This evening I answered a couple of questions:

Each of these questions had a request along the lines of "One response per answer please..."

It seems like this is a workaround to create something similar to a poll. For one of the questions it didn't seem like a big deal, but for the question about "Reasons For/Against Helmet Use" it seems like asking for one reason per answer and then having those reasons voted up or down seems contrary to the purpose or spirit of the site.

Am I out of line ignoring the request for one reason per answer? If someone edits my response down to one reason, would it be out of line for me to revert the edit?

Perhaps the question here isn't whether the community should allow this format -- it depends on the question, as @Ian pointed out -- but whether we should respect the original question asking for one reason per answer, or not, in a case with multiple, valid, complex answers. –  Neil Fein Oct 18 '10 at 12:09
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5 Answers

I see no problem with “one response per answer” provided the questions have lots of valid answers, e.g:

This is a good way of organize this sort of information; the other option is having a single main answer that gets edited to include all the information from the other answers. I would rather we went for the hybrid, with “one response per answer”, then someone to combine them into a single answer that gets accepted. However there is no great harm in just leaving it as “one response per answer”.

However in the case of “What are the reasons for and against wearing a bicycle helmet?” It is very possible for a single person to write an answer that sums up the arguments on both sides well; therefore I think we should be aiming for a single good answer. Remember it is expected that you will edit your answer to include information from other answers. When SO was first out we were told that one of the best ways for a new users to get rep, is to find a question with 3 or 4 good answers and then write a single answer that includes the information for all the good answers in an easy to understand format.

My thoughts exactly, this is why I requested one response per answer for the "Bicycling apps for Android", and why I haven't responded to the "reasons for/against helmets" question, since I think that's a poor format for that particular question. –  Brian Campbell Oct 18 '10 at 21:35
@Brian - Would one of you like to ask another question about helmets, asking for answers like this? The mods will shut it down if it gets heated, but people have been almost universally respectful and civilized so far. I'd love to see what the community comes up with, and it'd be a nice change from the helmet arguments seen on forums. –  Neil Fein Oct 19 '10 at 4:56
@neilfein One question about helmets is likely to not be enough. There are many different situations, with possibly differing answers as to whether you should wear a helmet. Are you doing racing, touring, mountain, or utility biking? Do you live in Amsterdam, Cambridge, or New York City? Do you ride at breakneck speeds, or do you keep it below 10 MPH most of the time? I'm not sure it's possible to have one universal question on whether you should or should not wear a helmet, or reasons pro and con; we may need several questions depending on the circumstances. –  Brian Campbell Oct 19 '10 at 16:02
it's imperative that answers come with some kind of explanation. "Sharing an experience takes at least one paragraph; ideally several paragraphs. If I’m asking about how to bake cookies, don’t give me a list of grocery items: milk. butter. vanilla. eggs. There is virtually nothing I can learn from a short, static list of grocery items that make up a recipe. Instead, tell me what happened the last time you made cookies from that recipe! Share your detailed experiences, so that we all might learn from them." –  Jeff Atwood Oct 22 '10 at 2:54
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Stack Exchange exists, at least in part, as a way of countering the chaos and noise you see on traditional web forums. Community Wiki pages are, by their nature, somewhat less-organized than the regular question/answer-structured pages. Ideally, they're simply differently-organized.

My feeling is that the one-reason/product/[foo]-per-answer requests on these threads are a way of organizing the CW pages, making them easier to scan for a first-time user. If someone googles "reasons to wear a helmet" and gets a page of answers and chit-chat, no matter how compelling the writing, they'll see that as just another forum if they're not familiar with Stack Exchange sites.

These sites exist, in part, as a way of organizing reliable information, or at least information deemed reliable by the community. The entire Stack Exchange network of sites is essentially designed to act as one large, self-generating poll. If people can't vote on individual answers (or individual concepts), then the information presented, isn't nearly as useful to this site, no matter how correct or compelling.

