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Many answers I've seen are dauntingly written out like a college homework assignment when 2-3 sentences at the most would have sufficed. Shouldn't we aim for conciseness and develop skills to articulate answers that say a lot with less words? If a user is concerned with the excess baggage, he/she can use google and drown in these 200 - 300 word explanations. But not here.

Example: A question I answered in 1 - 2 sentences where others wrote full essays.

Transfer nearly an entire file system to a fresh install as smoothly as possible

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    some examples, please? – Sathyajith Bhat Jan 3 '13 at 19:41
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    Some of my most-upvoted and most-viewed questions/answers are extremely verbose. Some people like having lots of information available. – nhinkle Jan 3 '13 at 19:47
  • Verbose answers are great for those who spend the majority of their life on Superuser and little time anywhere else. But for the person finding the answer in a Google search who is deep in the trenches of an I.T. project with deadlines etc, the answers need to be concise or the searcher will go elsewhere. Long answers are OKAY but why not include a consolidated version in say, 10 sentences or less that just gets to the core of the solution and cuts out the bullshit? – Scandalist Jan 3 '13 at 19:54
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    I like verbose answers which make me understand the reason behind something. When possible I often try to post both the short version and a longer explanation. (e.g. you want to do this, it works like this2). (Expample: use ESC : s / ^ v ^ m / / to solve it. (which is the short part) - It will substitute all newlines with nothing. You need ^v to .... (long part) ) – Hennes Jan 3 '13 at 20:13
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Fine. Concise.

As a question-answerer, I see three types of questions:

  • Ones I can answer right away with a "here do this"
  • Ones I could answer if I had the right OS, hardware, etc. and lots of time, but can approximate a workable answer
  • Ones I can't answer directly but can puzzle out an approach to an answer, and let the querant figure out the mechanics

If nobody has answered with a "here do this", and if I can't answer with a "here do this", two possibilities remain:

  • Don't answer at all
  • Try to help by providing sound reasoning towards a solution

Questions for you:

  1. Which alternative from the above two bullets would you prefer?
  2. How many more questions on SU would go completely unanswered/uncommented if we only ever answered with a "here do this"?
  3. Is it more helpful to a user to provide them with a direction toward a solution, or to let their question sit quietly with no help whatsoever?
  4. How many more questions on SU would go completely unanswered because people answering questions don't have the time/hardware/software configurations to provide a "here do this" answer?
  5. How much valuable educational material would be lost if long answers with useful concepts were never articulated?

(Was that concise enough for you?)

  • My concern is with the "here do this" answer being flogged like a dead horse, 300-500 sentences long when all that needed to be said was "here do this." Your second and third bullet points are simply potential answers that can eventually be drilled down to a "here do this" answer once all the information is present. Again, the conciseness is really to benefit the person who needs a quick "here do this" answer. There are times when nobody gives a shit how something works as long as it does. The opposite is also true which is why providing a "long" and "concise" answer are both attractive. – Scandalist Jan 3 '13 at 20:30
  • And my concern is, if a "here do this" answer is not available, either because the person answering lacks the time to develop it, or does not have sufficient information to provide it, then you can't provide it -- it's not available. So in that situation, you can either let the querant think SuperUser is a tumbleweed and not answer, or you can try. – allquixotic Jan 3 '13 at 20:33
  • Certainly, however, if a "here do this" answer is available (readily), then it should be given. – allquixotic Jan 3 '13 at 20:33
  • Agreed, some questions and querants lack substance and direction which is fine. Nothing you can do about that. But for the questions and answers that are spot on, a verbose answer that benefits those with a curious mind with the luxury of time, and a shorthand version for those just wanting to Git 'r done would only add to the super user experience and reach a broader spectrum of answer seekers. – Scandalist Jan 3 '13 at 20:42
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    I've composed several answers like that where I have a "theory" part (separated by well-formatted headers) and a "practice" part, usually putting the shorter of the two sections at the top of the answer. But those are only possible when I've really cornered the answer and it's something like a shell script, a configuration file or something where you can really just type a few characters. It's not always that easy or clear-cut. – allquixotic Jan 3 '13 at 20:49
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Shouldn't we aim for conciseness and develop skills to articulate answers that say a lot with less words?

Of course you should always strive for conciseness. This is one of the number one rules of scientific writing—or writing in general if you want to keep your readers' attention. If I've learned something here, it's cutting out the irrelevant parts, or "bullshit", as you call it.

But you seem to be confused about two different dimensions, one being concise vs. excessive, the other being incomplete vs. detailed.

The former is the difference between merely explaining and explaining as well as saying hello, Merry Christmas, linking to your homepage, including a footer with your signature, emoticons, et cetera. The latter is what makes an effortless answer stand out from the rest, which leave no questions open, go beyond what's asked and are among the top posts on Stack Exchange sites as a whole.

Which brings me back to your first point:

Many answers I've seen are dauntingly written out like a college homework assignment when 2-3 sentences at the most would have sufficed.

Are you saying there couldn't have been two or three summarizing sentences? Why not? Many users like to put a TL;DR in front of their posts.

