A lot of good and fairly specific questions on P.SE end up getting answers that are witty, abstract, agreeable and popular -- but have no substance, and don't really answer the question.

I don't like to be a buzzkill, but I really don't think we at P.SE need to be reminded that whitespace is good or that we don't like closed-minded employers or that stopping learning isn't conducive to learning.

Sure, there can be wisdom in tautologies, but they seldom answer questions, and when said plainly, their messages are quite mundane.

The problem is that simply down-voting them isn't enough, because popular answers have a lot of votes, even if they're not necessarily good.

Are there ways when you ask a question to discourage these kinds of answers? Or is there anything policy-wise that could be done?

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    +1 for the YouTube video
    – jmort253
    Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 9:00
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    totally agree...it is really discouraging to see those types of answers getting berated with up-votes. I don't even bother answering if I see that.
    – Pemdas
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 18:09
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    The is also a an issue with answer time. Generally the first answer or two end up with most up-vote just because they have been there longer not necessarily because they are the best answer. Something is broken there. I would expect this if I answered a question that is a few months old, but not a few hours old.
    – Pemdas
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 18:17

5 Answers 5


Demand people back up their claims with data, then:


Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references. Opinion isn’t all bad, so long as it’s backed up with something other than “because I’m an expert”, or “because I said so”, or “just because”. Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions, as above, or point to some research you’ve done on the web or elsewhere that provides evidence to support your claims. We like you. We want to believe you. But like wikipedia itself, {{citation needed}}. And good subjective questions make this clear from the outset: back it up!

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  • Sort of pointless to ask for evidence that not learning stops learning, though... Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 4:36
  • @rei "Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions, as above, or point to some research you’ve done on the web or elsewhere that provides evidence to support your claims" Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 4:51
  • @rei see an example of data to support the claim that "whitespace is good", here.. stackoverflow.com/questions/4802381/… (and every one you listed actually has data that could be used to support it. Problem is, that takes work, and people are lazy.) Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 4:54
  • I'm sure if you looked hard enough you could find a psychological study that claims to have confirmed that you're not learning when you're not learning, but isn't that just instigating? Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 6:15
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    @rei the point is to require some kind of backing evidence other than "cuz I said so!" Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 6:42
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    Seems a bit of a different class of bad answers from "cuz I said so" though. The answer isn't bad because there's doubt that it's true; it's bad because it's non-contributive noise. I'm not sure the advice to demand evidence applies here. Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 7:08
  • @rei if it cites Code Complete (see my edit at programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/17305/…) it is no longer non-contributive noise, now is it? Commented Feb 5, 2011 at 21:41
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    I don't know how much taxonomic rigor is expected on P.SE, but wouldn't that be more of a comment than an answer? Maybe the distinction isn't as important usually, but I think for the asker and for other people with the same question it can be a bit frustrating. Of course the asker can always scroll down to find the best answer, but I think it's coming to a point where people that seem otherwise capable of providing apposite answers often instead provide anecdotes and factoids or cutesy one-liners because it'll earn them more +1s. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 0:19
  • @rei well, that is one reason the forced community wiki threshold here is 15 answers instead of 30, as it is on most other sites. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 4:20
  • Ah, never knew about that. I guess it'd be even worse otherwise. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 14:05
  • At the same time, people end up marking these non-answers as answers, presumably due to peer pressure and the "have you considered marking this as answer?" message. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 16:19

Seems you didn't like my rather open-minded answer... :)

Let's talk serious.

1) I'd be very much interested in writing good elaborate answers. I actually have done so on numerous occasions. You know what? People don't read them.

Can't tell you how many times I wrote single-line answers to get numerous votes and immediately after adding "substance" as you call it the voting ended up abruptly.

I actually learned this tactic from seasoned high-rep users (40K+) on SO.

People just don't want to read the stuff. I can't do anything to change them.

If I see folks don't read my answers, I have no motivation of writing them really.

At the very least I can amuse myself by seeing numbers tick (rep growing).

2) The other reason is that by the time you finished writing an elaborate answer there will be 10+ single-lined answers voted up to the heaven. Nobody will notice yours.

Who's to blame if the site is all about being the Fastest Gun in the West?

I suppose the blame is partially on the site creator.

There have been COUNTLESS proposals on how to change the operational model to realign to the quality rather than to quantity and mass. They were all turned down. The creator is very stubborn and doesn't want to listen to input.

Even I proposed an improvement - lock out answers display for the first N minutes to give everyone sufficient time to contribute quality answers - I got laughed at.

(Just tried to locate that old question of mine - seems it was deleted. So much for user voice.)

That other trick with limiting reputation growth to 200 per day only results in newcomers desperately trying to reach the elder by contributing an insane amount of answers, quality evidently suffers here.

You can also see with all that stackexchange expansion that the creators do not concern themselves with the conceptual problems - it's now all about growth, expansion, consumption of markets, going public and so on.

