7

In my recent question I have had seven absolutely fantastic answers. Everyone's contributions to the question were outstanding, and I'm proud to have asked something which could have sparked such intrigue.

I've read through every answer, and have taken things away from all of them. I don't want to award one answer as firstly:

  • All answers are great. There's too many good contributions to pick out one and call it amazing, when other amazing things have been said in other answers.

  • It's not really a question with a definite answer (as with a lot of writing questions).

So...

Am I allowed to not accept an answer?

Less in the context of my specific example:

When a lot of good contributions are given to a question, is it best not to accept an answer?

8

You can always wait. Perhaps some time will give you different perspective, or an even better, more canonical answer will come along.

You're right that questions here tend to be more subjective than on, say, Bicycles or English; in those cases you could also accept an answer that answered the question by providing the best overview of the issues, rather than the answer that helped solve your problem.

There's more on Meta Stack Exchange about this, in the question How does accepting an answer work?

Which answer should I choose?

  • Don't hesitate to accept an answer that is well-written, suggests a good practice and works for you.
  • Otherwise, even if there are answers that are good enough but that you're not entirely satisfied by, you might wait 24 to 48 hours to give other people a chance to give you a better answer. A question with an accepted answer isn't as likely to receive further attention as one without an accepted answer.
  • Make sure that besides working for you, the answer is really good practice. Sometimes after the answer gets accepted, another comes in, uncovering the fact that previous one was in fact a bad hack.
  • The bottom line is that you should accept the answer that you found to be the most helpful to you, personally.
  • That's what I mean. There is no one answer that was the most helpful because all of them were contributions equally helpful, due to the subjective nature of writing questions @NeilFein – Daniel Cann Feb 7 '17 at 17:55
  • @DanielCann Sometimes I award the answer that broke the ice, if people were slow to respond. Or the answer that got my own thinking unstuck. – aparente001 Feb 12 '17 at 8:04
6

With programming questions, the answers are generally specific solutions. There may be more than one good solution, but presumably you accept the answer that contained the solution you accepted. Generally speaking there will not be the exact same solution in more than one answer, though there may be a better, or better explained, version of a solution in an answer. Again, presumably, you pick the accept the best expression of the solution you picked.

But for Writers questions, we can't offer solutions. That would be telling you what to write, and what to write questions are not allowed. So basically, we answer questions by pointing to principles. It is up to the questioner to figure out how to apply the principle to their particular problem.

Sometimes people will suggest different principles, but often they all suggest the same principle, more or less, but suggest it in different ways. Each of several answers suggesting the same principle may be helpful because they help you grasp the principle or see how it applies. It is not a matter of picking one solution, but of learning a little bit from each of many answers.

But SE is not set up for that. It is set up for solutions.

As far as I can see, therefore, your choices are to pick one of the posts that you think best expresses the principle in a way that you could understand it and figure out how to apply it, or don't accept any, on the grounds that one is not preeminent above the others.

Bottom line is that the SE model does not quite fit this subject matter, and we just have to live with the mismatch.

  • The way it gets explained a lot of times is that you pick the answer that worked for you. – Cullub Feb 10 '17 at 19:41
  • 1
    Right, but my point is that on SO that means picking one algorithm out of the three that are suggested. But here, each of three different answers may contribute equally to your grasping the principle you need to address your problem, so that there is no one that worked for you. Which is exactly what Daniel is talking about. – Mark Baker Feb 10 '17 at 19:51
4

A. Should you accept an answer?

  1. You should not accept an answer when none of the answers are acceptable.

  2. You should accept an answer when there is an answer that answers your question.

If you do not choose an answer this implies that you are not happy with the answers you have received because none of them answered your question and that you are still waiting for a good answer.

Since you are happy with the answers you have received and feel that your question has been sufficiently answered, please chose one answer.

B. Which answer should you accept?

The rule on Stack Exchange is that if I have answered a question you should accept my answer. But what if I haven't answered?

  1. Choose the answer that provides most value to you.

  2. Choose the first of the good answers.

  3. Reward a newcomer or support a member you like.

C. What can you do beyond choosing an answer?

What I sometimes do is append an edit to my question and explain which answer I chose and why and which answer I fould helpful in what manner. This will be a bit of work for you, but your effort shows that you appreciate the answers that you haven't accepted. It also forces you to think about the answers a bit more carefully and might actually help you identify which answer stands out enough that you want to accept it.

4

Technically, choosing a response as an answer does two things:

  1. It recognizes a particular answer as particularly helpful or worthwhile.
  2. It marks the question as one which has been answered.

If you've received multiple good answers, I don't think the site benefits in particular from you choosing one as "the best." If there's one that stands out, then definitely accept it. But if there isn't, you can accept one, but it's an arbitrary distinction and doesn't actually do much.

Accepted answers show up first, and therefore get more attention. Without an accepted answer, it's usually the highest-voted answers that show up highest -- which, when you can't decide between multiple answers, is pretty OK. If you have some particular case, where there's a high-voted answer you really don't find helpful, then that's a good reason to accept one of the others -- to signal which of the high-voted answers was actually helpful to you.

Accepting answers is a nice tip to the answerer. It gives him or her more rep. It might advance him or her towards badges. It lets him or her know s/he was especially helpful. Even if in a particular case you have zero preference between several great answers, it's nice to give that to somebody -- and if we do that, then over time, everybody benefits more than if we wouldn't accept an answer in such cases.

None of these are reasons to accept an answer you're not satisfied with. You don't particularly want to single out an answer that's OK but incomplete; benefiting one member is less important than representing which answers are genuinely helpful; you're better off leaving a question that's still unresolved as actually being unresolved.


In the particular case of "I have three great answers, and they're all equally good," the difference is relatively small. It's the small nuances of "one member got a benefit," of "the question is marked as answered" (in addition to being, presumably, upvoted and with multiple answers), of "my accepted-answer rate went up a tick."

It's your call, and I don't see any issue with not accepting an answer. But if you can identify a preference, that's probably even better :)

0

When I choose an answer, I always pick the one that first answered the question. This doesn't mean I don't think other answers are bad or that I lack patience to wait for a "better" answer, I simple choose the one that I feel answered my question first.

I always make it a point to go to each answer I like and thank them for their time and response. I let them know it was appreciated and I try to do a discussion on each reply. It may be more time consuming but it helps let people know that just because they weren't marked as "correct" doesn't mean their answer isn't valuable to me in some way.

All answers are going to provide you with some form of help but there is always that one answer you read first that says YES, this is what I mean.

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