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New users often give answers that are too short or that have other problems that may cause them to be considered "very low quality" (which means they are often flagged for deletion). People can leave comments about this, but sometimes it's hard to figure out the right way to explain what a "good" answer should include, and it takes some effort to compose a comment. It would be nice if we had a linkable, easy-to-find page on this site that lays out the expectations for answers.

A new user might expect to find this information at the Help Center page "How do I write a good answer?," but in fact it doesn't really say much about how to write an answer that will be considered "good" by the members of this site.

That page seems more like it gives a basic explanation of what "answers" are supposed to be on a Stack Exchange site. It tells people not to write "thanks," to answer the actual question posed, to be civil, to not just post a link, and to avoid answering unclear or otherwise unsuitable questions. I would say this is an explanation of how to write an acceptable answer, not a "good" answer.

As far as I can see, it does not tell people that a good answer should be more than a single line, and should include an explanation of why the answer is correct. The main hint about this is the line "Links to external resources are encouraged"—the word "encouraged" indicates that links are not in fact a requirement.

It also says

Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

I realize that different people will have slightly different opinions about how short a good answer can be, but I really don't think the quoted portion gives a clear, accurate representation of what most active high-rep users on this site judge as "acceptable" for an answer. See the following Meta question and its responses: On deleting low quality single-word-request answers

Could we have another Help center page that actually explains how to write a good answer? (Or edit this one so that it does?) By "good" I don't mean anything fancy. I mean "an answer that is not likely to be deleted for being low-quality."

I know it's unrealistic to expect users will read the Help Center before posting, but I think we have a responsibility not to mislead the few who do. It would also be useful to be able to link to a page that explains the general expectations of high-rep users.

There is a brief mention of the need for research and/or details in the pop-up shown to new users:

Your Answer

Thanks for contributing an answer to English Language & Usage Stack Exchange!

  • Please be sure to answer the question. Provide details and share your research!

But avoid …

  • Asking for help, clarification, or responding to other answers.
  • Making statements based on opinion; back them up with references or personal experience.

To learn more, see our tips on writing great answers.

But it doesn't go into any depth, and you can't actually learn more about how to do research in the tips for writing "great" answers.

Examples

Here are some examples of the types of things I am talking about. I am not saying that we should tell new users that every answer needs to have an elaborate explanation or a linked citation. I am saying we should tell them that some kind of explanation is necessary.

The following are real posts I saw in the "low quality posts" queue:

It seems correct, but you could also ask "Have you been to the cinema recently?"

This is brief, which the Help Center says is acceptable. It tries to get the OP going in the right direction: the Help Center says this is useful.

Evacuate

During the operation field A is evacuated.

Again, it's brief, but it gives a definite suggestion and so it's quite likely that the poster thinks it will "get the asker going in the right direction." If we're just going by the Help Center's explanation, it's easy to conclude this is a helpful answer.

Someone left a comment below:

Welcome to English Language and Usage. We are looking for longer answers that include references and citations. If you need assistance in framing an answer, please visit our Help Page on "How to write an answer"

Edit March 11

I'm posting some answers to try out the community wiki drafting process mentioned in 200_success's comment. Here is the way it works:

post a Community Wiki "answer" containing the original text of the page. Please try to reproduce the markup as faithfully as you can. Then, everyone can start editing it! (Be sure not to edit your own post within the first five minutes, else your modifications will be incorporated into Rev 1.)

Please vote for any answer you feel is an improvement, and post your own if you have your own idea for what should be on the Help Center page.

