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First of all, I would like to point everyone to the seminal blog post "Real Questions Have Answers"; I know I've linked to it a few times in the past, but I think plenty of people here really could stand to read it again.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, on to the meat of this post: The importance of writing complete answers.

Over the years of this site, users have been asking — encouraging, even — unscoped questions. I've strongly considered implementing some sort of question scope rules a la Christianity.SE (since they've actually managed to make a highly-flammable religious community work under the Stack Exchange model) but honestly I just don't feel that that is really in our best interests as a community.

For whatever reasons, we as a community want questions of general scope which provide answers across multiple schools/sects. This has been the case since the earliest days of the site, and honestly I would love to see it continue going forward.

However, it is again important to note that real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions.

Many users use general-scope questions as an excuse to post an answer in their own preferred viewpoint; to be fair, this behaviour had also been encouraged in the early days of the site. However, three-ish years into site development, it is rather clear that this really isn't working; such answers still instigate arguments and attract votes based on agreement rather than quality.

For questions that aren't scoped to a particular opinion, having these opinion-based answers breaks the system in three very significant ways:

  1. Answers tend to get sorted based on popularity rather than usefulness
    • Voting can easily be abused based on agreement/disagreement to bring ones "preferred" opinion to the fore, regardless of quality.
    • Even when voting is done properly based on quality, users are still more likely to recognize quality in opinions they hold than in those they don't.
    • Either way, a poorly-upvoted post is just as likely to mean an opinion is unpopular than that it isn't well-stated and accurate.
  2. "Answered" questions no longer get auto-bumped to the front-page
    • Community randomly bumps unanswered questions to the front-page to improve visibility; more eyes = more chance of getting good answers.
    • When a question has one or more highly-voted answers, it is considered "answered" (regardless of if the questioner has accepted one).
  3. Individual opinions rarely make good duplicate targets
    • Closing questions as duplicate is an important feature, as it prevents users from just asking the same question over and over again: Why reinvent the wheel?
    • When a question is answered by a number of discrete opinions, there is no way to know which (if any) of those opinions are actually the answer the questioner is looking for; pointing them to the "duplicate" is just as likely to confuse them as answer their question
    • If a questioner's preferred opinion isn't included, they'll need to ask the same question again (appropriately scoped) which sorta defeats the whole point of having the general-scope question in the first place.

The system has mechanisms in place not only to encourage answers to questions, but to ensure that those answers are easy to find. Allowing general-scope questions to attract opinions rather than answers just bypasses these mechanisms to no real advantage.

I've said it before. I'll say it again. I'll probably be repeating this until the proverbial cows come home to roost: Real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions.

By that definition, many of these general-scope questions are, in my opinion, "real questions": They can effectively be answered fully and completely by a single post.

The problem is, the users answering them aren't actually writing answers: They're posting opinions. An answer would be something that answers the question asked, for everybody who may possibly ask it. Otherwise, future visitors asking the exact same question are just as likely to…

  • …find their answer at the top of the list,
  • …have their answer somewhere further down the list, where they actually have to work to find it,
  • …be more confused than ever due to multiple conflicting answers, or
  • …not get what they wanted at all.

Under the Stack Exchange philosophy, the first (and possibly the second) group is what's important: We want people who have questions to find the answers they're looking for. If we, as a site, are not aiding in that, then there is something fundamentally wrong.

As a site, we need to be encouraging actual answers: complete answers that apply to everybody who will ask that exact question. If a question is asking for more than one thing, it is important that the answer provides everything that's being asked for. Otherwise, it is at best an item, not an answer.

Any questions which can't reasonably be answered in a single post need to be closed as "Too Broad": I can't tell you where that line is, it really needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis. I can, however, tell you that taking a "Too Broad" question as an excuse to post an incomplete answer is not the way to go, as that just encourages (a) questioners to keep posting too-broad questions so (b) answerers can keep posting incomplete answers.

So, going forward, I would like to recommend the following guidelines when answering any question on this site:

  1. Posted answers must be comprehensive within the scope of the question as-asked:
    • If the question is asking for an answer according to Sunni jurisprudence, it must cover all (significant) differences of opinion within "Sunni jurisprudence".
    • If the question is asking for both a Sunni and Shi'ite perspective, it must cover both Sunni and Shi'ite perspectives.
    • If the question is just asking for what "Islam" says (remembering that for the purposes of this site, "Islam" covers each and every group that self-identifies as Muslim), it should probably just be closed as "Unclear what you're asking" unless it's a matter which has little to no actual difference of opinion across every possible Islamic perspective.
  2. In cases where an answer covers a significant difference of opinion, posted answers must be free of obvious bias
    • Under the principle of writing an answer for everyone who would ask that exact question, any posts which present any side of an opinionated debate as "more correct" should not be tolerated
  3. In cases where a general-scope question has already attracted opinions rather than answers, the pertinent sections of those opinions (if they're worth saving) should be combined into a community-wiki post and the originals deleted.
    • If the resultant CW post would be uncomfortably long, the question should probably be closed as "Too Broad"
  4. If a general-scope question has already attracted opinions, and one of these has been accepted, the question should be edited to meet the scope of the accepted answer and differing opinions deleted.
4

