This should probably be added to the FAQ at some point, but I think it merits a bit of discussion first. What should we expect for answers to be regarded as great answers on this site?

This is a list of some of the qualities that a great answer should have

  • Correct – if the proposed solution does not work, its value is limited.
  • Concise – answers should strive to quickly get to the point, without lengthy explanations or unnecessary details.
  • Complete – although we value brevity, a great answer should still provide enough information so that even an inexperienced (but diligent and motivated) user can reproduce the solution just by reading the answer, and possibly following some instructions.
  • Instructive – whenever possible, answers should teach users the rationale behind a solution: why does it work? This is most valuable when the question suggests that the user misunderstands some of the basics of TeX/LaTeX.
  • Hosted in the site – the solution should be entered in the text of the answer itself. Attributions to external sources are fine – and encouraged! – but just linking to solutions posted elsewhere outside of the site should be discouraged.
  • Considerate and sensitive – the answer should not be harsh. No matter how obvious it may seem to you, the questioner is here because they want to learn the answer.

This is a community wiki so feel free to edit the list above to expand or clarify these items as consensus among the community is built. If you think some particular quality merits further discussion please also open a new answer bellow so that we can discuss specifically about it.

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It shouldn't be necessary to say it, but an answer should be also kind and sensitive to the person who asks the question. –  Julian Lamas-Rodriguez Jul 31 '10 at 13:20
    
It's CW, Julian - You could have added that to the question. –  Kevin Vermeer Jul 31 '10 at 16:04
    
"just linking to solutions posted elsewhere outside of the side should be discouraged" -- why actually? –  Grigory M Jul 31 '10 at 19:41
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@Grigory: The emphasis is on the "just". In many cases, it should be possible to write at least a little about the linked solution, and sometimes you can quote it entirely or even improve on it. Having answers "here" encourages feedback and improvement, rather than simply pointing readers "away". –  ShreevatsaR Jul 31 '10 at 21:21
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Additionaly, having answers here also makes sure that the answers live as long as the site does. But we cannot be sure for any external sites or blogs, which may go down in the future and leave us with a broken link and no answer. –  Juan A. Navarro Aug 1 '10 at 5:54
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@Grigory: if I ask a question and get 5 answers, each with a link to an external site, and nothing else, I suddenly have to have 6 pages open in my browser just to get a reasonable answer to my question. That makes it hard to compare and rate questions. if I'm just looking at the question page, which answers are worth upvoting? Which ones should I downvote? Which ones are correct? –  jalf Aug 6 '10 at 12:08
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2 Answers

Another thought for the structure of a great answer. There is obviously a tradeoff between trying to provide a concise and a complete answer. I think a good idea to have in mind is, similar to the "Cookbook Series" from O'Reilly, is to shoot first with a quick sentence or a line of code that solves the problem, and then give the complete explanation, examples, and anything else that one might want to add to an answer. Thus experienced users can simply grab the solution and stop reading, while everybody else benefits from the loger explanation afterwards.

Thoughts?

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This should be worded as advice about an approach that works well, rather than as a prescription. It's good to include in this section. –  Charles Stewart Aug 31 '10 at 8:54
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I also think that (at least) one answer to a question must be simple, if possible. That is, use existing packages as much as you can rather than resorting to makeatlatter and makeatother type hacking. See the question Is it still worth it to learn TeX?.

(Herbert is one person who is very good at providing simple answers in the above sense.)

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Simple answers are usually the ones to appear first. It seems rare to see anything deeper unless the person asking the question either specifies something that immediately rules out an easy answer or edits the question in response to early answers to the same end. In any case, if there is a simple package provided solution then it virtually always appears, and thus I think that this answer is not useful. –  qubyte Dec 4 '11 at 14:37
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