  • 3
    It's possible to have the page edited; moderators can't do it. I would suggest that answers to this question contain ideas for how to improve the page, along the lines of "Add a section X" including the new text and where it should go (and commentary on why it's needed); and maybe "Remove section Y" with commentary on why that one is counter-productive. Moderators can then collate the suggestions for final approval before asking staff to make the changes. – Andrew Leach Mar 7 '17 at 9:00
  • 3
    I do appreciate your effort, but apart from the difficulty of defining a standard, especially a high level one, to which users are expected to conform to, my main concern is that it might backfire discouraging less experienced users who don't feel they are up to the task or are afraid of failing to meet the requirements. Good (high level) answers are not only a matter of knowledge but also a question of experience with this site whose workings and dynamics need time to be fully understood. – user66974 Mar 7 '17 at 10:54
  • 2
    Yes, this time I fully agree with @Josh. It takes time, experience and a willingness to learn or adapt to the site's credo/standards that makes the difference. "Great"... let's say good answers abound on the front page, if a visitor can't tell the difference between a link-only-answer and one that cites references, citations and original research, they will not change... until they get a motivated (i.e explained) downvote. Sometimes the constructive comment/tip/advice/admonishment works a treat and other times less so. – Mari-Lou A Mar 7 '17 at 11:15
  • 2
    I disagree with @Josh on discouraging less experienced users; there are in fact all kinds of answers on the site and it can be hard for a new user to guess the community standards just from observing reading what gets posted. After getting some negative comments and downvotes I tried myself to find where those standards were written down and I had a hard time, to the point I considered making this kind of post myself (I would have expected this info to be in the Tour for example) – Oosaka Mar 7 '17 at 13:49
  • @RozennKeribin - we all learned by doing, with more experienced users showing the way, but here the point is the difference between a basic acceptable answer and a good "high level" answer. – user66974 Mar 7 '17 at 14:36
  • @RozennKeribin I distinctly remember giving you an explanation for a tip in order to improve an answer of yours. My point being, you haven't only got negative comments, have you? – Mari-Lou A Mar 7 '17 at 21:06
  • @Mari-LouA I remember that too and I'm grateful, and I certainly don't think I claimed I did (I'd be lying, bless y'all). I'm saying that some comments with explanations of what I was doing wrong surprised me because I hadn't realized that those were the standards, and it wasn't obvious to me where to find those standards. I guess my point, as a response to your and Josh's points in particular, is that you seemed to claim that correcting comments is a less intimidating way for newcomers to learn the standards than a centralized "here's what to do" resource would be, and that isn't how I felt. – Oosaka Mar 7 '17 at 22:09
  • 2
    I learn by seeing examples. Thus, I suggest that any revision to the help page on how to write a good answer contain several examples of the evolution of a good answer. That is, first a poor answer, then that answer improved to "OK" status, then that answer further improved to "good" status. (I'm one of those people who read instructions only as a last resort or when a gun is at my head.) – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Mar 8 '17 at 0:15
  • @sumelic Do you mean to imply that you think that the help center should require every answer to have a link to an external resource in it, or do you want it more clearly expressed that we do not necessarily require such resources? – Tonepoet Mar 8 '17 at 4:28
  • @Tonepoet - a link to a credible reference is the basic requirement for an answer, I think sumelic is referring to more elaborated answers both in content and in length. – user66974 Mar 8 '17 at 7:14
  • @Tonepoet: as you can see from Josh's comment and the posts at "On deleting low quality single-word-request answers", many users don't actually see it as optional to include a link or explanation. While a post doesn't need both, a post without either is likely to be deleted. I think we should tell people about this beforehand, rather than by leaving scolding comments. – herisson Mar 8 '17 at 14:41
  • 1
    On Code Review, we have a community wiki drafting process. Whenever there are significant changes that we wish to publish to the Help Center, we ask a Community Manager to copy the new text. – 200_success Mar 9 '17 at 1:00
  • I whole heartedly applaud this idea. The boards are littered with people down-voting answers that match the guidelines on the help page, but not the idea of what a good answer should look like by some regulars on the board. This is not fair on the people that answer the question in the first place and aren't familiar with the expectations of the more regular user base. When reviewing low quality answers in the que I always feel a little dirty reccomending an answer for deletion because it obviously is low quality, when the basic quality expectations aren't conveyed well enough in help. – Gary Mar 10 '17 at 12:37
1

How do I write a good answer?

Thanks for taking the time to contribute an answer. It’s because of helpful peers like yourself that we’re able to learn together as a community. Here are a few tips on how to make your answer great:

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.

Have the same problem?

Still no answer to the question, and you have the same problem? Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer. That way, even if we can’t figure it out, the next person has more to go on. You can also vote up the question or set a bounty on it so the question gets more attention.

Answer the question

Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. You are encouraged to cite references such as dictionaries, experts and style guides: a good answer is not just based on opinion or personal biases. If your post includes a quote, be sure to include the name of the source in your post. Do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer.

