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I noticed that this site is a bit fanatical about big lists.

Not that this is a problem per se, but I don't understand why basically every sort of question is considered answerable with an unnecessary big list even when there is nothing that could suggest this is the kind of answer the OP wants or needs.

I have answered a couple of questions with lists myself (here and here), but the questions were stated in a way that made this the only viable way to answer.

But I have asked a couple of questions that resulted in big list answers, even if in my opinion nothing could have suggested that this was what I wanted. I don't mean to give offense at all to the answerers, their posts were detailed and informative, but they simply were not exactly what I was asking.

In example, my Who was reputed to be the best swordsman of all Westeros? was answered with a long list of characters, even if the text of the question in my opinion was clear about asking for at most two names.

And, even on Which realm in Westeros had the best archers?, a big list was given as an answer, even if there was much less reason to do so. I was asking something different, and even if the poster improved and modified it according to my comments (pointing out that I was asking for something else), this was not exactly what I was hoping.

Again, no offence is meant towards the users that answered me!


How can I prevent this behaviour in the future? Why is not clear that if I ask details, references and clarifications about a single subject I'm not asking about a list of a thousand undetailed and unrelated entries?

Sometimes less is more, after all everyone can consult the wikis, if one asks something here is because, supposedly, he want a bit more detail about a single subject or because he don't have the time or don't want to read through a lot of things that are not pertinent to the question.

  • Why do you hate the things you, yourself, have posted? – Slacklord the Terrible Sep 19 '17 at 20:55
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    You've generally asked subjective questions which are only left open because of the "We don't know" answer policy. I suggest you ask objective questions with canonical answers in the future. – Edlothiad Sep 19 '17 at 21:07
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    To be honest, there's nothing you can do to stop me, personally. I don't like to give a 'here's this one thing that you wanted', I always like to give examples and expand on other possibilities as well, even if it's just in a 'honourable mentions' type of way. – Möoz Sep 20 '17 at 1:42
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    @Edlothiad If I'm askinq a question, it is because I don't know the answer; if I was aware of a canonical answer that resolved my doubts, there would not be the need to ask on the first place; again, your answer on my question was great and detailed and I liked it, like I have already written in my comments there; I'm just trying to understand an habit that seems a bit odd to me. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 13:15
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    @Sekhemty you don't have to know the answer to know it's subjective (and yes sometimes people are surprised that canonical evidence exists for something they wouldn't have expected) but the list answers are a potential downfall of the "We don't know" answer, as 3 words is crap. Therefore my answer which is a list of three elements one of which contains a list of many archers, is me trying to piece together what we do know in the best form I found possible. A large body of text would've been less digestible, in my opinion. – Edlothiad Sep 20 '17 at 13:17
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    @Möoz Well, but I think that the answeres should also consider what is asked by the OP: if I ask you for a glass of water because I'm thirsty, you are not giving me a good service by throwing me in a swimming pool just because, well "you want water, the more the better" :) – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 13:27
  • @Edlothiad you don't have to know the answer to know it's subjective It depends, in the example of the archers question, I did not recall if this was explained int the novels, and I was not going to reread them all just to satisfy this little curiosity; I really could not tell if this was something that "we don't know"; and of course I'm not talking about "lists" with the meaning of bullet list HTML tags or text formatting, but rather as a collection of items, as "inventories", when the question does not provide any indication that this is what the OP asked. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 13:32
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    @Axelord I don't hate anything, I'm just trying to understand. To be clear, I'm not against answers that provide lists of items, if the question is something like "how many X are there?", I just don't understand why, instead, questions like "what is Y?" lead to long list of items as well, when, in my opinion, there is no reason to do so. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 13:36
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    @Sekhemty than it is poor research effort, as a quick google effort would've revealed that answer. It may have still been worthy of asking as per our policies, but you'd have known going in "This might attract a list of answers". "but rather as a collection of items, as "inventories"" you've lost me there. – Edlothiad Sep 20 '17 at 13:38
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    @Edlothiad Honestly for that question a quick google search lead to nothing useful. And I really had no idea that asking what was the Kingdom with the most solid tradition in archary, would have ended in a listing of characters; this is the whole point of my question here, because I could not understand this. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 13:52
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    I got my info from a quick google, always do. Well it was the best way for me to collect data on which regions had produced good archers. If I'd just have said "Stormlands (4), the Reach (2), The North (2)" You'd have asked for data. – Edlothiad Sep 20 '17 at 14:02
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Answers are not just for the original questioner

If you are asking a question, you are certainly free to say that you prefer brief, concise answers. You can reward brief, concise answers with up votes and by accepting one of them as the answer. You can even down vote answers that you think are too lengthy (although I don't recommend that), but you can't prevent such answers being posted.

