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Is there a reason that we don't make a point of putting a headline 1-5 word answer on all answers?

Given the proportion of questions that boil down to "Is this claim accurate/true/real", most answers are going to ultimately say something like:

  • Yes.
  • Yes, approximately.
  • Mostly, some bits are wrong.
  • Likely but I can't provided definitive proof sources.
  • No; complete rubbish.
  • No; they've misunderstood.
  • No; they're being deliberately misrepresentative.

It feels like we could make a point of that 1 punchline being consistently put at the head of each answer, so that people can get a quick gist of where the answer is going.

Often it takes a minute-or-two of detailed reading of the (Excellent!) answers to work out what conclusion they're arriving at.

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    I think the best answers already do this. However, quite a number of answers are along the lines of "Kinda, but it's more complicated than that'. Besides, but what is the difference between option 2 and 3?
    – pinegulf
    Jun 20, 2023 at 10:11
  • I'd be perfectly happy to see long answers start with "Kinda, but it's more complicated than that" if that's where the evidence points. Jun 29, 2023 at 19:11

1 Answer 1

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I think the answer to the question is: Including a summary at the top to allow casual readers to get the gist is a good strategy, but doesn't need to be a hard-and-fast site rule.

You will see this style used a bit. You will see occasionally people ask the author to add them in, especially when it isn't clear. You will see people be bold and edit them in.

But ultimately, it is a question of writing style, and there are ways of making the answer clear, even to casual readers, without using such a formal approach. e.g. this answer.

We want to be welcoming to new contributors to this Stack Exchange and help them ensure their contributions to meet our minimum quality bar, but we have a lot of enforced rules - rules that may seem natural to scientists and skeptics, but are very unusual for online discussion sites - and that can feel unwelcoming despite our intentions and open arms.

This is worse for answers than questions, because the actions we can take on bad answers are far more limited. (Answers can't be "closed" until they can be fixed.)

For that reason, I wouldn't like to see a strict, formal rule that you must have a TL;DR summary.

However, I encourage you to be bold and add them in to existing answers you think need them.

[We have had a small handful of people over the years who objected to their answers being summarised so succinctly. It seemed like it was important to them that each reader thoroughly digested every nuance of their 2,000 word essays. Don't let them hold you back.]


Pedantic point: Some of your proposed summaries don't belong here.

  • "Likely but I can't provide definitive proof sources." sounds like an unreferenced claim. Come back with an answer when you can provide references; in the meantime, we don't need the speculation here.
  • "No; they're being deliberately misrepresentative." is a statement about an individual's motivation, and short of a confession by the claimant is unlikely to be able to be supported by references.
  • "No; complete rubbish."... maybe we could use a politer example if we are looking to exemplify what summaries should look like?
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    The fact that many academic papers have abstracts summarizing what the paper says suggest that a short summary helps people understand better.
    – Joe W
    Jun 23, 2023 at 13:44
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    @JoeW: Ooh, suggesting that academic writing is the epitome of clarity is controversial! But, yes, summaries often help. I don't deny that. Not the only way though.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Jun 23, 2023 at 14:39

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