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I've been guilty of this myself, editing my question to respond to answerers and thank them. However, I'm not sure it's best for the question as it makes it longer and a bit scarier to read. Question boxes are designed to contain the actual question.

Consider the following question: What is the best way to get a new developer up to speed?. (NOTE: The question has been edited, see revision 7 for context).

In this example, the response is just about as long as the question. It could almost be posted as an answer. Should it have been? Would that be an acceptable way to summarize the results, as long as the answer answered the question?

Is this a sign that the question was not constructive? After all, it's asking for the "best" approach and got lots of "correct" answers.

Assuming the question is constructive, what -- if anything -- should be done about the response, and what is the procedure for editing questions such as this?

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    I don't like these summaries at all, but at the same time I'm not sure what to do about them. – Rarity Aug 14 '12 at 2:40
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    @Rarity - You know what I just realized, they're comments! Look at each of the 4 sections. Each one is a response to a different answer, and each one is about the length of a comment. Is there a way to convert those to comments? If each one of those were attached to an answer, the question wouldn't look so intimidating... – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 2:44
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    Agreed, they really are comments. – Rarity Aug 14 '12 at 2:58
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    Great question, as you can see I feel passionately about this one. :) Now I'm just waiting for the ironic answer-summary in this meta question. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 3:53
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    @NickC - lol I think you pretty much covered it. :) I edited the post to remove the fluff and left the op a note in the revision history to add those points as comments if he prefers. – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 3:56
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    Good! I think that the summary format was nice; I hope the asker decides to modify some of the answers. I am a believer in a little formatting to polish large amounts prose into a great scannable answer. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 4:10
  • @NickC - I guess I sorta skipped step 1... but myself or someone else could come back to that later. The info is in revision 7. I left a link to it in the question above. What do you think about adding those "comments" directly to the answers themselves? That seems a bit unorthodox, so I'm not sure that's the best approach... I'm still thinking about what to do in step 1... I mean, the summaries are really just repeating what's already said. So the question is whether or not they add value to the answers? I'd be fine either way, just glad the question isn't cluttered anymore :) – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 4:12
  • I think what you did is right in this case. It's going to take somebody some time to figure out what the answers could use, if anything (most likely it's redundant, but polishing answers never offended me), and adding comments would take a bit of rewording anyway. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 4:20
  • Frankly, they are not comments. They are summaries. Comments are for helping those that ask questions and those that answer questions to refine their questions or answers. However, having to fish through multiple answers to get a full summary of conclusions just makes life more cumbersome for the reader. – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:04
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    Hi @Thomas! We were just talking about you ;) Actually, I disagree. When I first saw the mile-long post in your question, I wanted to bail. But after a quick scan I saw that the last part wasn't part of the question and stuck around..... As far as summaries go, that should really be up to the people visiting from Google to decide what's best for them. The summaries.. your summaries, kinda get in the way of that. Instead, you should use your votes and accepts to indicate the best answers, just like other users. Thanks for dropping in! :) – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 5:12
  • @jmort253 - So, without changing the voice of someone's answer, how does one handle verbose answers that can be boiled down to a sentence? E.g., one of the answers had some good points but wrt to a concise answer to the question it was far more verbose than necessary. If PE is a Q&A site, then we need to allow people to answer in their own voice. So, is the only recourse, to hope one day someone will assemble a comprehensive answer? – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:29
  • @Thomas - I think that's the trouble with these kinds of questions (ones that border on not contructive). There are so many "correct" answers that it becomes a verbose monstrosity. With that said, in this case, I think NickC's suggestion to post your own answer is by far the best idea. It keeps the question limited to what it's supposed to be... a question, while giving you the opportunity to speak as well, in the form of an answer/summary. – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 5:35
  • @Thomas - Also, you never officially accepted an answer, so no one will get upset with you over a measly 15 rep.... Now, when you accept your answer, it will appear at the top, right where you want it, regardless of votes.... Looking forward to seeing how this works out. :) – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 5:37
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I think it's a nice thought that after we've all done a bit of teaching and/or learning, we go around the room and shake each others' hands, sum up what we've learned, sing Kumbaya — but it's not very good for Stack Exchange and SE is not good for it (which is why we have chat -- the "third" place).

And, keep in mind just how badly this breaks the reading/learning flow for future readers. Remember:

Every Stack Exchange question and answer pair is intended to be an evergreen, editable resource for future travelers.


So, I think we do two things, in order:

  1. If the "response" contains something useful that the answers really don't contain, then edit the answers to add the information that is missing. This might even be just a concise summary, but it's possible the back-and-forth between the asker and answerer resulted in a great summary instead of just a good answer.

    The editing feature is there so that old question/answer pairs can get better and better. For every person who asks a question and gets an answer on Stack Exchange, hundreds or thousands of people will come read that conversation later. Even if the original asker got a decent answer and moved on, the question lives on and may continue to be useful for decades.

  2. Remove the answer summary from the question, with haste. Get rid of them! Don't spoil the ending! Don't scare away future readers with our weird out-of-order historical artifacts! Let SE do what it does best — sort the best answers to the top!

