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After reading some meta questions, it seems there are a lot of unanswered questions, and also that it's not necessarily a problem. I'd still want to know on what criteria I should accept an answer.

On the questions I posted (except one, that was actually even harder to accept) I never had more than 2 or 3 answers. From there two possibilities:

  • The answers go in the same general direction, with a few slight nuances. None of them explain much better than the other, or have significantly more votes. Which one do I accept?

  • The answers go in different directions, contradicting each other. None of them get more than 1-2 votes, I have no expertise to know who is correct (that's why I'm asking in the first place). Which one do I accept?

If I wait for more answers, by experience nobody answers, there are a lot of questions and when you see 2 answers you're not likely to go give another one, even less if you see both answers are basically saying what you would have said. And maybe the correct answer is already there, but I can't tell.

  • 6
    The accept is all yours. You can accept an answer because you like the answerer's profile picture, their Australian accent, or their reputation number. It's not like an award that you should be giving the best answer. It's the reward you give to an answer you liked most. Whether it's the best answer is sometimes subjective and debatable. Sure, it would be surprising if you accepted a ''I have the same problem, can anyone help?" non-answer posted as one, and even suspicious if you accept a spam answer, but the general meta consensus is that you're free to choose, and it actually doesn't matter. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jan 24 '17 at 11:59
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    I'd add, don't accept too soon. If the question is marked as answered, many people don't bother to read it or answer. As a new person to Stack Exchange, that was one of my own errors. I also did not know that I could change my mind and undo my acceptance or even select another answer. – WRX Jan 24 '17 at 18:32
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    @M.A.R.: You can accept for any reason, but I think it's bad form to accept for irrelevant reasons like the ones you list. The overall purpose of this site is to provide a good "library" of questions and answers. Accepting an answer pins it to the top of the list; this can be a bad thing if the accepted answer is clearly less useful than the other answers. Of course it's not a big deal: users shouldn't stress out about how to choose, or be harassed due to their choices. But if someone asks for advice on how to select the accepted answer, I wouldn't recommend using any of those methods. – sumelic Jan 24 '17 at 21:12
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    @Sumelic for the same reason that accepts aren't really trustworthy, there have been numerous feature requests on bigger metas to reduce their importance. I agree that not caring about the accept but giving it so much importance is contradictory, and IIRC there has been a few SO-only implementations that reduce its relevance, and still every single meta question like this gets a ''it doesn't matter as long as people don't push you into accepting an answer''. (FWIW, I personally believe there are much more important things to be fixed here, and OPs should rather not accept quickly than rashly) – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jan 25 '17 at 6:40
  • @M.A.R.: Agreed. Very often, the person least qualified to choose the best answer (from an all-around perspective) is the one asking the question. Honk if you know what macrototus means. – Robusto Jan 26 '17 at 2:47
  • @Robusto The answer you link says "macrotous" not "macrototous". – Teleporting Goat Jan 26 '17 at 11:12
  • @Robusto in a biology setting, the term macrotous is more academic than [spoiler alert] --- floppy-eared. And after all, the OP already knew the suggestion you posted. Are you implying that the OP did not know better than to accept macrotous*? The OP received the exact answer, who cares if "we" have never heard of that term, it exists and it is used. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 11:51
  • @TeleportingGoat: Maybe I should ask if there's an obscure word for a slip of the fingers. – Robusto Jan 26 '17 at 15:20
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The How does accepting an answer work? post on Meta says "The bottom line is that you should accept the answer that you found to be the most helpful to you, personally." That doesn't mean the most correct and complete all of the time. It could mean that one answer taught you a new word, or that the formatting made another easier to read. It is, as M.A.R. mentioned in his comment, entirely your choice.

If you feel that none of the answers completely answered your question, then don't accept any of them. We have new users joining all the time who are looking for opportunities to earn some reputation, so older unanswered questions may still receive new answers if they're clear. A good descriptive title really helps attract answers once a question has aged a little bit. How can I write a better title for my ELL question? has some suggestions.

If I'm having trouble choosing an answer, and I've stopped getting new answers, I might leave comments to ask for clarification from the folks that have answered so that one answer might get edited to really stand out from the others. I might also edit my question taking into account the answers I did receive that didn't really help that much to try to get some new answers. For example, if there is a contradiction in the answers I received, I edit my question to ask about it. Questions and answers aren't carved in stone!

4

There is no obligation to accept an answer for every question you post.

I have posted questions which have attracted two or more answers but chose not to accept any, for various reasons.

