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Recently, I answered a question very simply and I received lots of upvotes. I was puzzled, however, by why my answer garnered more than twice the amount of upvotes as the other, similar answer. My question to the community is what makes an answer "great" instead of good. I want to know this so I can further improve my answers to the site.

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    This is a common phenomenon. A non-obvious question with a distinct and immediately recognizably correct answer. It;s really annoying when you then answer a similar question with lots of effort – Mitch Nov 4 '14 at 2:13
  • So basically, short answers tend to get more upvotes than longer, more detailed ones? That seems terribly unfair, especially since I tend to upvote the in-depth answers. – Arradras Nov 4 '14 at 2:21
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    I wouldn't say 'tend' to. Because many short answers can be poor, not enough detail, misleading, etc. But fair is not the point...see tchrist's answer, vote for quality. If the short answer is good, don't -not- upvote it. – Mitch Nov 4 '14 at 2:52
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    The truth is that that question hit the hot network, that increases readership, that increases the chances of a goodish answer going beyond the ten upvotes mark; the not-so-good answers will still receive a bunch of up-votes, while the plain awful ones will get a couple. The SE crowd is, generally speaking, fickle. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 11:35
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    @Mari-LouA has hit it, I think. Once a question hits the multicollider all reason falls away. – Robusto Nov 4 '14 at 13:56
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Short answers that demand no thinking from the reader, and which can be read in a single breath, often attract higher votes than longer, more detailed answers that take more work and provide more quality to the site.

If you want to maximize your reputation, there are very different approaches to take than if you want to maximize the site’s actual value.

Unfortunately.

You can find out the ratio between the size of a posting compared with its votes for any given user by using this SEDE query and a supplied user ID. Here’s mine.

  • But you're the exception to the rule. (along with two or three others) Your answers can be quite detailed, but nearly always a pleasure to read. I think if you are a skilled wordsmith, you can write longer, thoughtful answers, which are informative and entertaining at the same time. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 11:46
  • I hope nobody thinks I'm sucking up to you, because I ain't. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '14 at 14:10
  • @Mari-LouA Don’t worry. It’s just that some of my answers punch below there weight. – tchrist Nov 4 '14 at 15:30
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Upvotes are cast for different reasons. Some cast upvotes on long answers just because of the in-depth research that may have been done. But some very basic answers also get a lot of upvotes, too, as if the voters were saying, in essence, "That's what I would've said, too."

In cases where two answers are similar, another cause for a vote disparity might be when the two similar answers were submitted. On the question you're asking about, you answered first. Answering first will sometimes garner more votes, for a couple reasons:

  • Some people will vote for one answer before any follow-on answers are posted. Many of those people won't go back to that question to vote for other answers. It's a simple matter of how many people see each answer.

  • In cases where two people submit very similar answers at close to the same time, some might vote for the older of the two only, and not the other, out of fear that the second contributor might have merely copied the first answer, instead of indepently arriving at the same conclusion.

(I'm not saying either of those are good reasons for voting or not voting, I'm just saying I think those factors sometimes influence the voting patterns.)

If you try to correlate the quality of an answer with the number of upvotes it ultimately gets, you'll drive yourself batty. As an example, you might want to check out the famous umbrella question.

  • Also, some people might only vote for the first answer they see that they agree with, or they may "hop on the bandwagon" and only vote for the answer that already has more votes. – Hellion Nov 12 '14 at 21:48

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