The goal of this site is to build a library of good questions and answers. Answers are not only intended to provide what the OP needs or wants, they are intended to provide answers that future readers may be looking for.

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    Nail on the head. +1. – Edlothiad Sep 19 '17 at 21:14
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    Ok, the answers stay here also for future reference, but I suppose that the main reason to provide one is to address to the question that was asked on the first hand and to stay on topic, not to be a "catch-all" for all the possible future questions. I suppose that the original asker should be taken into account more than future readers, that can ask their own questions if they don't find anything useful for them. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 14:07
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    In example, if Andy asks "Why the One Ring can control others" and Bobby provides him a list of all the rings given to elves, dwarves and humans, he is not really answering him; and if in the future, Charlie wants to ask "how many rings of power are there?", his question will probably be marked as duplicate of A.'s, just because of the answer of B. – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 14:13
  • @Sekhemty You give a good example. Andy's question is rather broad, Bobby's answer covers all the bases. Charlie's question is, indeed a duplicate as it is answered by Bobby's answer. – Blackwood Sep 20 '17 at 14:38
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    How could "C" question be a duplicate of "A" if they were asking two different things? "A" question might be broad and not answerable with a one-liner (but no one is interested in one-liner answers, so this is not a problem), but answering with a list of other things is slightly off-topic. And invalidates the legitimate question "C" that could not be aware of the contents of "B" answer just by the title of "A". – Sekhemty Sep 20 '17 at 14:50
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    @Sekhemty - We take quite a robust view of what constitutes a duplicate, typically allowing the wider question (or a question that has prompted a wider answer) to remain. People need to stop taking their question being closed as a duplicate so personallly – Valorum Sep 20 '17 at 20:43
  • I suggest linking meta.stackexchange.com/q/244534/311001, esp. at "you gotta get this to get us," as canonical site support for your answer. – nitsua60 Oct 1 '17 at 0:36
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It is not a list, it is research!

By showing why you came to a conclusion, through the exploration of different avenues, is the way great answers are built. The "list" reduces comments saying "Hey what about this other guy/thing/piece of information". A true expert in a work/universe will generally know where to find different examples that fit a question in some way. Using these examples to come to a well reasoned conclusion should be encouraged!

As in all good research it is all about Sources, Sources, Sources.

Stack Exchange as a whole encourages well-researched answers that provide a greater understanding to the question asked. Giving short one-line answers or answers with poor research are usually not well received.

In the end I don't think you can prevent this.

Users posting answer have their own style. If you feel the answer is not useful, you can down-vote it. You also have the power to accept any answer as well. If you get two answers that are the same, but feel one provides the information in a more concise way, the way you prefer, give it the ol' check mark.


As for specifics to the examples you listed in your question... They are both rather subjective in-universe. If an answer just provided a single point of reference there could be room for argument or multiple conflicting answers. The answers given try to take this into account and give you a full scope on how/why they arrived to their conclusion. This is to help you understand the scope of the question you asked.

  • Well, but if I'm asking you what time is it, I don't really need or want to be explained how you measure time, what is time from a physical point if view, what functions does your clock have, and especially I don't need a list of every single minute in a given day. I just need to know what time is it. – Sekhemty Sep 19 '17 at 20:26
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    And I hardly believe that a cut/paste from any given wiki qualifies as research. – Sekhemty Sep 19 '17 at 20:28
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    @Sekhemty The research I see is sourced from many places include the original works, supplementary works, and the wiki. Also, the SE network has a relatively low tolerance for what "research" counts as. We used to close questions that could easily be found using a search engine. That is long the case because we understand different people have different ways of finding information. Just because you know of a wiki that provides good information doesn't mean an asker does. As such, we do not assume that an asker is aware of these tools unless explicitly stated. – Skooba Sep 19 '17 at 20:33
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    Well, you are right here; but my original point stands: how can I prevent to get long list answers if I don't want them, and instead prefer a more concise and detailed reasoning about a single subject? – Sekhemty Sep 19 '17 at 20:36
  • @Sekhemty You can't. If a good answer contains lists, because it shows the research or helps out others besides you, then it will. If the 1st item doesn't have enough detail for you, you can ask for more in the comments or leave a bounty explaining you want more detail about that specific thing. – user31178 Sep 20 '17 at 5:16
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Why list answers are provided

People like lists

This is an easy thing to understand, as far as formatting is concerned, lists provide an easy way to:

  • Break up your sentence and paragraph structures
  • Make explicit the point you're talking about
  • Make additional points which might not be specifically related to the question
  • Summarise points made

This makes your answers more clear, concise and easy to follow for the reader(s).

