The garden site seems to be somewhat lawless. There are a lack of experts, myths abound, and everyone has rules of thumb and old wives tales. It seems as though any kind of answer will be ok on the garden site, even if it blatantly refuses to answer the question. My question is: Is this acceptable in the SE model?

Please see What is the best way to sow grass seed in high rainfall areas? I ended up having to answer my own question because an answer posted by user organiclawndiy utterly refused to answer my question, but said answer received 2 upvotes (which is a fair amount for the garden site). In defense of his philosophy, he says:

If someone asks "What pain killer can I use to stop my feet hurting while running?" And it sounds like they're wearing the wrong sized shoes my answer will be to try to get better fitting shoes because that's more helpful to them.

So, are we to answer questions as asked? Or are we to make assumptions about what the asker really wants to know?

Another example:

I ask Are chemical fertilizers poisonous to people or animals?

The answer I get is "The overriding concern is not if chemical fertilizers are safe but if the use of chemical fertilizers is the best option." Which is upvoted twice. In my mind, this doesn't answer the question, and furthermore, it spins it into a debate of organic vs synthetic.

So, what are good answers? What are acceptable answers? Where can I find this information? How do I handle this situation in the garden site to make it fit the SE model?

  • 4
    How do I handle this situation in the garden site to make it fit the SE model? -- Well, one way you don't do it is by posting rebuttals, and then the other user posts a rebuttal to your rebuttal, and so on. That's what happens in forums and debates, and that's what SE is not. Sep 11, 2013 at 20:58

6 Answers 6


I'd like you to take a moment to re-read something you wrote in isolation:

So let me get this straight, we cannot touch, inhale, or eat table salt. If we do, we should seek immediate medical attention. Before we salt our eggs in the morning, we should consult a specialist and wear splash goggles. Full suit. Dust respirator. Boots. Gloves. A self contained breathing apparatus should be used to avoid inhalation of the product.

This, and a number of other things in that answer, are just dripping with unhelpful sarcasm. I'm seriously tempted to delete that answer as simply rude. Before we can go on to address your other concerns, that much needs to be clear.

Second, I think you already knew the answer to your questions. We certainly don't have a problem with that (it's even encouraged to self-answer questions) but it can lead to what I've come to call a stump-the-chumps issue. That is, you have strong feelings about the answer to your question and ask it in order to refute answers that you think are incorrect. Again, it's not wrong per se to ask such questions; they just have a tendency to lead to the wrong sorts of interactions on a site.

What I'd like to suggest is that you take a moment or two and edit the questions and your answers to demonstrate professionalism. Make sure that you would be proud to show them to your mother, your colleagues at work, or what-have-you.

As for OrganicLawnDIY's answers: I'm pretty much in agreement with Robert Harvey. They aren't the answers you were looking for, but they seem alright to me.


Is the answer you cited trying to be helpful, and is that reflected in the votes cast on the answer by the community?

The answer doesn't seem to have any of the character flaws you outlined in the first paragraph of your question here. It does not appear to be illustrative of a lack of lawlessness on the site in general, nor does the poster appear to be a non-expert (quite the contrary), nor does he seem to be peddling myths or old wives tales.

While the poster didn't come up with the solution you found, he did seem to offer some valuable insight into your particular problem. Answers must not only help you, but also future visitors, and while he didn't offer your solution, he did describe the problem in abundant detail. That kind of information is not valueless, nor is it worthy of deletion on the basis that it doesn't answer the question directly.

Your second example is not a great question, which is why it got an angular answer. Any fertilizer can be poisonous under the right conditions (directly contaminating food, for example). The implied (and real) question is, should you be using chemical fertilizers, or are they too hard on the environment to justify their benefits? I'm not an expert, but I suspect that it's not an easy question to answer with a straight yes or no.