Provide context for links

Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

Write to the best of your ability

We don't expect every answer to be perfect, but answers with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar are easier to read. They also tend to get upvoted more frequently. Remember, you can always go back at any time and edit your answer to improve it.

Answer well-asked questions

Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which...

  • ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
  • ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
  • ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
  • ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
  • ...are not about English language and usage as defined in the help center.

Don't forget that you can edit the question you're answering to improve the clarity and focus - this can reduce the chances of the question being closed or deleted.

Always be polite and have fun

It’s fine to disagree and express concern, but please be civil. There’s a real human being on the other end of that network connection, however misguided they may appear to be. We’re here to learn from our peers, not yell at each other.

  • Great that you have 'taken the bull by the horns' and suggested something for the help pages. Really good to see. The only thing that jumps out at me is the 'pay it forward' section, not sure comments about voting up good answers should be on the 'how do i write a good answer' page, and not sure I like the term pay it forward in this context. But just some minor feedback from my own perspective. I think you did an outstanding job of getting the ball rolling here for a suggested improved help page. – Gary Mar 12 '17 at 22:00
0

How do I write a good answer?

Thanks for taking the time to contribute an answer. It’s because of helpful peers like yourself that we’re able to learn together as a community. Here are a few tips on how to make your answer great:

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.

Have the same problem?

Still no answer to the question, and you have the same problem? Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer. That way, even if we can’t figure it out, the next person has more to go on. You can also vote up the question or set a bounty on it so the question gets more attention.

Answer the question

Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

Provide context for links

Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

Write to the best of your ability

We don't expect every answer to be perfect, but answers with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar are easier to read. They also tend to get upvoted more frequently. Remember, you can always go back at any time and edit your answer to improve it.

Answer well-asked questions

Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which...

  • ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
  • ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
  • ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
  • ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
  • ...are not about English language and usage as defined in the help center.

Don't forget that you can edit the question you're answering to improve the clarity and focus - this can reduce the chances of the question being closed or deleted.

Always be polite and have fun

It’s fine to disagree and express concern, but please be civil. There’s a real human being on the other end of that network connection, however misguided they may appear to be. We’re here to learn from our peers, not yell at each other.

  • 1
    I'm not seeing that much difference between the three versions. They all seem pretty good to me; friendly, cheerful, and welcoming. Do they really represent and reflect the true spirit of the community? wink Moving on... The tip to upvote answers instead of posting "thanks" is a good one but there's a drawback Instead, vote up the answers that helped you the most! newcomers can't upvote unless they first have earned 15 points. – Mari-Lou A Mar 13 '17 at 0:06
  • It would be more truthful to state something along the lines of: "Please don't use the answer box for saying "thanks" or posting new/related questions as these will be deleted by the community. This is why the Stack Exchange model works and why visitors keep coming back to find good answers. bla..., bla.. – Mari-Lou A Mar 13 '17 at 0:14
  • @Mari-LouA: There isn't much difference. You can check the revisions to see the specific changes being proposed. – herisson Mar 13 '17 at 2:38
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I actually think it'd be best if we didn't burden people with more information than is necessary to answer the questions they have when visiting the webpage, lest we overload them. People visit this page to learn how to answer, not comment. More detailed guidance regarding how people should comment can be found on the comment everywhere privilege page. As a matter of fact, I would propose that the whole Pay It Forward section would be better put on that page, since it has more direct relevance to the subject matter there. – Tonepoet Mar 14 '17 at 18:14
  • @Tonepoet The entire post only needs to address how to write a good answer, Pay if forward, Have the same problem?, Write to the best of your ability (IMO redundant) , and Answer well-asked questions (Why? It's up to users which questions they want to answer) should be kept for other pages. – Mari-Lou A Mar 14 '17 at 19:44
0

How do I write a good answer?

Thanks for taking the time to contribute an answer. It’s because of helpful peers like yourself that we’re able to learn together as a community.

Before writing an answer...

Use votes to "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.

Answer well-asked questions

Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which...

  • ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
  • ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
  • ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
  • ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
  • ...are not about English language and usage as defined in the help center.

Don't forget that you can edit the question you're answering to improve the clarity and focus - this can reduce the chances of the question being closed or deleted.

Have the same problem?

