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A significant recent initiative here on IPS is to enforce the "back it up" condition on answers, with the aim to limit answers to only those based on personal experience or citable expert advice.

If we are going to rely on votes alone to enforce this then there's nothing for us to do, but it seems (from other threads on meta) that this is an unsatisfactory approach. That means that it becomes a moderator issue, and in that case there should be some guidelines as to how much experience/expertise is enough to qualify as an adequately supported answer.

What threshold is enough for someone to qualify as a citable expert? And what personal experience is enough to qualify as relevant? I'll point to an answer on this recent question (not to pick on anyone, it's just the most recent one I saw which illustrated this issue. There are lots of examples on the stack).

The cited relevant experience is "businessperson", with no elaboration. I see how that relates to the question, but the business referenced in the question is a very specific one and relates to issues the answerer explicitly acknowledges they have not experienced. Is that vague experience strong enough to qualify as "backing up" the answer? I saw another question recently where an answerer asserted that "general life experience" is enough to qualify. If that is the stack standard, then what sorts of answers would be deemed inadequate?

I'm not trying to nitpick, but I want to be a good answerer of questions on the stack and also apply moderator decisions consistently and appropriately. As of now I'm not sure how to do that well, and my intuition seems to be generally off from some of the more highly rated users.

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    Could we include answers that explain in detail the thought process/reasoning for the answer but give no personal or professional backing up? - I think it applies nicely to this question – Jesse May 28 '18 at 2:39
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    I came here because I just looked at this question again and asked myself the same question as the OP. What I can see there looks really really weird. Why was it necessary to delete gnashers729's answer (but not the others) with a comment on how they should explain why they recommend this course of action? From this example I really don't see how much is enough explanation - it all looks really arbitrary to me. – AllTheKingsHorses May 31 '18 at 10:13
  • @AllTheKingsHorses Sometimes users will read the most recent answer that bumped a question, particularly when there are several answers. Sometimes a mod is just responding to flags. In this specific case I went ahead a flagged the other answers after you put them in the spotlight. – apaul May 31 '18 at 13:55
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    @apaul OK, but I still don't understand how much backup is enough. To me it looks like at the moment a new and rather arbitrary standard is being enforced that would call into question tons of answers on this stack. Also, when answering "Why is this a good idea?" (which AJ asked) about anything and everything, I feel anecdotes are vastly inferior to scientific evidence, so we should restrict ourselves to that. – AllTheKingsHorses Jun 1 '18 at 17:07
  • Sounds like an answer or a new question. – apaul Jun 1 '18 at 17:10
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    @apaul Whether or not it's the case that another question is warranted, this one still stands, I think. The standard referenced in this question is still really unclear, and since I don't know that we can expect all voters to have any better cohesion on this than answerers/mods/elevated members the issues still persist. Current looseness in the policy will have the effect of "responsible" answerers posting fewer answers and garnering fewer votes, while less cautious answerers will post whatever, sometimes gaining lots of votes and then becoming elevated. Then we're right back where we started, – Upper_Case Jun 1 '18 at 17:37
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    (continued) with wildly diverging views on what counts as "backing it up" among askers, answerers, voters, and elevated users, with corresponding variation in quality across the stack. If we're going to enforce this policy I think we need to be clearer about what that means to the stack, and then stick to it. I'd hoped this post would generate some more discussion around this and avoided posting more to promote that, but as things stand the current high-subjectivity approach seems to me to have a main effect of reducing the average quality of answers. – Upper_Case Jun 1 '18 at 17:40
  • Again that sounds like an answer or a new question. Some of your concerns are valid, but posting them in comments isn't going to help anything. – apaul Jun 1 '18 at 18:10
  • @apual I had thought it was more central to my question, but upon rereading it I think that you are correct; my apologies. – Upper_Case Jun 1 '18 at 18:31
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What I've been trying to do so far, is to separate the completely unsupported from poorly supported. (Not sure if this is the best way, just what I've been doing)

Completely unsupported answers can and should be downvoted, flagged as NAA, and commented to politely ask the user to back-it-up.

Answers that are poorly supported are a little more of a gray area... As you've noticed...

In cases where I've spotted an unsupported answer, and they edit it into a poorly supported answer, I usually leave the downvote, flag, and comment. And optionally add another comment asking for more/better support.

In cases where my first impression of the answer is that it's just poorly supported, I try to comment and optionally downvote. Voting usually depends on my impression of the answer's support... Is this a well intentioned answer written by someone who's stumbling through a learning curve, or is it someone who ought to know better and is just doing the bare minimum?


Now on to what you were really asking about...

In my opinion (pun intended) there isn't a meaningful difference between:

Do X...

And

In my experience you should do X...

(Unless, of course the "in my experience" is supported with some explanation of what that experience happens to be later in the answer.)

I don't think this should be sufficient for backing up an answer. It's slightly better than nothing, at least it hints at the idea that the answerer may have done the thing before, but actually explaining and providing an example of what they did and how it worked would be better.

"In my experience" is pretty much another claim that needs some support.

On the other hand...

I'd be cautious about questioning whether a provided personal experience is sufficiently related. And way more cautious about calling people out for making up a personal experience.

I'm sure we'll have people who stretch the limits of credibility in all directions, but unless something seems incredibly incredulous, that's a line I'd rather not cross. Seems to me that may be setting a precedent that may cause all answers to be second guessed in ways that'll very likely turn rude and abusive. We don't want that.

In the hopefully rare cases where it looks like we have a creative writer, it'll probably be better to use a custom mod flag or possibly even a meta post... (Please go with the mod flag first and wait for a response. And please avoid naming and shaming whenever possible.)

