Above all else, great answers teach. Imagine thousands of students reading that question, trying to learn the same thing. How could you explain the concept or problem so that the most people gain understanding? Different students will struggle at different stages of an answer, and that is why it’s important to answer questions completely rather than focusing on what one student might find most challenging.
The best answers are considerate of the level of understanding a student asking the question might have. They stop and identify the concepts involved in the topic and balance a brief explanation of key terminology with links for deeper reading and understanding. Generally, all subject-specific concepts should be linked to somewhere readers can learn more.
Great answers should be focused on teaching, which means using the tools that teachers use. Some explanations aren’t complete without a well-chosen example applying the underlying concept or an analogy that makes complicated concepts more accessible.
An important part of a great answer is a brief summary at the beginning. This helps students gauge quickly whether your answer will teach them what they’re trying to learn. Summaries also make the most critical points of your answer memorable and easier to digest. There are exceptions to the rule but the guiding principle is that providing a simple summary of the answer at the top goes a long way in helping students grasp the explanation that follows.
Images often explain a concept faster and more memorably than words alone. Video is one of the richest mediums for teaching. We welcome both in answers as a powerful supplement. Media paired with a strong explanation helps maximize the chances that different types of learners will remember your answer.
Length is a tricky guideline for answers. It’s almost impossible for very short answers to accomplish the other guidelines for great answers. However, very long answers aren’t always best either; they can intimidate students and make for dense reading. The best answers tow the line and use links to other questions or pages to cover more ground.
Equation formatting, paragraph breaks, bullet points and other organizational love all make your answer that much easier to digest. Big blocks of text are tough to get through and are more likely to cause confusion in the process. Important terms should be bolded to draw a student’s attention to the details they should know.