We are trying our very best to remove low quality answers from our site. But there are no clear guidelines on what we, as a community, consider to be a good answer.

So let's try and make a few guidelines on how to write answers on IPS questions and what every answer should contain or discuss.

What requirements do answers have on IPS?

I suggest that each answer to this meta should contain one feature. We can then vote on whether this should be included or not.

  • I think they're pretty clear, just not black-on-white in one place yet, but spread over a bunch of meta's discussing e.g. having a back-it-up rule or not, meta's providing guidance on why answers get deleted, meta's discouraging one-line answers etc. It would be really great to see all of those compiled into some black-on-white guidelines here so we can link back to those all in one go! :D – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 24 '18 at 14:10
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    If we can get it together and we're willing to give up our help pages being updated, we can actually request that the help pages be edited to reflect these guidelines. – Catija ModStaff Jan 25 '18 at 0:52
  • Maybe we should add an answer about "non-IPS" solutions and downvote it enough to show that we do not accept those here. – NVZ Jan 25 '18 at 7:30
  • @NVZ I think non-ips solutions can be in answers, as long as there is an ips solution as well – JAD Jan 25 '18 at 9:58
  • @JAD So, make that in an answer? – NVZ Jan 25 '18 at 10:25
  • Since you are asking about us removing the answers is it fair to assume you are asking what an answer must contain rather than what it should contain? – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 14:21
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    @Jesse I would like to have a comprehensive list of what every answer must have. So preferably must, but feel free to add shoulds as well. – JAD Jan 25 '18 at 14:29
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    I don't think we can set any rules about what every answer must have. That assumes we're in a black-and-white world where everything is perfect. Setting absolutes like that makes failure of both the rules inevitable and makes for a very unwelcoming site. – Catija ModStaff Jan 26 '18 at 1:05
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    @Catija maybe you're right. I like to see the world black and white, and in this instance that might be a naive approach. Let's not call them a code, but rather guidelines... – JAD Jan 26 '18 at 7:25
  • Oh, let's make another with "good questions", if there already isn't one. – NVZ Jan 26 '18 at 13:39
  • @NVZ I think that one is a lot harder to generalise, but go ahead – JAD Jan 26 '18 at 13:42
  • @JAD You have the knack for it, not me. ;) – NVZ Jan 26 '18 at 13:43
  • @NVZ I'll see what I can do. Give me 6-8 weeks – JAD Jan 26 '18 at 13:45

An IPS-related solution to the question

We are a site about IPS. As such, we should at least try to offer an IPS related solution to the question. This should be accompanied by an explanation about what the expected effects of this approach would be. Potential follow-ups and/or drawbacks/backfires should also be discussed, as to give the OP the most complete insight on what the solution might entail.

  • Related meta – JAD Jan 24 '18 at 15:25
  • IPS related is very important, but "Answers must address the question" gives a couple exceptions to this rule that it must be a solution to the question asked. – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 15:02
  • Related meta – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 15:06

Some explanation of where the information and advice in the post come from.

This could be personal experience, professional training, or some kind of research such as academic studies, an on-point article by some relevant authority, or even a Wikipedia article. If an answer is based purely on "common sense" or "logic" it should be backed up in some way to take it outside the realm of an opinion.

  • Related meta – JAD Jan 24 '18 at 15:24
  • Another related meta – JAD Jan 24 '18 at 15:25
  • I would just like to add that for most answers it is within reason to give the author the benefit of the doubt that they are basing it off personal experience and for those cases, we just assume they can "back it up" and they don't have to explicitly say unless it is not an experience your average person would encounter – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 14:55
  • Does this include "why the solution works"? – Catija ModStaff Jan 25 '18 at 20:22
  • @Catija Ideally it would; I was thinking of it in terms of "why I believe the things I'm saying," with "I'm saying these things because I think they'll help you" as a basic assumption. If you wanted to write that up as a separate answer, though, I'd upvote it. (With the caveat that I do think it would probably be OK to have an answer that says something along the lines of "I've used this approach myself several times; I'm not sure why it works, but it always has" or "scientists haven't settled on a theory to explain this behavior, but it's fairly well documented" (citation).) – 1006a Jan 25 '18 at 20:55
  • @Jesse I was largely thinking of the answers that start out "I've never experienced this myself, but" or the ones that make potentially contentious assertions about human behavior without explanation. I agree, if the question asks about some common experience it's likely that most people will be answering from experience, and they don't all need to start out with "I myself have encountered people in stores" or what-have-you. – 1006a Jan 25 '18 at 20:58
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    Yeah, I'm trying to decide if that's a different rule or part of this one. I feel like the actual rule is "Explain why your solution will work - support it with personal experience, an article, or an explanation of the concept, even if it's based on "common sense" or "logic" - not everyone has them". ;) – Catija ModStaff Jan 25 '18 at 21:01

Contain something new

Duplicate answers should be removed; however, this question about What are the rules with regard to duplicate answers? outlines that partial duplicates should not be deleted. Depending how much is copied you may decide to down vote. But if there is at least one aspect of the answer that has not been addressed already then it is technically not a duplicate and should not be deleted (for that reason).


Address the question

Most answers must both address and answer the question, but there are a few cases where it is okay to post an answer that only addresses the question. The first method is the Frame Challenge. Frame Challenges address the question, but answer it in a completely different way than was asked. (i.e. they challenge the frame in which the question was asked).

The other case where it is okay for an answer to address the question but not answer it is when it rejects the question itself, for an answer like this where the author of the answer feels that the question is bad or wrong and have something useful to say; they can write an answer that goes along the lines of "Don't! because..." The meta question asking What to do with questions about “getting around” peoples' boundaries / autonomy is a good example of this. Keep in mind that the reasoning should needs to be especially well explained if you are disagreeing with OP, the first answer in this other post gives a great example for what is and is not acceptable.


