I found a question that I want to answer. I've noticed that answers on this site are, in many ways, a lot harder to write compared to other Stack Exchange sites. How can I write a good answer that is as helpful and high quality as possible?

  • 1
    Not really sure why this is downvoted; surely this will be a useful resource for new community members. – user111 Aug 16 '17 at 22:38
  • 1
    I've downvoted this because I think it's too broad, and possibly opinion-based: what defines a "good" answer is a) going to vary across different types of questions and b) hard to define anyway (hence why there are no objective criteria for up/down voting, unlike close voting - "good" is a matter of opinion). – Rand al'Thor Mod Aug 16 '17 at 22:53
  • @Randal'Thor I don't think this is too broad, or should be applied to all answer in its entirety. Instead we could point answerers to a specific part of the guidance below, depending on what they need to improve. – Gallifreyan Mod Aug 17 '17 at 8:07
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor I disagree - a lot of other sites have documentation on how to write good answers. For example, Stack Overflow's documentation on the subject can be found here. I have to agree with Hamlet here - we should have documentation on what constitutes a high-quality answer. (We could also probably expand on the Help Center's document on how to ask good questions). – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Aug 21 '17 at 16:48
  • @EJoshuaS The SO page you linked to is reproduced in the help centre of all SE sites (and it's very insufficient, tbh). – Rand al'Thor Mod Aug 21 '17 at 16:54
  • @Randal'Thor True, stupidly enough I realized that after I wrote that. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Aug 21 '17 at 16:55
  • 3
    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Why is it so dramatically harder to write a "good" answer here than on other SEs? Are the standards here higher, or just more arbitrary? – Chris Sunami supports Monica Oct 4 '17 at 2:17
  • @Chris it depends on what site youre comparing us to tbh. – user111 Oct 4 '17 at 12:08
  • @Hamlet ELU, Philosophy, Parenting, MusicFans, Writers, ScienceFictionAndFantasy... – Chris Sunami supports Monica Oct 4 '17 at 12:32
  • @ChrisSunami everyone has there own reasons for voting, but personally, yes, I have stricter standards than Music Fans and SFF when it comes to voting. I personally think that these standards lead to higher quality answers, although people are of course free to disagree. If you're curious about what those standards are... take a look at the comments I've been leaving on the main site. But essentially, it boils down to back up your claims, and explain the why behind your claims. – user111 Oct 4 '17 at 13:02

This is a stub of an answer, hopefully some one can elaborate.

Answer well-asked questions

Not all answers can (or should) be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid answering questions which...

  • ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
  • ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
  • ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
  • ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
  • ...are not about literature as defined in the help center.

These questions tend not to be useful to future readers.

Additionally, questions that are unclear, excessively opinion-based, overly broad, or are clearly off-topic may be subject to deletion, in which case your efforts would be wasted.

Make sure you actually answer the question asked by the OP

There are so many times where a question asks about a specific quote or scene, and someone writes an very broad answer about some general trends while neglecting to even mention the quote the question asked about. The answer is helpful to someone looking for a broad explanation, but given that the question is about a specific quote, the answer isn't actually helpful to anyone with the actual question that the OP asked!

After you write an answer, take a minute to check that you've actually answered the question. If you find that you've written an answer to a completely different question, there is nothing stopping you from asking a new question and writing a self answer.

Back up all your claims

On this site, it is critical that you back up all of your claims with evidence, arguments, or experience.

The primary purpose of Stack Exchange sites, including this one, is to serve as a repository of knowledge, not merely a repository of discussion or opinions.

Imagine you are a student writing a paper, or someone doing research... in other words, someone who is likely to find our questions through Google, which is the source of most of our traffic. Let's say you Google a question about Literature, and a similar question from this site is the first result. You click on the question, hoping that the answers will be helpful for your research.

What you find is that while the answers make many claims, they provide nothing to back their claims up. Since this is the internet, anyone can make up even the most basic of facts. Since you're doing research and want information that is true, and since you have no way of knowing whether the claims made by the answers are, in fact, true (you are just starting out on your research), you leave the site in disgust and keep using Google. This is an outcome we want to avoid.

Now imagine that the answers backed up their claims using quotes, citations, arguments, or experience. All of these things make it very easy to verify whether the claims are correct. For example, with a citation or a quote, it's easy to tell whether the citation is real and reputable. Researchers arriving from Google will be able to be confident that our answers will be correct.

The point of this example is that it's not enough to be correct; answers must also be persuasive. This means backing claims up with quotes, citations, arguments, or experience.

Backing claims up is important in every Stack Exchange site, but it is particular important on a subjective site like this one. We frequently get questions where there are multiple correct answers, ie legitimate arguments can be made for answers that have different conclusions. To avoid geting into counterprductive debates, we need answers to give arguments, not unsupported claims. Doing so transforms pointless fights (Shakespeare was a pseudonym! No you're wrong!) into reasoned debates (using this evidence, I conclude... that's interesting, but have you considered...).

Good answers explain why and how

Compare the following two answers:

According to Pofessor So and So, thing x in poem y represents z.

Pofessor So and So believes that thing x in poem y represents z. She gives the following arguments...

Intention is not the same thing as meaning

Close reading will improve your answer

Make your answer accessible

The details have been made available by Shokhet in Please include descriptions of your images. In short, people with impaired vision use programs called screen readers to be able to work with computers. On the Internet, those programs also use the image descriptions, which on this website are found in the following ways:

  • In Markdown, an image description looks like

    [![enter image description here][1]][1]
  • In HTML, it's in the alt attribute:

    <img src="link" alt="description">

A description should try to convery the same message the picture it describes would. In the case of a comic panel, it's good to transcirbe the dialogues, as well as the current scene.

Make your answers last

It's a fact that sometimes links stop working on the Internet. For this reason, we ask posters to provide more than just a link in their answers - at least a summary of the linked material should be present.

The same goes for image, though there exists a simple solution - the SE network provides its own hosting, which is easily accessible when writing a question or an answer. Please host your images on Stack Imgur, or, if they're larger than 2 megabytes, on Imgur (or any other hosting you know for a fact is permanent and supports serving images over HTTPS).


You must log in to answer this question.