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I might have missed it, but I don't see the "How to Answer" page linked to in the FAQ. This is an extremely useful page, and the information it gives is pretty basic; following it is a crucial part of being a good SO member. (EDIT: as pointed out by Gilles, it is linked to in the FAQ, but it's kind of hidden away.)

In fact, I don't really see any good information on the FAQ about what constitutes a good answer. Why isn't there a section dedicated to how to provide a good answer?

  • Depends on if there's a midget in the room – random Apr 29 '13 at 20:56
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    It's there… at the bottom of Why are some questions or answers removed?. This aspect of the FAQ is indeed pretty bad: here's what not to do, oh and indicentally there's a link, which from context might be about removing answers or about improving them, but turns out to be about writing them. – Gilles Apr 29 '13 at 21:30
  • @Gilles: sorry, I wasn't being clear. I saw that section, but what I want is a section entirely about answers, not just one that talks about questions and answers. I've edited my original question accordingly. – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 3:13
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    @KyleStrand Actually it might be my comment that's unclear: I fully agree with you, the FAQ lacks solid and discoverable guidance about writing answers. – Gilles Apr 30 '13 at 7:24
  • Ah! Okay. You were just saying that the link was there, not that the section was there. Got it. – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 7:53
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Because the vast majority of new users coming to the site are here to ask a question, not to answer one. Additionally, questions are often asked by someone who has never asked a question on SO before, or has only asked a few. Answers tend to be asked by people who have already answered a lot. When people start answering they tend to keep answering and stay around for a while. When people ask a question they tend to leave when their problem is solved, either forever, or for a while. (Note that all of this is perfectly fine; none of this is improper behavior, or is doing the opposite, it's just the most common.)

Since most people answering questions have the opportunity and motivation to experiment on their own and learn based on the feedback they are given (without being driven off of the site), unlike those asking questions, it's just not as important to emphasize answering in the FAQ. By an large just look at both your answers, as well as that of other answers to questions you're familiar with, see which ones get voted up and which get voted down; this will help you determine what the community values and what it doesn't (also learn that there are occasional outliers that you need to be able to ignore).

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    Note that while this is the case on the more-technical sites and/or ones where there is an objective answer to a question, the reverse is often true on the "softer" sites, like the religion sites, Workplace, and others. In those cases, people come in with an opinion about a question and think that's good enough to form an answer. The FAQ template could do with some answer guidance to be optionally used by sites with this problem; right now there's no good place in the customizable parts to hang it. – Monica Cellio Apr 29 '13 at 21:21
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    "More people need the information that's already in the FAQ than the information you suggest adding" is a TERRIBLE reason not to add to the FAQ. I'm not suggesting removing the (quite good) advice that's already there; I just think that it would be really nice to have a section about answers, too, so that people know what kinds of things to contribute. Otherwise, you get a lot of questions like this: meta.stackexchange.com/q/178364/218334. (Of course, we'll still get those no matter what, but why encourage it?) – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 3:06
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    (Also, as it happens, I've answered far, far more questions than I've asked, so personally I see no reason to assume that new users need advice about how to ask more than they need advice about how to answer.) – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 3:06
  • “the vast majority of new users coming to the site are here to ask a question, not to answer one” Do you have numbers? – Gilles Apr 30 '13 at 7:24
  • @KyleStrand The FAQ is Frequently Asked Questions, not All Questions. If there aren't enough people looking around for how to properly answer questions then it's not worthwhile to add it to the FAQ. You seem to think that adding more info to the FAQ has no cost, that's very wrong. Every additional bit of information you add to the FAQ makes it more intimidating, harder to find the information that is more frequently needed, and as therefore results in less people actually reading the information that is relevant to them. – Servy Apr 30 '13 at 13:22
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    @Gilles About 900k users have asked a question and about 600k users have answered a question. SO the difference isn't quite as pronounced as I would have expected, but it's still quite significant. – Servy Apr 30 '13 at 13:35
  • This site is composed of two core elements: questions and answers. Wouldn't it be fantastic if our FAQ addressed how to make both of them worthwhile? – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 20:47
  • @KyleStrand No, I'd say if the frequently asked questions was composed of the most frequently asked questions. It's not like the information doesn't exist. All of meta exists for any and every bit of information about the site you could want to ask about. There are lots of places that you can go to find out how to write effective answers, but since they're not asked nearly as frequently as questions about how to ask good questions, they don't belong in the FAQ. If there was lots of evidence that lots of people were having problems finding information on the subject, then look tot he FAQ. – Servy Apr 30 '13 at 20:49
  • @Servy I don't think it's necessarily about whether people are looking for the information; part of the point of the FAQ, in my opinion, is to give new users a relatively quick but still fairly comprehensive introduction to the site. It seems to me that having a section on answers would probably improve the quality of new answers. If it did, then it would be well worth the (relatively minor) cost. – Kyle Strand Apr 30 '13 at 20:53
  • @KyleStrand You assume the cost is minor; you have said this before, and as I have said before, that is false. The cost is not low. By adding that information it results in less people looking at the FAQ at all, it makes it harder for people looking to find other information, it can cause confusion for those looking for related but different information (say, about questions, where the guidelines are very different). Adding anything to the FAQ can have a fairly dramatic cost. – Servy Apr 30 '13 at 20:56
  • @KyleStrand I also feel you are overestimating how much it would help. Most of those posting low quality answers are those who wouldn't be reading the FAQ even if it did have guidelines on answers. While there are certainly some cases of people who plan to answer lots of questions, read the FAQ, don't know how to answer questions effectively, aren't willing to look anywhere besides the FAQ, and won't learn quickly, but also have very valuable content to contribute, I'd assert it's a very small number of people, rather than a large percentage as you're asserting. – Servy Apr 30 '13 at 20:57

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