Not every question is limited in scope

You may have asked about one thing, but that one thing may have related topics. In fact, that thing you asked about may not necessarily have an answer, or a single answer. Someone may want to provide related discussions that help supplement the answer.

Take for example my answer here. The OP is asking 'who the current ruler of Dorne is', where in fact, there either isn't one, or there could be options depending on 'x, y and z'. So I've given a list of options.

There may be more than one reason for the same answer

Breaking up the answer into a list of either possibilities or explanations increases your ability to make the answer more easy to understand. Especially if there is more than one way to get at the same answer

How you can limit responses that are 'lists'

Be specific and narrow your scope

Think about what it is that you're asking:

  • Could there be more to it than you think?
  • What might people's response to this be?
  • What do I really want to know here?

When you know the answer to those questions, you will be able to be very specific about what you're asking ,and the intended answers you're expecting.

Be explicit

You may also add a clause or statement, either

  • in a comment or
  • in the body of your question itself

requesting that answers don't be provided in 'list' format. This can help reduce inflammation the likelyhood that someone posts a list answer.

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    I like how you included a bunch of lists in this answer ... we are on meta, after all. – Rand al'Thor Sep 20 '17 at 7:08
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    I wanted to come here to say what Rand said. Those lists were far too meta. – Edlothiad Sep 20 '17 at 11:36
  • Really, I think this is the answer. People like lists. Once you type that first bullet, it's ... hard to stop. – akaioi Sep 29 '17 at 6:49
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If you can't say something new, say something better (and more is always better).

Consider this, there is a question you know the answer to, but none of the 3 existing answers say what you think the answer is. You could add your answer, but to anyone who doesn't know the universe, there is no way to tell why your answer is better or more right. Its just another person's opinion (especially if an existing answer has a source).

So you get lists. Lists say, "look at the research I did, and all these sources I found". Consider your question Which realm in Westeros had the best archers?. You asked a question, I gave an answer with ~50 words, one example, and a picture. The top voted answer has about 6000 words and a dozen examples. To those finding this on the HNQ, that seems like the better answer (I'm not commenting on if it is or not, I haven't read it in it entirety).

Making list/showing your work is a cheap way of looking like the better answer to people who don't know what they are looking at.

That said. I really don't know how to prevent it. Hold answers to better standards. Don't throw upvotes around as liberally. Comment when you think you see padding and recommend the answerer edits it down. Suggest your own edit to trim the padding.


Disclaimer: I'm not saying lists are a bad idea. We should always support our answers with sources. However, I do agree that it can get out of hand sometimes. Especially when it's questionably applicable, and mostly just padding.

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    I read your answer and this is the only thing I understood from it "my answer of 500 words is better than that list, he's just sucking up to the HNQ. This is a gross misunderstanding of not only my answer but list answers as well. – Edlothiad Sep 19 '17 at 20:47
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    @Edlothiad - I didn't mention you by name for a reason. I was talking about impressions without trying to objectively determine an answer good or bad. Our answers are good in different ways, which is the point of SFF. OP is wondering why we end up with lists, I'm speculating that later answers tend to be lists to overcome the perceived bias that timing introduces. – amflare Sep 19 '17 at 21:01
  • You seem to have gone directly from 6000 word "list answer" to "cheap way of looking like the better answer" seemingly because yours wasn't top. "I didn't mention you by name for a reason" good thing you added the link to the question ;) Can't find my name their either – Edlothiad Sep 19 '17 at 21:04
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    I don't think lists are cheap. That's a little harsh. Sometimes it's just the best way to present a lot of information, and having bullets instead of paragraph form makes it easier to skip and skim portions you're not an interested in. They can also be plenty of work to make on their own. Overly long lists can be a problem, but if I find myself losing interest I usually just abstain from voting or action. Just because I'm not interested doesn't mean it's not good information. – user31178 Sep 20 '17 at 5:26

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