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  • So, what do you think about those 4 points being added as comments to the answers? Or should we just forego that and just focus on editing out the fluff? – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 3:47
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    I'm trying to find a good reference for this, but I've always believed that that was the reason for comments on answers in the first place -- so I'd say just go straight for the edit, if there is something that is worth it. It makes more sense, too, since you can't spoof authors of comments, and you can't force the asker to do it. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 3:50
  • Fair enough. If he comes back -- highly unlikely -- he can add them as comments himself. – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 3:51
  • Correcting someone's answer is very different than changing someone's answer. The later requires guessing what the original answer "meant" to say. IMO, changing someone's answer to fit the missing information is fundamentally against the SE sites. The poster should add that additional information at the request of comments and if not, then add another answer. – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:00
  • I also disagree with removing the summary as SE is supposed to for finding answers as well as providing answers. What happens when there are nuggets from multiple answers but only one (often the first) is voted the "best" answer. To the question I asked, no one answer was actually best. The best answer would be one that included information from all of the ideas not just one of them. – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:02
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    @Thomas then add that "best" answer as your own! If we're discussing whether answers belong in questions, they don't. The next question is what to do with that bit of info, if it is good. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 5:22
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    @Thomas And actually, it would even be ok, in my opinion, to actually accept your own answer, if it's a summation of all the answers. Mark it community wiki, format it nicely like you did, and state your purpose and I think everyone would be ok with it (and understand why you did it). – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 5:28
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    @Thomas - Also, the community should decide what's best, not just a single person, who would be biased in terms of what those most interesting nuggets are. Someone else may disagree with an answer entirely, and that's the core job of the voting system. With that said, I like NickC's suggestion. If there isn't a best answer, add your own, and you could include your summary from revision 7 in that answer, highlighting what you thought was best from the others. This way what you add is separate from the question. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Aug 14 '12 at 5:29
  • @NickC, jmort253 - IMO, the voting structure, as it stands now, heavily discourages answering your own question such that it is a summary of other answers even if providing a benefit such a clarity and conciseness. Would doing this not imply that the summary question would always be expanded when a new answer was provided? Wouldn't the incentive be to simply expand the summary answer and not add another answer? Why wouldn't people do this on most subjective questions? – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:41
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    @Thomas I can't tell if you are serious or just illustrating a possible problem if you take this idea to its ridiculous extreme. The incentive to answering is to provide a better answer than any that exists. In many questions, the asker gets a single best answer. You've said that several taught you something, but none were best. Of course you wouldn't edit this answer unless a new answer was worth it. You would probably also not do this until time had passed and it was clear no answer outshines any other. Or, you could always add a bounty. – Nicole Aug 14 '12 at 5:56
  • @NickC, jmort253 - I'll grant you both that a summary isn't part of the question and I'm fine with removing even if it makes it harder for future readers (no will will ever read the revisions). I guess it is a weakness of the current Q&A format that it has no place for summation without potentially altering the voice of the original answer or parroting the work of other answers. – Thomas Aug 14 '12 at 5:58
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In the Stack Exchange model, the question is supposed to be just that - a question. Editing/adding information should be done for clarification; edits should make a question easier to read or provide relevant information essential to solving the problem. A summary of answers, or responses to answers, are not part of a question.

These types of edits are more appropriate as other actions:

  • Thanking answerers for their response and helpfulness:
    • Upvote useful answers
    • Accept the most helpful answer
    • Comment on the answers (although "thank you" comments are not generally encouraged, they are certainly not harmful)
    • Award a bounty to excellent answers
  • Contributing to/improving an answer:
    • Comment on the answer to suggest an improvement
    • Edit the answer
  • Asking for clarification or further answers:
    • Comment on existing answers to ask for clarification/explanations
    • Edit the question to help those answering to better understand the problem
    • Start a bounty on the question to attract more attention

The question and its answers are intended to be resources for future visitors to learn and to understand how to solve a particular problem. Questions are always open for more answers (exception being closed questions, which we don't want anyway), so the summary of answers may someday be obsolete if a new, amazing answer comes along. Additionally, usernames can be changed, so someone may say "Hm. The question says user1234567890's answer is really wonderful, but there is no answer from a user1234567890."

Additionally, the "help" provided by this type of summary is redundant, repetetive, and unnecessary, and not really needed. The question describes the problem. The answers immediately below the question describe solutions. They all have a score next to them based on community voting (experts saying "this is a good solution to the problem" or "don't listen to this, it is incorrect"). The asker may have gotten a solution to their particular instance of the problem, but still not understand the issue as well as other experts in the field. The accepted answer may not be the best, and the answers summarized in the question might not be that great. The expertise of many users viewing the question and answers over time will provide useful insight into what is actually the most accurate and complete solution.

Summary: These edits don't add anything constructive to the question to help answer it, duplicate content already on the page (as of a specific time), and make the question a bit harder to read. It is not an appropriate use of a question.

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