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I recently answered a question HERE concerning the long term efficacy of "personal development seminars." When I saw the question, I was reminded of information I ran across some time ago and posted an answer containing this related, but not specifically-targeted information.

In the comments, someone said:

Not sure why this has so many upvotes, it's just repeating the opinion of one person, and doesn't even address the question (see title).

I responded:

I admitted as much and suggested that someone else might come along with more pertinent information about seminars, not books. Also, while this is one person, I offer the source as I'm not sure who, PhD after the name or not, has read 340 self-help books. Thus, I would consider Luke an expert on the contents of such books, common threads, etc. My aim for the answer was mostly to contribute to the information -- take what you wish, leave the rest.

Now, whether or not my source is actually an opinion or not aside, it made me think about the point of the comment as well as my aim when I posted the answer.

Namely: What if an "answer" intends not to answer the question but still aims be useful? [1]

I'm open to the consensus of the community, and could see it either way. On one hand, I do think the answer was pertinent to the general field of inquiry and added to the discussion.[2] On the other hand, the commenter was absolutely correct -- my answer was not directly aimed at the question and this is a question and answer site, not a question and discussion site.[3]

What do others think? Is related enough if it contributes to future inquirers and provides good information, or should all answers only directly answer the question?


[1] I consider this different than Psuedo-answers are the enemy, but I could be wrong about that. While I agree that my answer could easily fit into bucket #1 ("This is not a complete answer, but..."), I have a hard time seeing that it fits the preface to the whole list, "...calling them low quality answers would be far too generous." Is that the case for my answer? If so, good to know! I did note that a "psuedo-answer" with upvotes prevents the question from being listed in the unanswered section, so perhaps this builds a case for at least waiting a significant amount of time before answering like I did.

[2] One thing to note is that there is another, direct answer to this question now, which is great. Mine was first, then the second answer, and then the comment. Consider a case in which no other answers came in -- perhaps no one could find any information on this. Then would my answer have seemed so icky? It would have at the least provided THIS incredibly well-cited summary of the state of our knowledge with respect to self-help.

[3] If comment boxes were long enough, I could have put a lot of my information in condensed format there. I probably still could have done this with a bunch of links and very brief interjections. Perhaps that is preferred.

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The path I follow:

  • If it fits in one or two sentences, put it in a comment
  • If it (adequately) answers the questioni, put it in an answer
  • If it helps add information to the question/topic that is pertinent to a future answer and can fit in a single comment, put it in a comment
  • Otherwise, if it fulfills the quality standard of a question (strong references; valid points; relevant information) go ahead and put it in an answer with a disclaimer noting an intention to help someone else find a better answer.

The main advantage in doing this is that a future answer can use yours as inspiration and link to it as further evidence toward the truth. In other words, the rule of thumb should be: "Does this answer help bring us closer to resolving this issue?" If yes, go through the above steps.

  • I like this process. Perhaps the issue was that I did think I was following this and went ahead with the fourth bullet point of action, but the comment suggested I missed the mark. Perhaps related would be whether or not my answer actually did fulfill the fourth bullet's criteria... – Hendy Jun 14 '11 at 21:49
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    I'm accepting, but also give credence to @Borror0's answer below -- thus, my question should have fit into category #3 (helpful, but possible to be comment-lengthed), and I should work harder to do that in the future rather than being verbose. – Hendy Jun 21 '11 at 15:37
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When I said "calling them low quality answers would be far too generous" in Pseudo-answers are the enemy, I was communicating the fact that those posts are not actual answers.

A low quality answer answers the post, but could be improved upon (citing references, quoting relevant quote, elaborating, etc.). By your own admittance, your post does not answer the question. Is it an helpful contribution? Likely. But is an answer? No. It's a comment posted as an answer.

In fact, the whole post could be distilled down to the following comment:

Luke Meuhlhauser of Common Sense Atheism has read 340 self-help books and makes the following statement: "95% of self-help books are complete bullshit ... I sometimes suspected the book was being written to get people motivated without actually giving them good advice so that when they failed ... they would assume it was their fault but look back positively on their initial motivation, and then buy the next heavily-marketed self-help book."

  • Good point, and I agree that it could have been distilled. – Hendy Jun 14 '11 at 22:59
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I approve of (some) tangential answers, sometimes. Why not?

If you're interested in the topic you may be interested in closely related topics. There's no need, IMO, to upvote, downvote, nor censor such answer, nor to expect any votes either way if you do post such an answer.

Examples:

  • This is the "discussion forum" mentality: let folks respond with whatever they want, so long as it's useful to someone - after all, we're not running out of bits, right?! However, on these sites such responses have a very real cost: they chew up space (screen real estate) that could be used for other (real) answers. Imagine someone comes along with hard evidence that torture can work to retrieve reliable information and posts it as a new answer - it now has to compete for attention with one conflicting answer (as it should) and two irrelevant "Thought you should know..." answers. – Shog9 Jun 17 '11 at 19:21

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