In the "Style/Tone" portion of the What makes a good answer? FAQ, Lauren Ipsum rightly indicates that advice about excluding autobiographical content from an answer needs to be discussed to establish a community consensus.

The following was the initial (now deleted) advice:

Avoid unhelpful autobiographical content

[Needs work. Correctness/applicability of this explanation is uncertain.]
Just as inclusion of statements such as "I am just a noob" are discouraged for questions, answers should avoid including.

Rather than stating "I am not a lawyer", a statement like "this reference seems to indicate" (or even an unspecific "from what I have heard"?) may be preferred.

When autobiographical information is helpful in evaluating the reliability of part of the answer, it should be located with the part of the answer relying on your expertise or experience.

In at least some cases, such inclusions seem to be fluff, adding no additional helpful information. (Fluff is not particularly evil but works against conciseness.)

Such can also be an indication of excessive weasel wording. Unlike Wikipedia, some weasel wording can be appropriate for a Stack Exchange answer; it can be better to provide an uncertain answer--with an indication of that uncertainty--than no answer at all. However, some people may need encouragement to avoid excessive self-deprecation (overuse of "I think", "seems", [nested] parenthetical comments, "perhaps", "maybe", etc.).

Autobiographical material which establishes a degree of expertise or experience when presenting anecdotal evidence (e.g., "In ten years as copy editor at [reputable, large publisher], I have only twice encountered that issue.") seems helpful and appropriate.

If this is reinstated (ideally with better explanation) as a guideline, it is probably important that its guideline nature is clearly stated and emphasized. A good explanation would clearly state the rationale and help those producing answers judge when autobiographical material is fluff or excessive weasel wording and when it is helpful information.


I think a concrete guideline here would be very difficult. Since writing questions are, by nature, subjective, many of the best answers rely on particular experience. Equally, questions often rely on the particular situation and experience of the poster. These both feel to me autobiographical in nature, or something very close.

(Similarly, "I am not a lawyer" statements are important to clarify that our "legal" advice is not actually legal advice. Legal questions are exceptionally difficult to back up with references, because laws vary widely according to location and circumstance. A different phrasing could be adopted, but "IANAL" is fairly standard.)

I suggest that anybody who feels that autobiographical meandering is a problem post some examples here as an answer. We'll be able to see what extraneous details are actually problematic, and figure out if they're frequent enough to need explicit attention. If this is a problem that only happens twice a year, then autobiographical information isn't really a problem in and of itself - it's just a minor, specific instance of "keep your question focused," and should be addressed by editing the questions for focus, rather than an extra "rule."

  • +1 That seems to be a good answer (will wait for others [and upvotes indicating community agreement] before accepting). Encouragement toward concise answers would include, even if only implicitly, not adding this specific type of unhelpful information. Jun 18 '13 at 12:20
  • I concur with this. Sometimes autobiographical information is relevant and in those cases we want it; sometimes people ramble on too much and should be edited, but autobiography isn't the only type of rambling we see. Jun 18 '13 at 15:39
  • Me three. There's a difference between autobiographical bona fides (or caveats) and lengthy rambling about why one is or isn't qualified to answer the question. I wouldn't even include this section in the FAQ; it just doesn't apply often enough to create a specific rule about it. And trying to parse what might or might not be considered helpful in something as general as a guideline will, I think, just create more confusion than clarity. I move to strike it. Jun 27 '13 at 16:59

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