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Some questions, and some answers, have recently been inordinately long. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to impose a maximum number of words for each, just as there is a minimum number of words for answers and comments?

  • Please link the question to your examples. – MetaEd Jan 26 '13 at 17:27
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    Some have been inordinately short. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jan 26 '13 at 17:33
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    If I may be forgiven a variation on an old joke, questions and answers should be like a skirt, long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting. Perhaps others have longer attention spans, but if I'm not hooked by the first paragraph, I stop reading. – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 17:39
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    There is in fact a maximum, but it is very, very high. (I have to run right now, but I'll see if I can find the original post on MSO later). – waiwai933 Jan 26 '13 at 17:44
  • @waiwai933♦.Thanks. – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 17:49
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    I don't suppose it matters, but why the downvotes for simply making a suggestion? – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 17:51
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    @BarrieEngland On Meta sites, downvotes serve to indicate "I disagree" rather than "this question is poorly formed". – simchona Jan 26 '13 at 18:10
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    @waiwai933 the limit is 30000 characters. Here's one related MSO post: Please increase the maximum allowed length for answers. There are others. – RegDwigнt Jan 26 '13 at 19:51
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    Which is (very approximately) 5 000 words, or 10 to 20 pages. – MetaEd Jan 26 '13 at 19:58
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    @MετάEd. Bloody hell. – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 20:04
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    Our top 200 longest posts. Six questions, one mod nomination, one tag wiki, the rest are answers. Barely any are younger than three months (and the data dump is up to date). We've had quite a few more that have been deleted (for copyright infringement or just being plain incomprehensible). Our longest answer, in fact, was so long that it was split in three. Can't find it for the life of me. – RegDwigнt Jan 26 '13 at 20:25
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    I like long answers. (context: I like Tristram Shandy, too.) I've never seen one here I thought had too much content; I've seen many I thought had too little. To be sure, the expression can on some occasions be tightened up a little, repetitions eliminated, flow channeled; but that's a matter of reducing length by 5% or so, not the 30%-50% I routinely achieve in rewriting everyday business and professional pieces. The level of writing on this site is extraordinarily high; people say what they have to say briskly and effectively. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 26 '13 at 21:20
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    I'll take all this as a maybe then. – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 21:21
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    @Barrie: If there's one thing I like about us Brits, it's our mastery of the typical British understatement! – FumbleFingers Jan 28 '13 at 6:17
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    Many of the 200 longest @RegDwighт shows contain numerous examples of something too. It's easy to skip past as "yet more examples" if you aren't interested. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '13 at 12:16
7

I downvoted this question because I don't think ELU should automatically and unilaterally restrict question/answer length - but I do think it's a good question that's well worth raising here on meta.

On rare occasions I've downvoted an inordinately long question or answer where I wouldn't have if it had said the same thing more succinctly. Not that I'd downvote because it was too long (I upvote lots of long answers). It's just one more consideration that might potentially tip the balance for me.

I'm sure many if not most voters take into account the ratio between length and useful content, so it seems to me our votes are already an adequate mechanism for discouraging the worst excesses.

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    I would also like to point sometimes it becomes essential to write a long answer to cover the whole topic or to let the answer make clear enough to be understandable by the OP. Sometimes, a short answer may lead the OP into middle of nowhere in understanding. Sometimes the discussion elongates in the comments (If the OP is serious enough), otherwise the OP does not give enough thought to it, which is not the answerers goal. – Mistu4u Jan 28 '13 at 6:13
  • @Mistu4u I think that goes in particular for questions where it's clear the OP has a problem understanding something, but it's not clear just what; you have to cover a few different features to have a good chance of hitting on whatever their difficulty is. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '13 at 15:02
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    @Jon Hanna: In those situations I much prefer that the OP respond to requests for more detail of his exact issue. I think ELU isn't a suitable environment for broad-ranging expositions. It works much better when each question focusses on one specific detail. – FumbleFingers Feb 12 '13 at 20:01
  • Yeah, though often its the interaction between two or more points that have me interested enough to answer. – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '13 at 20:28
5

Nothing prevents the reader from leaving off in the middle of a question or answer if it doesn't maintain interest. Nevertheless, someone else might find all that detail fascinating. Not all questions can be adequately explored by a quick C&P from the OED.

  • Or Wikipedia, which seems to feature rather more often, and which is freely available to all. – Barrie England Jan 26 '13 at 19:52
5

Please forgive my long answers. I don't always have time for a short one.

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    That used to be my signature line at work: Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. –Pascal – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 12 '13 at 12:44
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    @StoneyB I would have cited the source, but that would have made it longer ;) – Jon Hanna Feb 12 '13 at 12:54
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    Oh, I only threw the source in because it helped intimidate my clients. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 12 '13 at 12:56

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