13

Nearly two years to the day since "back it up" was introduced to Workplace, there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding what the principle looks like on The Workplace.

Here is all our on-topic says about this:

Please note that 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 have spent a lot of effort over the past year and a half using community tools available to me to keep this as part of our site culture (editing, voting and commenting) . However, it quite often feels that there is a very small number of site regulars doing this or supportive of "back it up" via voting. The first part of this meta post is my perspective on how the community is split.

Previous discussions and FAQ discussions indicate nearly universal support for this to be part of the site.

I am concerned as a community we send conflicting messages when some users downvote/comment content not answering "why" while the majority upvote it. I am hoping for a frank discussion answering two questions:

  • Should this site retain the "back it up" principle as articulated in the FAQ material?
  • If so, how should the primary method be to encourage answers to satisfy it?

Relevant and related meta discussion on why should answers be long

  • > Previous discussions and FAQ discussions indicate nearly universal support for this to be part of the site. Yes. There is universal support for a "back-it up" policy, but we don't universally agree with your guidance for it. Here's my opinion. – Jim G. Apr 6 '14 at 23:49
  • How do we get more people to read this? Especially the newer users that are taking over the site – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 8 '14 at 19:33
12

Should this site retain the "back it up" principle as articulated in the FAQ material?

No. The first half of the current policy should be removed and the second half elaborated.

I care about the question, "is this answer useful to future readers with similar questions?" The answer is generally no when an answer is "do this." The answer is generally yes when answered, "do this because of this reason."

Seeing the "why" allows future readers to understand how the answer may apply in their similar yet slightly different situation. Very few people will have identical questions to previously asked questions.

I propose that paragraph be changed to:

Please note that answers should provide sufficient explanation as to "why is this answer correct?" Don't just answer "do X" but rather answer "do X because..." Additional information can be found here*

*this would link to a meta post with examples and detailed explanation. Note that for some types of answers "because of these reasons" and for others a link to official documentation is "why." This meta post would also allow everyone who is downvoting answers missing the "why" to provide a link with more than "workplace has back it up principle, yo" as a comment.

  • How does "Please note that answers should provide more sufficient explanation as why the answer is correct. The logic and reasoning should be explained not just to prove the answer but to ensure that the person(s) needing the answer understand the steps and so that future visitors can utilize the answer for their issue that is similar." sound to you? It feels like a slightly more diplomatic way to say your point. – Paul Muir Apr 7 '14 at 2:03
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    Perhaps a combination of the two, @PaulDonny. Ironically, there's a psychological aspect to how long something is. Too short, and it omits details and sounds curt; too long, and we lose the reader. Also, sometimes I'm not quite sure what audience the help center targets. Many times, I feel like it targets regular contributors, like an owners manual. In fact, it sometimes acts as reference material for when I'm trying to figure out what to do with something. In short, what I like about the way enderland words this is it acts as a simpler guide for how we all approach community moderation. – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 2:15
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    Also keep in mind it's about 0% chance anyone will read that FAQ section before posting an answer and getting it downvoted. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 2:28
  • Good point. That just further supports the idea that the largest help center audience is likely to be the existing user base, regardless of what the intended audience is... – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 2:46
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    @jmort253 that's why I think having a larger meta post explaining "What does 'back it up' mean?" that can be linked to posts in question is a big part of the answer to how this should actually work here in practice. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 2:54
  • +1: I like this. – Jim G. Apr 7 '14 at 5:27
  • @jmort253, So a basic, small rule in the FAQ with a linked post to a Meta post that explains in further detail as to why the rule exists and gives more in-depth details to the rule? Sounds great, but when flagging/down voting because of it, it would be better to post a link to both (Or on the rules put something that makes it clear that the link gives further information and should be followed). – Paul Muir Apr 7 '14 at 12:52
  • I disagree with removing the first half – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 8 '14 at 15:54
7

I'm relatively new here, but I feel that for the types of questions asked on Workplace, it's impossible to always have firsthand experience or even a reference that backs up your answer.

I know that my most upvoted answers did not come from direct experience, and most of my workplace knowledge has come to me secondhand. In other words, I've heard a lot of stories from around me that allows me to give out good advice for some situations. It's impossible to cite references in those instances, as those stories were never posted online in a written fashion, but it doesn't deter it from being good advice. I also have upvoted (and downvoted) others' answers, not because they were referenced or cited, but because it was sound advice (or bad advice).

From what I've gathered, the point of the voting system on SE is to be able to agree as a community on what the best answer is to a question. Frankly, it's up to the community as a whole to determine what makes for sound advice and what makes for bad advice. Though it's nice to have references attached to answers to help the community to decide that, references aren't necessary for that decision. Finally, if the community for some reason loses its collective mind and upvotes an obviously bad answer, we have moderators to step in and fix the problem.

Furthermore, the "back it up" policy is practically impossible to enforce. I could say that everything in my answers comes from firsthand experience, but that would be a lie. However, you couldn't prove that; you just have to assume good faith in the matter and vote on the quality of the answer as a whole.

Overall, I don't feel like the "back it up" policy should stay in place. The community seems to have, by default, reached the opposite consensus, and again, it's really unenforceable.

