(This is part observation, part suggestion/question and is triggered by a response to my own question here.)
Because a "religious" topic like Buddhism lends itself both to questions looking for (more or less) factual information and questions looking for advice on personal practice, I wonder if it's worth flagging somewhere that when answering a question, the responder should take care to respect the difference. On other Buddhist forums I've seen problems arise fairly often when the two things get mixed up. Guidelines could look something like this:
- The best answers deal directly and solely with the question(s) specifically asked in the first place. Take care when "reading into" a question and answering some "deeper" question (that perhaps you think the questioner should have asked). Sometimes such pre-emption (i.e. avoiding first asking "Did you really mean ...?" and having the person reply "Ah, yes! That's a better way of putting it. So what's the answer?") is perfectly acceptable, but care is needed.
- Avoid inadvertently invalidating the question, e.g. with answers of the form "That's the wrong question...". Use comments (and down-voting or flagging, where appropriate) to reflect a concern over a question's quality.
- Take care when allowing assumptions about the personal intent of the questioner to influence your answer. Internet-based text correspondence is notoriously bad at conveying intent and emotion, so if you think you know, based solely on the text, why someone asked a question -- other than simply wanting to know the answer -- you're probably wrong.
- In general, unless you actually are the questioner's teacher, don't assume a teacher's mantle.