Background

David Stratton recently wrote in another answer:

I've been thinking it would be nice if we had a post here on META that would offer tips for editing Truthy posts to bring them in line with site guidelines.

I was also thinking this. So here is the post: please share your helpful hints about how an initially problematic answer can be refined into a good supported answer. My hope is that this will be a useful resource for new and experienced users alike. The rest of the post below is an attempt at introducing and framing the topic in a way that will make sense to new users. Everyone should feel free to edit it!


Apparently my answer is "truthy" and not "objective". What am I meant to do now?

When writing an answer, our natural instinct is to present the view that we believe to be correct. This view may come from training or education in a particular faith tradition, personal Bible study, experience of the world, and so on. In any case, we answer the question, and get the pleasant feeling of a job well done.

But then we are startled to find that other users seem to have a problem with it. Some of them take issue with particular points we've made, and before long we're drawn into a lengthy debate in the comments. Others are talking about "truthiness", objectivity, and the site guidelines, and suggesting edits to our answer. What are we meant to do now?

Before we get into the possible solutions, let me make something explicit: you are not being asked to change your beliefs. In fact, there are probably lots of people here who agree with you. The actual aim is for your answer to be made more useful to readers. We've found that answers that tell people what they ought to believe are not very useful, compared to answers that say what you do believe. The first kind of answer leads to arguing on the Internet, which is not what this site is about. With the second kind, readers can actually understand your position better, because you get to explain the context of your view within the Christian faith (How widespread is it currently or historically? How does it relate to other important beliefs? Who disagrees and why?), and back it up with solid external references. This is what we mean by being objective.

Below, you will find some concrete examples of how to make your answer a better fit for the purpose of the site.

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+1 Thanks for asking this. But, would you agree that the "title" question is more of, "How can I refine an answer to make it objective?" The main question as stated is good too; but probably a very different answer! –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 16:20
    
I.e. meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1473/… ... ? ... If you intend this Q to cover both initially writing and revising answers (not necessarily one's own), I'll delete the other one and we can work from here. –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 16:29
    
I reworded a little. I think this Q should be about editing - with the answers presenting specific 'bad patterns' and how to fix them. –  James T Jan 24 '13 at 16:31
    
OK. I edited your main title a bit too to bring it more in line. Is that an OK edit? –  svidgen Jan 24 '13 at 16:34
    
I like it, thanks. This also makes it applicable to users in general (not just the author of the answer). –  James T Jan 24 '13 at 16:36

1 Answer 1

Identify who agrees with you

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. When you answer a question from your own perspective, readers have no idea who you are and why you should be taken seriously. Try to figure out who, within Christianity, shares the belief or practice that you are talking about. This may mean:

  • A specific church, denomination, or organized tradition (Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, ...) or some group within them (Latin Rite, Anglo-Catholic, ...).
  • A group or trend that is not associated with a single denomination (evangelicals, young-Earth creationists, complementarians, egalitarians, Calvinists, Arminians, ...)
  • An important individual (Luther, Augustine, Barth, ...) especially if you can point to an authoritative piece of their writing.
  • A creed or confession (Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession of Faith, Thirty-Nine Articles, ...)

This will help readers to understand the context of what you have said, and give them a place to look for more information.

It is best not to use phrases like "anyone who takes the Bible seriously", or "people who are properly educated in science". These are just rhetorical flourishes, as well as being combative. Words like "seriously" or "properly" are value judgments that don't help the reader to understand precisely who you mean.

This sort of thing is important even when we are talking about the content of the Bible. There are many passages which are read differently by different people (even if they are trying to be "literal"). Those other people may well be wrong, but it's still useful for the reader to know who agrees with you and who doesn't.

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