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This is my first time participating in a public beta, so I apologize if this question has an obvious answer or if the behavior I mention is the norm.

What I seem to be noticing, as I page through our current questions on ELL, is that we have a good amount of questions, a lot of answers, a lot of votes... But very few accepted answers. Just looking at the most recent 5 pages of questions, I'd say definitely less than 50% of questions have accepted answers. The questions have answers, and votes, but not accepts.

Now, assuming this is not the norm for a public beta (I don't have any past experience to confirm or deny that, but it certainly seems odd to me), is there anything we can do to change this? Voting is a great way to draw attention to good answers, and certainly the accepted answer is not always the best (or even correct). But still, accepted answers are an integral part of SE, and I would expect more of them at this point.

So, thoughts? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or is this actually a problem, and what can we do about it?

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  • One thing to consider is that the majority of questions have been asked by active promoters of the beta. Usually they know the answers to the questions they asked. – bytebuster Feb 4 '13 at 20:57
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    @bytebuster Fair point. However I'd almost expect those questions to be more likely to have accepted answers; after all if the question-asker's point is to add useful questions to bulk up the site, wouldn't they also want to accept the correct answer? – WendiKidd Feb 4 '13 at 22:30
  • To invite you to come there and write your own -- better -- answer! Seriously. – bytebuster Feb 4 '13 at 22:37
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    Is this the first beta to launch since accept rate was removed? (Well, it's still there, but it isn't displayed on questions anymore.) I think its stated purpose was to shame users into accepting, but maybe it was the main way new users learned that accepting was a good thing. – snailplane Feb 5 '13 at 0:41
  • @snailplane Interesting thought. I didn't even notice the accept rate had been removed until I saw it mentioned earlier today--but that definitely would have been a good way to make users wonder "what's an accept rate? what does accepting do?" So it's a fair point that removal of the accept rate might have an affect on whether or not new users understand accepting. (I'll also comment that the check mark button on the beta-site skin doesn't much look like a check mark, IMO. I mean I can tell what it is since I know what it is, but...if I were a new user I'd wonder.) – WendiKidd Feb 5 '13 at 0:44
  • @snailplane - Very interesting comment indeed! Very interesting! We knew it had been removed but we were yet to see any of its negative effects....this might just be one. – Mohit Feb 5 '13 at 3:43
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I would like to point out another possible reason: The person who asked does not know which answer is the best.

In case you are asking on stackoverflow it is easy. You ask, get answer, try the code, you solve the problem, BAM, accepted!

Even if you ask some soft question on for example workplaceBETA, it is sometime much easier because you hear the advices, try to do accordingly and in one week you can came back and say, YES it was/ NO it was not helpful.

But here, the people ask because they do not know. And if you do not know, how can you say which answer is right? Of course, I am not saying that it is in all the cases, but I think that this fact makes the issue of Lack of Accepted Answers bigger.

For example, the question Does the question mark mean this is a question?. Maybe anyone who has an opinion on this would be able to mark one answer as accepted. But the person who asked maybe not. There are two answers with high number of up-votes and for a person who does not have an opinion on this, it can be very difficult to say which one deserves to be accepted.

The same for this one. How can the person who asked say what is the best?

Maybe it is easy for you native speakers to say which answers are the best and should be accepted, but for me (not a native speaker obviously) it is not.

Sometimes, in the case one does not know what to mark as the accepted answer, can be helpful to take a look at this discussion about soft questions on Academia Meta.

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    As a follow-on comment to this, I'd mention that it's often a good practice when an O.P. waits a day or two before accepting an answer. As you say, language can be tricky, and sometimes the first few answers given don't tell the whole picture. I recommend letting more members of the community have a crack at the question before accepting (although it is possible to change an accepted answer should a better one be given after an answer has been accepted). But you raise an excellent point, it might be hard to pick a best answer when several are helpful, but they don't necessarily all agree. – J.R. Feb 5 '13 at 9:29
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    Very good point! It also illustrates why voting is so important, I think--naturally assuming that the person who asked the question doesn't know the answer, what are they going to do if they get two vastly different answers to their question? One is right and one is wrong... But you're very right in pointing out that they can't be sure which is which. In this case will certainly help--if 10 people upvote the correct answer and 10 people downvote the incorrect answer, that's a pretty solid clue. But when the answers are similar, and all get upvotes, it might be hard to tell which is 'best'. – WendiKidd Feb 5 '13 at 23:50
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Yes, you are right, but I have noticed that most of the questions come from new users who, for a number of reasons, probably do not read the FAQ section and do not know about the accepting-an-answer system. Maybe sometimes the OP is satisfied with an answer but does not accept it because they do not know about this. Nevertheless I believe that commenting "you can accept my answer if you like it" could be the right solution.

Yes, given that accepting motivate people to write good answers (or even writing an answer in this context), I am thinking that an automatic message/comment (such as "consider accepting useful answers" with a link to FAQ) on new user's questions might be useful and would not put more charge on moderator's bag of responsibilities, although, alas, we do not have real moderators here yet.

