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I often wonder whether my short, concise answers are more appropriate than answers that are more long-winded and explanatory. Should I answer the question and explain why, or should I simply answer the question? I understand that every question is different, and I often provide very long answers with explanations, even as the short answers are pouring through the flood gates.

But as a general rule, when faced with the two options, which is considered more appropriate? There is definitely value in being concise, right?

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5  
Make it as long as necessary, but no longer. –  Josh Caswell Jul 18 '11 at 22:23
    
define necessary. –  citizen conn Jul 18 '11 at 22:27
2  
Both. Short answer, then elaborate. –  Won't Jul 19 '11 at 10:28
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As you answer, think to yourself: is there any ambiguity or lack of detail in my answer that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted? You can also guage the level of the OP's knowledge from their question and answer accordingly.

You should remember that not only are you answering the question for the current OP, you are potentially providing an answer to many people in the future who will have the same or a related question. While the FGITW answers may pick up some immediate upvotes, a well thought out answer will continue to generate upvotes into the future.

A good person to use is an example is Jon Skeet - he gives the answer and invariably he will provide a bit of detail as well. So he picks up rep (not that it matters to him) both for his technical knowledge and his answer style - people understand why the answer is the answer.

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Make it as long as necessary, but no longer.

I'm not sure there's a single right answer to this; it really depends on the question itself. Some questions require nothing more than a code snippet to be well-answered. Others need something along the lines of a mini-essay.

That said, I always favor answers with more detail when voting. If there are two answers which both present the same solution to a problem (1 2), but one answerer has taken the trouble to provide background, explanation, and context, I will upvote that one in preference to the other. As long as the answer is well-written, more information should equate to more value for future readers. So personally, even in a case where a single link might constitute a useful answer,* I try to include some background info, even if it's a bit trivial. Links to relevant documentation pretty much always add usefulness to an answer.


*Although see "Are answers that just contain links really 'Good answers'?"

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