Still no answer to the question, and you have the same problem? Help us find a solution by researching the problem, then contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried as a partial answer. That way, even if we can’t figure it out, the next person has more to go on. You can also vote up the question or set a bounty on it so the question gets more attention.

While writing an answer...

Read the question carefully

What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. It's valid to say “don’t do that,” but a good answer should also include “do this instead”.

Explain your answer

A good answer should be based on evidence. This can be as simple as your own experience, but often it will be more helpful to cite a reference such as a dictionary, or to give examples from the works of respected writers. You should clearly indicate the origin of the evidence you choose to include: give some context if it is from your experience ("As an Australian English speaker, I've heard people say..."), and name the sources of any quotations you use (as well as linking to the source if it is online). Do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer.

Provide context for links

Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

Write to the best of your ability

We don't expect every answer to be perfect, but answers with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar are easier to read. They also tend to get upvoted more frequently. Remember, you can always go back at any time and edit your answer to improve it.

Always be polite and have fun

It’s fine to disagree and express concern, but please be civil. There’s a real human being on the other end of that network connection, however misguided they may appear to be. We’re here to learn from our peers, not yell at each other.

  • I'm glad that you mentioned personal experiences as a valid form of corroboration, but when you suggest answers are not to just be based upon personal prejudices, how do you expect to address posts by qualified experts who elect to not cite external resources in some of their answers, like Prof. John Lawler? I'm concerned about requiring quotes from links. It's often a best practice, but space and copyright may dictate that otherwise is wiser. Also, did you consider the Why and how are some questions deleted page of the help center? – Tonepoet Mar 12 '17 at 19:42
  • 1
    @Tonepoet: John Lawler's answers are not based on prejudice, but on his expertise. I am not sure what you mean about requiring quotes from links. What I said is that if people include a quote, they should link to the source. I don't think I said anywhere that quotes are required--they aren't. I said " name the sources of any quotations you use" and all of the "Provide context for links" section is unchanged (do you think it should be changed to remove the line "Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline"?). – herisson Mar 12 '17 at 19:47
  • @Tonepoet "space and copyright may dictate that otherwise is wiser" - Those are not good reasons for leaving out information because: 1) there's well enough space in answers for quotes, and 2) copyright allows shorter quotes as 'fair use'. what 'enough' and 'shorter' really are large enough that any more is distracting and takes too long to read. Comments have 500 char limits and are much much more restrictive than full answers, but comments aren't expected to have quotes like answers. – Mitch Mar 12 '17 at 20:28
  • @sumelic Ah, you're right about the context for links part! I'm not so sure that prejudice and expertise are mutually exclusive, especially since prejudices can be learned and learning is probably the primary qualifier of expertise. I think I'd prefer the word bias, because although sometimes it is used interchangably, when there is a difference, it seems like bias is a more unqualified predisposition, I believe. Also, it's probably worth note that you haven't expressly mentioned expertise in this post. – Tonepoet Mar 12 '17 at 20:30
  • @Tonepoet: I just pulled the word "prejudice" from JSBձոգչ's answer; you're probably right that "bias" might be better. I didn't choose to mention expertise because I felt that probably an expert would tend to know already how to write good answers, and I think it's covered to some extent by saying " give some context" (if someone is an expert, that would be relevant context for their uncited statements). – herisson Mar 12 '17 at 20:35
  • @Tonepoet: actually, the word "prejudice" occured in the other proposal, not the one above this comment chain--I was confused for a moment. Do you think it is confusing to have different proposals all on the same page like this? I notice none of them has been upvoted, which to me indicates that nobody thinks my proposals are any better than the status quo. – herisson Mar 12 '17 at 20:38
  • @sumelic Sorry about that. I can't speak for others regarding how confusing it is, maybe it's just me. All three proposals have your name on it which threw me off a little. Also keep in mind that most of the attention any given question will get is soon after it's posted. It's possible that people aren't visiting yet. I only noticed the change right now 'cause I was going to write a little bit on the whole "links required" issue – Tonepoet Mar 12 '17 at 21:16
  • @Tonepoet: I thought about making a new post for the proposals. Maybe I will do that. Nobody was posting answers, so I assumed that I should provide several options myself. – herisson Mar 12 '17 at 21:30

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