When we discussed the Back It Up rule before ChrisF suggested adding the rule to the FAQ when we go public to make sure people are aware of it (when they bother to look). His post was highly voted and public opinion seems to be with him.

We're public now. Should this be added to the FAQ? What should the exact wording be?

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Calling for anecdotes is the wrong approach. I Think the site is doing fine with out it. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 18 '12 at 2:25
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@Chad so instead of anecdotes we're getting opinions. How is that better? –  Rarity Apr 18 '12 at 2:35
    
Different not better. But the demand for an anecdote is asking for crap answers so while I am not saying what we have is better cause its still crap... that crap I think will be worse. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 30 '12 at 21:57
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We're getting a lot of me-too and pure-opinion answers now; of the betas I've participated in, this one seems to be off to the rockiest start when it comes to quality. –  Monica Cellio May 1 '12 at 14:41
    
possible duplicate of FAQ proposal: Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others –  gnat Mar 21 '13 at 8:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As a moderator on parenting.se, I thought it might be helpful for me to share our experiences with this rule.

That clause was part of our original faq from day one. From our perspective, adding it was intended to reduce answers that are essentially "I don't have any experience with this, but this is how I think it would work". Those types of answers are frequently of very low quality, and they can be a fairly persistent problem.

Ideally, we prefer answers that cite actual research and references. That isn't always possible, depending upon the question. In the cases where research isn't available, direct experience is usually a welcome substitute.

After all, the stackexchange sites are intended to be a repository for expert answers.

If an expert says "this is how I handled it", the answer is generally useful, whereas if the answer is pure speculation, even if the speculation comes from an expert, it tends to be much less useful.

There seems to be a perception here that the wording used somehow encourages low-quality answers. This has absolutely not been my experience. People don't look at the faq, read that, and start posting "me too!" answers that don't provide useful information. The users who do that generally haven't read the faq in the first place.

Rather, what we've found is that including that clause in the faq gives our community a point of reference to help explain to posters why certain answers are considered low quality.

In my nearly 10 months of moderating at parenting.se, I've never seen that section of the faq used to justify a low-quality answer. Instead, what typically happens is it is brought up by way of explanation to a new user, to explain why their answer is being down-voted, or to help show them what the answer needs to be improved. I've seen both moderators and active members of the community cite the clause from the faq, and it has always (to my recollection) resulted in a positive outcome (future answers from that user tend to improve, and sometimes they will go back, edit their answer, and provide useful sources and references).

It is worth mentioning that we do not enforce this rigidly, nor have we ever had any reason to. We do have plenty of high quality answers that do not reference direct experience or external research and sources. Those answers continue to get upvoted/accepted, and no one has ever said "this is a good answer, but I see no evidence that it meets our criteria for the 'back-it-up' rule."

I believe strongly that it will benefit you as a community to have the clause included in your faq from the beginning.

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As one of Beofett's fellow parenting.SE mods, I agree with what he's said here 100%. The Back-It-Up FAQ entry is aimed pretty squarely at "I've never been involved with that, but I think you should do X" "answers". It encourages them to find an authoritative reason for their recommendation. Or shutup if they can't find anything that backs their opinion. :) –  cabbey Apr 30 '12 at 21:19
    
Oh, and @beofett, I don't have the rep here to edit you, but you can drop the "As far as I'm aware", that has been in our FAQ since day 1. –  cabbey Apr 30 '12 at 21:20
    
Thanks for the input Beofett and @cabbey. I went and made that edit for you. –  Rarity Apr 30 '12 at 21:44
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@Beofett - I think there is more of a conscience when it comes to messing up a childs live versus messing up some schmuck on the interwebs who may not be smart enough to make their own decision about their work life. It is cold and cruel but I think true. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 30 '12 at 22:47
    
Hmm... On one hand, I like the "we do not enforce this rigidly" approach - otherwise things would just get ridiculous. On the other hand, if it's only used as a reason to remove/downvote answers that are bad due to other factors, what's the point? –  weronika May 1 '12 at 6:19
    
@weronika It's not really used as a reason to downvote answers. Instead, its used to educate users why their posts were downvoted. Adding a comment explaining a downvote, with a citation of the appropriate rule comes across as far less arbitrary than "I didn't like your post" or no comment at all. We find that it leads to a higher rate of improvement for users who post low quality answers. –  Beofett May 1 '12 at 11:54

Here is proposed wording that does not beg for anecdotes:

It is never sufficient to simply say what you think the answer is. You must always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct, including citations for factual statements wherever possible, so that the community can evaluate the provenance of your answer.

