There's all kinds of career advice out there on the Internet, much of it conflicting or wrong. The conflicting or wrong advice is especially prevalent (but not limited to) that found on open-access Q&A sites.

I think it would be a shame if this site were to be another source of unhelpful career advice from the masses. In the early hours of this site, I've seen quite a few answers that seemed clearly to come from the gut, with no source or experience cited to back them up.

Would it make sense to have a "Back it up"-style rule in the FAQ (and actively enforced), to try to maintain a high signal/noise ratio? Or should we just trust general SE voting behavior to push the cream to the top and the dregs down?

Example "Back it up" policy from Parenting.SE's FAQ:

Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. Also, posts that primarily exist to push a specific agenda (propaganda), and soap-boxing, are not welcome.


Some people seem to think that this sort of rule would be an appeal for anecdotes. I propose, therefore, the following simplification of the rule which makes no such appeal:

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.

The point of such a rule is to give the voting community some information about the source of the information on which to base their votes. Under this rule, the answer could include (in roughly descending order of how they should generally be evaluated by the community) a citation, a description of the answerer's experience with this sort of problem, a line of reasoning, or simply an honest statement that "this comes straight from my gut."

Although we can have a rule, one thing that really helps anyway is: People with experience who've learned 'the hard way' seem to be much more motivated to post about it and vote. Not every time but it seems like some of the SO success is based on that anyway. – Michael Durrant Apr 13 '12 at 4:29
I think any rule must require citations for claims of fact. I understand there will be opinions as answers but they should be plainly stated that they are opinions rather than as fact. – Chad May 1 '12 at 12:27
The point isn't just so the voting community has a base to judge on but so that went people post low-quality answers we can point them to the FAQ and say "We expect X", by default people don't read the FAQ, but it's a good resource to point people to if they make a mistake. – Rarity May 1 '12 at 13:17
possible duplicate of FAQ proposal: Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others – gnat Aug 4 '14 at 21:32
@Gnat You know that this is the post that lead to the Question you are wanting to close it as a duplicate of right? – Chad Aug 6 '14 at 16:12
@ReallyTiredOfThisGame sure, I checked that prior to voting close. Dupe closing in favor of more up-to-date / definitive question that supercedes prior discussion seems to be quite popular at all meta sites I participate (recent example), it helps meta readers to avoid getting confused with outdated guidance – gnat Aug 6 '14 at 16:17
A better solution would be to have the post locked with an explanation by the mods so as not to confuse. – Chad Aug 6 '14 at 16:19

7 Answers 7

Don't be afraid of "enforcement," be afraid of the site becoming low quality. When it comes to practical information, usefulness trumps inclusion in many cases. Think of the situation where you come to the site needing help with a problem. Do you want opinions and theoreticals (which you could get from random friends), or do you want practical advice from people who have actually taken on, and solved the problem in question?

Yes, we're all excited to be part of the beta, and yes we're excited to spread the word and get things going. No, we should not think that getting answers to everything is more important than practical information that people can use. If we find that too many questions are super subjective, we use the same mechanism as appear in StackOverflow (or any other site): we comment to give the OP advice, we suggest edits, we guide the community through example, and if necessary we vote down and vote to close.

I think now is the best time to set the tone. I really think we should do this. I do trust voting, but voting isn't culture - voting is a person's opportunity to vote individually. Voting is an individual voice within a community. Without a leading idea of what quality means, I fear it being watered down.

We should also remember that part of the purpose of the SE model is to make the internet a better place, not to simply create yet another community advice site without experts. The expert creed is absolute part of SE, and I think we should live up to it if we expect this site to take off.

Very well said. – abby hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 1:24
While we should protect the quality of content, I'm not sure how enforcable or helpful the back it up rule would be here; unlike Parenting there's generally no publicly availible research to point to for the sort of questions we're having, and I'd rather not read a full site where every single answer is prefixed with "I have dealt with X situation before, and here's what I did..." – Rarity Apr 11 '12 at 13:23

Having the statement in the FAQ from when we go public is a necessary start. If this isn't in place then introducing it later will cause friction. Enforcement should come from the community.

I was thinking that we needed be strict initially - but that only leads to broken windows and people using old answers as evidence for allowing their poor answers.

If the normal voting and flagging doesn't seem to be working then we can get more serious and pro-active on enforcing the rule.

Agreed, it's too early to enfore something like this. – DForck42 Apr 10 '12 at 21:30
I disagree to a point. It's never too early to start enforcing a good standard, whereas introducing something like this later may be more difficult. – Adam Lear Apr 11 '12 at 1:06
@AnnaLear - That's why I said it should in in the FAQ from "day one". – ChrisF Apr 11 '12 at 8:57
If it's in the FAQ, it should be enforced. I'm already seeing a lot of one line answers to questions. I would expect this site to be similar in nature to Programmers - low accept rates and high numbers (5-7+) of detailed answers. – Thomas Owens Apr 11 '12 at 12:08
@ThomasOwens - I'm coming round to this view. – ChrisF Apr 11 '12 at 12:10

Yes, but be careful…

As with any Stack Exchange site, question are expected to adhere to the guidelines good subjective questions. The blog post

Good Subjective, Bad Subjective

is based heavily on the precepts of the Back it Up! principle. Take a look at that blog post. It's a quick read and should probably be all-but-required reading for this site. grin

One big caution, though…

The Back it Up! principle specifics that, sometimes, a hard-earned personal experience can provide the best answer to the question. But my bigger concern for this site is when the QUESTIONS wallow in polling the community for their experiences… as an end goal.

When someone asks the equivalent of "How did you get that big raise?", you veer from "personal experiences" to polling the community. Watch out for questions that solicit indiscriminate responses where, essnetially, anyone can answer and no one answer is expected to be any better than another.

