Stack Exchange "How do I write a good answer?" has the following section:

Pay it forward

Saying “thanks” is appreciated, but it doesn’t answer the question. Instead, vote up the answers that helped you the most! If these answers were helpful to you, please consider saying thank you in a more constructive way – by contributing your own answers to questions your peers have asked here.

While I understand the meaning of the header and mostly understand the meaning of the whole section, I had a discussion about interpretation of the emphasized "it doesn’t answer the question" phrase with my friend.

My friend treated that as "we should not say 'thank you' in our answers". My original interpretation was like "…but just saying 'thank you', per se, doesn't aid (or aid not so much) in resolving other questions from the question flow". But then I started to doubt: why did they used "the question" (instead of, for example, "a question", "any question", "other questions", "questions in general" or etc), does it mean that they refer some aforementioned/implied question? (That would break my interpretation.)


  • Is my interpretation correct?
  • If yes — what are reasonable explanations for using "the" in that case (what aforementioned/implied question does the text refer)? If no — what should be the correct interpretation of the "…but it doesn’t answer the question"?
  • "How do I write a good answer?" in your first line is misleading. It's a different "FAQ" in a more general list of things relating to SO "Answers". But I think whoever wrote that part of the Help section was getting a bit confused himself. What he means is the Original Poster (the OP) shouldn't just post a comment saying "Thanks" under whatever he thinks is a good answer (it's just "noise" - what really matters is that you should upvote good answers and accept the best one). And you should express thanks to the whole community by posting answers yourself. Oct 3, 2017 at 14:54
  • @FumbleFingers, sorry, why misleading?
    – Sasha
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:56
  • There's no good reason to include "thanks" (in advance) in an SO question (myself and some other users often edit to delete them). And it would rarely make sense to include anything like that in an Answer either. The point in the Help text about "Thanks!" in a comment not answering the question is simply a result of muddled thinking - obviously it doesn't answer anything, but the writer appears to be specifically talking about the situation where the OP writes that. He should have said that Thanks for asking this question! I too am interested in the answer! is a pretty worthless comment. Oct 3, 2017 at 15:03
  • (i.e. - don't thank people for asking a good question. Upvote it.) Oct 3, 2017 at 15:04
  • @FumbleFingers, ah, I understand, there is another text with the same name. But I don't mislead, the text I referred to also has the same name. (Oops, this was my reply your first comment, I'm reading further now.)
    – Sasha
    Oct 3, 2017 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


"The" is a definite article. It refers to a specific instance of something. So "the question" refers to the text at the top of the page that you are replying to.

In this case, "the question" is the text on this page that you wrote. I am answering "the question", or your question. I should not be typing here answering "any question", since that could mean I would be answering a question asked by someone else on another page and does not help you.

Or if I simply typed here "thank you", that doesn't help you either.

  • So, now you're answering the question (because it was defined). But what already-defined question that section is talking about?
    – Sasha
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:30
  • If I understand the "Instead, vote up the answers that helped you the most!" part correctly, the context is the following… Reader has just received some help (useful answers) from third-parties and now is thinking how to feedback. No specific question is defined at that point of time (except the reader's one). He can say "thanks" to the answerers that helped him, he can up-vote the best answers or (the best way) he can write an answer for an unrelated question (i.e. for some question that not necessary comes from those who helped him — just to "pay it forward").
    – Sasha
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:43
  • And, if if won't bother you: what of the interpretations is actually correct: mine, my friend's or neither one?
    – Sasha
    Oct 3, 2017 at 14:44
  • You are incorrect in saying No specific question is defined at that point of time. "The question" is the one on the page - the one that started the page. Oct 3, 2017 at 14:48
  • 1
    Yes, that's correct. Oct 3, 2017 at 15:02

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