At that time I'm starting to hope somebody will start a different Q&A site - with the right priorities and with the right attitude.

  • First of all you're setting me up as a boogeyman by saying I didn't like your "open-minded" answer, when I obviously said that such points are agreeable but not substantial. That's a rather thinly-veiled personal insult, inferring that I hate open-mindedness. Makes no sense, but fine. Believe what you will. But to respond to your points for the reference of others... Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:39
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    1. Why don't you just go play an MMO if all you're interested in is points and attention?I like to believe that the asker is likely to read all the answers there regardless of their popularity, and while the asker isn't the only person that matters, clearly, they matter the most, so I'd rather write an unpopular answer that's likely to be useful to people who are seriously curious than waste my time in a nerd's beauty pageant. My disappointment is that other busy people can't also benefit from good answers because of crap answers being voted up. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:40
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    2. Public washrooms all have more or less the same sanitary mechanisms, but some are dirtier than others because they've been the victim of some users establishing a culture of pissing all over them. Site's creator partially to blame? Seriously? Just because there are more people contributing to one half of the problem doesn't mean that each person in that half is less responsible for it. If there have been countless proposals to prevent the problem and none have been successful, then maybe the impetus is on the users to not contribute to it. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:40
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    Seems you didn't pay attention while reading. (1) I'm here for learning, not to gain attention, but seeing there is a community I find it hard not to participate. Points are secondary.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:47
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    Either WITH points or WITHOUT them I've observed that elaborate answers are often ignored, not just from me, the answers of other people as well. No up/dowvotes, no comments, questions just get old and disappear. And as far as the low-voted answers are concerned, if they're unfortunate to jump to the second page, they're gone - because Google doesn't index the following answer pages. It's by design so that the most upvoted answers get found. Go ask site creators what thy were thinking about.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:50
  • (2) None of them proposals get chance to get successful since none of them got ever implemented.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:51
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    No, I did read, and I also read between the lines. Why if you're here for learning and not for points are you making a mess of things by contributing to the encouragement of short, useless answers? Sure, askers often ignore good answers, but a lot of them don't -- and the more crappy short answers there are, the less often askers will read the good questions -- meaning that the site begins to suck more and more. The site's design is to encourage good answers, not popular answers. The latter is just an unfortunate side-effect of the problem being complicated by attention whores. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 21:57
  • 2. None? Really? There are tons of other Q&A sites out there, and the main reason that SE's been relatively successful is because a lot of similar proposals have been implemented -- policies, guidelines, and automatic rules. I think you're just being stingy because your proposal was among the many that didn't. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:02
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    Rei, I got "stingy" as you put it because I've seen lots of very smart ideas from others which were laughed at. After the mass of them I started to question where's the heck it's all going? Do the site owner care about the quality or they're more interested in getting more traffic and getting big. To a great disappointment, I came to the conclusion that it's the latter one.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:13
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    Well that's unfortunate, I agree, but that's still no excuse to contribute to the problem. In fact, it seems a bit hypocritical. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:16
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    I guess there is some tiredness in my voice. I held hopes high in the beginning and got involved in the community process much also being highly interested in getting rid of crappy answers. I edited them, I commented them, I suggested improvements along with the other community members but at the end I just gave up. The site design defines the behavior and what crowds it attracts. And it's obvious things aren't going to change any more. There was a warm start-up phase of the project but now it's cold business. Sorry if my frustration spoils your evening/morning wherever you are.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:17
  • Hypocritical, yes, here is that. Didn't notice it but yes, it's right in front of me. :) Ok, I'll think about it all and where it's all going.
    – user8685
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:21
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    I think we're in the same boat then :) Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:21
  • @Developer Art, you might be interested in this query I stole from another user on data.stackexchange, and sorted by reputation/1000 characters to make it a table of those users who get the most from the fewest characters: data.stackexchange.com/programmers/s/926/high-efficiency-users
    – Nicole
    Commented Feb 9, 2011 at 22:39
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    Rep whoring is the best! Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:40

From that same blog post, reads the following:

2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers. The best subjective questions inspire your peers to share their actual experiences, not just post a mindless one-liner or cartoon in hopes of being rewarded with upvotes for being merely “first.” Sharing an experience takes at least one paragraph; ideally several paragraphs. If I’m asking about how to bake cookies, don’t give me a list of grocery items: milk. butter. vanilla. eggs. There is virtually nothing I can learn from a short, static list of grocery items that make up a recipe. Instead, tell me what happened the last time you made cookies from that recipe! Share your detailed experiences, so that we all might learn from them.

Most of the short one-liners we're seeing just don't meet this guideline. My suggestion is that no one upvote the one-liners, unless it's the only answer you agree with. My suggestion is to support those who put thought into their answers.

As far as "backing it up with references", that's a bit of a contradiction in some cases. Some questions fit guideline #2 in that it's about your experiences and not what is on Wikipedia.

