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The current Help Center page, "What does it mean when an answer is "accepted" ($site/help/accepted-answer) contains the following text:

It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally, but not every user comes back to accept an answer, and of those who do, they may not change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.

It was pointed out in our chat room that the "may not" there is potentially confusing, especially for non-native English speakers. It may be taken to mean the user is not allowed to change the accepted answer.

How can this be reworded to make it clearer?

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It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally, but not every user comes back to accept an answer, and of those who do, they may not change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.

As a native English speaker one of following seems clearer to me (and is only a small change - the addition of the two words in bold type):

  • "they may decide not to change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.", or

  • "they may choose not to change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later."

Even better would be to split one long confusing sentence into two.

First sentence:

It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally, but not every user comes back to accept an answer.

Second sentence:

  • Of those who do, they may decide not to change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.

Alternative second sentence:

  • Of those who do, they may choose not to change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.
  • Doesn't that imply a conscious decision or choice where one might not exist? They might come back once to mark an answer as accepted, but not a second time. I'm not certain the distinction is useful. Perhaps adding (for whatever reason) at the end of the sentence would cover it? – Paul White Sep 1 '15 at 10:06
  • @PaulWhite I think is clearer if the rest of the sentence is added (I didn't intend it to be removed). Answer updated with another suggestion as well. – DavidPostill Sep 1 '15 at 10:19
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My own suggestion (slightly modified from the one that originally formed part of the question):

It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally. Not every user will come back to accept an answer; of those who do, not all will change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer is subsequently provided.

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I think, we should look at a bigger picture here. Except for the reputation details at the end, the whole text is:

When a user receives a good answer to his or her question, that user has the option to "accept" an answer. Acceptance is indicated by a colored checkmark next to the answer that has been accepted by the original author of the question.

Accepting an answer is not meant to be a definitive and final statement indicating that the question has now been answered perfectly. It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for him or her personally, but not every user comes back to accept an answer, and of those who do, they may not change the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.

Often, accepting an answer corresponds to reputation gains.

[…]

The first paragraph is mainly about the mechanics, the second paragraph is about the purpose and implications of this feature. That acceptance can always be changed is something that belongs in the first paragraph. When the author should accept an answer belongs in the second one.

There are some further problems here:

  • When a user receives a good answer to his or her question, that user has the option to "accept" an answer.

    This is wrong. Users can also accept bad answers. Also, in the spirit of separating the mechanics from the purpose, I would talk about this later. The word accept is sufficiently self-explanatory for the beginning.

  • Acceptance is indicated by a colored checkmark next to the answer that has been accepted by the original author of the question.

    The second half of this sentence is redundant.

  • but not every user comes back to accept an answer

    This has nothing to do with unperfect answers being accepted. This is about no answer being accepted at all – a case that is missing and should be added.

  • The possibility that the author fails to detect the best answer or just finds another answer working better for their specific problem is not mentioned.

  • The structure of the second paragraph is problematic. We go like this

    Acceptance does not mean X. Acceptance means Y, but sometimes users do things that contradict acceptance meaning X.

    The two parts about X are separated and the but in the second sentence is not connecting contrasting statements.

I thus suggest:

The asker of a question has the option to “accept” an answer. He or she can revoke acceptance or accept another answer at any time. Acceptance is indicated by a colored checkmark next to the answer.

By accepting an answer, the asker signifies that an answer worked for him or her personally. It is not meant to be a definitive and final statement indicating that the question has been answered perfectly: What works for the asker may not be the best approach in general and sometimes even answers that are outright wrong are accepted. Also, not every asker changes the accepted answer if a newer, better answer comes along later.

The lack of an accepted answer does not mean that there is no working or good answer – not every asker comes back to accept an answer.

Often, accepting an answer corresponds to reputation gains:

[…]

  • I like this, except for two little nits. First one is that we're referring to the author as "author", "asker", and "user". For clarity's sake, I think we should probably use one consistently. Second one is that we're trying to tell the reader that the accepted checkmark isn't the end of the story, but we aren't actually saying it and suggesting they refer to votes. Should we? – Thomas Orozco Sep 3 '15 at 8:01
  • @ThomasOrozco: I addressed the first point and chose asker as it is the clearest word, though not necessarily the most common one in SE terminology. An equally clear and more SE-idiomatic alternative would be author of the question, which is however somewhat clumsy. – Wrzlprmft Sep 3 '15 at 8:42
  • As for the second point: I think it’s a double-edged sword: While this would be a good point to inform the user about upvotes, they are also not the ultimate indicator what a good or the best answer is. So we would be sort-of saying: “This indicator may not be good; there is also this indicator, which may also not be good.” A good wording may circumvent this issue, but I do not have one right now. – Wrzlprmft Sep 3 '15 at 8:47

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