  • First, I didn't accuse that user of those character flaws, I just said the userbase has them. 2nd, an answer which doesn't answer the question isn't an answer imo. I could add useful advice about anything in response to any question. Where is the line to be drawn?
    – Randy
    Sep 11, 2013 at 20:59
  • Third, just like the answer I'm having issues with, you've likewise taken a toxicity question and turned it into an evironmental question.
    – Randy
    Sep 11, 2013 at 21:01
  • 4
    You can begin drawing the line by asking better, more precise questions, so that everyone knows more clearly what you're asking for. You can also signal your intention to self-answer from the start; there's a checkbox that you can check during question posting that will allow you to post your own answer immediately. Asking a question when you already know the answer, or when you are unwilling to take the advice of the other participants, seems a bit... disengenuous. Sep 11, 2013 at 21:02

Good answers have these qualities:

  • use the information provided in the question and if the answer contains speculation then this is clearly noted. Ask for more information if the question is unclear or too broad.
  • where possible provide references that are long lasting to prevent link rot and, preferably, are published by academic or government sources where there has been some research and peer review. Links from about.com and ask.com are often just opinions.
  • There is a lack of universal truths in gardening due to the variability of species, climate, soil and practices. A good answer encourages the person who asked the question to discover their own answer by investigation.
  • Although people come here to get answers in many instances it is impossible to provide the "best" solution. Sadly, the answer I learned from the lawyers at work applies in many instances: "It depends...". A good answer may not answer the question but it is still helpful if the person is informed of best practices that have worked for others.
  • As the internet is not a conversation over the back fence what may seem to be just a statement of fact to one person may not be perceived as such due to cultural, language or other differences. Writing to the point in plain language with respect for your audience works for me.
  • This is a good answer. The only one of the bunch which actually answered the question.
    – Randy
    Sep 13, 2013 at 4:25

You're right, moderation is a bit lax here. And for good reason, for the most part, the users of this site behave, post reasonable questions, and police themselves. I'll pop in and close a few rogue questions on an occasional basis, but I don't participate here much and I've been rather slack in reading and voting lately.

I've got a lot going on, and typically this site doesn't really need much guidance, the scope is clear, posts are mostly on topic, though maybe a bit low quality and inexpert. We keep an eye out for spam and Niall and I communicate if he's got a question, but a lot of the time my attention is elsewhere.

However, after reading your rather aggressive screed, you've got my full attention. I've edited your MSDS strawman from your argument, and please be warned that if you're tempted to respond like that again that this behavior will not be tolerated here.

Finally, you and OrganicLawnDIY have been directed to take your bickering to chat before, please stop cluttering the main site with it. I don't really care who started it, but stop.

  • I want the rules in concrete so I know how to proceed. This variablilty between sites is troublesome.
    – Randy
    Sep 12, 2013 at 0:33
  • @Randy there is a base set of rules that all sites follow. However, each site is allowed and even encouraged to develop it's own community standards and culture. That's the SE model, they recognize that different subject areas need different things and that those communities are best equipped to decide what those things are.
    – wax eagle
    Sep 12, 2013 at 12:52
  • This could have been a very productive post if you'd gone about it in a different way. I'd kind of like to see you try to raise this topic in a less antagonistic way, because frankly, it's a good discussion that we need to have, but the trappings of this question have sidetracked all of the answers into dealing with the dispute that motivated it instead of a very real issue for this site.
    – wax eagle
    Sep 12, 2013 at 12:54
  • There are many issues with this site imo, but my opinion doesn't seem relevant. You'll be having these discussions among yourselves.
    – Randy
    Sep 13, 2013 at 3:00

Since this thread is about my answers maybe it would help to explain why I answer questions the way I do. I have not participated in this discussion up until now because others have been covering it pretty well. I'm also new here so I wanted to see what the mods and others with more experience would say to see if how I like to participate is compatible with how SE wants people to participate.

Most people don't come here to ask questions. They come here to solve problems. The way they communicate their problem is by asking a question. When I reply to a question my intent is to help them solve their problem as best I can.

I came here to help people solve their problems by sharing some of the things I know and to find people that can help me solve my gardening problems with things that I don't know. Working on someone's problem is a little fun, like solving a puzzle, but I also learn something in the process by thinking of the problem and reading other's answers. I get something out of it. When I need help with something from others, by participating in other discussions I don't feel like I'm just taking and not giving.

The analogy I gave Randy about running shoes explains why I chose to answer questions the way I do. It may help someone to find the right pain med to alleviate their foot pain but it ultimately helps them more to stop their feet from hurting in the first place.

Though I'm talking about myself and my answers, you'll find the people that have been here a long time and consistently give good answers have the same approach.

It's 2013. All the answers are pretty much already online. The reasons people can't find the answer to their questions are either because they are not very good at doing web searches or they don't fully understand their problem.

