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This site's Spring launch was marred with a lot of poor, short, not very helpful answers. Forum level, discussion type answers where an upvote more often meant "I agree" as opposed to "This is useful." Looking around I think, and hope, we've come a long way.

For reference, here's some discussion on the topic of answer quality:

What can we do about me-too answers?

What can we do about one line answers?

Are "it depends" answers a sign of a bad question?

Should we reduce the Community Wiki threshold to 10 answers?

I think we now have that quality issue that Robert warned us about

Do we need a policy on bad/"me too" answers?

Yes, I asked like half of those myself; it was something I was very concerned with early on, and a big part of why I wanted to help get this community into shape by becoming a moderator. A problem is moderator powers don't really help moderate bad answers. I can't close an answer as a warning you need to fix this before anyone can benefit; I can leave one of a couple of Post Notices, I can downvote (believe me I do) or I can delete/convert to comment, for those answers that aren't remotely answers. But that doesn't do much,

The tone and attitude of the community is what really makes the difference when it comes to answers; lots of simple, chatty or otherwise unhelpful answers sends the message that these are accepted. See The Broken Window Theory.

Since the tone we set is so important we went and added some answer quality guidelines to the FAQ. We've also aggressively closed vague, discussion-y or not constructive questions. Plus we've had a dozen or more Meta questions on this topic. I'm not sure what mix of those worked, but I really think the issue has improved dramatically.

So, have we really improved? Are there still answer quality issues? What more can we do?

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I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with what the avid users and moderators here have done with this site. When it first launched, it wasn't too clear where things would be heading.

Answers

Answers that are too short:

Recently, I've been answering more questions, and on some of the questions, an occasional user would leave a one-liner answer. The community responded with polite, guiding comments and downvotes, and moderators responded with post notices. I believe the post notices have an impact; it's like putting a big banner up that screams, "this is what not to do here." It's the equivalent of the close post notices attached to questions that are closed.

These branded answers are either fixed by the user or deleted, which fixes the problem either way.

Answers that repeat what's already been said:

When it comes to repetition, this is an area where we might need to take a look at. I answered a question, and 20 minutes later another user posted an answer that was very similar to mine. It wasn't a "copy", and it was fairly detailed, but I'm not sure I would have repeated something that was already said, unless I had something else to say that couldn't fit in a comment.

My solution to this wasn't to flag the answer; instead, I took a lesson from my time on Stack Overflow. I edited my answer and improved it with better formatting, more concise wording, and section headings. On Stack Overflow, this helps differentiate my answers and make them stand out in cases where responses are similar, and it's always paid dividends in the reputation department.

Perhaps that is the solution. Perhaps repetition isn't a problem that's significantly out of hand, but it is one that we should keep an eye on, as issues tend to magnify as a community grows.

Questions

Recently, I've seen some questions get closed. The ones that were debatable involved three types of users:

  • Those who think the question should not be closed.
  • Those who think the question should definitely have been closed.
  • Those who edit and improve the question; these people convince the people from the second category to defect and move into the first category. These users are our true gems. This is leadership through editing, as the digital pen is truly mightier than the sword.

Now, even in cases where the question still might not be the best fit for Stack Exchange, the edits helped move the question and bring it closer towards the right side of the must close threshold. We're doing good here, but I still see areas where we can educate more of the users from the first category.

Let's show them that the way to winning the close/reopen battle isn't to "rant" or scream "Why is this off-topic" or just blindly vote to reopen. Instead, encourage these users to join the third group of users and help edit questions. Convincing more people to vote to reopen via edits is not only more constructive, but it significantly improves the quality of the content.

It seems like this site is marching towards graduation. Nice job!

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    post notices FTW indeed - turned out quite an efficient measure against low-effort answers – gnat Aug 8 '12 at 8:32
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    Very, very good post. I will be using your questions section as a reference! – Nicole Aug 8 '12 at 18:19
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    Thanks to our Top Editors on the site btw. I do agree editing needs to be a huge part of the process. – Rarity Aug 8 '12 at 18:28
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    There are also a lot of very long answers on this site. Sadly I'm responsible for at least a few. An overly long answer can be just as bad as one that's too short. I think if you can't quickly skim an answer and get at least a rough idea about what solution it's proposing/discussing, then it's too long. Case in point, it's not uncommon to see answers that have 5 or 6 different sub-sections. Novels certainly have their place, but I think people come here looking for answers, not light reading material. – aroth Aug 20 '12 at 6:36
  • @aroth - Agreed, if they go more than a page I can't read them... Good points. – jmort253 Aug 20 '12 at 7:05

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