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    Carlo, I think that's a great idea! It could be a notification sent to the user's inbox, X days after their question has been answered but no answer has been accepted. "Your question, [question title with link], was answered [x] days ago. Did any of the answers help you? If so, consider accepting an answer to help others in the future! [more info here in FAQ link]" I think something like that would be really helpful. It could be set to only happen for a user's first few questions, until they get the idea. I think that could be very beneficial. – WendiKidd Feb 4 '13 at 22:26
  • @wendi is this within the scope of MSE? Might be worth us raising it there, if there's a case for it. Thing is, the SE model isn't really about accepting answers, it's about getting good answers. The answer with the most votes might not be the accepted answer because the OP doesn't know the right one, or it's not the most helpful. I think the accepted answer function is mainly to provide a bit of a feedback loop, since otherwise it looks like a discussion rather than a Q&A site. – jimsug Aug 1 '14 at 6:24
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I would add that not immediately accepting an answer could be done intentionally.
It is true that users with few, or zero, experience in Stack Exchange sites don't understand what accepting an answer means, but in my case, I wait accepting answers to let other users partecipate in the question. It is true that some of the questions I asked were asked during the private beta, and in that phase there are less users than during the public beta; still, I think that waiting some days before accepting an answer doesn't hurt.

I find that accepting an answer too quickly could have a negative effect on the site, especially if the accepted answer is never changed, even if a more detailed, or better answer is later written.

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  • Good point! I think I am very much still in the StackOverflow mindset, which is 1) Ask question 2) Get answer 3) Try code in answer 4) It worked! Time to accept. And that's a mentality I need to get out of, because there's so much more subjectivity on other sites. Very good point. – WendiKidd Feb 6 '13 at 18:26
  • IMHO I don't really think this should be encouraged because if a better answer comes up, you can always change the accepted answer. Better for a user to accept an answer right away and forget to change it to a better one that comes along, rather than wait for the perfect answer to come along and then forget to ever accept an answer. – levininja Jan 15 '15 at 18:39
  • @levininja Accepting a bad answer has even more bad consequences than not accepting an answer: In the latter case, it's the community that elects the accepted answer. It is better than seeing a bad answer on top of better answers. – kiamlaluno Jan 15 '15 at 19:46
  • I wasn't saying anything about accepting bad answers...just that if there is a good answer, you should go ahead and accept it instead of waiting around, hoping an even better one pops up. – levininja Jan 16 '15 at 4:26
  • @levininja In fact, I was talking of "bad" answers. The first answer is not necessarily the better one. Plus, people who ask questions are supposed not to know the answer; if we teach them to accept the first answer, we are teaching them wrong. Since they don't know the answer, they should also rely on the community votes to decide which answer is better. – kiamlaluno Jan 16 '15 at 5:40
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This is a discussion from last year but I would like to bring it to everyone's attention again because I notice the same thing happening now.

Accepting an answer is not mandatory, of course, but it means that I asked a question and I received an answer which made things clear to me. The accepted answer can be the one that helped the most.

For new users it is possible not to have noticed this option. However, there is a number of users at the moment who have asked a large number of questions and accepted none or just a few. In the past few weeks I have written a few comments to questions of such users, mentioning that and linking to the help section. Nothing changed. What does this mean? None of the answers have ever been helpful? They never read the answers to their own questions? But then, why keep asking?

Of course, it is a good idea not to accept an answer immediately; this way others will have more time to think about the question before answering. However, not accepting any answers consistently for months does not seem right.

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  • I agree with you in principle, but I would suggest that what is happening is that people are waiting for more answers, then forgetting to accept one. I don't think anyone is deliberately failing to accept answers, except for those who may not be aware of this function. – jimsug Jul 31 '14 at 14:11
  • How can you forget to accept an answer every single time? And also when you ask a new question you forget that the previous 100 do not have accepted answers? – fluffy Jul 31 '14 at 14:49
  • Well, does the site tell you to accept answers every time? I would say that someone with a history of not accepting answers means it's more likely they'll do so again, not less. – jimsug Jul 31 '14 at 20:46
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    @jimsug To be specific, meatie has asked about a hundred questions and never accepted any answers. It's unlikely that meatie is forgetting or waiting for more answers. – snailplane Jul 31 '14 at 22:53
  • @snail, well in general, I'm thinking more that they've never accepted an answer, so they don't accept answers (because they don't know how to, that they should, or that they can). I'd have to look at what meatie has been doing. – jimsug Aug 1 '14 at 6:14
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If it is a problem, I suspect that it is because users of a site devoted to English learning, written in English, it will be hard to understand all the instructions and get used to all the culture. And so learning how to 'accept' an answer might be a few learning steps away from one learning first how to even ask a question.

But I don't know that it is a problem, so that explanation may be irrelevant. Flag a mod to see if they can calculate the stats for you.

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  • That's a good point; there's an inherently steeper-than-average learning curve to your first SE site, and that's more likely to be increased when the predominant question-asking userbase is composed of non-native English speakers. I think Carlo has a good suggestion in his answer for how we might encourage acceptance and make users more aware of it, what do you think? – WendiKidd Feb 4 '13 at 22:28
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    @WendiKidd: That is a common strategy, to just use a comment to the OP to encourage (and teach) them to 'accept'. Your suggestion in your comment to his answer sounds like a good meta question-feature request at meta.SE. However since they just removed the UI element showing a user's acceptance rate, I wonder if such a feature would be desired in general. There's always a comment. – Mitch Feb 4 '13 at 22:38

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