In order to maintain the high quality of answers on workplace we need to be able to emphasize to those who answer that just being 'right' isn't enough.

A few people (links to come) have questioned why they are being down-voted when their answer is 'right'.

Currently the way we have been tackling this is to down-vote and leave a comment explaining that good answers require an assessment of both the pros and cons of a decision and that an even better answer needs to be timeless.

By which i mean, an answer that solves the current problem is a good answer, but one that solves the answer and is able to explain why that is right in a manner that is useful for future visitors is a great answer.

So aside from the down votes, and the linking to FAQ's on how to answer, is there much more we can do to emphasize that good quality answers require so much more than just being 'right'.

I've seen a few people take to the approach of lead by example and have posted some absolutely fantastic answers that are well thought out and well formatted.

Is there much more we can do with the existing toolset? Could so much more be done with additional methods no-one has voiced yet?

Note: The above two questions are rhetorical (but relevant) questions. My focus is still on the question in the title


The way I see it, we already have tools for this. I'd use comment like below:

as far as I can tell, this answer violates "back it up" rule from the FAQ: "answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct." I think the post would better be edited to include required details, which would help encourage more upvotes, give readers more confidence about the answer, and discourage downvotes / delete flags

The thing I like about above is it stays away from value judgements. It doesn't call for "right" or "wrong", it only makes a requirement for claims to be backed up. In my experience so far it works pretty well (two examples today, one answer removed, another one still here).

Regarding the FAQ quote used here, as noted in comments, "the single most important reason for that FAQ section to exist is so that people can freely (and without guilt) downvote posts that explain nothing."

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    +1 that comment and the ones i posted myself on the same answer is what pushed me into this line of thinking in the firs tplace – user5305 Feb 15 '13 at 14:30
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    Hi gnat, I feel like starting the comment off with "downvoted" or "-1" tends to make people feel defensive, which means they stop learning. Instead, I suggest giving the author advice on how to improve the post and then explain that we prefer answers that are backed up. You could even suggest possible explanations if you think you know where they're coming from. This is a great way to motivate people to comply with the rules, to also be helpful, and all without making them feel like they've been attacked, which is easily misinterpreted on the Internet. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Feb 15 '13 at 14:55
  • @jmort253 thanks for pointing that out - corrected comment "template". "downvoted because" has leaked in from most recent use, where it was added in order to address the question "why downvote" – gnat Feb 15 '13 at 14:58
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    Hey @gnat, how do you feel about something like this: "Hi User, welcome to the Workplace SE. Because of the nature of our topic, we look for answers that are backed up by facts, references, or specific expertise in the form of shared experiences that happened to you personally. I'd suggest an [edit] to your post to include this information, which will help encourage more upvotes, give readers more confidence that this is the right answer, and discourage downvotes/comply with our [faq]." Please feel free to take this comment and improve upon it. :) – jmort253 Feb 15 '13 at 15:02
  • @jmort253 well your translation of "blatantly violates" would likely have better effect, that's a good catch. Though I wouldn't use "your template" as is, for the reasons we discussed with Anna Lear here: it could confuse reader by misrepresenting officially stated policy as my personal opinion. That's why I would definitely stick to faq quote in comments like that, "back up friendly message with authoritative reference" – gnat Feb 15 '13 at 15:18
  • @Jmort253 - I think something stronger with a little more teeth than we look for is appropriate. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 15 '13 at 17:42
  • @Chad well in my experience so far, gentle pressure (of course sufficiently loaded with authoritative reference) used to work better than hard one - in the sense that addressed posters were adopting to community norms faster and more often. And in the same time it didn't make any difference in cases when downvoting / deletion / closure were necessary (for example, you wouldn't hold a downvote just because complaint against the post is spelled politely, would you?:) – gnat Feb 15 '13 at 18:18
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    @GNAT - I think the wording of we look for implies that this is an optional, maybe even personal, standard. We should be conveying that it is not is all. I am not saying it should be rude. Just that the wording should convey that this is a non-optional site standard. I think I would use Jmorts wording with the exception of replacing the words we look for with we require and including a link to the back it up rule. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 15 '13 at 18:31
  • @Chad ah! I see. "We look for" feels slippery to me too, thanks for explaining. That's why I really prefer quoting and referring faq; it feels strong enough to me (see bold text quote in my answer). When I mentioned gentle vs hard I meant only my personal additions surrounding that reference, like "as far as I can tell" vs "blatantly violates" etc – gnat Feb 15 '13 at 18:39
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    IMO the single most important reason for that FAQ section to exist is so that people can freely (and without guilt) downvote posts that explain nothing. – Rarity Feb 15 '13 at 20:45
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    @Chad - That sounds like a good argument to me. I encourage experimentation with the wording in comments to see what works and what doesn't. – jmort253 Feb 15 '13 at 23:50
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    Hi @gnat, I like your edited version. It clearly makes the point and states the rules, yet still comes off as helpful and encouraging. – jmort253 Feb 16 '13 at 4:11
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    This is great! Thanks – enderland Feb 16 '13 at 20:47

Simple: downvote and explain that being right isn't enough, and explain that there must be substance to justify the answer. Simply telling someone that what they've done isn't good enough won't lead to improvement; advising them on how to do better is necessary as well. While the downvote and comment will draw their attention to the fact that there is an issue, having a comment explaining why there is an issue and how to fix it is important. Perhaps the comment could include a suggestion for backing up the answer ("can you link to an authoritative reference on this?" or "can you explain how this applies to something you've experienced?" are good starting points).

Unfortunately, this is still not guaranteed. I believe it's more effective than just downvoting and pointing out the problem, since it provides an easier path to resolve (and therefore better understand the problem), but for drive-by answers and confrontational personalities, there is sometimes no solution.

Additionally, moderators can add post notices along the lines of "Citation Needed", which can add more weight to such comments. These notices also serve as signposts to other would-be answerers that such answers are insufficient, hopefully preventing bad answers and encouraging better answers. If you feel an answer could benefit from such a notice, just flag it for our attention and we will take a look at it.

  • +1 i always seem to forget about the moderators and their additional powers, dont take it personally! :P – user5305 Feb 15 '13 at 14:24
  • Most of what's needed can be done by non-mods with enough rep; moderators' additional magical powers are for those extreme cases that can't be handled with the standard priveleges. As Jeff Atwood put it, "moderators are human exception handlers". – yoozer8 Feb 15 '13 at 14:29
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    @RhysW - Generally, if community users flag a post, one of us may apply a post notice if we think a user may improve his/her post. If other users have left helpful comments already, and the answers haven't been improved in a timely manner, we'll sometimes just go ahead and delete them if we can't improve them. So, community involvement definitely helps streamline the process. :) – jmort253 Feb 15 '13 at 15:00

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