I don't really agree with this. I think a one-sided answer can be valuable if it correctly answers the question and is demonstrably true. For example, the answer to a question could be controversial, but an answer that says XYZ legal authority is of opinion ABC based on such and such reasoning, I think that is a reasonable answer. It is likely too much to ask for everybody to know all opinions on a question. In particular, different opinions are likely to be distributed geographically so someone may never encounter the opposing position. So if a person asks what Islam says, if a potential answerer knows what Sunnis say but not Shia, as long as he mentions that his answer is from a Sunni POV, that's fine.

Where I do agree with you is with regard to opinion answers. Really opinions don't have any place on this site. So a citation and explanation of a single position without mentioning opposing positions is fine. A summary of many or all opinions is better. AN unsubstantiated rant is bad.

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    How would you get around the voting problem though? About the only time voting reliably filters "useful" from "not useful" (as it's intended) is if every answer voted on is "on the same page" (as it were). Even with a healthy voting community, in such an item-based thread, answers from more popular viewpoints will unevenly skew those to the top, regardless of actual usefulness. – goldPseudo May 20 '15 at 21:50
  • In other words, if say a Hanafi post is voted on, all that really implies is that that Hanafi post is more (or less) useful than the other Hanafi posts in the thread, but it says absolutely nothing about whether it's more (or less) useful than any of the Shafi'i, or Hanabli, or Shi'ite or whatever posts. But there's no effective way to filter items by perspective, so if someone is, say, only interested in the Hanafi posts, they basically have to work and dig through the thread to find their answer which is just anathema to the Stack Exchange philosophy. – goldPseudo May 20 '15 at 21:55
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    well that thing Mr Gold is the fundamental problem of this site. In questions which ask "All views welcome", they can't even accept that answer, cuz they themselves wanted all of them, and answers which were from one POV, sort of thread doesn't work well, unless the top answer presents all of the views in it. @goldPseudo – servant-of-Wiser May 21 '15 at 3:39
  • @goldPseudo, How about generating new questions for every generally-scoped question, each dedicated exclusively to one school/sect? The only disadvantage would be the unnatural toil of generating the same content times the number of sects with unique individual tags, but the voting problem would be, thus, avoided. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 3:44
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    @infatuated The other problem with that is that there will definitely be tons of duplicated content assuming all of the different schools don't disagree about every single thing. – Daniel May 21 '15 at 3:46
  • Yes, that's another potential disadvantage, but we may be able to identify such questions and thus avoid generating unnecessary duplicates. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 3:48
  • @infatuated If you knew enough to do that, then this isn't the kind of question we are concerned with because you could just write one answer to the original question. We're talking about cases where the answerer only knows enough to answer from one school of thought. – Daniel May 21 '15 at 3:50
  • But that solution would still apply to that: Proceed to make the same question but tag it according to the school your answer represents. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 3:52
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    Plus, as a potential concluding policy, we may choose to merge all answers into one, once we get useful answers from all similar but sect-specific questions. This would demand extra curatory burden but probably the only way we can have the benefit of collectively comprehensive answer sets without attracting sectarian/pov-based voting. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 3:56
  • @infatuated That's basically exactly the sort of "question scoping" I dismissed in my OP (at least partially because, as Daniel mentioned, there would be a lot of unnecessarily duplicated content), except with the added workload of..."unravelling" all the existing general-scope questions (and there are many). – goldPseudo May 21 '15 at 4:42
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    @goldPseudo, I agree about the high burden of "unraveling" many past questions, but please note that we don't have to create those duplicates before even there's any sect-specific answer yet. The duplicate(s) will only be generated by user(s) who want to write sect-specific answer(s). But if there are no sect-specific answers offered, the question remains singly as generally-scoped until there's one or more sect-specific answer. The burden to create the new question would be on the poster and the community should also guide the posters to follow the protocol. How does that sound? – infatuated May 21 '15 at 5:00
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    @infatuated That just sounds impossibly burdensome. How would a new user possibly know to do that when posting an answer? We don't want people to be spending major percentages of their time on the main site engaged in meta-activity – Daniel May 21 '15 at 5:04
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    Well, I, admittedly, am uncertain about how viable this solution is, but as for new users posting answers, they could simply be told to read one specific meta post that lays out the protocol for "sect-specific answers to generally-scoped questions". Otherwise, there seems to be little chance for many generally-scoped questions to ever get comprehensive answers. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 5:16
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    @infatuated I think this has gone a bit tangential (and long) for comments; I would recommend you compile your ideas into an actual answer and post it here where it can be discussed on its own merits. – goldPseudo May 21 '15 at 5:16
  • @goldPseudo, Sure I was thinking about it. – infatuated May 21 '15 at 5:16
-1

@goldPseudo seems to have already ruled out this possibility, but I think there are still merits to this offer worth pondering and discussing separately: How about creating duplicate(s) for generally-scoped questions that receive sect-specific answers, and tagging the duplicate(s) according to the sect that the answer represents, and posting each sect-specific answer to the relevant duplicate?

