Edit: After posting this question and receiving feedback, I expanded the answer to make it more of a direct answer to the question. So the referenced answer is no longer a good example of the issue described here. However, this question describes a situation others might encounter, and it received answers that provide guidance, so I'll leave the question in place.

I'm looking for input on whether a certain type of post is appropriate, and if not, whether the site has any other provision for conveying this kind of information.

A user posted two similar questions about trying to interpolate a series of numbers:

In both cases, the author didn't understand a fundamental concept about interpolation and was asking for help interpolating a single list of values. The second question received an answer that cleverly finessed the missing data, but didn't go into an explanation of what the OP didn't understand.

So the OP had an answer to the question, but not the knowledge to understand the hole in his thinking or to apply the solution to the next similar problem. And anyone else with a similar question and misunderstanding who arrives at that question will be in the same boat. I wanted to explain that piece of the puzzle, but the only type of post that can handle images and a lengthy explanation is an answer. I posted this: https://superuser.com/a/985357/364367 (Note: the answer has since been expanded; for context, see an earlier version in the edit chain).

Technically, it doesn't didn't answer what was asked in the question, so it probably doesn't didn't qualify as an answer. I could add an actual answer to it, but it would just duplicate the existing answer. I thought about posting a new question and using that to self-answer, but it is really information in response to the OP's question, and just a link to another question is likely to be lost in the noise.

So my question: is this type of an explanatory "non-answer" acceptable as an answer post? If not, do we have any other mechanism for this kind of thing? Or, is our role only to directly respond to questions asked and not be concerned about what the OP needs to know?

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    meta.superuser.com/a/7171—"If what the OP asked for is clearly impossible, it is acceptable to state so in a full answer, as long as a reasonable explanation is provided." In fact, if no explanation was provided, it's likely I'd downvote and vote to delete. – bwDraco Oct 24 '15 at 16:48

I think it's an excellent answer.

It is an answer because it does explain what the OP needs to know to be able to answer it for himself.

give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

My only concern is how you would make the answer "findable" to people with similar questions as the question title(s) do not really reflect the problem the OP faces.

Maybe the title should be edited to something like "How do I curve fit using excel"?

There are some excellent links on how to do this, for example:


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    Thanks. Good catch about the unfindable title. I went back and improved it. Technically, curve fitting could include what the OP requested, but it might be confusing because common usage of the term is different from the question. But your ideas put me on the right track. – fixer1234 Oct 12 '15 at 9:58
  • Hmm. I suppose interpolation better fits that question, but curve fitting is better if the data is more random. – DavidPostill Oct 12 '15 at 10:04

I didn't have to time to really get an understanding of the discussed material, but when asked "What is 3*9?" it is perfectly acceptable and preferable to explain someone the concept of multiplication instead of answering "27".

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    Hmmnyeah... sometimes, when I ask a question, I just want the simple, one-word, plug-it-in-and-carry-on answer. Maybe I don't have enough time or concentration to learn an entire new concept at one o'clock in the morning, maybe I'm just asking the local XYZ-Guru for the correct switch combination to access our XYZ instance without having to wade through dozens of man pages and navigating a configuration flowchart -- these are things I can do when the build isn't on fire, or when our guru has been hit by a bus. – Christian Severin Oct 16 '15 at 8:38
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    @ChristianSeverin if you just want the simple, one-word answer, you might not be in the right place. If your problem had such an answer, you'd have found it already; this site exists because some questions can't be answered so simply. – Dan Henderson Oct 20 '15 at 21:04
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    Hmmnyeah... probably. Besides: whenever someone here does give an instantly actionable one-sentence answer, somebody else writes a two-page essay with the detailed background reasons for the one-sentence answer -- so I can always come back and educate myself after the emergency. – Christian Severin Oct 21 '15 at 10:38
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    (I really should find other ways than "Hmmnyeah..." to express "allow me to disagree ever so slightly".) – Christian Severin Oct 21 '15 at 10:40

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