However, the 2nd sentence of the policy should absolutely stay in place:

You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

This part is what determines the quality of any answer here, and already seems to determine whether an answer is voted up or down.

  • 1
    This is nearly exactly what I think should happen for the FAQ/back it up principle, all I'd add is that there be a detailed meta post type thing which basically is "What does it mean to explain why my answer is correct?" and a lengthier explanation and examples. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 0:10
  • Yeh, I don't think a reference is required. In some situations, it can be helpful especially when there's a legal component. I always feel more confident about information I'm reading where someone also points me to official documentation. Sometimes it just takes a moment to google around for it, knowing that someone with the question might not know what keywords to look for, but you as an expert knows that it's "US Copyright law on work products for freelancers" for instance... – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:12
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    [cont'd] - Basically, the key is to just provide enough information to where someone unfamiliar with the topic can take what you're saying and make an informed decision themselves... – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:13
  • @jmort253 - I agree. A relevant reference is certainly helpful, but not always (or even usually) available. – panoptical Apr 7 '14 at 4:26
3

Yes, the site should use the Back It Up! policy on questions that contain subjective elements.

I'm a mod on RPG.SE. We have seen a very strong differential in quality of answers based on our site learning to adhere to the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective rules. Theoretical answers, even when popular and backed with votes, are very low quality compared to answers coming from real experience. They "sound good" and get votes from people who like (that person, their mindset, their grammar, their opinions) but that has little to do with whether it works in the real world.

In my opinion Good Subjective, Bad Subjective should be normative guidance for all SE sites and it is what raises Stack Exchange above the "Yahoo Answers" level of "look I too can write an uninformed opinion."

Of course, references count as backing it up:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

Having seen it happen to someone else counts, reading it in a source counts. Wishful opinions of "I'm sure this is how it would happen, though I have no basis for that" does not count.

Do your SE a favor for the long term and fully understand and implement Good Subjective, Bad Subjective as normative guidance for your answers.

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    Thanks for weighing in. Just to clarify where you're perspective is coming from and qualify it, you've been a moderator longer than I have, since September 2010. You started as a pro-temp mod, won an election in 2012, and now have almost two years under your belt on a graduated Stack Exchange site. Impressive. We should make it a point to go through some of your site's meta posts to gain more perspective. – jmort253 Apr 24 '14 at 2:41
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    Feel free; we've been through many of the same questions already (I see the "why can't downvotes be always commented on" question etc. that we and I'm sure every other starter site has waded through...). Congrats on getting the site up and running, I know it's hard work! – mxyzplk Apr 24 '14 at 3:13
  • Almost... But not quite. Please see my remarks here, and thank you for your contribution and welcome to TWP: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/1627/… – Jim G. Apr 24 '14 at 4:11
2

Yes it should be kept but the enforcement of it needs to be increased. But I am infavor of a change in the wording.

You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct. Don't just answer "do X" but rather answer "do X because..." Additional information can be found here.* Please note that answers should be backed up with references and/or experiences that happened to you personally where appropriate.

We are past the point of needing to worry about retaining users and keeping the site growing. Our recent growth has shown a rise in the amount of low quality content I and many visitors consider noise. These are answers that do not answer the question, just comment on some tangent, or provide an opinion on the subject. People agree with these sentiments so they end up getting voted up because anyone can vote reguardless of rep. This prevents the higher rep people from removing the posts and puts the noise on top of the actual useful information, the signal.

We fought hard to get through the low quality days of the early site. It doesn't take much searching of the posts from the first month or 2 of the site to find the low quality posts, some of them from me. But we made that effort and got through it and got to the point where we had a working site that was attracting new visitors and now contributors. Most of those contributors will eventually figure out how to post good content. If we keep the bar high they will pick it up faster and our site will stay high quality. If we lower the bar it takes longer and we will lose more than we gain. This site will become a site for commiserating and sharing war stories just like all the other workplace forums on the internet.

It is time to stop worrying about scaring off users. If they are only posting low quality answers and refuse to try to meet site standards, their answers should be deleted quickly, and only undeleted when their posts meet site standards for quality. If these users decide not to return the community will survive and continue to grow because we have a library of high quality content already. Because of the sympathy votes many times this will take moderator action as the result of flags. But we need to flag these, and the mods need to take that action.

How should it work:

  • All answers must be complete, authoritative, and explain why.

We should start by pointing out the policy and helping to edit to correct where possible, when not it should be tagged with the explain why banner. (Ideally as long as this or any other banner remains the upvote arrow should be disabled) After 7 days of non compliance if the post is still voted above 0 the mods should delete the post. Then the OP should flag when they have corrected the issue.

  • Answers that make a claim of fact should be required to be referenced or clarified that it is merely the opinion of the poster.

Claims of fact are like "90% of workers do this at some point during the day",
"Most employers have adopted a policy similar to X", "The law is that you do X", or any other claim that is definitive. If it is the answers's opinion experience, then stating that provides clarification that it is up to the reader to evaluate the truthiness of the statement. A reference provides the reader with a source for the claim.