Which leads us to another possibility...

What do we do with answers that are well supported by personal experience, but that experience is directly contrary to what the person asking wants to do? These are another gray area...

Some of these may make for really good frame challenges, while others may be just... well... Awful. Still not entirely sure what to do with those awful ones apart from downvoting, but when it sounds like the person answering is answering out of a completely different experience than the person asking... It may, at times, be worth pointing that out.

A frame challenge should still be supported with personal experience and/or references. Perhaps at an even higher standard than our usual answers. Someone writing a good frame challenge should be knowledgeable enough to fully grasp what's being asked about, and be able to demonstrate that knowledge, while being able to support their challenge on top of that.

I don't know anything about X, but you should do Y instead.

Isn't a supported frame challenge. Neither is:

I don't know anything about X, but you should do Y instead. Let me tell you literally everything about Y and why that's a better solution while ignoring X.

These answers sometimes demonstrate a lack of important background knowledge. When X is crucial to the question, it's crucial to address it in the answer. A good frame challenge isn't just a matter of telling someone that they're wrong. it requires some knowledge of why they're wrong, and a certain amount of tact... But tact is probably drifting into what ought to be another meta post.

In my opinion, answers of the form:

I've never been in your situation, and I think your situation is morally repugnant, and you should just stop being that way... But let me tell you all about how people like me view people like you, so that you better understand why you shouldn't be that way.

Aren't likely to be helpful to the person asking. This may seem hyperbolic to some... But we really do get answers that boil down to that. Let's not allow that, regardless of how well supported the answer may be...

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    Your paraphrased examples are fairly clear; but answers I encounter are rarely so black and white. I don't want to name and shame but some real examples would be very helpful. – Jesse May 28 '18 at 6:10
  • @Jesse if you find one that you're unsure about feel free to bring it up here on meta. – apaul May 28 '18 at 14:20
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Reposting an old answer because it actually is good advice, although unfortunately it got caught in some politics and was subsequently ignored.


The problem that this site currently has is that the answers are mostly suggestions. What this means is that answers will simply suggest suggestions to the problem, but there is no way for anyone reading the answer to know if the suggestion will work unless they actually try it. This leads to problems; if someone uses a suggestion found on this site and the suggestion didn't work, well, they're just one more person who's been tricked by the internet.

The mission of Stack Exchange is to make the internet a better place. (Or rather, this should be the mission of Stack Exchange; whether that actually happens is a different question.) If the only thing that answers on this site do is spam suggestions that may or may not be right, well, then the Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange will be making the internet a worse place, not a better one.

So how can this problem be solved. How can this community teach its members to write answers that aren't suggestions but rather solutions? How can this community write answers that are helpful and that people can trust?

In most cases, answers on this site will be written from experience. This makes sense; there aren't academic sources for basic social skills. But it's not easy to write a good experience-based answers. Many people believe that an experience-based answer simply means changing "do x" to "From my experience, doing x is best". But if you think about it, there's no difference between the two quotes. Both are ultimately suggestions; the difference is the second quote attempts to gain the reader's trust by claiming an identity. Since anyone can lie on the internet without repercussion, it's a poor attempt indeed.

After some thought, some frustration, and a lot of conversation on chat, I've come up with a way of thinking about the issue that is helpful and easy to understand.

answer = information + argument

A good answer has two components: information and an argument. Both components are crucial to ensuring that an answer is more than a list of suggestions. To explain why, let me go through each component one by one.

What information should answers include?

When someone receives advice, the first thing they need to know is whether the advice is applicable to them. "Divorce your spouse" might be good advice if you are in an abusive relationship, and it might be bad advice if you're having an argument about what tv show to watch. As has been discussed elsewhere on this site, good advice for one culture might be bad advice for another culture. When someone reads an answer, they need to be able to know that the answer applies to their situation.

To fix this, provide information about the specific context your experience comes from. For example, in a question about retail etiquette, including a statement such as "as someone who has both worked in retail and enjoys shopping, I can understand both sides" contains enough information that a reader will be able to tell whether the subsequent advice will apply to them.

It's important to understand that since this is the internet, it's impossible to verify whether the information is true. So the only critique one can realistically make of information is that an answer doesn't have enough of it. But trust is not the function of the information portion of an answer. Trust is where the second portion of the answer, the argument, comes into play.

Arguments transform information into solutions people can trust.

So once a reader knows that an answer is applicable, how does a reader know that the ultimate conclusion of the answer (e.g. "do [x]") is a good one? The answer: it's the job of the answer to convince the reader that the answer's advice is good. How do you convince someone? You give an argument.

Here's what a good argument might look like: "I was in an abusive relationship. Nothing I did improved things. I later found out from a psychologist that this is normal. Meeting with the psychologist helped give me courage to walk away. The very act of talking about the issue with someone face to face helped my organize my thoughts and feelings. I suggest that you meet with a psychologist, or someone who is a professional who can offer advice." Of course, this argument is missing the first part of the equation: information.

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I think your example illustrates nicely why it is good to back up with your experience.

It offers a different perspective to approach the problem (which may or may not be more effective, but that depends mainly on the person you try to apply it to)

The OP can clearly identify that

  • OP´s logic is coming form a business perspective.
  • OP has no kid´s of his own. (But question is not about kids but about booking a service)
  • [...] It would be nice do find out what that business-experience entails

But, that often means op would have to give much more personal detail, which he may not be willing to.

So I would say backup is sufficient for OP and other to judge if the answer applies to them. Asking for the extent of business/negotiation experience may improve the answer.

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