SE founder Jeff Atwood disagrees with me, at least insofar as the helmet question. –  Neil Fein Oct 18 '10 at 11:51
I violently disagree with this largely for the reasons outlined here -- any question which produces a lot of one line "answers" is a bad fit to our network. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 22 '10 at 2:34
@JeffAtwood: in general I agree with you, but I think you're not recognizing that this particular question is an awful lot like "Which religion is better, Judaism or Islam?". There's a lot of rational arguments (islam's better because I like to eat lobster) that will persuade some people to one side or the other, but ultimately nobody wins. While it's not a good fit for the SE format, the "one reason per response" on the helmets question seems to me to have helped to keep the discourse largely civil. –  freiheit Oct 22 '10 at 23:10
@frei I just don't agree; reading a lot of dumb one-liners is a lot less useful to me than a few paragraphs outlining a cogent position with evidence. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 23 '10 at 1:18
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I don't usually post answers to my own questions, but I wanted to express another opinion...

As @neilfein said, Jeff Atwood commented:

I don't think one reason per post works well here at all. I would rebuild this question from scratch and ask people to make the most compelling case they can -- either for or against -- and cite experiences and data to back up that case.

While I greatly prefer answers that are complete / summaries so that I can scan the top couple of answers, I can see the usefulness of the "one reason per answer" in some cases.

In this one it's problematic because it's harder to scan for the Pro and Con arguments individually. If reasons are going to be limited to one per answer, I would recommend doing separate questions eg.

What is the best reason to wear a helmet (or padded lycra bike shorts, or use tubes with presta valves, etc.)?

And the counter question -

What is the best reason to NOT wear a helmet?

That way, not only are the answers sorted by the voting, the Pro or Con question is up-voted and sorted as well.

It's a shame that your answer on the helmet question was deleted (just discovered it through the mod tools). It was definitely the best answer on there, as Jeff Atwood pointed out. –  darkcanuck Oct 29 '10 at 4:11
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After posting my original answer to this question, I'm coming around to the complex-answer way of thinking on this. One-point-per-answer may be good where the question is a simple one, but the current helmet question is not a simple question. (This thread may be useful as a reference when generating a complete argument, however.)

Helmet arguments often get extremely nasty on the internet (and in real life). The question Arguments for/against bike lanes? shows, with a slightly less-volatile issue than the helmet debate, that this community is extremely capable of generating good answers to difficult questions. We did get a few nasty responses on the one-point-per-answer helmet thread, but hardly a firestorm of them.

However, posting two threads such as Gary suggested -- one "what is the best reason to wear a helmet" and the other "what is the best reason to NOT wear a helmet" -- would probably generate a lot of interesting answers, but doing that wouldn't actually answer the underlying question, which is Should I wear a helmet? Even though there may be no clear answer to this question (the answer may be that there isn't enough hard data to answer this yet), I think we need to ask that underlying question.

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I don't think there should be any attempts to enforce "one response per answer" format in most cases. I think in all cases it's reasonable and desirable to determine the underlying question and answer that as best as possible, even if it means ignoring some of the details. In other words, giving the questioner what they want is better than giving them what they ask for, and giving them what they need is even better.

I do think that this format on the bicycle helmet question may have helped keep the discussion friendly. I think that this topic is far too close to "which religion should I follow?". There's simply too much bad history (from outside bicycles.SE) over many decades on this topic for it to be an objective question, or even a fair subjective question. I don't think it's really a question anybody's going to go looking for

I think the "cycling apps for android" question is really a poll for most popular/useful android app for cycling, and that's ok. Putting several apps in one response would get that response upvoted for the best app and it wouldn't be clear that the other apps in the response just got dragged along for the ride.

I think the one response per answer is perfect for things like our terminology index, where it's likely that you'll want to link to an individual response.

I think in most other cases, something like "one answer per response" is just silly and you should ignore it and concentrate on providing the best question possible.

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