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Previously we discouraged self-answered questions (SAQs), but let's welcome them now

This proposal is based on, my trying to summarise, these meta-topics:

For a while we have discouraged self-answered questions (SAQs) -- the consensus from May I share my research, by posting questions on this site and self-answering them? seemed to be "no".

The exception to that "no" -- i.e. when SAQs were (and still are) welcome -- was in this kind of circumstance:

Generally, what I like to do is to post a question sincerely i.e. where I do not know the answer to the question.

Then I choose the best answer to the question, and this must come from others.

However, I may later post an answer based on useful information that I discovered AFTER posting the question, in which case, I will never accept my own answer.

The reason for this is that I think this is very useful information that should not go unposted, and would add value to the question.

My example for this is Was the Abhidhamma taught by the Buddha?.

But SAQs are allowed and welcome and seen as beneficial on other SE sites.

Can I answer my own question?

Yes! Stack Exchange has always explicitly encouraged users to answer their own questions. If you have a question that you already know the answer to, and you would like to document that knowledge in public so that others (including yourself) can find it later, it's perfectly okay to ask and answer your own question on a Stack Exchange site.

Characteristics of a good, well-written SAQ

  • The answer may be encyclopedic

    Don't just answer the immediate question, but fix it two (or even three) ways. Give the reader everything they might need to answer related questions themselves.

    An answer which copy-and-pastes (or references) any single sutta isn't necessarily useful -- one of SE's community moderators (Shog9) implied as much, as quoted here. One way to add value is to comment on what you quote (and/or to reference your comments!). Another way is to compile several resources. For example the community upvoted this as being a good SAQ -- Which early canonical references help one find a skillful teacher?

    Some sites take this a step further, and write "canonical answers". We haven't explicitly tried that yet on this site, but imagine there were some frequently-asked question which a lot of new users ask. Instead of re-answering each time, the community or one user might try to craft what SE calls a 'canonical' topic so that subsequent simuilar questions can be closed as duplicate.

  • The question should be well-written and interesting

    Avoid posting a one-line question, which is just a place-holder into which to insert your answer. Everyone recommends writing a good question, for example:

    Make sure you spend almost as much effort on the question as you did on the answer. Much like on Stackoverflow we want people who ask questions to tell us what they've tried attempting to work out their problem. Tell us what you thought about, where you looked before you found the answer etc. If you can't write more than a sentence or two about the problem, seriously consider whether you're the right person to be asking this question.

  • Encourage other answers

    If someone self-answers a question and then implies that any and all other answers are worse, that might seem conceited and disruptive (see below). Part of the point of writing a good question in the first place is so that other people will be interested, and perhaps inclined to answer it too. One user recommends:

    I sincerely encourage additional feedback and competing answers. As a matter of habit, I prefer not to accept my own answers and am eager to reward competing ones.

Poorly-written SAQs and how to handle them

  • Disruptive

    Sometimes a few SAQs on this site have seemed intended to perpetuate an argument from one topic to another -- for example someone disagrees with what someone else has written in a topic, and posts a new SAQ in a thinly-veiled criticism of the other user's view.

    SE defines "disruptive behaviour" like this:

    • Other users tend to react poorly to this user’s contributions, posting negative responses in kind and generally causing a commotion.
    • There is a broad sense of community resentment over this user’s behavior, and they are frequently cited in discussion about the community.
    • There is a dark storm cloud of moderator flags that seems to follow this user around wherever they go.
    • The moderators get email complaints about this user’s behavior.
    • This user makes overtly snide, rude, or hostile comments to their fellow users.

    We (community and moderators) should flag and handle this in the usual way. But the mere fact that a topic is a SAQ shouldn't be considered disruptive.

  • Not a good question

    Questions should normally be well-written -- a question you might like to answer yourself, and/or a question you might like to see someone else answer.

    If it isn't then the community can downvote the question and/or vote-to-close it.

  • Not a good answer

    The usual suggestions apply, e.g. down-vote, comment constructively (to suggest any improvements), and/or write a better answer.

    As long as the question is good, the fact that the answer isn't great is less important (because, someone else might write a better answer).

  • Conceited

    Perhaps I'm wrong but my impression is that one of the problem with SAQs is they might be seen as conceited ("I know this and you don't, and you ought to know so I'm going to tell you").

    Some of the most popular FAQs on this site warn against your "preaching", or "assuming a teacher's mantle".

    Perhaps the advice (quoted above), about writing a good question and encouraging other answers, will help to avoid that -- because then you depict yourself as respectful of others (which is the main thing) -- and also as a fellow-student or a researcher, not a teacher, which might be easier for others to accept.

  • Self-promotion

    How to not be a spammer includes, "Always solve the asker's problem" and other advice. But if no-one else asked, then your answer may seem "unsolicited" -- which is part of the definition of "spam".

    If you think it's relevant to reference your own blog or YouTube video, it may be better to do that in reply to someone else's question not your own.

    In theory this too might depend on the quality of the post -- if it's good then it's welcome -- but perhaps even if the OP were a famous author, a respected subject matter expert and a good writer, their posting "Question + Short Answer + Reference to a publication of mine" would seem a bit spammy.

    So SAQs should be self-contained (not just a summary of what you've written elsewhere). Or they might be encyclopedic, with many references of which your own publication would be only one among several.

  • Flooding the site

    Try not to post too often. It annoys some people if many of the most recent topics are all by the same author.

New directions for the community (regular users and moderators)

  • Cleanup of poor questions

    Users who earn a reputation of 125 or 500 can vote down or vote to close a topic.

    There are various standard close reasons:

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    And of course you can up-vote good questions. The standard reason for an upvote is,

    This question shows research effort; it is clear and useful

    In the past this site has been unusually tolerant of low-quality questions. Users rarely ever close questions (only moderators do sometimes). One of the site-specific FAQs -- Moderation policies for Questions -- says explicitly that various types of low-quality question are permitted (in order to be welcoming to new users).

