27

In a comment on this [single-word-request] answer, the question was raised:

I'm … adding all my ideas to one answer. Is that the right way? Rather than generating many answers and letting each one fend for its own votes?

It's a good question. For questions that have concise, competing answers (I'm thinking in particular of and ), should we encourage users to break each idea into a separate answer?

It might help further separate wheat from chaff, and I don't think it should make a difference from a user's perspective: he'll get as much rep, if not more, by breaking out his responses (because all the people who would have voted for the composite answer will still vote for one of the component answers; and some people who would not have voted for the composite answer because it contained something they didn't like might vote for a "clean" component answer that doesn't contain that language).

Is there already an established or recommended best practice here?

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    I personally prefer that single answers are kept separate (and that one person doesn't answer multiple times in one answer). But I think a precedent has been made that it is in general preferred one person one answer... looking. – Mitch Aug 11 '14 at 20:09
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    I wonder if there's a particular undercurrent that's driving that preference. Maybe because "one user, multiple answers" is generally discouraged as overeager or greedy? – Dan Bron Aug 11 '14 at 20:18
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    ...or taking up too much space. I can't find the meta question /answer but it was recent and by KitFox. Good to make more of it so we know what the policy should be. – Mitch Aug 11 '14 at 20:30
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    Generally the single-word-requests are answered annoyingly. 50% of the time, the only response that needs to be given is "there's no such word". that's it. the other 50% of the time, simply state what you believe the answer to be. there's no need to gab on with examples etc (dictionaries exist). also it is not ELL, so once you state the word in question, everyone here on this site already knows all about the word. – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 14:42
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    @JoeBlow: "There's no such word" is never a good answer to a word request. If that's true, it is adequately conveyed by lack of answers (or lack of positively voted answers). "I don't know of any such word" is actually defensible, but useless, so it's not a good answer either. – Ben Voigt Aug 13 '14 at 16:55
  • I'm afraid I don't agree, Ben. If I was asking for a SWR, and "God" (as it were) could decisively tell me "There is no such word" - I'd want Him to tell me. – Fattie Aug 13 '14 at 18:42
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    @Joe & Ben: whether or not to explicitly post a "there is no answer" answer on SWRs is a good question for meta - one of you guys want to post it? (It's worth considering whether finding in the affirmative will encourage multiple users to post identical "there's no answer" answers.) – Dan Bron Aug 13 '14 at 19:29
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I have been struggling with this issue. I often answer single word request, and I often have an initial reaction. I post it. Not infrequently, I think of another answer that is somewhat divergent from the first. I then add it. If the addition is based on feedback, or long after my initial post, I usually label it as a Supplement.

At various points in my editing, people vote up, down, or ignore me.

From an answerer's point of view, that is fine. But from a viewer's perspective, it's a problem. Let's say my answer (collective) now gets several upvotes. Which of my answers (individual) has earned the endorsement of my peers? Unless there is a comment pointing out which element of my compound answer (or which several in a multi-layered rant) is worthy of praise, how does the person seeking to weigh the crowd sourced valuation know which part(s) is worthy.

If our goal is creating a clear database of information, we should not offer only YES, NO, and NO OPINION votes for answers that say Mars, vanilla ice cream and my sister's fountain pen.

Let's keep alternative answers separate.

[I would modify this position to allow a laundry list type answer where there is little distinction, or where we are trying to show the extensive range of possibilities rather than focus on a particular word or meaning.]

