In stack overflow the mechanism is simple, you have a problem, you ask a question, people propose a solution in an answer, you try it, if it works you choose the correct answer.

In EL&U Stack Exchange however; I do not think the user have the same ability or means, at least not all the time, to judge if the answer is correct, it is not like if he used a wrong answer he would get a compilation error.

I understand this is somewhat philosophical, and I do not really have a clever alternative, but maybe someone does or someone has a counter argument to end this line of thinking.


The question asked here is basically asking the same thing, and I think the conclusion there is good too, why not add a guideline to choosing an accepted answer based on the suggested references and methods?

  • ELU is no different from the others. The same question works every where: how can someone who doesn't know the answer possibly judge the correctness of an attempt at an answer? Anyway, the rollover of the 'check' says something about 'most helpful' (see @AndrewLeach's answer), not 'is correct'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 14:00
  • @Mitch The same argument has been made, no EL&U is different because in StackOverflow you, as an OP, have an objective way of testing that it works, of finding it most helpful, you simply try it on your problem and see if it's solved, in EL&U it's not like your tongue will curl up if you say something wrong, and it's also not like a workplace or academia where the most helpful answer is what pointed you to what you should do next. In the end I already admitted to having no clever alternatives, but this is the symposium to make the site better. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 14:16
  • Not every question on SO is compilable or runnable. Contra-similarly, some ELU questions can be confirmed by consulting a reference.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 14:19
  • I wrote "at least not all the time", and if you compare by ratios with stack overflow to the times where you hit such a case it doesn't even come close, I don't have the means to get an exact metric but it would be interesting to know what is the ratio of most upvoted (which is not actually also the best measure of a correct answer, see here) and not accepted answer in stack overflow vs. EL&U. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


The user does not choose the correct answer, on any Stack Exchange site.

The user selects the answer which he found most helpful. In some cases, the two are synonymous, and the most helpful answer will be the code which doesn't crash his PC. In other cases, particularly in Arts subjects, the answer which is most helpful to the user may not be the one which most people would judge is most correct.

In extreme cases, this can lead to a completely wrong answer being accepted, probably because the answer panders to the asker's misconception or prejudices and is the answer he wanted rather than the one he needed.

However, this is what voting is for. If an answer is wrong, or at the very least unhelpful, downvote it. If there is a good answer, upvote that. It's the voting which should guide the asker into choosing the best answer as most helpful. (Yes, you incur a penalty for downvoting an answer. But the answerer incurs twice as much for each downvote, and enough downvotes will probably also trigger delete votes. When an answer is deleted you get your 1-point rep penalty back.)

It may be unfortunate that the accepted answer gets a green tick. But that doesn't mean "this is right"; it means "this worked for me".

  • I understand this, but if an answer is to be deleted it has to be absolutely moronic, and I actually don't think this is a bad thing. Let me clarify my take on "worked for him", people would sometimes use was instead of were with you, and it would actually "work for them" since they won't be misunderstood. Of course I'm not saying that there is no way it works, up & down votes provide a generic view on the consensus, and my example is rather extreme, but I still have the feeling that something qualitative should be introduced to the judgement. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 7:44
  • @MysticOdin You ask a question, you choose whom to award the green tick. It's "your" question, it's up to users to present a convincing argument. If you're not persuaded then no answer is awarded.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 9:39
  • 1
    @MysticOdin: We have a constant battle on this site to persuade users that there is no such thing as a single judge of correctness in the English language (the more sophisticated querents sometimes mention the Academie francaise). The voting plus acceptance by OP system is exactly what we need here; I and many others would fight hard against any attempt to introduce "qualitative judgement". Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 11:04
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA it is his question in the sense that he asked it first, but it is not only his, it could be a lot of people's question, they would choose different answers, and they can't pick the accepted answer nor can they re-ask the question. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 11:50
  • @MysticOdin Then they can read the different answers and decide for themselves. Answers on EL&U aren't carved on stone tablets. They're not sacred. But if a user wanted to, they can set up a bounty on an old question and ask users to support their suggestions with authoritative sources; or demand a "canonical answer required: The question is widely applicable to a large audience. A detailed canonical answer is required to address all the concerns." OR improve details, OR ask that users update their response or supply fresh answers.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 11:58
  • Offering a sizeable bounty is often a good incentive, but it's by no means infallible. If users don't bite the bait you're left pretty much unsatisfied.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 12:02
  • I would never propose this supposed "qualitative judgement" to be from one source, and in that case I would join you in the fight, but what I'm asking is, since the OP actually has no means of judgement that gives him the authority of "worked for him", why actually does he have any special rights to the green tick? and if we give him that right, shouldn't be there some rule (that by all means can and should be quantitative) as to when can we judge that his selection is in need of some qualitative judgement? Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 13:09
  • For me the motivation behind this question is, I have used stack overflow for god knows how long, and I rarely looked past the answer selected by the OP, in EU&L however, I always see that I will miss a lot of I did this, I would go as far as saying this is not the correct usage of the site (to look only for the answer selected by the OP), and I don't know exactly but I feel that this is not the way it is supposed to be, again I don't have a clever alternative, I can shutdown every proposal that comes to my mind, but maybe someone has a smart proposal for this. Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 13:15
  • @MysticOdin, I also have used SO for a long time--when it appeared that it might be useful in the course of my research on a particular question. In doing so, however, I often found that the accepted answer for, e.g., programming questions, was incomplete or wrong for my use. This promoted my habit of always reviewing all the answers and comments, to see if another than the accepted answer might provide much-needed extra information, necessary corrections, and sometimes simply a correct answer, which the accepted answer was not. The same habit is in play here.
    – JEL
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 16:49
  • @JEL for programming questions the OP had a problem that was solved by the chosen answer, if it does not work for you then it's another problem with the same symptoms, yes in that case you might want to look through the remaining answers or might even look for the same question rephrased, this does not take away any merit from the chosen answer because the chosen answer had an objective way of proving that it worked for the question/case of the OP, in EL&U this objective way simply does not exist. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 9:29

Let me paraphrase your post to confirm we're talking about the same thing. You observed that in ELU, the people who answer typically have a firmer grasp of English than the person who asked the question (the OP). You're then asking why it makes sense for the OP to judge an answer.

It makes sense because the OP is the one who needs to be satisfied with the answer (see Andrew Leach's answer). The question remains: without knowing the answer beforehand, how should the OP decide when a question receives multiple answers and the answers don't agree, other than looking at the tally of votes?

They decide by looking at the support provided for each conclusion. ELU answers should be supported by appropriate justification such as dictionary definitions, logical argument, statistics, usage example and so on. These lend credibility to the answer; conversely, their absence can leave an answer looking weak. (See, for example, my answer to a related question).

ELU regulars also tend to point out flaws in answers rather freely, subject to the be nice policy. Although criticism is on occasion unwarranted, the discussions tend to bring out nuances of questions and answers that may have otherwise been left unaddressed. The process tends to validate or to invalidate an answer more clearly than just the bare answer. These discussions can provide valuable information to the OP regarding the correctness or otherwise of an answer. The answers themselves are often improved upon as a result of these discussions.

Note that all this also influences the community's votes on answers, which the OP can use as a gauge of each answer's popularity.

In short, the community's involvement and our preference for supported answers help the OP to judge the answers they receive. Based on this informed opinion, it then makes sense for the OP to award the green tick to whichever answer is most helpful.

  • 1
    In addition, the support provided for each conclusion should influence voting, and thus influence the asker's choice.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 10:13
  • @AndrewLeach Yes, agreed. I'll add that to my answer.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 at 10:18

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