

So long as both of those are true, go for it - just be sure to note that you're taking an educated guess at things, and be ready for the downvotes if you happen to be wrong.

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I've seen enough untested common knowledge (wrong) answers (example), that I do not hesitate to post my own speculation as long as I think it might be helpful. Sometimes I'll identify my answer as speculation. Sometimes I'll let the community decide. Just my two cents.

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