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I attempted to answer a question about group dynamics today, which I did by talking about how I think this issue would be best resolved. I received two comments, suggesting that I should provide whether I had personal experience on the matter, in order to create a more cohesive, less speculative answer. Also, SevenSidedDie wrote:

We do prefer answers backed up by specific experience. If it does not exactly match, to be honest that is helpful for the reader to better validate its relevance, evaluate its effectiveness, and adapt it to their particular circumstances. It also helps separate the sounds-good-but-questionable-worth armchair advice from the hard-earned wisdom.

I'm willing to accept that and edit my answer accordingly, but I can't find a way to do that without - in my opinion - lessening the helpfulness of it. My answer is based on personal experience, but that seems like an irrelevant factor to me because each constellation of players will be different, so talking about experience just makes the answer unreasonably complex for no gain to the questioner (unless they're from my group themselves), and while I can add "this happened to me before" (I'm paraphrasing), the answer doesn't get any better by adding it.

Let me give you two example paragraphs, of which the first is something like what my answer contains, and the second what I believe bringing personal experience into it entails:

  1. The DM might be equally affected by the issue, or might escalate the situation even further if they adjust the adventure according to the problem
  2. I've experienced a DM adjusting the scenario in the attempt to solve a specific social problem, which did not have the intended result and everyone - including the player originally addressing the issue - ended up disappointed and less satisfied than with the original situation

The second sentence is longer and more convoluted, therefore less easy to grasp it's statement. It includes personal experience, but in turn sacrifices the "this may happen" clause, possibly suggesting to the reader that this is what I think will always be true. Specific to this sentence, it seems to always put the blame on th DM because they were in fault in my experience, while this doesn't have to be true - assuming this is valid advice, the questioner might discard it because they take the specifics from my personal example, skipping over the point I originally tried to make.

Therefore, I believe that the second answer is the less optimal one. I'm thankful for any advice regarding where I'm "wrong" (or at least not following the guidelines), or even specific feedback to the example.


I would like to also add one of the comments to this question, which very well describes my own viewpoint:

I think an important question might be 'Why does everyone assume that an answerer has no experience?'. There shouldn't be an absolute requirement to back every answer up with 'proof' unless that answer is somehow lacking in other aspects.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have changed the term 'proof' to "support" since what we add into an answer supports our answer, or creates a well supported answer. (Supported by rules, by sound analysis, by experience, etc) I hope you don't mind the word smithing, but answers don't need proof, they need support. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 12 '17 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, I edited your answer to try and make it flow. Your structure and flow wasn't as good as your presentation of this question. Please go to your answer, review the edit I made; I hope that your meaning is retained. If not, please edit your answer again to get it to flow and to be phrased in more lucid prose. I had to force myself to read it all in order to try and be of some use in this Meta question. Apologies if this sounds harsh: style counts in writing. If it flows well, people will read your whole answer; they'll bail out if it flows badly and then your message will be lost. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 12 '17 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: Your edit is much apprechiated, thanks. Criticism is good, as long as there's good reason for it. That's my predicament with the topic on this meta question, really ;) \$\endgroup\$ – TheThirdMan Jan 13 '17 at 9:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think an important question might be 'Why does everyone assume that an answerer has no experience?'. There shouldn't be an absolute requirement to back every answer up with 'proof' unless that answer is somehow lacking in other aspects. \$\endgroup\$ – Still Not Happy Jan 21 '17 at 11:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StillNotHappy The general point of SE sites is supported answers. So, how do you support an answer? As they say in Missouri, Show Me! (See also the BackItUp! principle on SO/SE in general. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 '17 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast: They still have a point, though... not all questions can be helpfully backed up by experience, and this certainly seems like a case that forces it. The question is too vague to give specific advice, and asking for experience to back it up doesn't get the questioner out of the thinking excersize situation, unless you advertise that they should now blindly believe me, as I have experienced something similar (or, maybe only claim to). Maybe the question should've been phrased differently, or fleshed out with more details regarding the game group? I'm not sure... \$\endgroup\$ – TheThirdMan Jan 21 '17 at 21:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheThirdMan I don't advocate blindly following anything. If you offer an experienced based answer and they still don't find it helpful, then the voting takes care of that. That a question may need work can also be true in a variety of similar cases in the "how do I do this?" from the GM perspective family of questions. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 '17 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StillNotHappy Assuming answerers have no experience isn't what we do here. Neither do we assume they do have experience. Answers that need us to complete them by assuming are simply incomplete and will get comments asking for details. We expect people to show their work and support their assertions, not leave us to take it on faith. That support expectation is also the only thing which allows SEs with subjective topics, like RPG.se, to exist in the first place, so we feel it's kinda important for the site's health-slash-existence. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 30 '17 at 21:47
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Your question restated: How should I provide examples of experience as support for my answer?

Use an organized packaging method (see below).

I'm willing to accept that and edit my answer accordingly, but I can't find a way to do that without - in my opinion - lessening the helpfulness of it.

As written, it's not very helpful. It won't be helpful until you add some of the experiences that you've had that led you to offer the recommendations in your answer.

How to package your experiences in an answer when you use experience to support the answer.

  1. Explain the similar situation you were in (identical is not necessary, similar suffices)

  2. Explain the conflict/problem

  3. Explain the resolution.

  4. Explain which bits of your experience fit (in your judgment) with the problem posed in the question.

That's how you do it.

