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This may sound like I'm nit-picking but quite often, I open up questions and see answers from users who continually seem to write a short book for almost all their contributions.

Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic for the community that these users have that much time they can freely give up to contribute the amount they do but sometimes, I just find it unnecessary to write the amount they do when the same answer could have been provided in a paragraph or two. As soon as I see an entire page of copy from them, I'll often just move on to something else - obviously my lack of time to read so much from their answers isn't the same as everyone else I appreciate, but certainly in terms of gaining votes from the community for answers, I'm sure there would be many others that don't have the time to fully read hundreds of words about something that does often digress and overlap into other areas and could otherwise be significantly condensed for greater readability.

What are your thoughts on this? Would be interested to hear if I'm alone in my thoughts on this. Of course, I speak just from my personal opinion.

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Shorter answer: It's a matter of preference for the poster as to what they feel would be most helpful to the OP, providing they remain on-topic and within the scope and guidelines of the site.

Longer answer:

Other than tag wikis which are expected to be concise, the guidelines on Answering in the Help Center's documentation simply states: Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better. Researching this further on the Meta site for Stack Exchange, I found the following related discussion questions:

I would be remiss if I tried to draw a single conclusion from all of these discussions, other than to say it appears that there's no set guidelines or recommendations on the length or "wordiness" of answers (barring the maximum 40,000 character size limit imposed by the system).

Referencing the accepted answer in the first link above, it would appear that the answering style of some users might be to: guage the level of the OP's knowledge from their question and answer accordingly.

So it seems this is just a matter of preference and answering style as to what the poster feels would best address the question for the OP, which is acceptable providing the answer does fundamentally answer the question, and doesn't include an off-topic discussion, rant, or other criteria found here.

If you feel an answer could be improved in some way, you have two choices:

1). Comment on the answer to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

Therefore, if you feel something was missed or could be clearer to the OP or future readers, you might politely suggest this to the poster using a comment, with the intention of helping to improve their answer.

2.) Provide an alternative, more concise (or more detailed) answer:

If you feel an answer is either incorrect, or would be too unclear to the OP and others, then you can provide another answer that you feel would better address the question, so the OP and community can vote on them individually.

Using this answer as an example, the shorter answer might have been acceptable, but the longer answer provides a fuller explanation. Neither are unacceptable, it's just up to the poster and reader as to which seems better to them in order to address the OP's question.

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Here is some of what I am thinking and do when answering questions:

What is the OP's level of knowledge or experience?

  • Technical
  • Moderately Experienced
  • Newbie

Is the question...?

  • Highly Focused to a Narrow Technical Question
  • Focused Theoretical Question
  • Seeking a Wider Perspective
  • Hopelessly Lost

Working down the lists, it is easy to imagine that a Technical user seeking a Highly Focused to a Narrow Technical Question requires far less verbiage than a Newbie who is Hopelessly Lost.

I also consider:

  • If historical views are required.
  • If technical explanations are required.
  • If a better answer exists elsewhere.
  • If confusion exists.
  • If conventional wisdom exists within the question is wrong, outdated, misleading.
  • If the question solicits a land mine field answer and special care is required.
  • If the user requires reassurance.

When answering questions I like to:

  • Match the OP's level of knowledge, experience, and expectation as much as possible.
  • Remove ambiguity or confusion.
  • Prove points with facts, references, or anecdotal evidence.
  • Answer the OP's question(s) in the order given as much as possible.
  • If the answer requires explanation, then add specific succinct answers to OP's question with the explanation.
  • Review the original question after the first draft of the answer and adjust.
  • Remove or adjust anything that clouds the issue.
  • Remove anything completely unnecessary unless it is for fun.
  • Adjust the answer based upon the comments left to improve the answer.
  • Reference other good answers in my answer when making a new point.

When I answer a question, I not only think about the OP, but the person who finds the question from a search engine. I try and weave both considerations together as much as possible. Sometimes, this requires a bit more work.

My shortest answer is 1 sentence and 1 link. My highest vote count answer is one of my longer answers. I have spent as much as 3.5 hours helping a single OP with an answer and chat.

Other considerations when answering a question:

  • Whether I can support the facts and points of an answer.
  • Whether I can appropriately debate any point or fact.
  • Whether I can support contrary comments.
  • Whether I can appropriately enter chat to discuss and solve a problem.
  • Whether I can address my weaknesses in answering any question within the question and this would be acceptable.

What I do not consider when answering a question:

  • Points
  • Badges
  • My Ego
  • The distraction of personality.

When I answer the question I appreciate:

  • Constructive criticisms.
  • Questions regarding specific points.
  • Other points of view.
  • Points I have not considered or missed.
  • Others experience especially in light of changes to technology.
  • Expertise given.
  • References.
  • Thoughtfulness.
  • Politeness.
  • Kindness.

Final Point:

I enjoy helping people with humor and experience as much as possible. I have been specializing in helping people who are less technical understand the world they live in better for 30 years which likely influences the questions I answer and the type of answer required. I focus on answering questions probably to a fault.

I hope this adds clarity to the discussion.

[Update]

I did a quick survey of my higher voted answers, 6-25, and only found one short answer. The remaining were either moderate length or longer- mostly longer.

The take-away:

There are two types of people asking questions; those who want a quick specific answer, and those who want a better understanding of an issue. I tend to try and explain things to those who are confused or cannot find a good answer, so admittedly, I answer questions that require some explanation. Some questions only require a short answer. Some require more time. Whether a long answer is well received depends on the question and how much people are interested in the same topic, how the question is answered, and whether the question and answer is helpful. Granted, not all long answers will be up-voted. But there is clearly a place for longer answers and they can be appreciated. So as for the question raised here. It really depends on the user(s), the question, and the answer as to whether there is any negative effect.

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