Apply to both the OP and future readers

With IPS issues in particular, most questions have very specific details that change the content of the answers.

Obviously, all good answers will directly address the issue the OP has given and take their specific situation into account. However, they should also add the caveats that apply it to a more general case where possible.

A good answer should both help the OP and make clear where the specifics of the OPs question are affecting the answer given. It should be clear to future readers where specific parts of the answer were due to the OPs unique situation, and what the general-case advice would have normally been instead.


I think if we limit answers to only the questions posed by the posters, there's a missed opportunity. A lot of time people frame questions without realizing their assumptions. Answers should be based on the whole scenario given in a post, not just the question the person tries to ask. So maybe answers come from a different angle then expected, but that's the advantage of this site vs. just googling it.

  • I think this is already covered in the second paragraph here. – JAD Mar 15 '18 at 15:18

Mandatory guidelines can be counterproductive if they are strictly enforced. The list of stipulations that ought to be adopted as mandatory should be very, very short. Perhaps as short as answers need to address the question at hand and clearly articulate a position.

There are a lot of suggestions here and sure to follow that are prima facie guidelines that will improve the majority of answers. But there will always be some unanticipated situations that would benefit from the latitude to present a solution in an unorthodox manner.

To that end, I suggest that the majority of guidelines adopted should be in the form best practice guidelines, strongly worded advice.. but still short of absolutely mandatory. Such guidelines can still be enforced by moderators and highly ranked users who can bridge the remaining gap while still having some discretion to allow well thought out, creative, unanticipated and valuable answers that would occasionally run afoul of rigid guidelines.

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    I don't think that this was ever meant to be any sort of check list for deletion. – Catija ModStaff Jan 25 '18 at 21:33
  • Fair point. It seems like this might evolve into criteria for deletion though if guidelines are rigidly labelled as mandatory. – user11886 Jan 25 '18 at 21:38
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    Yeah, I think the title and emphasized question is a bit strong, so maybe I'll edit that to make it seem less of a "required" and more of a "things we should expect". – Catija ModStaff Jan 25 '18 at 21:39
  • @Catija I do not think that was OP's intention... "I would like to have a comprehensive list of what every answer must have. So preferably must, but feel free to add shoulds as well. – JAD" – Jesse Jan 26 '18 at 1:01
  • and clearly articulate a position. Could you explain what you mean by that part? From what I've seen, we have a lot of 'try this' answers with no back-up, explanation of how or why, "just suck it up's" and other one-liners that aren't teaching an OP an interpersonal skill. 'clearly articulate a position' is IMO way too ambiguous when taking that into account? – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 26 '18 at 10:34
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    Besides that, sites like Parenting seem to enforce some guidelines on their answers too (the whole don't answer if you disagree with ... thing for example)... I'm not really seeing how we're going to get quality answers (and not turning in the opinion dumping ground of SE) without enforcing some rules? – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 26 '18 at 10:37
  • @Tinkeringbell and clearly articulate a position. meant that an answer should have enough clarity and detail to either answer the question in a coherent and lucid manner. Or effectively address a crucial and relevant issue with the way the question was framed. Answers that are not clearly expressed, are off-topic or that have obvious & serious inconsistencies would be non-conforming. – user11886 Jan 26 '18 at 19:48
  • Hmmm... Which means that having a list of problems an answer can have/shouldn't have is at least a good thing to do, because you're basically saying that the other answers here give examples of what a conforming answer should look like. One thing I've learned on IPS is that to get such a subjective site going, you'll need some rules that aren't subject to interpretation. Otherwise, you get people arguing that their answer was 'clearly articulated' when it suggested 'wear headphones'. – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 26 '18 at 19:56
  • I appreciate the intent of being as short as possible though, and indeed would not advocate the answers posted here be used as checkboxes, and delete an answer when one of them is missing. But if an answer is missing 2 or 3 or more.... Well, then it's good we have a list! :) – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 26 '18 at 19:56
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    @Tinkeringbell Black & white solutions are enormously popular because they are easy to enforce. The thrust of my original suggestion, pragmatically restated is simply this - go ahead and implement deletion criteria if the consensus leans that way. That will probably work well in most cases, eliminate a lot of moderation headaches and forestall some user squabbles. But select users i.e. moderators and probably high ranked users should still be able to make an occasional exception for the rare post that achieves an eloquent answer despite running a bit afoul of strict criteria. – user11886 Jan 26 '18 at 20:12
  • I understand now. Thanks for clarifying! :) – Tinkeringbell Mod Jan 26 '18 at 20:26

Be of sufficient length

There is no specific length requirement for answers, and the best course of action is not necessarily removal. Some answers may be okay, even though they are significantly shorter than others that were deleted. Ultimately length is just an indicator for the amount of content in an answer and the interpretation of that, and if it is enough is up you. But the answer to Should we be more strict about one-line answers? is a clear yes and deleting is one of the options for how to deal with them.

We also have later examples of questions deemed rightfully deleted after 13 hours because it was "literally just a list".

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    I think sufficient length should be a by-product from complying to the other requirements, not a requirement on its own. – JAD Jan 25 '18 at 15:10
  • @JAD fair enough, but I will leave it up as it is grounds for deletion – Jesse Jan 25 '18 at 15:12
  • I encourage users to convey more in fewer words - be concise that is. That doesn't have to be a rule though. Also, I'm not sure what purpose "be of sufficient length" even serves in our context. – NVZ Mar 7 '18 at 7:24

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