I see a ton of specific questions getting answered along with non-essential stuff not actually asked. From a data perspective, this creates false mappings where one question is asked and what you really get is an answer to 2 or more questions. This method seems to be rewarded when it conflicts with the instructions for answering a question:
Answer the question
Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – OR a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.
As seen above, the instructions say to answer the question OR provide a viable alternative. Note however that it does not say to answer the question AND provide a viable alternative. It follows that offering a viable alternative as a "try this instead" should only be done when the question can't be directly answered. While a "fuller explanation is better", it is in reference to a fuller explanation of the question actually asked, not the one that wasn't asked.
'Question A' is asked and answered, but 'Question B' is answered in 'Answer A' without ever being specifically asked.
Failures of this approach
- The poster had an opportunity to expand the question base but failed to do so because they didn't create their own question.
- The poster undermines the search feature. While searches obviously search answers, the ideal scenario when searching is to find the exact question you're looking for. You don't want to have to do more work by looking for 'Answer B' in 'Question A' because it points to 'Answer A+B'.
- The poster creates clutter that slows or stops a future reader from getting an answer to the actual question.
- If another user is searching for 'Answer B' and fails to find it because it's buried in 'Question A', the user is likely to create another question that will wrongfully be seen as a duplicate.
- The poster thinks they followed the heuristic that "fuller explanations are better", when they really only provided a fuller explanation to another question.
An Alternative Example
To address the need to present more information regarding a question not specifically asked, this additional information should come in the form of 'Question/Answer B'. Then follow up with a concise answer to 'Question A' along with a link to 'Question B'.
Benefits of the alternative
- The poster adds more content to the site.
- The new question is now easily findable when searching.
- Future readers can find an answer without having to wade through non-essential information.
- Duplicate questions should go down since finding the original question would be easier.
- Posters are not rewarded for the wrong reason and therefore not encouraged to repeat the same act.
- More rep is generated overall.
Given the above information, how could it still be considered correct to answer a similar question in addition to the question asked, when there is a better alternative?