  • I agree with this. I'm new and I'll admit to likely violating this, but the question of which answer was accepted is probably of more importance to the future visitor (for whom the site's rules exist, right?) than how many answers are crammed into the accepted/most voted one. Of course, the problem with being a human-edited thesaurus for most of the multi-answer questions is the fact that the synonyms are legion and the visitor may appreciate the other word(s) regardless of author. We can't wait 2 years for something that can be generated in a day or sooner. – SrJoven Aug 12 '14 at 0:49
  • This is also my inclination, though I'm new as well, so I'm wondering if there's a downside I'm overlooking. In particular, this is not the way it's shaken out so far, so there's something motivating people (myself included) to consolidate answers. I'd like to identify the source of that instinct, and understand the implications of undermining it, before making any changes. (And I'm also a little vague on how we'd go about enforcing such a policy, as well.) – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 1:05
  • @danbron it's a fairly responsive crowd (at least the regulars). If we set up a best practices and regularly remind posters , the tendency is to cooperate by-and-large. – bib Aug 12 '14 at 1:08
  • @bib Fair enough. – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 1:09
  • I agree on this sentiment. The status of each answer could be deducted from comments or from the OP's edits (such as, "Okay, I'm going with XXXX's answer of YYYY), tho it'd place the burden on the community instead of the answerer. It's just that too many answers would just make things look messy – Raestloz Aug 12 '14 at 2:42
  • Ok; so far the biggest pitfall we've identified is that lots of short answers might look too messy or take up too much space. I can live with that. @SrJoven , can you elaborate on your caveat about "synonyms being legion" and "waiting two years for something we can generate in a day"? – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 11:30
  • @DanBron A prolific editor with a thesaurus in hand may have three, four, seven, ten even synonyms each of which, for various reasons, may actually answer the question posed. On the one hand, it means (potentially) that the choices available to the Question Submitter are available faster, because if an answer is being accepted, it's likely going to be accepted quickly. On the other hand, if one editor, one answer, it may be [a long time] before that perfect response is submitted by someone. Who can wait 2 years before getting an answer? – SrJoven Aug 12 '14 at 11:50
  • Ah, thanks. I didn't get that the first time round. – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 11:52
  • @DanBron cont'd: I'm not saying the blasting of answers means necessarily the correct answer is in there, but perhaps an editor might be gently nudged to pace himself (a day or so?) to add answer(s) to his answer if he sees that the activity on the question isn't flowing. It gives other editors a chance, and is a bit more fair to them. – SrJoven Aug 12 '14 at 11:56
  • It doesn't matter a stuff whether the answers are together or grouped. Who cares? Humans are incredibly good at skimming over long pages of information; there is zero difference if the formatting is different. Regarding "who deserves the points!" - who cares. The single-word-requests questions are kind of "puzzle-challenges" anyway, they are silly. the perfect answer simply states the answer. it's not like a normal question where you "get points! for explaining well, writing well, and having references. – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 14:44
  • @Joe, I may be in the minority here, but I actually really enjoy [single-word-requests]; I find it exciting to look for the absolutely perfect word, and thrilling when I find it. So I personally like to know which word took the day (both in terms of being right [✓], and good [👍]). I think breaking out individual ideas assists in that regard. – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 15:50
  • (I also think people - both those who come first to try to answer, and those who come later to find an answer - are actually pretty bad at picking out all the individual ideas from a composite post; witness the prevalence of [single-word-requests] where answers repeat suggestions embedded in earlier answers.) – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 15:52
  • @Dan - agreed, I adore & love single word requests, but (a) nothing needs to be given as an answer other than the word (it's an expert site, everyone here knows what the words mean) and (b) it's silly to worry about whether people put more than one in an answer. answers/comments etc are all the same on single-word-request challenges – Fattie Aug 12 '14 at 16:08
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    @JoeBlow I strongly disagree that the word alone is best practice as an answer to single word requests. Rather the word, a definition fro m a reliable source, a link to that source, and as of recently, a textual reference to the source. The definition is necessary to provide the flavor of the word and to allow a comparison to the definition in the question. As some have said on these pages, almost no two words are true synonyms, and there are subtle variations we would like to suss out. – bib Aug 12 '14 at 16:13
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    I actually like reading (and giving) the reasons people choose specific words. The justifications, stemming from use "in the wild", lend to words new colors and flavors I may not even experienced before, though I "know" the word. – Dan Bron Aug 12 '14 at 16:14
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Concerning the posting of two or more answers separately, @Dan Bron asks:

Is there already an established or recommended best practice here?

