I've noticed lately that there have been a number of answers from mid to high level rep users that have, while answering the question with common sense, been just more or less one liners. I don't want to link to examples in case the answerers think I am targetting them, which I am not. This is a more general concern about maintaining site quality.

So we have our Back it Up "guideline" which has been discussed a number of times on meta. There isn't as far as I can see anything that specifically mentions this as policy in the How to Answer FAQ.

I think we need to more proactively police brief answers, and look at them within the context of the quality of the asked question. A poor question doesn't mean it should have a poor answer.

So, does the community feel that these short one-liner answers are sufficient? Or is the question not worthy of a more detailed response and instead should be closed? Should these answers be flagged as "Not an answer"? Or is it fine as it is? I'm not asking if we think this should be included into the FAQ, rather if we feel that one-liner responses that do answer the question are appropriate?

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    I think any answer which doesn't explain "why?" falls short. This doesn't have to mean a long explanation, but it does mean that it's not just "do X" - maybe "do X. It's the best idea because of A, B, and C".
    – enderland
    Nov 1, 2015 at 23:43
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    @enderland I agree. But some of these answers have a number of upvotes, so it seems the community may think that they are okay.
    – Jane S
    Nov 1, 2015 at 23:47
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    I might be guilty of this, but wouldn't a bad short answer be downvoted? Some of the longer answers just seem to be a little overdone. No offence intended.
    – Kilisi Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 7:38
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    Some of my most "backed up" answers have been some of my most downvoted ones. Generally I get the impression that people upvote what they want to hear and tend to downvote any bitter truths no matter how well-sourced they are.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 9:34
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    Additionally, what would it mean to "adhere more strictly" to the policy? Answers being outright deleted by the mods? The real issue seems to be an unwillingness to downvote poor, incomplete or dangerous answers, regardless of their source. Just because I link to some archaic advice book that says that Objectives are a good thing on a resume doesn't mean such a suggestion shouldn't be downvoted into oblivion.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 9:37
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    And another question: do these high-rep users show up in the low quality queue if they give short answers or does their rep prevent that? If it's the latter, how did you identify it as a trend? If anything I find that answers can be overly verbose on this site. I'm certainly guilty of it myself.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 9:39
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    @Lilienthal They certainly do show up in the queue. I've seen some of these one-liners pass through and had the urge to simply comment "You should know better."
    – David K
    Nov 2, 2015 at 19:17
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    @Kilisi I didn't say they were bad short answers, just that they don't tend to really back up why they are saying it.
    – Jane S
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:46
  • @Lilienthal The mods don't delete answers unless they are heavily downvoted and have been flagged for deletion by the community. By adhere more strictly, I mean does the community feel that answers require more backing up? If so, then answers that don't should be either downvoted or a comment left for the answerer.
    – Jane S
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:48
  • @Lilienthal Some of my most "backed up" answers have been some of my most downvoted ones. Interesting. I have had the opposite experience :)
    – Jane S
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:49
  • @JaneS It's mainly because I tend to source the "unpopular" answers the most in an effort to stave off the downvotes. :)
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:53
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    @Lilienthal I will say that some of the "walls of text" answers are difficult to read. My preference is a concise answer with sufficient evidence to reinforce your point. I'm just not that good at doing it ;)
    – Jane S
    Nov 2, 2015 at 21:52
  • Search for "Back it up" here on Meta, and you can see that this question has been raised many times. Without a sufficient conclusion, apparently. Nov 3, 2015 at 18:50
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    @JoeStrazzere Yes, I know about the history on meta :) I just seem to have encountered more answers in the past month or so that, while they answer the question, don't really give any evidence for it. As far as long or short answers, I guess I'm focusing on short ones but walls of text can be challenging as well.
    – Jane S
    Nov 3, 2015 at 20:46
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    @JoeStrazzere I guess that answers my question, and I would agree with your observation. We've talked about the "back it up" policy for ages on meta, but realistically the community seems happy with shorter answers or longer answers as long as they make sense.
    – Jane S
    Nov 4, 2015 at 22:57

3 Answers 3


As long as we're clear that "Back It Up" doesn't mean "quote studies and books" I see no problem with enforcing the policy we have. The first level of enforcement would just be to comment saying "this would be a better answer if you explained why it works" - which is the exact comment I use for code-only answers on StackOverflow. This is likely to prompt the result you want.

If a day or so goes by and the answer is unchanged, another comment (perhaps from a mod this time) that explicitly links to a place in the help centre that properly defines BIU might be called for.

I don't think mods should delete answers for not being backed up. But it would be nice if the community downvoted answers for being long on what to do and short on why to do it. We've certainly shown we can do that for "just quit" answers and I'm confident we can do it for a larger pool of answers too.

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    The community can also vote to delete if they think that's called for. Nov 4, 2015 at 18:23
  • But it would be nice if the community downvoted answers for being long on what to do and short on why to do it. This is the crux of my question :)
    – Jane S
    Nov 4, 2015 at 20:58
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    "it would be nice if the community downvoted answers for being long on what to do and short on why to do it" - The community has always had the ability to do this. If they aren't doing so, the implication seems to be that either they don't understand that "back it up" is required, or that they don't care. I suspect it's going to be hard to change the culture here, since few answers currently provide much "back it up". I don't see much in the short answers, but I don't see much in the longer answers, either. Nov 4, 2015 at 22:41

Answers should explain why they are correct. "Back it up" is a vague concept, but in my mind it means an answer has to have an explanation of why it's correct.

You cannot "copy/paste" the answer here, hit compile, and see what happens, and if it doesn't work try something else. Nearly every question asked here has answers which you get to try - once. Many of the questions have significant impact on the life of the person asking. And the reality is that nearly every question here has details we do not know from the asker.

For this reason, I think it is critical that answers have an explanation for why they are correct. Without this explanation the asker cannot take answers, understand the motivations/reasoning, and then apply it to their situation.

Sure, we can say "reader beware" and not care as a site about whether or not people get meaningful answers to questions here. But I don't feel this is a good idea at all.

People come here for solutions to their problems. The problem with answers not explaining why they are correct is they only give an answer, not a solution.

Additionally, the primary audience of Stack Exchange really isn't the asker of the question. It's providing an online resource that is superior to forums, discussion boards, and other online resources. If The Workplace just becomes a discussion board where everyone places their opinions, it will become noise and much less useful.

I really wish everyone would take this more seriously. It doesn't mean having long answers (though longer answers can have more context than shorter ones) is a requirement. If you've been around here much, you'll know that I am very selective about the types of questions I answer and generally write "long" answers.

A good example I just saw on a recent question :

You can get anyone to write you a recommendation letter, but I can't see an employer taking one from another student seriously. It is irrelevant to their needs and a student would not be thought a reliable, informed, and mature reference.

The very fact that you thought it appropriate would work against you with all interviewers I am familiar with.

The bolded is the "why" for the first part. It could probably benefit from a longer "why won't they take that reference seriously?" explanation but still gives "why." The second paragraph is a personal anecdote, but that personal anecdote is not the primary justification for "why is this answer correct?"

I won't call out an answer that fails this, but there definitely are many here.


I have tried to type a long answer in the past only to have 2 or 3 people post the same answer right in the middle of typing it. So having to go research works/books, citing, or maybe even web addresses (something many times the OP should have done to begin with) then pasting those links, is too much effort for the casual answerer. I'm not that interested in badges, so to speak.

I do believe though, answers must be useful. I don't like to see people answer with "go read the manual on page 50 of http blah blah for your answer".

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