Stack Exchange is a rigorous Q&A community with a mission to build up a reliable knowledge base for future readers. It's sort of like Wikipedia in that regard. To accomplish this mission we need our answers to be clearly backed up so visitors can verify our answers for themselves. Without any citation, we are just random people on the internet and our words are worth only so much without any supporting evidence, regardless of what our reputation or standing is inside the community.
You do not need to cite every sentence, but citation of various statements and positions may be expected and requested by your fellow community members.
Objective vs. Subjective
Some questions are asking for objective or mostly objective answers; others are asking more subjectively for people's experience doing things like setting boundaries. Depending on these, your answer will need objective and/or subjective backup.
Not all subjective questions are a fit for the site. Remember, the help center says:
What kind of questions should I not ask here?
Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!
This means questions that are just debates, discussions, or opinions get closed. However, there is a lot of value in being able to ask and answer questions that involve more of an element of judgement in them—as long as we can do so constructively.
Therefore, we have expectations about answers and statements in those answers requiring proof to be constructive, “hard” proof for objective elements and documented experience for subjective elements.
- Objective answers: These state matter of fact reality that can be verified independently of any person's perspective. Examples include claims about theories and concepts commonly associated with interpersonal skills, and to an extent, social conventions and rules of etiquette.
- Subjective answers: These state subjective reality based on personal perspective, stances, judgement, and experience. Examples include advising the best course of action in navigating a social situation to reach a goal, such as conflict resolution, setting boundaries or being more polite.
Useful answers will always be one or both of these categories.
What are the citation expectations for Objective answers?
These are pretty much just like Wikipedia: cite your sources. If you are bringing up theories and concepts related to interpersonal skills, cite the research with a book and page number or a link to an online article, and include a brief quote or extract to demonstrate that these theories/concepts are what you say they are. If you are suggesting that X is the proper etiquette for handling a situation, or that Y is a social convention, link and quote to a source where someone besides you said it is so.
Although it may seem to you that certain claims are common knowledge and don't require a citation, if someone requests a citation it's probably needed—revise your post to add that citation. Nobody should have to take our word for it that what's being said is true; we need to show it is.
Citing your sources has the added benefit that other users can go back to the source you provided and learn more about that aspect of your answer.
Not OK: “I think/would do this” for questions about theories/etiquette without providing a citation.
People ask about theories, concepts, social conventions and etiquette because they're trying to better understand Interpersonal Skills and how they work. Anyone can guess at theory, convention or rule, but that includes the person who asked the question, so we're not looking for this content. Your answer should cite expert sources to back up your statements regarding theories, concepts, social conventions or rules of etiquette.
What are the citation expectations for Subjective answers?
These are answers drawing on experience to suggest solutions to social problems, best practices, techniques to reach a goal, etc. Our foundational rule is that these answers must follow the Back It Up! principle found in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective:
Back It Up! means that your answers must be based on either:
- Something that happened to you personally
- Something you can back up with a reference
This means when you provide a subjective solution you believe will resolve the situation, we expect that you cite analogous experience of how it has worked out in actual practice — your own experience or someone else's. Keep in mind any cultural differences when doing so.
Describing how it worked out is more preferable to describing how well it worked out: “these things happened, the people I was interacting with felt this way about it” is preferable to “it worked well”, but either is preferable to no citation of it actually being tried at all.
The experience does not have to be of the exact same situation, although that would be ideal. Experience of similar or analogous situations is also relevant and helpful, at least to the extent they are similar/analogous enough to be relevant.
Not OK: “Try this” with no cited experience of how it works
Any of us can say “here's what I'd do” based on no actual experience, or come up with something on the spot as an off-the-cuff idea, but our site is not looking for this content. We want to collect tried-and-tested solutions with well-understood outcomes. We don't want your opinion; we want your expertise. If you do not have experiences you can bring to the table in that particular case, do not answer the question. Answers not doing so may be downvoted and/or deleted.
This doesn't mean that you should avoid indicating where personal preference comes into an answer! An answer explaining "I do this because X, but I've seen others do this other thing because Y, and both work" can provide an excellent overview of a wide yet deceptively narrow topic.
Nevertheless, answering “How do I handle this issue” with a recommendation to do this, that, and the other without any experience doing it yourself, or having seen it done, or having anything other than “it sounds good in my head” to believe it would help the querent, makes our site worse.
To apply the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective's guidance on questions to answers as well, a good subjective answer should tend to:
- Explain “why” and “how”
- Be longer, not shorter
- Have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
- Share experiences over opinions
- Back up opinion with facts and references, including specific experiences