That's not the Back It Up! principle. It's just bad subjective. Read the blog post.

Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions:

  • Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.
  • Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  • Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  • Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun.

I was actually thinking the same thing. Or rather, the thought in my head was "do we need to enforce some kind of 'subjective guidelines' for answers"?

I almost think we do. Without meaning to criticise, there are a number of short answers which are almost comment-like suggestions - and whilst volume is good, quality is what will make this site work (or not). Now, I'm not massively experienced with sites like programmers, but I think having an understanding of what makes a "great answer" might well be useful.

Volume of questions is good, and enough answers to answer those Qs are good, but I have noticed some questions get a glut of answers very very quickly. A large volume of answers on a single question isn't necessarily helpful – Rarity Apr 11 '12 at 13:24

Yes, this site needs a “back it up” rule. No, personal anecdotes do not fulfil this need. This site is very different from Parenting; it is not dealing with very precise situations that science is hopelessly far from modeling. A lot of questions here can be answered based on knowledge of labor laws, sociology and applied psychology. A softer version of Skeptics's reference requirement would be more valuable. Anyone can have an anecdote; references from serious publications or at least people with serious experience.

Back it up. With citations.

It seems to me that there'd be an approximately equivalent amount of science available for the workplace and for parenting. Child development is a huge and multidisciplinary field of study. In both cases, however, there are going to be questions for which there aren't scientific studies that provide the answers. As I see it, there are three possible routes for those questions: 1) Leave them unanswered. 2) Permit/encourage answers with nothing backing them up other than the answerer's assertion. 3) Permit/encourage answers backed up by the answerer's experience. ... – Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:11
... If you want to draw a line somewhere between "anecdotes" and "serious experience," fine, though I think that might be the exact line you leave up to voting to determine. What I think ought to be required, though, where a citation is not available, is some explanation of where the answerer came up with this answer, where "I tried this once, and it worked." and "I've seen this both ways 1000 times in my role as a manager, and 90% of the time, the first way works." are both valid answers that can be evaluated by the community, unlike unbacked-up raw opinion. – Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:14
@IsaacMoses The first is worthless. The second is worthwhile. – Gilles Apr 30 '12 at 21:23
it sounds like you agree with "Back it up" in principle, and you're specifying what sort of statement of experience ought to count. – Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:28
@IsaacMoses My opening sentence should make it clear that I agree. – Gilles Apr 30 '12 at 21:32
Indeed, it does. But your closing line seems to indicate the opposite. – Isaac Moses Apr 30 '12 at 21:33
@IsaacMoses I support having a “back it up” rule, but not in the sense of Parenting (I think it would be useless if not counterproductive, for the reasons Chad highlights in another thread). – Gilles Apr 30 '12 at 21:42
@Giles - How can I prove that I have 20 years of IT Experience? Does my 20 years of IT Experience mean that I know the difference between and Interface and an Abstract method? I know these are off topic but they point to the problem with requiring serious experience. How do you prove you fit that requirement? – Chad Apr 30 '12 at 22:12
@Chad Which is why I'd prefer citations. – Gilles Apr 30 '12 at 22:15
@gilles - The problem is it can be quite a bit of work to dig up references on problems you have already dealt with and know the answer to. So if "serious experience" is an acceptable alternative to a citation people will overwhelmingly choose to go with the "serious experience" which will look a lot like what we have now unless we have some criteria requirement to that. – Chad Apr 30 '12 at 22:44
Direct on topic workplace experience as answer backup is totally relevant. It will greatly decrease the value of this site if experienced professionals are not permitted to answer based on their personal experience. Isn't this a site for working professionals, not just academics? – Jim In Texas May 8 '12 at 22:54

From the linked blog post, there are specific qualities desired in subjective answers:

The Back It Up! Principle:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference


Our FAQ even specifically has this text:

Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

It's true:

  1. Each answer should be backed up.
  2. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

...And while many great answers do either cite a source or retell a story based on personal experience - You are not required to do so.

Logic, metaphors, and common-sense can form the backbone of a great answer.

Consider the following historical figures. They would all easily achieve Jon Skeet-like status if they participated in Workplace.SE.

  1. Jesus Christ might use parables to back up His answers.
  2. Aristotle might use logic to back up his answers.
  3. Confucius might appeal to Confucianism (as an ethical and philosophical system) to back up his answers.
  4. Benjamim Franklin might use pithy sayings packing enormous wisdom to back up his answers.

Yet none of them would be too fastidious about citing sources or retelling personal stories!

Our policy is long-established; I'm not sure what you're hoping to gain by posting this here now, years later. And I think it's already established that logic is a fine way to back up an answer; "back it up" doesn't just mean "cite published sources". As for your examples, Jesus, Ben, and Confucius would likely get downvoted to oblivion if they took the approaches you suggest without also doing something more credible. (Also, I've seen those examples before; where else have you posted them?) – Monica Cellio Dec 16 '14 at 19:49
@Monica Cellio: What? What do you mean by, "What do I hope to gain?" I saw a related question, so I posted a related answer. Merry Christmas! – Jim G. Dec 17 '14 at 0:38
I didn't mean that to sound rude - "accomplish" would have been a better word. I'm just puzzled by this answer here, now when our policy is established. Sorry if you took offense; not intended. – Monica Cellio Dec 17 '14 at 0:43
@Monica Cellio: Ah. I see. I honestly saw this question listed as a related question to another one that I was viewing. I recognized it as a near duplicate of one that I had previously responded to, so I copied and pasted my answer. Nothing more. – Jim G. Dec 17 '14 at 0:44

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