I'm concerned many posts (including my own) may be hard to take in. An intimidating answer can make it too easy to look at a long answer and think "tl;dr".

I think the Inverted Pyramid model is a good way for us to combat this problem.

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists and other writers to illustrate the placing of the most important information first within a text.

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The Inverted Pyramid is a staple of online copywriting as it's optimized for people with little time who have no reason to stay on your site long; you have to give them a reason to care.

I tried to exemplify the Inverted Pyramid with my answer on this question. We start with the conclusion and then lead into the details after we've "hooked" the reader. Finish off with a restated conclusion and "good to know" information.

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How about a question equivalent to this Inverted pyramid. i.e: It's simple if you think of each level as an abstraction layer and the length/area as the size of the audience that would be interested in reading at that abstraction layer?? Am i making sense?? Is it useful to prescribe that kind of question structuring?? –  Anand Jeyahar Jan 25 '12 at 8:25
    
The triangle seems like a good idea - one of the big problems I've seen in other SE sites such as comp sci is they become obsessed with restricting answers to academia –  Chris S Feb 24 '12 at 20:47
    
I like this model, but it seems difficult when the answer is a result of the details. Sometimes it feels like a good response requires the reader to understand a number of details, and there is no over-arching answer that makes sense with out them. I will definitely consider this model when answering questions in the future, however. –  Preece Feb 28 '12 at 0:27
    
@Preece I don't think it's too different from article abstracts; they give the conclusion but not why. It still prompts you to read forward but it gives you a quick overview and helps set your expectations. –  Ben Brocka Feb 28 '12 at 14:31

1 Answer 1

What encourages good answers?

Perhaps it's interesting to think about what processes encourage good answers:

  • voting
  • comments on answers
  • leading by example
  • meta discussion like this
  • FAQ recommendations
  • etc.

Thus, there are a fair few mechanisms in the voting and commenting system already to tackle issues of answer style. In general, I like the idea of discussing what makes a good answer on meta. That said, I think prescriptions about good answers is a little less important than prescriptions about good questions, on the basis that good answers will typically rise to the top based on the voting mechanisms.

My style of answering:

Over the while I've evolved my own style of answering questions on stack exchange. Perhaps this or this answer embody the style. I'm sure there are many principles, but I guess some key elements are:

  • For answers more than a few paragraphs, split with level 3 headings ### Heading
  • Look for opportunities to use dot points rather than plain paragraphs.
  • Use bold text to highlight key points in a sentence where such points exist.

I guess all these strategies are designed to make it easier for someone to skim the answer and hone in on a section of interest. What I take from your question is that good answers should make it easy to extract the main point.

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Different posting styles work on different sites, however Inverted Pyramid is already a cornerstone of scientific writing; if the abstract and title aren't interesting and doesn't suggest the results most people won't read a 20 page technical paper, and certainly won't pay for it. –  Ben Brocka Jan 24 '12 at 3:14
    
I guess one question is when does an answer become sufficiently long to benefit from the inclusion of an abstract? –  Jeromy Anglim Jan 24 '12 at 3:19
    
While I don't dislike your style of answering, I feel the Inverted Pyramid model satisfies a wider range of users. Although structured, it assumes more background info on the subject while it is starting to look like anyone is welcome as long as it is a proper question. The Pyramid Model has something for everyone, and you can read as 'deep' as you are familiar with the field of study/or interested to find out more about it. I'm afraid extensive bullet point overviews might scare away plenty of up votes as it can look quite daunting at first. –  Steven Jeuris Jan 24 '12 at 13:58
    
"I guess one question is when does an answer become sufficiently long to benefit from the inclusion of an abstract?" I don't see how that is relevant. You can apply the Inverted Pyramid model from small answers (as in Ben's example) to entire pages (abstract in scientific literature). –  Steven Jeuris Jan 24 '12 at 14:27

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