Answers in this category need a back it up banner that states the need to clarify if this is an opinion or to provide a reference to back it up.

-1

I am a bit newer here but I think that the rule is a bit silly and removes the ability to post common sense, thoughtful answers simply because it is something you know, not something you have experienced. I have read SEVERAL psychology books, I utilize this on a daily basis with my professional life. I have no clue exactly where I read, or what lead to my knowledge, for a lot of what I know. Should I not answer the question because I can not remember where I learned about it?

I however do not think that portion should be removed. Instead, add a single word into it and it is fixed. That word being preferably.

Please note that answers should preferably 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.

  • Just to play devils advocate for a moment, but does that knowledge have to come from a specific book or site you visited? Could you really quickly Google for something similar? I know it can be a lot of work, but sometimes it's nice to see some official research to support someone's interpretation about how to solve a problem. – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:16
  • And what if I google, do a quick overview, cite it and then that page is referring to a totally different issue? We have discussed the issue with Googling stuff and how you can spend 8 hours reading something to realize it was not what you wanted all along. – Paul Muir Apr 7 '14 at 0:22
  • The Internet has never lied to me. - Anonymous – Jim G. Apr 7 '14 at 0:27
  • It depends on the topic. For me, I always feel more confident about an answer that mentions law, when there's a reference, because even if, for instance, you cite something from New York law but I'm in Oregon, I can still use the terminology to find the relevant legal text in my own jurisdiction. In most cases, actual cited references aren't really needed and I definitely get what you're saying. Alternatively, maybe we're taking some questions that we're really not built to handle... – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:27
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    PaulDonny, do you think it's reasonable to ask for explanations of how one came to a specific conclusion, assuming we agree links aren't required? – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:29
  • Yes, the logic should be explained, not just to better prove the answer but to ensure that the person(s) needing the answer understand the steps and so that future visitors can utilize the answer for their issue that is similar. – Paul Muir Apr 7 '14 at 0:34
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    I do not support making an already nebulous blurb even less clear by adding that it is optional. At that point you might as well remove it entirely. – enderland Apr 7 '14 at 0:41
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    @PaulDonny - I think the way you worded that will speak to people. I hear many people say "I'm just trying to help". So perhaps by wording it as "better explanations provide more value to people who need our help" might seem less repressive, for lack of a better word. – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:46
  • I am mixed on your answer I like your rewording but I think your first paragraph is condecending and rude to those of us who worked really hard to get it to this point. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 8 '14 at 15:57
  • I did not mean for it to be rude or condescending and after re-reading it I agree that it could easily be interpreted as such. I am sure that during beta it was something that was beyond needed. However, now it is something that can restrict great answers from being given because they have an inability to give a reference (Or the person simply doesn't have the time to look them up). – Paul Muir Apr 8 '14 at 16:15
  • BTW the problem with just posting "common sense" is that it is not common sense to everyone. While some things seem pretty obvious to you those things are not so obvious to me. If the common sense is correct the you should be able to explain why. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 9 '14 at 15:23
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    If it needs a reference and does not have one then it can not be a great answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 9 '14 at 15:30
-1

I am concerned as a community we send conflicting messages when some users downvote/comment content not answering "why" while the majority upvote it. I am hoping for a frank discussion answering two questions:

Should this site retain the "back it up" principle as articulated in the FAQ material?

I agree that the "back it up" policy is only sporadically followed. And it's even more sporadically enforced.

And I agree that the community is receiving mixed messages.

I think the way to examine the question "Should this site retain the 'back it up' principle" is to consider: Is the site being harmed right now by the lack of a consistent following of this principle? I would argue that it isn't being harmed at all.

Workplace has graduated out of Beta in spite of having no strong consistently-followed "back it up" policy. And to my untrained eyes the community is thriving (am I mistaken? is it not thriving?)

I like to follow a policy of "no unnecessary rules", and I just don't see that there is currently a problem requiring this rule.

So I'd vote No - we shouldn't retain the "back it up" policy.

Just my $0.02

  • 1
    Part of the reason it's not enforced across the board is there's a lot of posts here, and judging answers to subjective questions is... well... subjective... With that said, I'm sure we all agree we don't want to become Yahoo Answers. That's an extreme scenario, of course, but regardless of the outcome of this discussion, it's probably wise for us to change course slowly. Thus, how would you reword the back it up principle so that there's balance between good answers but without being too overzealous? – jmort253 Apr 7 '14 at 0:37
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    I believe it's preferable to gently lead folks to an understanding of goodness like this: "The best answers are often backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always try to include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct." That way, we are mentors, leaders and guides, rather than judges, juries, and enforcers. Just my $0.02. – Joe Strazzere Apr 7 '14 at 1:39
-3

The Back it up Policy should be abandoned completely.

It is not being embraced by the flood of new users who are coming to dominate the site and they want a site that allows for opinions and discussion on the questions.

If this site fails as a result we can come in after and cull the good answers from the ashes and rebuild the site and enact more stringent policies.

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    This is not my opinion but one I think needs to be in the discussion. I will not object to edits that make this a more "Appealing" option to our newer users. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 8 '14 at 17:40

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