What does a good Skeptics.stackexchange.com answer look like? What are the qualities that a perfect Skeptics.SE answer would have?

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1 Answer

The community has identified a number of attributes that make a good answer. These are listed below.

It must actually answer the question.

You might want to talk about a slightly different topic related to the original question; please don't.

Comments belong in the comment section. If you can't answer the question, but you have something important to add, don't post it as an answer. It'll decrease the visibility of the actual answers. Instead, post it as a comment. If it's long, break it into a few comments, or put it on your blog and link to it.

It must be factual, not based in speculation.

The primary purpose of Skeptics is to verify or falsify claims. If an answer an be summed to "I don't know for sure, but here is what I think the answer is," then it is unhelpful; it neither verifies nor falsifies anything.

Speculation is not completely forbidden. For example, an answer that shows, without speculation, that a claim is false, and then provides some speculation as to how the claim might have sprung from a misunderstanding is certainly helpful.

Every answer must have one or more references.

At the present time, we have a strict "no original research" policy. Simply put, hearsay and anecdotes are not enough.

The significant claims in an answer, especially the claim which most directly answers the question, must be backed up by a reference. References should have credibility in the domain (i.e. no encyclopedia, no source which may be biased, etc.) and should preferably be peer-reviewed literature.

Its references must support the argument, and should be verifiable.

A high-quality reference should have, at least, the following characteristics:

  • Comes from a peer-reviewed source.
  • Is either a primary source, or it, in turn, cites its sources, so the primary sources can be tracked down.
  • Supports the argument being provided in the answer (i.e. not out of context)
  • Draws logical and statistically robust conclusions from any premises or data it offers.

Ideally:

  • The reference is widely available for others to inspect (e.g. not behind a paywall, or out-of-print)
  • The reference is not contradicted by similar articles supporting the opposite claim.

The reference need not be a web-site - it can be printed articles, books, documentaries, etc.

The reference need not come from the list of useful sources, but these are widely-respected sources.

Not all references are going to be able to meet this quality bar, but your arguments will be more convincing, and are more likely to receive votes from fellow skeptics when they do.

It must be written in a polite and neutral tone.

We expect users to be respectful of others they disagree with, no matter how frustrated they may be. Rants about young earth creationists, "climate change denialists," etc. will not be tolerated here. If we want to introduce people to the evidence, we have to be nice. Otherwise, we'll drive them away before we even got a chance to educate them.

It must be written in an accessible vocabulary.

Most Stack Exchange sites are intended for expert-to-expert exchange. Skeptics.SE is different in that most users will be laymen in the topic discussed, be it biology, physics or psychology. For this reason, an answer should always be written in a plain language void of overly technical terms so that it might be understood my the average user.

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