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I regret that I have but one +1 to give to this answer. –  Monica Cellio May 1 '12 at 14:46

I'm all for putting some kind of "Back it up" wording in the FAQ, but particularly with workplace issues a lot of suggestions may come from but second/third hand sources, or you have a strong opinion based on years in the field (e.g. my answer on Should you always counter the first offer letter?).

There are plenty of good, sound answers that may not come with research or first-hand empirical weight to back them up, and if we don't want to force those out or have the site degrade into FAQ rules-lawyering, so we need to be careful how we approach this: I think it should be expressed as a preference rather than a requirement.


On the subject of enforcing the policy, when Server Fault redid our FAQ a while back we didn't add a "back it up" clause -- the community expectation is that you will back up what you're saying, and voting patterns favor answers that give supporting data/reasons, so there was no need to explicitly call it out (the idea never even came up as far as I recall).

That community is way larger than we are, but I think self-policing with rep & votes rather than heavy-handed deleting is a preferable enforcement strategy.

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Unfortunately voting/rep doesn't seem to be helping very much; everything gets upvotes. This community does not yet seem to have the very high levels of scrutiny that SO/SU/SF have in voting –  Rarity Apr 19 '12 at 13:33
    
Also...strong opinions based on years in the field are exactly the sort of answers this rule would expect. I'm not sure you're getting the gist of it; it's not requiring empirical research for each post. –  Rarity Apr 19 '12 at 13:35

I think it's a great idea to try and stop the "here is what I would do" kind of answers, however I would change the wording a bit

I would want to

  • clarify that you are talking about answers, not questions
  • make it clear that your experience should back up your answer, and not actually be your answer

I'm not really sure of a good way of phrasing that though. Here's my initial draft...

We strive to provide high-quality answers here, so please refrain from posting your own answer to a question unless you can back up your answer with either a reference or personal experience.

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So far we have been addressing issues with questions as they come up. The question quality has come up and now that we are getting new people in the quality is staying high for the most part.

I could see potentially requiring sources for claims of fact should that need arise. This site is intended to be softer in that these are mostly soft skills we are dealing with. Many times there may be more than one way of dealing with an issue. So long as the question can be answers in a single answer I am ok with that.

Calling for anecdotes is the wrong approach. I am ok with anecdotes being used to back up an answer but when we start requiring stories we end up with a bunch of (metaphorical) "This one time at band camp," posts. I think that is a direction we do not want to go.

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It's not a matter of requiring anecdotes but rather indicating in some way you actually know what you're talking about by showing you've actually solved X problem before. –  Rarity Apr 18 '12 at 14:38
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@Rarity - That is what reputation and History here should do. I can make up a story about how this one time I band camp I landed on the moon. That does not help any answer. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 18 '12 at 15:25
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@Chad, Answer content should stand on its own; you shouldn't have to go researching a user's post history to evaluate the veracity of an answer. If an answerer wants to stand on some specific aspect of her experience, she should have to cite it clearly in the answer. –  Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:38
    
@IsaacMoses - To be clear I am not against any anecdote. Just the requirement that proof be provided and an anecdote be included as acceptable proof. An anecdote is proof of nothing accept that you can relate a story that may or may not have ever happened –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Apr 30 '12 at 21:48
    
@Chad, I recommend that we think more about requiring provenance than about requiring proof. To post nonsense straight from the gut requires only laziness. To post gut-nonsense and falsely describe experience to base it on requires laziness along with dishonesty. I submit that requiring people to either own up to their inexperience or be dishonest will result in fewer baseless answers and more ability for the community to evaluate all answers. –  Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:50

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