8

I get this situation quite a bit in my answering of questions here on the Workplace.

I'll answer a question and direct my answer to the question as stated.

Then I'll get comments on my answer pointing out how it doesn't fit a particular edge-case that isn't really covered in the question.

A recent case in point is

How to come back from vacation and not want to die?

The OP here mentions there's some ash on her desk but in no way indicates that she's allergic to it or that it in any way risks her health. In fact, she's a smoker herself.

But comments against my answer point out that cigarette ash may be considered a health risk, although to most people it isn't anything more than smelly dust.

I get these kinds of edge-case comments on quite a few answers, and I'm guessing a few down-votes as well.

So. When we answer questions - are we answering the asker, or should we consider each edge-case in our answers and address those?

For the question here, should I have considered:

  • Potential health risk of the ash
  • The ergonomic issues surrounding the positions of three monitors
  • Whether it's ok for the boss to delegate tasks on a sticky-note
  • Do any other tasks take priority over the stick-note delegations
  • Who should she complain to about the state of her desk
  • Did she have a nice vacation

I admit that I'm somewhat tongue in cheek here, but the core question remains.

Do I answer the questioner and edit my answer from the questioner's own feedback, or should I infer a generic question and answer that instead - taking into account any likely edge-cases, even if they don't relate to the questioner's actual situation?

Right now, I'm simply answering the question and ignoring edge-case comments.

  • You didn't get any downvotes when I just checked. – Joe Strazzere Sep 18 '17 at 20:15
  • @JoeStrazzere I get down votes for other answers. Obviously, there’s no way of knowing the reasons other than reading the comments. – Snow Sep 18 '17 at 20:20
  • Agreed. And nobody needs to leave a comment when downvoting, so sometimes reading them won't help. I wouldn't worry about this. There's almost always someone with a "but what about this edge case" comment. – Joe Strazzere Sep 18 '17 at 20:21
  • Side note - that question seems like a perfect example of a question that requires a goal that we can address. If the asker wanted to talk to someone in the company about it or get cleaners to clean it up, it might be a different story, but at the moment it's just like "yeah, okay, that sucks, but what do you want from us". – Dukeling Sep 18 '17 at 21:05
  • First it is not a minor edge case. Lots of people are allergic to cigarette ash. I am my self(its the reason I quit smoking). Its something to consider are the major potential consequences. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 19 '17 at 1:01
  • Yeah, the cigarette ash in the context of this question is pretty much irrelevant when smoking (as an activity) appears to be allowed in this office. The only thing really relevant in this question is someone presented with a messy desk. – Snow Sep 19 '17 at 8:40
  • As this question demonstrates, even the words edge case are context sensitive and open to interpretation. – Mister Positive Sep 19 '17 at 12:15
7

Personally, I always take comments as suggestions. If they make my answer a better answer, I edit, if not, I do not. It's as simple as that.

In considering factors such as allergies, et cetera, it's better to focus on the querent than the "internet". I.E. if the person smeared peanut butter on a person's desk, that's a gross mess. If the OP mentions in a comment that she has a severe peanut allergy and someone did that, then edit your answer. If someone puts in a comment "I have a severe peanut allergy and that would have killed me", then don't bother unless you feel it adds to your answer.

I would take it on a case by case basis if I were you. If you feel a comment adds to your answer, incorporate it, if not, don't.

  • 1
    Yep, it really is just that simple. Comments can often point out legitimate issues or add to the answer but just as often it's someone nitpicking. It's fine to ignore those comments or explain why they're not relevant if you're feeling charitable. – Lilienthal Sep 18 '17 at 23:30
  • For this very reason I tend to word my suggestions as actual suggestions, i.e. "this answer might be improved by ..." or "I think this answer is missing ..." – Cronax Sep 26 '17 at 9:51
5

Do I answer the questioner and edit my answer from the questioner's own feedback, or should I infer a generic question and answer that instead - taking into account any likely edge-cases, even if they don't relate to the questioner's actual situation?

I would say do both. First try to answer the question(s) as generic as you can, but without deviating from the point or current situation the OP is facing. And then, after receiving useful feedback, edit the question if you consider it necessary.

However, it is impossible to fit in just one answer all edge cases that could come from situations like this, so don't worry if you can't (or want) to edit your question to all the demands users comment on your answer; if they keep insisting try suggesting them to write their own answers that complement the others currently given.

