9

Is there a documented "best practice" or standard way to answer with an extension to an existing answer?
If not - would it make sense to define it?

There are many cases where a question is answered, but you have additional information or ideas that would make one of the existing answers more valuable.

Using a comment to add the information works, more or less, but is just wrong, because comments are explicitly non-permanent.

Editing the answer is a solution in some cases. When the user has to use an edit suggestion, a substantial addition could be rejected as radical change. If he is free to edit without confirmation, small additions are no problem, but the more substantial the change, the more it gets at least impolite to the person posting the edited answer originally.

Using an include statement like starting an answer with

Extending the answer of [@JohnDoe](share-URL):

Title

[...]

This works for all cases, but risks that the answer that is build on will be changed in a way that makes the user no longer agree with it, or makes the extension invalid. Also, it could be deleted, but that's a minor problem, because I assume that answers build upon are almost always upvoted and good enough to have no reason to delete it.

The problem gets more complicated when only part of the original answer is build on; One solution would be the last variant, with an introduction statement like

Mostly agreeing with the answer of [@JohnDoe](share-URL), except for the part describing foo and bar:

Title

[...] This adds the risk that the new answer now even more clearly agrees with the parts of the answer that are not excluded, but can change; That's not because of the word "agreeing", but because explicitly not excluding implies agreeing.

Now, my question is whether there is a common/preferred/standard solution I have missed, or otherwise individual proposals?

1

1 Answer 1

5

TL/DR
Sorry, I completely disagree with adding any content to someone else's answer.

You end up sharing an answer, which has all sorts of issues.

You say "to improve" or "add that juicy extra info", but who determines if it's better or juicy info, or not? You, community, original author?
It will be community, with up or down votes relating to your info/text but on someone else's answer, so they get the negative rep.

Great if they get some upvotes from it, but what about the many poor answers (and comments) we currently get. If we introduce this new trend then some of those poor comments and answers would get added to someone else's decent answer.

Great answerers would have their great answers spoiled by poor info, and thus downvoted unfairly, when it was likely the better answer without the poor info.

Poor users will edit great answers just to get their name in lights.

The review queue for edits will burst at the seams.

Who manages any issues with the additional info? The new author wont, as they don't get notifications on someone else's answer!
They post that additional info, off to another question, and if it's poor/bad/wrong info, then the original author is getting downvotes, comments, and left dealing with it all.

You could change the scope of the answer, alter the original author's specific intentions on what info was provided, and how, etc. And this is not fair when someone spends ages meticulously crafting a great answer!

How many users can post additional info on someone else's answer?
Unlimited could get messy.

How is all this managed? The tools we have become obsolete, as downvoting may not relate to the original author's text who gets the downvotes, same with comments.
And no new system (without massive/pointless dev time) can manage any part of this as it's just text in someone else's answer.

END TL/DR


This has been debated a lot in the past, so wanted to clearly show why this would be bad (IMO, of course).


Your answer is your own

How do you make certain you are adding info which is relevant and in line with their answer topic, or what info they feel is accurate, or useful?

Your addition could easily change various specific intentions the author had when writing their answer.

You violate their right to have their own answer their way when you change anything where the method and approach in answering is personal preference or opinion based.
And your opinion might not be the same as theirs.

eg, even unintentionally changing:

  • Answer scope
  • Adding too much info
  • Different styling/formatting to theirs
  • Different code layout (indentation wars etc)
  • Spelling differences - UK vs US (color, colour, etc)
  • Poor info
  • Links to poor info sources
  • Grammar or spelling mistakes in your additional text
  • Text which the author does not agree is useful and/or accurate

They have a right to have the answer their way, for their reasons, and other users shouldn't change that.

Manage your own answer!

This is why you post your own answer, on your own merits, and if wrong you get the downvotes, or comments needing to address it.

Otherwise, the original author gets downvotes from your additional text on their answer, and you are then having to edit someone else's answer to change the info you put in it, or the author does.

And as it's not your answer, you get no notifications from comments stating it's poor, or downvotes.

The original author, who believed had a great answer, gets downvotes, and sees comments stating info is wrong or poor, and is frustrated because it's effectively not their answer which is wrong.

Answer author should be the one to manage and correct their poor answer, not original author fight over their own text with another user's text and the other user also now managing their own text in the original author's answer.

It sounds messy...

Of course some answers are simple, and changes are simple, however a lot of answers are well thought out, taking time to make it a great answer, and that could include how much text is provided, and what specific info is given or linked to.

I would imagine a lot of users wouldn't take kindly to changes to their well thought out, and meticulous answer.

And there's no way to manage or enforce users only adding decent text or info, so it would be a minefield of additional:

  • Poor info on poor answers
  • Poor info on good answers
  • Good info on poor answers
  • Good info on good answers

So, with the above in mind, adding text to someone's answer is a large grey area in which to be blindly feeling around,

You may feel it's right, adds value etc, but does the answerer, does the community?

Your answer is not your own

On the flip side, the community (or Stack) officially owns the answers.

However, stating "we therefore have a right to edit their answer", does no good for anyone. Doing so, especially coercively, would annoy decent answerers by adding text they might not like in their answer.