This is what happened to me.

Once, when I was still a fledgling, I posted two answers to a question that boiled down to orthography. My first post was brief, to the point and effective but users asked me to "explain" why I sustained this opinion. Without wanting to clutter the first post, which had garnered a number of upvotes (3 or 4) I decided to post a second "answer", more detailed, containing more references, Ngrams etc. Effectively speaking it was as if I had written an extensive footnote. People were free to either approve or disagree, the response was positive and I received a higher number of upvotes than first post which laid pretty much dormant.

I was then asked (very politely) by a mod to either delete one of the posts or merge the two together. It was said that users believed I was looking to gain rep points unfairly, because both my posts could be upvoted. In short, I was accused of "milking the system".

Highly offended, I protested that several times I had seen users post two or more answers, and provided the links to prove it. It was pointed out to me that a user could post several answers if the answers were significantly different from one another. Only on those circumstances did the site permit this practice.

In the meantime, I remembered seeing one user who had posted six separate answers on one question. Again it was NOT a single-word-request, but a question dealing with grammar. The answerer had chosen to break down the question in six different parts, and received a total of (I think) eight upvotes.

When I signalled this discrepancy in the system, it was suggested that it was permissible because the answers were different from one another. I wanted to observe that however, all six answers could have been merged into one, but by this time it was clear I was losing the war.

In the end, my pride wounded, I chose to delete both my posts before the mod deleted one or edited my post to merge the two answers together.

After that episode I don't think I have ever posted two separate answers, but I have seen others do so, not often admittedly, and not only for single-word requests.

Conclusion

  • If a user posts different answers which are distinct and offer alternative solutions, the site will tolerate this practice.
  • If the separate posts can be merged, it will be encouraged but not necessarily enforced.
  • If a user posts two (or more) answers which are linked to each other, and someone flags them, the mod is constrained to act.
4

When I answer SWR questions I typically add a bunch of detail about each potential match in order to address the entire area being discussed. English often doesn't have an exact phrase that fits and I think splitting each section into its own answer would make it harder to understand.

A few examples:

While I see the argument for splitting any of those answers up, I think they work best as is. Various comments will address portions of the answer and I will typically integrate the extra information into the full answer.

4

I would advocate for each answer being posted separately for two reasons:

1) Combined answers may contain one good and one bad answer. In those cases, both voters and the OP may be conflicted in designating their votes (or acceptances), since upvoting an answer may be an endorsement of the bad answer, and downvoting a good answer is "throwing the baby out with the bath water". This lack of precision may serve to detract from participation.

2) Combined answers may offer two separate good answers. If there are two good answers, the voting by the community can help discern the best of two good options. By combining the answers, this handicaps the Questioner from the benefits of the community input, in an important way.

Unless we are considering a very strict institutionalization of 1 answer per submission, and 1 submission per user, or some modification to the voting process - both of which I would be disinclined to do - we should advocate for 1 answer per submission, and support users to make multiple submissions where multiple, separate answers are given.

One check on "serial equivalent answers" could be adding a flag for "multiple equivalent answers submitted". A programmed process could combine those answer from a particular user that are flagged. This would be a simple append process, ordering it first by votes received, and then in order of time of post. To manage votes, perhaps we should only keep the highest vote tally, and forfeiture of the vote from the other posts.

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    There was in fact a recent question to which, after giving a great deal of thought, a member posted 3 different answers. One of these answers was highly upvoted -- the best answer to the Q, and endorsed by the readers. The second answer was equally good but very different,& also earned many upvotes. The third was late, expressed a niche point of view, & got buried under a number of other answers, therefore earning only a few upvotes. I was saddened to see that this member, first to see the awesome potential of the question, was nastily accused by someone (in a comment) of 'fishing for votes.' – English Student Jun 28 '17 at 15:02

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