Also, in some cases if the comment is really useful it is most likely to be upvoted, enabling other users to see it easily and obtain the knowledge of that edge case. In this case the upvoted comment itself will serve as a highlight of that edge case, possibly making it redundant to include it in your answer also. If it is something you completely missed and that could really help the OP (or future readers) then it is recommended you edit your answer to reflect it, otherwise let the comments speak for themselves.

  • 2
    Comments can be deleted at any time, so you should not rely on them to flesh out your answer. – Kat Sep 18 '17 at 20:39
  • Yes, but highly voted (therefore useful comments) are not often erased without greater reason for doing so. Regardless it was highly voted or not, the answerer is the one to decide if it is worth editing the question. – DarkCygnus Sep 18 '17 at 21:24
4

Do I answer the questioner and edit my answer from the questioner's own feedback, or should I infer a generic question and answer that instead - taking into account any likely edge-cases, even if they don't relate to the questioner's actual situation?

I like to answer the question that was actually asked.

And I typically copy and quote the segment of the original question I answered within my answer. That way, if the question gets edited beyond recognition (as so often happens), I can always remember why I responded the way I did.

If I read a comment with a good suggestion and I feel like editing my answer accordingly, then I do it. If I don't feel like it, or if I feel as if the commenter is trying to modify the intent of the question/answer, then I usually ignore the comment.

If someone wants to send the question/answer in a direction different from the OP, they should really ask their own question and make it as generalized as they please.

(I would have left your original answer without modification.)

  • 1
    agreed. I thought the question as asked was fine too – Mister Positive Sep 18 '17 at 20:41
4

The Person Who Asked The Question

If its a valid question, like this one was, my thought is we answer it as the OP intended. You will always have some folks looking at the edge cases ( less than 1% ), and those I ignore.

If a gaping hole in an answer is discovered, I suggest that the answer be updated.

2

Best practice to avoid feeling frustrated is just to discount all the drivel. Ridiculous edge case scenario's are a subset of that and there is plenty around.

Answer the question primarily with the OP in mind with a wider audience experiencing similar scenarios as your secondary concern. Don't edit your answer into something so vague and encompassing that it covers all possibilities but becomes of academic usefulness only.

One definition of academic = irrelevant

  • True 99% or the time "academic = irrelevant' – Mister Positive Sep 27 '17 at 13:56
-1

Yes, you should try to answer the more general question and try to address some edge cases LIKELY variants

The idea of Stack Exchange is to create a repository of questions and answers that others having similar problems can search for and apply to their situation. If you're focusing too much on the problem at hand instead of the more general issue, it's going to hurt the future value of the Q&A a lot, and someone who finds their way to that page could very well think that advice does not apply to them and go searching for an answer elsewhere.

That's not to say you should ignore what makes the question unique - you should definitely not ignore it, but there's a balance to be found between focusing on the specifics of the situation and phrasing your answer to address the more general question.

Also address things that are explicitly not relevant to the asker. If the asker's already done part of what you might otherwise recommend, mention it anyway and follow it up with an acknowledgement that they've already done this so this part is not relevant to them.

As for actual edge cases (i.e. cases that are rare), it can go either way and you should try to judge whether it's useful enough or it mostly just distracts from the issue when deciding whether to address it in your answer.

Also relevant: Should we focus more on making reference-worthy answers (for duplicate questions)?

No, issues that are BOTH tangential to the question AND unique to the asker's situation don't really belong in answers

These are not edge cases. They answer neither the asker's question nor the more general question, and are better suited to the comments.

All the examples in your question except "who should she complain to" are examples of this - the question is about a messy desk, not about the smoking, ergonomics, communication professionalism or general prioritisation (although how to prioritise cleaning one's desk versus doing actual work might be relevant).

An example of an edge case for this question would be if the desk was not only messy, but also damaged or received a permanent stain, or if the mess goes beyond a "simple" cleanup and the place instead needs a bunch of cleaning products thrown at it as well as a good scrubbing, and how that should be handled instead (as in should you get cleaners involved, who should organise it and pay).

  • No, I don't know why people are downvoting this either. – Dukeling Sep 19 '17 at 11:55
  • Some users will answer regardless of how off-topic the question because "it's just one and it's easy and I also get upvotes before it's closed" and some will downvote regardless of how sensible the answer because it doesn't match their preconceptions. TWP has to let subjectivity be part of the Q&A because otherwise it wouldn't work, but that same subjectivity often crosses into emotive reasoning for UV/DV/CV. Then of course the usual politics of a community too. – user53718 Sep 20 '17 at 19:13
  • @Dukeling - In meta a down vote indicates disagreement with the answer and should not be taken as an assesment of the quality of the answer. I agree with you some dont. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 25 '17 at 0:19

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