That could stop them answering as much, or perhaps taking as much time over providing a great answer.

Which would be just be cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Community is more than one person

There's a wide area of opinion amongst us all. Not just in how some specific code should be used for a specific scenario, but also how an answer should be given, why it was given.

Maybe the rest of the community agrees with the extra info you added to an answer.
The issue is, you cannot know if answerer or community agrees with the change or not, so it's dodgy ground doing it in the first place.

We unite, surely?

While the content is officially Stack's, and therefore other users content to edit too, I still say we should have respect for each other's answers, as we make up the community.

Isn't it just good etiquette, even if unwritten, between fellow answerers to respect each other's answers? Including the specific intentions of each individual?

After all, our edit might affect their rep, if we added something which reduced the quality of the answer.

Comments are fine

Comments are perfectly suitable if adding info to someone's answer. Then the answerer can add it or not, should they want.

I see many upvotes and discussions in comments on answers where someone has provided additional info.
Either community just benefits from the comments, and/or answerer adds it to their answer.
Either way, it's win win, and without fiddling with someone else's answer.

Make your own

All that said, why not make a new answer yourself?

If you have good info, that has not been mentioned in another answer (as would be the case as we're debating over adding it to another answer), then surely just adding your own is good enough?

Then the question has two clear answers with potentially different info, or at least (as is usually the case) likely a different approach to answering the question.

Community can then comment and vote on them both separately, and thus the great Stack system works as normal play, where good answers rise up, bad answers fall, eventually being deleted or at least ignored.

Mixing up good and bad answers into one answer would stop the voting system working as it currently does. And while it's not perfect, it does work really well, it really does!!

The current poor answers spill into the good ones

Not all answers or info provided by users is good.

So if Stack started a new trend whereby people start to add to a current answer rather than make their own, then poor content would spoil what was a good answer, instead of the user having their own poor answer and downvotes to make it disappear.

This also stops them losing rep. Losing rep (not always) makes users learn, and try harder and become a better user, eventually helping the community.

Messy answers

How many people can add additional text to the same answer?
How would community manage this new unmanaged "method" which is not bound by any current system control or rules?

When you have stacked additional info from additional users, at some point the answer could have more text from other users than the original author, who still has to maintain it all.

We're back to edit wars, and it just wouldn't work out.

Even just a simple link!

What if you add a link in someone else's answer to a site which author or community deems bad?

User edits another user's answer to add a link "see w3schools for more info on this function".
I've seen links to tutorials and guides which the community then slated for various reasons.

Adding statement to show where additional info starts

The idea in this question is adding a statement to make it clear the following text is not the original author's, and is additional info.
However, this only does one thing really:

Shows the separation of original author text and the new user's additional text.

This doesn't stop everything I've mentioned, like edit wars, no notifications on your info as it's not your question, etc, etc.

Summary

This would bring about enough arguments and disagreements that roll backs and re-editing are likely to be a-plenty!

I think it's all grey area, with no real way to know if community or the answer author would welcome the changes or not.

The potential to reduce the quality of someone else's answer from introducing too much text, poor info, or info already provided in another answer, or we missed the info in a comment or the question.
Mistakes happen, and I just don't think we should play with each others answers.

Editing someone else's answer should only be to correct grammar, spelling mistakes, a very simple code edit which you know for sure your are correcting.

Leave the actual content to the answer author, and if bad, or not informative, etc, then community tools will deal with it.

5
  • I was thinking of this in a technical context, where extending an answer could typically mean adding another hint to solve a problem, or listing one more textnical pitfall, and how to handle it. But the situation is very different on a site where answers have usually a subjective component. That's a very good point. Oct 20, 2014 at 3:37
  • @VolkerSiegel I only go to a few sites other than SO, and while what I wrote was based mostly on experience on SO, I think it relates to most other sites. On face value it's a potential improvement, and I can see why you suggested it. But once you delve into some of the potential issues it becomes clear, that even if it were to work out, it'd need a lot of thought and development. As has happened with a lot of my own suggestions/feature requests..
    – James
    Oct 20, 2014 at 3:41
  • I feel that the whole issue depends on what is represented by an "Answer" post: A complete answer, or a partial answer. I assumed it represents a complete answer; That means posting a partial answer means disagreeing with the existing answers, and offering an alternative. That is different from saying that there is an additional aspect. When a post is a partial answer, parts of the problem just go away; But that does not work in general: it would break the definition of "upvoted answer" - the "best answer" may be taking the top n answers together. Oct 20, 2014 at 4:28
  • What happened if my answer is similar to other answer should I add it, that's say, 70/100 the same, 30/100 different. Should I just post that 30/100 part or post all of my answer, or simply not post it, which action I should do. How can I deal with this problem?
    – 000
    Jul 4, 2020 at 7:50
  • @000 I don't think there's a black and white solution to that. If your answer is similar but needs the info on an existing answer and isn't much text, eg your text is a few lines and compliments the existing one in line with the topic and intent of the existing one, then I'd suggest editing the existing one. If your answer strays in any way from the existing one in topic, content, scope, or intent etc, then perhaps it should be a separate answer.
    – James
    Jul 4, 2020 at 13:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .