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Right now I write my answers sort of like essays: the answer has a thesis, generally present somewhere in the first text block, and the most answer-y portions of the answer occur in the first and last (excepting a footnote style addendum, when present) text blocks, while the middle passages serve to explain and support each aspect of the answer.

Recently I was made aware that having critical information succinctly stated only in the last paragraph makes it less likely to be read, resulting in it seeming 'hidden'. It occurred to me that I could instead put information in descending order of importance, like a newspaper article, on the assumption people are only going to skim the answer.

Are either of these options expressly encouraged or discouraged by this site or SE policy? Is one generally better than the other or are they both good, but in different contexts (and what differentiates the relevant contexts)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to say that my grades in college improved dramatically when I learned that even in academic essays, the answer itself should be stated up front, and corroborating explanations later. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Dec 9 '14 at 8:18
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You're doing what will answer the question the best.

In most cases, this is neither essay nor newspaper form - believe it or not (I know some of our users don't) but many questions can be answered in a single paragraph. Keep in mind that adding an essay on a related subject or your related thoughts can degrade and not enhance the value of a concise answer to a question.

For questions that really do merit a longer-form answer, it's generally considered better (and will get you more votes, and more people will benefit from your answer) to not bury your lede and use newspaper form. If you just wind up towards your answer for a page, people will TL;DR it and move on.

Essay form is mainly of interest when in school. Business communication and other forms of communication generally stress brevity and giving the critical info with additional explanation below to be consumed if desired; forcing people to consume the basics first is not generally considered user friendly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I certainly agree with the point that overly long texts can detract from an answer. I've down-voted answers for having extensive unnecessary quotes, or a lot of writing that is tangential or only has a passing connection to the question before. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Dec 9 '14 at 9:36
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I tend to go with whatever seems to “work” for a particular answer, but in general having some kind of headline, abstract, or what have you, helps to give people a perspective on what your answer is, so they can read your case in the appropriate lens. It also does help those who, yes, don’t read entire answers – especially when they don’t know where a long answer is going.

But there aren’t any real formal style guides on this point. The goal is to provide clear, concise, correct answers that are well backed up. Whatever makes that happen is best.

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There's no policy on this. The voting system is designed to respond to what a community of experts considers quality, and, among other things, that includes clarity.

If you find that an answer isn't being well received, adjusting its accessibility is one way of responding. I use a blend of essay and newspaper information organisation, more or less of either depending on what I'm writing and what form it's taking.

Another useful too for leading the reader toward the most salient information is good headings. If they can glance at answer and see its structure, that can draw them in to find the crucial information. This is especially useful when important information is at the end by necessity or spread throughout the answer.

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