I am asking this because while we understand that even a single issue can be complicated with many points of view, at some point the length will get in the way.

For example, How can I tell people that my girlfriend and I don't want children of our own?

At the moment, there are 12 answers (roughly 4000 words). One answer has 1,000 words. Unless someone has 30 minutes to digest the answers and hopefully come to a conclusion, they might not be of much use.

To me this is getting too far from Q/A and closer to an online forum.

I realize it is early on and maybe this is an issue to tackle in the future, but at some point I think it will be necessary to have some mechanisms to keep questions and answers specific (referenced questions and answers rather than just personal experience) or to weed out answers of low quality and those with fewer up-votes.

3 Answers 3


Post length

I'm still a teenager, and so I have less life experience than most people here, judging from what I know about the general Stack Exchange age demographics. However, if I've learned one thing in life, it's this:

Life is complicated. People are complicated. Interpersonal situations are complicated.

The ideal question here on Interpersonal Skills is probably going to be a little complicated. And that's fine! There are plenty of details that are needed for the question to receive high-quality answers. We shouldn't be afraid of long questions; after all, questions are supposed to provide enough detail to properly describe the problem and what the asker has done to try to solve it, if possible.

Complicated questions - of which we have many - beget complicated answers. Obviously, there is certainly a point at which an answer becomes unwieldy. Trust me, I've been there. But a good answer should address each aspect of the question, taking all the details into account.

To be honest, I'd be concerned if someone's not willing to take 30 minutes, if necessary, to read all the answers to a question (obviously, that's longer than optimal, but still). I can almost certainly guarantee you that the people writing those 12 answers together took, at the very least, 30 minutes to collect their thoughts and package them into something coherent. Heck, I've spent over an hour on a couple answers here, and they turned out really well. The answerers devoted a lot of time to helping a stranger online for free, to solve what may well be a tricky and important situation. Shouldn't the asker be willing to spend the same amount of time trying to understand them?

I'm not saying that just because someone gives you a treatise on your problem, you're required to read it. There's no legally binding agreement somewhere that says you have to - at least, I haven't found one yet.

As I said before, I sometimes write long answers.1 I never know for certain where precisely an answer gets too long. I think that the mentality of the writer determines whether it's overly complicated or not; if you go in trying to write a long answer, then believe me, it's going to feel long no matter what. If I had to estimate, I'd put that cutoff at around 10,000 characters.2 For comparison, the absolute character limit on Stack Exchange is 30,000 characters. Granted, if you reach that limit, then you're probably doing it wrong, but hey, I've been there.

At times, it's better to be complete than concise. You just have to know when those times are.

Number of answers

We have a problem. Specifically, we get a lot of questions on the Hot Network Questions (HNQ) list . It's been discussed before; a moratorium on HNQ questions was suggested. I've still got mixed feelings there, but for now, we're going ahead and keeping our questions on the HNQ list.

To be honest, getting a lot of answers to an HNQ question is natural. Is it good? Well, that's another issue entirely, and one on which people disagree. The HNQ has its ups and downs; what we can do is attempt to attack the problems. This includes

  • Flagging answers that need to be flagged.
  • Downvoting low-quality posts before they get too many upvotes.
  • Commenting, of course.

and all the normal stuff we do to keep the site running. We just have to stay on our toes with these questions.

1 According to this query, I've written the 8th and 10th longest answers on the site so far.
2 That limit has been reached exactly once.

  • I think they may have been talking more about questions that receive an awful lot of answers. As in, if a question has 12 distinct answers was the question problematic? Or are the answers too open to opinion allowing too many possible answers.
    – apaul
    Aug 19, 2017 at 4:18
  • I wish there was a mini indicator on every post showing an average time required to read it. Example: "2 minute read". It's a feature implemented effectively on medium.com
    – NVZ
    Aug 19, 2017 at 5:55
  • @apaul34208 Fair point. I've added a small section on that.
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 19, 2017 at 16:18
  • @NVZ Yes, I recognize that. I use medium.com a decent amount. I don't think that feature will be implemented; SE wasn't designed for long answers. Ideally, I think, an answer should be readable in under three minutes, and answerers should learn to know that.
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 19, 2017 at 16:19

At what point will the length of a Q/A be too long to be usable?

Probably never. Too long for the low voted answers to receive traffic, sometimes that can be the case at two answers. In both cases, the software behind the site is unlikely to be modified to place any limits on answer counts, or answer length (beyond the system's in-built 30K limit).

Long answers, while less common, are acceptable on all SE sites. This site will likely have longer than average answers owing to the "back it up" concept.

Long lists of answers is less common on SE sites. The system is able to handle a lot of answers, however. The system will split the answers into pages if needed. Rare, but I have found it a few times.

The time-to-read issue is where the strength of SE's system shines. Votes move the better answers up, and the less useful answers down. A user who later encounters a question that's what they are needing an answer to, can read just the first one (or more if inclined) and probably find what they need. Of course, the one answer that best fit the needs of the OP, as recognized by the accepted mark, gets top placement, no matter what the votes of other answers are.

The forum aspect is reduced by the practice of not responding to comments, or making comments, that act as answers, or arguments against the answers. Yes, it happens; even by myself on occasion. Hopefully, in time, those comments that don't belong get removed and the remainder are useful to the answer itself.

The low quality answers are likely to collect down votes, over time, and with a low enough negative net score may even be automatically deleted. In all other respects, the "weeding out" of answers is handled quite well by the vote ranking process.

As a final thought, only questions that have many points of view for answers are likely to grow large. As it stands today, according to the Area 51 stats, there's an average of 4.2 answers per question on IPS, which seems quite reasonable.

  • The problem with your argument is that answers posted late, where several exist already, will tend to get ignored because visitors will read the most upvoted answers and then maybe onto the fourth, if they enjoy the variety of solutions offered. They will definitely stop if the first three answers are basically repeating themselves, and the new answer, which may be fantastic, basically doesn't get to shine.
    – user3114
    Sep 17, 2017 at 10:41

There isn't a single Stack Exchange that has had problems because questions or answers were too long. Not a single one.

To me this is getting too far from Q/A and closer to an online forum.

Could you give a specific example of a case when bad things have happened because questions/answers were too long?

Unless someone has 30 minutes to digest the answers and hopefully come to a conclusion, they might not be of much use.

When I have an interpersonal problem, I spend a lot longer than thirty minutes thinking about it. But if someone doesn't have that time, there's a simple solution: they don't have to read every single answer. Votes exist so that the best answers rise to the top; this is done in part so that people with limited time have less to read.

You must log in to answer this question.

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