An example of this format is in this fairly long answer. I'd shorten it today, but its virtue is organization and specific examples of what I did, rolled into what you can do, as well as how to take what I did (which used older technology) and adapt it to modern technology.

Here is a good experience example from a DM trying to fold advanced weapons into a D&D 5 campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You realise that you didn't point out that your experience of answering questions led you to this right? So you've answered a question in the opposite way to which you recommend... \$\endgroup\$ – Still Not Happy Jan 21 '17 at 11:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StillNotHappy That's rather droll, now that you mention it. Would you like me to provide an example? My objective in answering this was brevity, and a simple framework (how to organize an answer) that is easy to understand without a lot of extra text. I am not sure that this format (meta) requires the "experience" or "sources" when someone asks for help ... and the answer did get accepted so I think the way this was presented was helpful. I've had to adapt a particular style in answering at RPG.SE since most of my answers aren't how I normally write. (headers, bullets, numbers, etc) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 '17 at 14:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StillNotHappy Another good example of the mantra “Meta is Different”. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 22 '17 at 19:39
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I like to refer to the advice about what good answers look like which can be found in (strangely enough) "What types of questions should I avoid asking?" It tells me to:

  • explain “why” and “how”
  • write long, not short, answers
  • use a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • share experiences over opinions
  • back up opinion with facts and references

Taken together, this means explaining clearly not just what my advice is, but also sharing:

  • how I learnt the techniques or insights I'm offering
  • why I think it's a good solution to the situation being asked about
  • what effect I think the advice will have

This leads naturally to sharing my experiences as part of my answers. It improves my advice (not replaces it!): specificity helps people judge the answer's usefulness to the original querent (making it easier to vote effectively) and helps future users tell whether my advice will be useful in their similar-but-not-quite-the-same situations.

Here's a few examples of well-received answers I've written in this style:

As it is, I'm not really clear what actionable advice you're offering the querent at all. Your answer describes a useful-sounding perspective, but empathy and a recognition that it's a primarily social challenge don't obviously point to specific solutions. We need you to connect the dots between the attitude and the action for us; the Stack doesn't do "we leave the solution as an exercise for the reader."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer not including specific advice is a good point, and I've edited it accordingly, even though that answer was more meant as a general example to resolve the question for me. Your answer is helpful in general, but I feel my argument about my example statement still stands: Sure I could provide experience for the sake of it, but it would result in a less optimal answer. \$\endgroup\$ – TheThirdMan Jan 12 '17 at 10:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how sharing the specific instances which taught you a general principle is going to make the general principle any less useful; nobody's asking you to replace the advice with the experience. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jan 12 '17 at 10:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the last paragraph \$\endgroup\$ – fectin - free Monica Jan 12 '17 at 15:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ any chance you can incorporate a link to the original Moms4Moms Back It Up principle (web.archive.org/web/20091009101403/http://moms4mom.com/…)? Just so when I see this answer I also remember that the Moms4Moms page is helpful too? \$\endgroup\$ – user1704 Jul 13 '17 at 3:12
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The second one is better, if a little tortured and perhaps better broken up into two sentences.

Here's the thing. Without any experience cited, you're just some guy giving opinions off the top of their head. "The DM might do X!" Well, the DM might be kidnapped by aliens too. The world is full of people with opinions about situations that they've never been in and therefore have very little insight into. Using their advice is like rolling a die at random.

For this question, it's a very good signifier to take advice seriously if it comes from someone who's had this or a similar dynamic problem in their group, or has seen one, or read about one. It doesn't have to be identical, but the description of the experience then helps to indicate what parts of the advice are on stronger ground and more applicable in this case and which might be weaker (e.g. "we had a new male player join an all male group and act helpless and other PCs picked up his slack all the time" would cover about half the dynamic in play here, but not the gender/sexual issues).

The only reason you think the first sentence is stronger is because you think anyone has any reason to take what you're saying seriously. But we don't. It's the Internet. As far as I know you've never talked to a girl and never played in an RPG. You have to ask yourself, why is your insight in this case better than someone's opinion who doesn't know what they're talking about? Well, part of the challenge is to communicate to us why.

We feel strongly enough about this on the stack that if all answers are just opinions with no experience, we close the question down or delete the answers. We're not a forum, we want to have high quality questions and answers for site members and the Googling public. The community may like an answer and vote it up - but if there's no evidence in the answer, then it's one of the times the community has stopped thinking clearly and gone the popularity-contest route, and again, that's not what we're here for.

So for everyone - what Back It Up! means is that you need to provide some evidence! From a book, from your game, from some podcast talking about the issue. Doesn't have to be yours, and it doesn't guarantee it's going to work because sure, every person and group is their own special little snowflake, but in the end there's a heck of a difference between "this is what we did and here's how it worked in one case" and "here's some random opinion no one has ever used, successfully or unsuccessfully." The latter is a waste of space on the site.

As for "how" - not sure how to answer that, use your words. Keep in mind the valuable part of your answer, to others, is what you've done in similar situations and how it turned out. The random un-backed-up "you should do this" is not the valuable part. So spent more answer-time on the former. As BESW points out, the answers that get really voted up and stand the test of time weave in experience in multiple ways. Check out the following "evil campaigns" answers:

That's how.

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