If I made chocolate chip cookies and I used dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate and they tasted better, that's my experience, and I'm not famous enough to have a Wikipedia article about me citing my taste in chocolate.

In summary, I think it's okay to insist on references if the question calls for it, but that rule will clearly not apply in every situation.

  • totally a fair point -- short answers tend to be generally bad. Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 22:04
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    "Most of the short one-liners we're seeing just don't meet this guideline. My suggestion is that no one upvote the one-liners" - I'd love to see this happen. Unfortunately in order to make it happen the programmers.SE community as a whole needs to change so that one-liners just aren't crowd-pleasing anymore. The hard part is 'how do we start this change?' Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 20:12
  • @Nick - Just like anything else, it starts with us. Don't accept one liner answers, encourage people to expand their answers, those are all things that you and I can do.
    – jmort253
    Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 5:34

I was directed here to present alternative point of view, so sorry to bump up again an issue you all consider closed.

I don't think there is anything wrong with answers that contain just only one sentence. Quite contrary, I think in some situations they are wayyy better than useless essays about whole array of possible (not necessarily relevant) options. To be more precise, there are answers out there that are long and detailed, but if you try to draw clear conclusions from them, you simply can't do it. I think Jeff Atwood is right in his blog entry: How to Write Without Writing. It is very important for technical people to communicate their ideas. A person not saying much, where something needs to be clarified isn't going to be understood. Frankly the same applies to person that talks a lot, but somehow "drifts away" and ends up taking about minor "side" issues. What is worse, most of the time such person won't finish his talk with a simple sentence that somehow "sums up" all the issues he was talking about. He just stops talking, causing even more confusion. I personally draw "equal" sign between two examples above. For me all those people have problems communicating their ideas, even when at a first glance second case is quite different.

The problem is that P.SE has quite a lot of those "long & pointless" answers. At first sight it looks promising. You keep on reading and waste some time only to find out, you don't know exactly what the guy is suggesting as an answer. I can't provide you with such answer right now as an example to illustrate this, but I'll try to fish one out and add it here. Anyway that leaves the reader with feeling of wasted time and a confusion. Just like your brain was somehow poisoned by the lack of logic in what you have just read. Sometimes you are lucky and you get a long, detailed and very consistent answer. Yes, those are also out there, but from my personal experience long pointless answers are much more common.

So, in my personal opinion the quality of answer has nothing to do with it's lenght. It has more to do with how people understand an answer. Communicating is not about producing a stream of words. Its about combining them in such way, that your reader clearly understands your intentions. To me the only way to measure answer quality is the vote system with the following rules:

  • I understand the answer, I strongly agree with it = upvote
  • I understand the answer, I strongly disagree with it = downvote
  • I don't understand the answer or not really sure how I feel = no action

If you think that is how it works right now, you're wrong. Using the Jeff quote as a basis a lot of people downvote certain answer just because it is too short and not because it is wrong.

So... I don't think P.SE schould encourage/discourage certain type of answer. If somebody wants to write short answer -- let it be. Other people with the help of voting system will decide if this is enough information or not.

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    Not my -1, but I think you're missing my point. My point isn't that short posts are inherently bad; my point is that posts earn too much credit just for being short, and they drown out longer answers. Shorter, elegant answers might be good in code, but social phenomena are often high in entropy and can only be fully understood with long explanations. Commented Apr 1, 2011 at 19:34
  • +1 because your answer is not a one-liner!
    – thb
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 17:14

Crowd pleasing answers must serve some social dynamic purpose for a community. An outlet for this behavior should be allowed (repression isn't healthy).

The stack design uses "community reputation" and "bounties" to support and promote positive and constructive behaviors. The same concepts should be applied to this issue of "crowd pleasing answers" as well.

I leave this to those with more experience and wisdom than myself.

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    I agree, but P.SE is something of an endangered species. There aren't many places on the internet that allow for rational qualitative discussion on issues that programmers face. Almost anywhere else I'd have no problems with frequent humorous interjections, but P.SE is just too fragile. Commented Feb 9, 2011 at 20:46
  • Rei, I was unaware that "P.SE is just too fragile". Can you explain or elaborate?
    – Benjamin
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 18:46
  • It's for several reasons. First the discussion is regarding social matters, so often it involves subjecting people to judgment, which means that it can easily degrade into a flame war. Second even if you can deduce facts rationally, you can't demonstrate things empirically or in code or math like you can on SO. That means that real answers need to be expressed in the same plain English that silly answers are in, so it's hard to distinguish them from noise. Third, social phenomena are often complex, so their accurate descriptions tend to be long -- and people want to read short answers first. Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 3:46
  • @Rei - I have to say that I haven't seen to many examples of flame wars here. For the most part, most people keep themselves in check and respectfully disagree.
    – jmort253
    Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 5:41
  • @jmort That's true. Commented Feb 12, 2011 at 7:48

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