Occasionally, high rep users do not give references or closely reasoned arguments in their Answers. Perhaps I have become sensitized, but this occasional lapse seems more frequent than it did when I first arrived at this site (early May). Perhaps I should give several examples, but I am not feeling prosecutorial.

This sets a bad example to newcomers. Why should they free-climb the rep cliff when others are sailing past in a gondola?

With a high enough rep is an assertion enough to answer an "obvious" point? And how obvious is obvious?

I will be away and totally off-line until just before Labor Day, and thus will not be able to respond to comments on this question until September 4th.

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    Since May? For you that may be an eternity, but for many that's a blink of an eye. But supposing that the phenomenon you see is real, that might be a justification for answers in comments, for people to not want to bother with a well-researched answer.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 14:14
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    High rep or not, if an answer seems unobvious, request an explanation or a reference -- a perfect use for comments. How is anyone else to know what seems obvious to the OP or other readers. Better to explain what you think is unobvious and let comments reveal the rest. If you feel someone is sailing too smoothly, don't let them off the hook: Comment! :)
    – Born2Smile
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


I haven't noticed a decline in the level and quality of reasoning and documentation that answerers have been providing since early May of this year, though such a decline is certainly possible.

What I have noticed is a tremendous improvement in the level and quality of documentation that answerers have been providing in the past 36 months compared with what they tended to provide in the period before that. I think that the proportion of answers that are backed by useful, confirmable citations to authoritative references—linked and unlinked—is much higher on this site today than it was three or four years ago.

It's not that the answers given in 2011 are incorrect or even (in general) less reliable. But I think that in the early months of this site's existence, the prevailing notion was that answerers who knew their stuff fulfilled their role more than adequately by answering questions briefly and correctly, without the need to cite any authority beyond their own expertise. (Some knowledgeable participants have cited authority and investigated questions in depth from day one, but others seem to have seen less reason to adopt so painstaking an approach.)

The greater stress on third-party authority in more-recent years is perhaps a reflection of the participation of so many non-expert answerers (like me): If you don't possess an academic background in linguistics and an intimate acquaintance with advanced grammatical analysis, you have to look things up to ensure that you aren't misapplying a rule or repeating a baseless factoid that you picked up at random somewhere. The worst answers propagate erroneous information; and some supposedly authoritative reference works undoubtedly are erroneous themselves on some points. But at least when you point to a source of information, you enable better-informed participants at the site to review it and challenge its conclusions.

As for knowledgeable answerers who don't provide documentation, I imagine that people who have complete command of the subject must find it extremely tedious to have to dig up a reference to something they consider elementary and obvious. I remember seeing, some months ago, a comment from an EL&U participant saying that we are lucky to receive contributions from some genuine experts, and that we should gladly accept those contributions on whatever terms the experts choose to provide them. I agree that their expertise is of tremendous value to the site, though I think it is even stronger when yoked to documentation.

In the end, what makes an answer on this site helpful for the poster and for subsequent readers is a combination of things, some of them not especially compatible: accuracy, clarity, succinctness, comprehensiveness, and documentation. The closer we get to producing answers that possess all of these qualities, the better we serve our community.

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    Thank you for a thoughtful Answer. I notice that a few very knowledgeable users regularly Comment rather than Answer, and that their Comments are usually more useful than most peoples' Answers.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 2:34

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