    I suggest that this permissive attitude needn't be extended to SAQs by established users, who ought to know how to write a good question.

  • Cleanup of poor answers

    Users can vote down poor answers. Users with a reputation of 4,000 can also vote to delete downvoted answers ...

    You may vote to delete answers in the following cases:

    • The answer is extremely low quality: There is little to no scope for improvement
    • The answer doesn't attempt to answer the question; it may be a comment or a separate question altogether.

    ... although you probably shouldn't -- deleting is for non-answers, not for bad answers.

    The best response to a bad SAQ might be:

    • Downvote and flag it if it's disruptive
    • Vote to close it if it's a bad question
    • Post a better answer if it's a good question
  • Don't focus on the identity of the author

    The Code of Conduct includes this advice:

    Focus on the content, not the person.

    Similarly for SAQs, one of the most upvoted comments (on the Meta of another site) was this:

    Just stop making judgement based on who is posting a question and who is answering it. The value of a question/answer pair doesn't really depend on who is the poster.

  • Users should do more and moderators less

    An experienced moderator of another site offered me this advice:

    I think you are being way too cautious here. There's no reason to try to anticipate and prevent every problem that can possibly occur on a site. There are an infinite number of potential problems, but a very finite set of problems that ever actually occur. If you keep trying, you are going to drive yourself crazy and not get very much done!

    It looks like you may have partially realized this already from one of your comments:

    Part of my problem might be that I've trying to protect the community (from disruptive behavior) and the site (from unasked-for answers), by preemptively discouraging people's self-answering

    Self-answering can be a very useful tool and there are good reasons why they are not only allowed, but encouraged across the network. Disallowing them out of fear that they will be abused (especially in the face of evidence from other site that show it hasn't been an issue) is just shooting yourself in the foot for no good reason.

    What I would recommend is to keep thinking about this stuff and all the advice given in the answers here, but meanwhile allow self-answered questions on the site. Then, deal with problems as they come up. That way you are solving real issues on your site and not potential imaginary problems. Your site won't crash and burn the first time it encounters a small bump. In fact, that's how communities grow and learn how to manage themselves: by encountering and overcoming issues.

    In a mature non-Beta site, it's the community (not the moderators) who are responsible for quality-control -- voting and voting-to-close -- and flagging if necessary, leaving moderators to do as little as possible:

    A lot of the moderation work is mundane: deleting obvious spam, closing blatantly off-topic questions, and culling some of the worst-rated posts on the site. The ideal moderator does as little as possible, but those little actions may be powerful, visible, and highly concentrated.

    Whether moderators should even help to cull (delete) downvoted answers varies from site to site:

    I think you were saying that users should downvote but not delete bad answers (e.g. wrong answers), is that right? That deleting is only for non-answers, e.g. comments and nonsense etc.? The kind of nonsense you might not even need to be a Subject Matter Expert SME to detect?

    That's one of the things that varies site by site. Non-answers and nonsense should be deleted everywhere, but some specific sites may have a policy to delete e.g. unsupported answers, even though they're only bad but still answers.

    Usually I delete what's disruptive, maybe hostile towards other sects or views or users -- or an answer that seems unrelated to Buddhism, or unrelated to the OP's question.

    Moderators should beware of voting to close. However little they do, it can seem unpopular! So regular users should do it, take that responsibility, when they think it's appropriate. If there aren't enough (i.e. 5) active users on this site, perhaps a moderator might augment their first few votes to tip the scale, but be reluctant to act first/alone -- but this is a different topics, unrelated to SAQs.

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  • Is there a deadline for the voting? – Erik Jul 12 at 7:33
  • When the voting for this topic reached 6-0 then I thought it was clear that I could accept an answer. But the voting on this topic is currently 2-2. – ChrisW Jul 12 at 8:50
  • So, no deadline? Also, i read the yes/no replies below as 1-1 so where is 2-2 coming from? I'm asking to understand the process. – Erik Jul 12 at 9:23
  • Some people downvoted as well -- both of the scores below are "plus two minus one" so they look like "just one" (you ought to be able to see that, How do I view vote counts?) -- I'm ignoring the downvotes, because not everyone downvotes, in order that everyone has one vote (i.e. an upvote). I don't know about a deadline. I expect I'll keep this topic "featured" for at least another week; I don't know what more I can/should do to notify the community, that there're some questions being discussed and voted on, on Meta. – ChrisW Jul 12 at 9:33
  • Process is just that moderators need to decide how they'll moderate, preferably with the community's support or at least their understanding. And similarly the community might gather information and post their own input about proposed and actual policies, and then act or not on specific topics. Even a popular vote is not always necessarily binding on moderators (who may e.g. decide that what's popular would harm the site), but so far I have tried to assess a consensus from the voting. – ChrisW Jul 12 at 10:04
  • @Erik The current de facto policy IMO is that SAQs are not recommended, and may be deleted. In theory, they may be deleted "just because" -- in practice they should be deleted especially if they're "disruptive", bossy, "extremist", spammy, frequent, or anything like that -- and otherwise, in practice, if a self-answer seems harmless (or even welcome, upvoted) then I may tolerate it (or "turn a blind eye"). – ChrisW Jul 12 at 10:34
  • Thanks for your replies. I think i understand now. – Erik Jul 12 at 11:28
2

Yes

Self-answered questions are welcome on this site, if they're high-quality!

Let's at least try them for a while and see, and address any problems as and if they arise.

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1

No

We should continue to warn that self-answered questions are generally not very welcome on this site, and may be deleted.

Except in this kind of situation -- then it's fine.

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