We've had a few meta posts asking about how we treat questions and the users who ask them here, and those are good and valuable. But I feel that we might have an imbalance with our concern for those versus our concern for answers and the users that post them.

I have in mind this question, though it applies to many. The posted answers (including my own, for full disclosure) generally indicate that they don't feel the asker's goal is achievable, through interpersonal skills or any other avenue. One of those answers attracted a comment from a user suggesting that it did not properly answer the question as a result (though other issues with the answer were noted, and I'm not intending to address them or the answer here).

I understand that we want to attract users to ask questions, but we also need users to answer questions. I think that a variety of decisions we've made have led to a situation in which questions are granted a lot of lenience, even to the point that they may not be answerable according to site guidelines, but answers are more strictly policed. And there seems to be a lot of inconsistency with the policing.

One effect of all this, as I perceive it, is that we have some users posting answers (including highly active and well-regarded members elsewhere on the SE network) and then being hectored over violations large and small, ultimately driving them away from the site.

Sometimes the critiques are obviously (to me) valid and meaningful, but at other times they seem nitpicky and purposeless. Worse, a lot of these comments seem to come from the review queue which doesn't flag content very well, leading to a very lopsided application of which answers draw critiques for a given question.

We have several policies in place, and that are enforced, regarding assumptions that we must make regarding questions and their askers, but we don't seem to have similar assumptions of honesty, good intent, and respectful engagement for answerers. I've seen several examples where answers drew complaints specifically over more formless issues like "tone", and comments do a poor job of suggesting improvements (both in pointing out issues, and in doing so tactfully).

The usual approach on SE seems to be that if you don't like an answer, downvote it. If you think an answer can be improved, leave a (hopefully gracious) comment explaining how. And if an answer is seriously beyond the pale, flag it for a moderator to look at. I see little of the first, to the point that deletion seems preferred over community votes. Comments happen often, but inconsistently, and are all over the map in terms of being useful and succinct (though they seem like honest efforts, most of the time), but I also see lots of comments that seem only to point to the site guidelines and not really engage with the user. The third is invisible to me.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, IPS is not the most well-thought-of site on SE, and I really think that this is a major reason why.

Should we be more generous when reviewing answers, and if so what guidelines might we want to apply? Should we do a better job of responding to answerers, and if so how should we go about it?

1 Answer 1


Should we be more generous when reviewing answers, and if so what guidelines might we want to apply?

We shouldn't be more generous when reviewing answers.
We should be more strict when reviewing questions, and not answer them before they are in good shape.

I've just dropped a comment on your example question, and as you've said, I've noticed more of these types of questions lately. They can be answered by 'more experienced' members of IPS, because we know to limit answer to the Interpersonal Skills part of the question. But for less experienced or more easily side-tracked members, these questions are way too open-ended.

They include a nice, entertaining backstory, but no information about what part of Interpersonal Skills OP is struggling with. We've discussed research effort before, and have now included it in out guidance on writing good questions. Some of our recent questions are 'lacking research effort'.

A fair amount of questions don't describe what OP has done/is thinking of doing, and how that failed/they're afraid it will fail.

In case of the question you used as an example here, there is a lot of 'this happened', 'I don't agree with how this is happening'... A small bit about how OP wants to handle the interaction (what they want to say), but nothing about how they think their behaviour will fail to reach the goal (polite, firm, no unilateral changes) they have in mind.

Thus comments and answers say 'You shouldn't even try this, you have no right, here's counterarguments to all your arguments' instead of 'Here's how I usually say stuff in a polite but firm way, see how it's different from how you wanted to do it? Remember that it isn't fool-proof though!'.

I understand that we want to attract users to ask questions, but we also need users to answer questions.

True. But in order to get users that answer questions, we need good questions for them to answer.

Good questions invite good answers. We shouldn't loosen up our standards for answers, just because we'd like to answer a question that doesn't seem to be a good fit for Interpersonal Skills. We shouldn't loosen up just to get more content. We should focus on quality content (both questions and answers), instead of quantity.

The usual approach on SE seems to be that if you don't like an answer, downvote it.

That is true. And we should probably downvote more often.

In addition to that, on IPS if an answer doesn't answer the question, is just opinion without experience or sources to back it up, or completely disregards constraints of the question, it can be flagged as 'not an answer'. If review disagrees with you, you can bring it up on meta or flag for a moderator. People do that, but not often enough yet.

If there isn't a good question to answer, basically everything starts to fall in one of those categories. So make sure the question is good to answer first! Asking us 'how to be polite but firm' doesn't give us a good question if you don't tell us what you think wouldn't be polite, or wouldn't be firm. It all comes back to showing research effort again.

I'm also going to plug a link to Can answers be off topic? - How to deal with answers that address legal issues and the top answer there. Basically, the example question you used is one of the type Shog9 describes in the answer there:

but in many cases the questions themselves encourage such digressions by including long or salacious back-stories by way of context; an answer might be forgiven for addressing matters tangential to the question if the question itself obscures the actual problem.

We need to step up our game in terms of question moderation. Otherwise, moderating answers indeed does feel useless. Commenting, closing, editing... and then we can moderate the answers. In doing so, we shouldn't neglect editing:

Even when "off-topic" answers have already started to arrive, an edit to the question that makes it obvious such answers are both unhelpful and unwanted can render them easier to remove and discourage pile-on answers.

Should we do a better job of responding to answerers, and if so how should we go about it?

We can always do better. A comment should request clarification or suggest improvements. That means a comment saying 'you're not meeting guideline X' on it's own is just as valuable as a comment saying 'you're wrong'. Links to guidelines are good (we did not write them down on meta for nothing) but they don't help if people never click them.

Make the most of your comments. Explain why an answer is better with experience as back up. Explain what part of an answer/question is unclear, and how it would be improved by an edit. Help out with edits where possible. Suggest adding additional information, help out by editing it in where you can.

Compare 'Can you add where you live' to 'This looks like it may differ depending on culture. Can you give us some cultural pointers, perhaps tell us where you and the people you're interacting with are from?'. The last one is more useful, it lets the person we're asking know why we're asking, and that we can help with better answers if they comply.

  • 1
    Interesting, thank you for your thoughtful response. I have a feeling that answers will generally be more strictly policed than questions (for a variety of reasons), but talking about the balance between them will obviously depend on the questions being closer to how we want them to be. I will try to bear question quality/nature in mind more consistently in the future.
    – Upper_Case
    Mar 4, 2019 at 20:25
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    @Upper_Case one thing that may explain that discrepancy might be that once a question has an answer, people are quick to start moderating the answer but forget looking closely at the question. We can ask answerers 'what makes your doing X polite' but if the question doesn't state what is considered 'impolite'... we'll just be going in circles. I also have a feeling (no hard numbers here) that once a question has a comment and an answer or two it won't be closed as often as when it has a comment pointing out what should be improved and no answers.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Mar 4, 2019 at 20:33

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