When an answer fully satisfies me, I don't hesitate to accept. When I see a question is popular and is attracting attention, I hold back, because someone might post the most fantastic answer ever known to man (never happens). A question which doesn't display the green circle encourages users to continue posting answers, (that's the idea) and if I have NOT accepted an answer, it suggests that I am not totally convinced... yet.

Likewise, the user should accept the answer which totally convinces them. It doesn't matter if it has earned fewer upvotes than the others, if that answer has helped the OP the most than I don't see anything wrong with accepting it.

Sometimes, users may disagree with the selected answer, if they do, they should post answers which convince the OP the error of their ways, or show visitors that the accepted answer is flawed.

Lastly, correct answers will always be upvoted by the community, but it doesn't mean they are necessarily the best.

  • I'd add that this is not a competition and that upvoting a good answer doesn't make your own answer a 'losing one'. So if you answer a question and another answer is good, please feel free to upvote it. Your own rep points are not based on anyone else's better or worse answer. – WRX Jan 25 '17 at 19:05
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My opinion is that the whole model is kind of broken, and that accept votes don't belong here at all.

The thing is, Stack Overflow was the first Stack Exchange site, and it works the way that's best for Stack Overflow. Over there, it's normal to accept the answer that worked for you. So you ask a programming question because you're having some kind of difficulty, and (hopefully) you end up overcoming your difficulty, and accepting the answer that helped you get there. And an accept vote is worth more than an upvote because it comes from the person whose problem was actually fixed by the answer. Somebody helped you make your software work, and it's entirely reasonable that you have the power to give them 25 fairy points, whereas other voters can only give them 10 fairy points (not counting bounties). It makes sense.

On other Stack Exchange sites, we're stuck with the same model, even though it doesn't necessarily apply. On ELL, the person asking the question is always going to be a learner - someone who (almost by definition) doesn't know the answer. Whereas other people voting on answers will be a mixture of learners at different stages and native speakers. In fact, if they're voting on the answers, it's reasonable to suppose that these people do know the correct answer, or at least the answer that's correct for their own idiolects.

So on ELL, it makes no sense at all that (bounties aside), the asker can offer 25 fairy points, whereas other voters can only offer 10. It makes no sense that the asker can decide which of the answers gets shown at the top of the page. So I would be strongly in favour of removing accept votes from ELL altogether. It's simply meaningless to say "a person who didn't know any better thought this answer was the right one", in an environment full of people who did know better.

Of course, there are other Stack Exchange sites where the same argument applies. Perhaps the feature should be that when a new site is proposed, those proposing it get to decide whether accept votes are used on the site.

  • No, I think you're going a bit extreme here. It's true that sometimes there is no clear "answer", in which case accepting an answer is purely up to the OP to decide or not. But in other cases, there are answers on ELL and ELU which clarify and answer specifically the OP's question. Some questions are simpler to answer than others, and some answers are just "correct" and there's no discussion about it. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 10:56
  • One thing allowing the author of the question to award extra reputation does is make sure there is some incentive for to post answers suitable for the person asking, and not just an answer that will be popular with the community. Does 15 extra reputation make that much difference? Probably not, but the possibility of being the only answer with a big green check might be appealing to some and encourage them to make sure the asker feels like their question has been answered. – ColleenV Jan 26 '17 at 12:58
  • I concur with David Wallace. On sites where an answer can be tested, accepts make sense. On sites like ELL, they don't. Questioners on ELL should feel free not to accept answers, and they can safely ignore whether an answer has been accepted or not. If an answer receives more than few upvotes, chances are good that it's a decent answer without errors. There are good answers which have received few upvotes, but that's a separate issue. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 26 '17 at 16:03
  • @TRomano answers about English can be "tested", see snailplane's ♦ recent answer, and there are external and authoritative references which help support answers, it could even be a simple dictionary reference. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 17:42
  • @Mari-Lou A. We must have different understandings of the word "test". That there are authorities one may consult is not relevant to whether a learner should accept an answer. How is the learner to judge the (alleged) authority? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 26 '17 at 18:06
  • @TRomano why do you always have to be so cryptic? So, let me see if I can explain myself better: a code can be tested to see if it works or not, but in language there are methods for establishing if a word is an adjective or a verb for example. The external authority could be the OED, it could be CGEL, it could be citing an esteemed linguist. References are also important, otherwise you just fall into the trap of saying "I'm always right" and "everyone else is wrong". – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 18:10

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