The reason SE is better than a lot of other stupid Q&A sites is because it helps people solve real problems and doesn't just try to create page after page of useless Q&A. SE could automatically create hundreds of thousands of pages related to programming by creating a script that would go through the javadocs of all the major libraries and create Q&A pages of the form "What is the return type of the function foo of the class package.bar?". But they chose not to do that because that's not useful. Other Q&A sites do stuff like that.

If you go through all the edits and comments in chronological order in the question regarding rainfall and growing grass I think it will be clear what I was doing. I was intending to help someone to help get grass to grow around the perimeter of their home. This is the problem I had identified based on the information presented. As he provided more information based on my questions/answers I tried to use that information to provide a better solution to the problem.

In his question he identified 4 possible solutions. He had indicated he had objections to using all of them for different reasons. As I better understood his problem I couldn't see any of the products helping him more than my answer would. I didn't see them as rebuttals, most of them anyway. I thought he was providing more information to help me understand his problem better. I also had some insight into Randy's problem based on communication outside this site.

So what's the point of picking the best product from a list of products the asker said he doesn't want to use and which I don't think would solve the problem? I can't see how that would be beneficial for the asker, for the site, for future readers or for me. For the record, since the issue of me linking to my site has also come up in the past... Three out of the four products/methods are things I have experience with and have discussed on my site. Answering the question the way Randy wanted it to be answered would have given me a valid opportunity to link to my site.

I don't expect to always have the right answers but it is absolutely annoying and a huge waste of time for me to try and help someone solve a problem/answer a question when the person is not looking for input and has some other agenda. All of you that have participated in this thread can relate.


What are good answers?

What is an acceptable answer? explains what a good answer should be and further describes what an answer should not be:

An answer is not any of the following:

  1. Any "answer" that doesn't address the question, even partially.
  2. A request for clarification (leave a comment under the question instead).
  3. A clarification of the question (edit your question instead).
  4. A new question (use the "Ask Question" button).
  5. Conversation, such as "Thanks", "Me Too", or "I Like Turtles".
  6. Exact duplicates of other, previously-posted answers
  7. Bare links (see How can I link to an external resource in a community-friendly way?)

Why and how are some answers deleted?

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:

  • commentary on the question or other answers
  • asking another, different question
  • “thanks!” or “me too!” responses
  • exact duplicates of other answers
  • barely more than a link to an external site
  • not even a partial answer to the actual question

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the purpose of the SE sites was to provide quick, expert answers to questions. Now, if you were wondering how to sow grass seed in a high rainfall area, would you be interested in sifting through commentary specific to MY problems and ultimately not finding an answer at all to your question? Or would you be interested in an answer which specifically answered the question? Personally, if I wanted to read commentary and discuss questions tangent to the original, I would be posting on a forum which is specifically geared for that. What attracted me to the SE network is the perceived expert answers which focus on the question.

The variability between SE sites is troublesome to me. How can one play by the rules when no one knows what they are?

Individual community preferences vs. SE network policy: who wins?

Well, they can override them to a fairly large extent, because the entire system is designed around community enforcement of these standards. And they should: if the community doesn't establish their own standards and buy into ours, they won't enforce any of them. As Robert notes, we provide plenty of guidance, but each community must make it their own - and during that process, each site develops a bit of local flavor. Some sites are extremely strict as to form and topic, others are considerably more flexible. And that's ok...

But, there is a limit. These are question and answer sites, not forums. They're established with the clear goal of making accurate and useful information accessible on The Internet, not providing a place for folks to hang out. If pets.stackexchange.com decides it just wants to be reddit, we're going to have problems with that. That's why, even on sites with elected moderators, we'll occasionally step in to provide guidance... Sometimes forcefully.

And if it gets to the point where we don't honestly think a site is Making The Internet Better, we will shut it down. That's not just a platitude. Trust me on this...

  • 2
    Please don't respond to other answers in an answer. This is NOT A FORUM.
    – wax eagle
    Sep 12, 2013 at 0:28
  • @waxeagle I'll edit it out when the person reads it.
    – Randy
    Sep 12, 2013 at 0:29
  • 1
    Hope you see the irony in misusing the answer box to communicate that others are misusing the answer box. If you want me to read your comment on my answer, please use the comment box under it or ping me on chat (And chat is a better option at this point.) Sep 12, 2013 at 15:02
  • @JonEricson Yes but you said, "They aren't the answers you were looking for, but they seem alright to me." That sanctions just about anything.
    – Randy
    Sep 13, 2013 at 4:30

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