And if you think a post is missing precisely that, why not include it? There's an edit button below the post. For anyone. You don't even have to be signed in. Or, if you're an experienced Stack Exchange member, drop a comment. Ask for clarification or an example.

Finally there are topics that simply cannot be explained in a single line of code. I often found myself looking for solutions to programming problems, and—guess what—the one-liner on Stack Overflow really didn't help much. It was the answer that explained how the code behind worked and how the commands played together. Which made me learn something for a lifetime instead of just copypasting and forgetting.

  • superuser.com/questions/486684/… Here is an example I guess of a question I answered in 1 - 2 sentences. Look at the answer below mine, you'll see how it is very akin to flogging a dead horse. I understand it isn't always this simple but ALOT of the times it is and people just aren't aware of the overkill. I know it wasn't a complicated question but my point is that there were complicated answers when 1 - 2 sentences sufficed. – Scandalist Jan 3 '13 at 21:01
  • I personally don't think the other answer is "complicated". It depends on the perspective of course—and I can see where you're coming from. Synetech's answer does contain passages that might not be absolutely relevant, but it is more targeted towards the OP's situation. What about the steps at the bottom: Aren't those exactly what you'd look for even if you skipped the rest? Don't forget that having the accepted answer on this one puts you in a different position because it makes your post objectively appear adequate. What people choose to accept is quite subjective though. – slhck Jan 3 '13 at 21:09
  • In essence: I agree with you that when searching for solutions you often don't want the jibber-jabber. But it's the sort of short, lacking answers that are just "good enough" for one situation but are (at best) not working for another, or (at worst) causing problems. Prime example are Bash scripts that don't work or even destroy data when files have a space in their name. The answer that explains this caveat rather than just posting the, "here you go: for i in $(ls *.mp3); … is what we'd encourage here. – slhck Jan 3 '13 at 21:13
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    I'll also add that there are many other websites that contain a culture of giving short consumable answers. Check answers.com, Yahoo Answers, and Quora for examples. I have seen very debatable, interesting questions answered with, literally, "no" -- an extremely unsatisfying answer, no matter how correct it is. With no other comments or answers. But that doesn't happen on StackExchange. – allquixotic Jan 3 '13 at 21:21
  • And I hope it never does. On the flipside I'd like to see SE keep the frame of Q and A rather than border the realm of a discussion forum or short story board where excessive irrelevant information exists un governed and masks answers. Users should not have to extract answers from 200 - 300 word "essays" when it is plain that a more articulate answer exists. in slhck's example, yes, explain this caveat but do not randomly include the history of bash and the historical context of why such a problem exists. – Scandalist Jan 3 '13 at 21:40
  • @Scandalist Yes, for that example I'd say that's a fair compromise between detail where needed and excess information. As mentioned earlier, it's often hard to discuss about a general issue without going into specific examples though. I believe the best we can do is encourage users that are… a little verbose to be more concise, e.g. by leaving a comment, or making a bold edit, thus leading by example. – slhck Jan 3 '13 at 21:45
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Short is not always helpful...

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Well, there needs to be a balance between verbosity and conciseness. I personally tend to like to start off with the 'simple' answer, then go into details - which I think are vitally important.

Details are important though. while 2-3 lines may solve that issue, in depth answers mean that there may be clues to similar or indepth issues. In some answers the process is as important as the answer.

Couple of examples - the famous/infamous charecter count question where there were a bunch of different methods with different alternatives. The best answer, IMO showed which method was the best in addition to what would have been a one line answer.

In some cases context is necessary to get to the core of the problem - in this case the 'history' of ATA was entirely relevant to getting the answer - with three different versions of the standard in play!

In your specific case I actually liked the 'essay' answer better.

  1. It covered several options and the advantages and disadvantages of each
  2. He actually covers recovery as an alternative to nuke and pave
  3. Its written in a formal tone.

I do note though the question lacked information that would have made a proper, in depth answer difficult and Synetech's answer covered many of the bases.

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Many answers I've seen are dauntingly written out like a college homework assignment when 2-3 sentences at the most would have sufficed.

They would have sufficed to solve the problem. However, they often don't explain why it solves the problem and how one came to that solution. I could give you a fish, but that doesn't mean you're suddenly able to fish...

The extra information is thus not necessarily "excess baggage" or "dauntingly written"; okay, there are users that are not going to be interested in reading all that extra stuff because they are ignorant, but those that do usually learn something along (assuming it goes into details and not into a story).

Shouldn't we aim for conciseness and ...

I read this as "Should we not learn how we got to the solution and give extra details?" I vote no.

... develop skills to articulate answers that say a lot with less words?

This naturally would introduce ambiguity, lack of details, lack of explanation and more.

If a user is concerned with the excess baggage, he/she can use google and drown in these 200 - 300 word explanations. But not here.

What if Google does not explain it that well? Or does not answer the exact same problem?

Example: A question I answered in 1 - 2 sentences where others wrote full essays.

Well, seems you fulfilled his "Anyways, quick responses would be super nice!" condition; since you were short and only gave a single example, we can't really learn or conclude anything from this.

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