Why did I delete your answer?

2015-11-13 by . 3 comments

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Imagine someone has a question about physics, say “How can I figure out the acceleration due to gravity?”

A physicist answers with “You can throw a bowling ball from various floors of a multistorey building.” The physicist knows in their head the experiment they would perform. It’s so obvious to them that they skim over the details and say what they see to be the key points, and assume that the person asking will figure the rest out.

The problem with this is that a non-physicist has asked the question, and they don’t know the details that the physicist skimmed over. If they did, they maybe wouldn’t have to ask the question. Thus, the person asking the question is little better off than they were before asking.

Now imagine this is a single word request:

Word for staring wide-eyed at a TV

I saw my son staring wide-eyed at the television. His face looked so comical to me. Is there a word to describe such wide-eyed staring?

I’d like to use it like “My son was staring at the TV last night, it was so funny to see.”, but I don’t like staring because it doesn’t emphasise his wide-eyed-ness.

Is there a word that would better describe what I mean?

And then there is the answer:

I think you’re looking for goggling.

Now you and I know that is a good word for the situation, but is it a helpful answer?

If you’re wondering, then let me tell you: it’s not. The Stack Exchange system itself will parse it and flag it as “low quality” and it will garner a comment from a moderator or other concerned member and then, if no improvements are made after a week or so, it will be deleted.

Yes, the asker now has a word to fill their gap, but the answer does not explain why goggling is fit for the purpose. The asker has no context to decide if this answer is the best fit, and no way to generalize the word to fit other situations.

Why is that important? The thing to remember is that the person who came here looking for an answer is unlikely to already know the answer. You don’t get many people who go around wondering “how many people know the word goggling?” (And I suspect most of those who do are crossword designers.)

If someone doesn’t already know the answer, then the details are important. When you suggest a word for a given context, you need to explain why it fits the context so that when they try and use it in the future they have a grasp on how the word works and what its connotations are.

I know many of you might complain that they should look it up in a dictionary. We’re a site for serious English language enthusiasts, after all.

That is irrelevant. An answer needs to be complete.

However, to entertain that idea for a moment. Most of our users are not serious enthusiasts. Most people come here looking for an answer and leave with one, without ever posting anything. That is the beauty of Stack Exchange.

That is why it is so important to leave a complete answer. With only half an answer, people will only half understand how to use a word.

So what does a better answer look like?

I think you’re looking for goggling. It’s from the verb *to goggle*, which means to stare at something with your eyes wide open and an amazed look on your face.

Instantly this answer is a lot more helpful. By adding a definition the answer now gives a clear explanation why the word is suitable. Also note that the definition isn’t from a reference. When giving the explanation a reference can be useful, but if you have your own way to articulate the meaning, then that is fine, too.

If you do use a reference it is essential to cite your source. If you copy and paste without citing your source the answer will be deleted as plagiarism. With a reference the answer would be:

I think you’re looking for goggling. From ODO, to goggle means:
Look with wide open eyes, typically in amazement

The important points to remember:

  • You are writing an answer for someone who doesn’t know anything about the word you’re suggesting.
  • An answer needs to explain the word in order for it to be useful.
  • If you are copy/pasting a definition you must cite where you got it from.

3 Comments

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  • Brian Ess says:

    Thank you Matt Ellen!

  • TankGirl says:

    Katrina, I think the proper way to form the sentence that you’re trying to convey is actually “Last night, My son was balancing a spoon on his nose.” Or you could even say “my son was balancing a spoon on his nose last night.” Both suggestions I’ve mentioned help to explain when, what, and who, in a more correct order which flow and make it easier for the reader or listener to understand or picture what you’re describing.. By saying “my son was last night balancing a spoon with his nose”, your words are jumbled and out of order. The listener or reader would have to give a second thought to what is happening. Most people, when listening to someone speak or while reading, tend to skip words and only focus on the main words which, when in the correct order makes perfect sense.to break it down, When you say “my son was last night balancing a spoon with his nose”, the first visual someone would get would be “my son” so now they know who you’re talking about. youre trying to tell them what he did, but they then hear “My son was last”. So now the person your telling your story to has to wait until you further explain some more details in order to know what you’re talking about. Right now they’re seeing him as “last” at something. “Night Balancing a spoon” what does that mean? What is night balancing and how was he last at doing it? Still not sure what you’re trying to say, you continue with “with his nose” as the listener or reader, I’d now have to go back and try to make sense of what I’d just heard. This is why it’s important to Put words in the correct context. With one of my suggestions, you can pick up rather quickly what’s happening before I even finish my sentence. “Last night” ok something happened last night. “My son” ok it happened to your son. “Was balancing” alright now what was he balancing? “A spoon” before you even say any more I’m already guessing that he’s balancing the spoon on his nose because that would make sense. “On his nose.” See how that flows more easily and makes better sense?

    • Tom says:

      You could also say – Last night my son balanced a spoon on his nose. Or My son balanced a spoon on his nose last night. (Why would he do that ?????????????????) LOL

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