The Joy of Answers

March 29, 2011 by . 0 comments

A good question has a number of features such as clarity, direction, an overall goal of achieving an objective. “How do I get to there from here?” and “why does doing this break that?” are two simple examples and on Super User we have a great deal of good questions that show peoples desire to journey out into the world of knowledge and find out if someone can show them how to get to their destination.

One problem is that a lot of these questions are open-ended and may not tell us some important piece of information such as what can be used to get to the destination.  A journey by car might be very different to one by foot and any answer has to take that into consideration.

A good question gives those kinds of details but shouldn’t put too many or too few constraints on the situation, asking how to get to point E via points A, B, C, and D using only a car on the third Tuesday of the month while avoiding roadworks is placing too many requirements in the question and any potential people who might answer the question will be put off by the sheer amount of work they have to do in order to fulfil all the requirements.  Doing someone else’s homework for them is not fun.

It is a delicate balancing act to find that sweet spot between too few and too many constraints, but when you do get it right you end up with a question that inspires a certain thought in the reader:

“Just how would I get to there from here?”

Giving a quick answer:

“You get there via X”

May get you that prized Accept, but can ring hollow. What if there was another better way or there were roadworks?  What if it was a 5 mile detour by car but only a few hundred yards by foot?

Sometimes it can be fun to research the journey, to find out for yourself and then show people why one way is better than another. Questions may be about getting an answer, but not all answers are made solely for the benefit of the person asking the question.

A truly good answer should help more than just the questioner, it should help anyone who comes along looking to make the same journey and it should inspire them to make a journey of their own.

Bon voyage.

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