This policy can have a concluding final step, once we get all (or most) sect-specific answers: we can then move all answers to the original generally-scoped question and make them a single comprehensive post. The resulting post can only include the links to the specific answers, probably with short descriptions that summarize the linked answers.

On the downside of this policy proposal, are two added workloads:

  1. The users who are unfamiliar with this protocol, and post sect-specific answers to generally-scoped questions, will have to be told to make a separate sect-specific Q&A and post their sect-specific answer there. For avoiding to explain this to each and every new user, there will have to be a meta-post laying out the protocol for this policy. New users can only be referred to that meta-post, thereafter.

  2. Perhaps the biggest workload which seems impossible to handle, is the burden of surveying all past generally-scoped questions with answers from different sects/schools, and work them into either separate sect-specific Q&As, or to decide whether all sect-specific answers can be combined into one comprehensive answer to a generally-scoped question. But I believe, perhaps with some increased community participation in this task, we can fix those past questions in the long-term.

So the trade-off could be worth, for the alternative approach would be to leave most (if not pretty much all) generally-scoped questions to never get comprehensive answers, and suppress all sect-specific answers that could otherwise add value to the site.

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    My main concern with this is that is seems more concerned with giving the answerers a place to post rather than with actually helping questioners get answers. For the most part, questions should be natural and organic; people are asking questions because they (a) want answers, and (b) have/had difficult finding those answers on their own. These sorts of forced questions, however, really aren't interesting to anyone, not even the person posting it. There's a very pertinent meta post from back in early days which touches on a similar subject: meta.islam.stackexchange.com/a/181/22 – goldPseudo May 21 '15 at 6:23
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any posts which present any side of an opinionated debate as "more correct" should not be tolerated

I do not agree with this. I think it is OK as soon that is proven by links to Quran, hadiths, phenomena of world. Naturally somebody can be mistaken, and whether he names them, who are mistaken, or he does not name them, it is not important.

posted answers must be free of obvious bias

showing that somebody was mistaken is separate/independent thing from being bias and unfair.

it must cover all (significant) differences of opinion within

etc - I do not agree with this, as Daniel.

goldpseudo said in comments to Daniel's answer:

Even with a healthy voting community, in such an item-based thread, answers from more popular viewpoints will unevenly skew those to the top, regardless of actual usefulness

In other words, if say a Hanafi post is voted on, all that really implies is that that Hanafi post is more (or less) useful than the other Hanafi posts in the thread, but it says absolutely nothing about whether it's more (or less) useful than any of the Shafi'i, or Hanabli, or Shi'ite or whatever posts.

If it is healthy community, if there was general Islamic question, they should vote not just for their mazhabs, but for correctness and fullness of proof. i know that mazhabs are each consistent with itself, and not consistent with other mazhabs and are based on different traditions, consistency of methods and preferences, but if consistency with solutions on other problems by the mazhab bounds the solution of the mazhab, so that it looks incorrect compared with other answers, answerer also should show that some their mazhab's consistency ideas bound the solution, giving examples of the solutions on on other problems with which they try keeping consistency.

But there's no effective way to filter items by perspective, so if someone is, say, only interested in the Hanafi posts

Then they should write their in such a way. ( servant-of-Wiser already replied this way, in the comments. ) and why do you so bother about who wrote that question? many people can be interested in that question as it is written. And if after some time you discover that person who wrote the question wrote that with mistakes, and got wrong answers for him, let he better make a new question.

In the question:

If a question is asking for more than one thing, it is important that the answer provides everything that's being asked for. Otherwise, it is at best an item, not an answer.

you should give definition for the word "item" you are using.

You are bothered about this probably because it is hard to fairly vote on such answers. but that does not make them "not answers". and they still can be voted fairly by many users - more full answers, full of correct or useful subanswers get more votes, but unfortunately one user cannot put "+2" >june 7: i forgot about possibility to vote "-1" when i wrote this<, so big correct answers would go up unfairly not quickly enough. but if we take in account that users do not vote such simply, more full answers can get more votes, because users can vote with aim to bring some answer higher, and they can left a correct subanswer without a vote just with aim to left it more down, and because it is also fair, because it is not full.

-6

Please answer as close to Sahih Bukhari or Muslim. Then the schism does not matter.

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    So any Muslim perspective based on interpretations not derived from Bukhari and Muslim is unwelcome here (which would be, I believe, most if not all of them)? I really don't see how this would improve things at all. – goldPseudo Jun 16 '15 at 15:34

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