I occassionally see answers to questions which appear to require a greater level of knowlege than the asker has. Should votes be cast on answers depending on how understandable they are to the asker?

People who view the question (and of course the asker themself) and have a vested interest in it probably share a similar level of experience in the subject as the user who is asking. So if a user posts an answer which is well beyond the understanding of the user who asked, then I don't see how it fulfills the goal of providing coherent Q&A style content to the site-- the target demographic of the answer is different to that of the question, so who is the target demographic of the post on the whole?

I recognize that it's impossible to tell what exactly the level of understanding of the asking user is, but when an elementary question is asked, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the asker doesn't have a broad knowlege of the topic.

An example is this question. Of the two most highly voted answers, one involves more advanced concepts than the other. It seems to me that the very fact that the asker is asking the question indicates that their knowlege of abstract algebra is not extensive enough to understand this more complex answer; even if it is more generalized and insightful.

Should I upvote/downvote on answers like these according to how well I think they suit the (asking) audience of the question?

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ My view is that there should be at least one answer which is aimed for the level of the OP. If there is a good one, there's no issue adding more answers on a more advanced level. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Jul 3, 2014 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ See here: Is it OK to answer a question with a higher level of mathematics than I expect the OP to know? It seems that it is ok posting the answers which require more knowledge than the OP has. (Of course, we can only guess what the OP knows, but based on the formulation of the post and other questions of the same user, we can often make a reasonable guess.) $\endgroup$ Jul 3, 2014 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ So which is the priority: provision of answers which are elegant$\vee$insightful or accessible? $\endgroup$
    – Myridium
    Jul 3, 2014 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ Priority? You have yours, I have mine, she has hers, we all post answers, it works out in the end. Don't stress. $\endgroup$ Jul 3, 2014 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ones which are correct and seem at the right level would be the most likely to get my vote. Ones that are correct but are clearly at a wrong level might not get a vote from me, but wouldn't get a downvote. I might be driven to a downvote if an answer at the wrong level is overcomplex to the point of being useless, or somehow poorly written (or of course, if it is incorrect.) $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jul 4, 2014 at 17:58

2 Answers 2


My personal opinion is that no,votes should be cast based on the answer's validity/clarity, independent of who asked the question.

This is consistent with the StackExchange mindset of being a repository of knowledge, and not a Q&A site. We build a repository of knowledge through questions and answers, but we do not exist to simply answer questions. Thus, it makes perfect sense to upvote a correct and clear answer, regardless of whether the asker has the mathematical maturity to understand it.

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    $\begingroup$ Fine, but, will people come here to ask questions if they keep getting answers they can't understand? $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2014 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ And is more information delivered through searching the repository, or asking the questions? $\endgroup$
    – Myridium
    Jul 7, 2014 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I understand your point, but I don't see that as a extant problem. Ideally, a question would have answers in all ranges; i.e. some answers discussing the easiest (in terms of mathematical knowledge) possible route with others explaining how higher math makes a problem shorter to solve. A good example of what I am thinking is with certain integrals: some can be solved painstakingly with trig substitution, while switching to complex methods makes the problem trivial. tl;dr: I'm not saying we should only give highbrow answers; these advanced answers would be additional. $\endgroup$
    – apnorton
    Jul 7, 2014 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Myridium Are you asking for the status quo, or for the ideal? Most of the lessons I receive from the site is through searching. I don't know about the average user. $\endgroup$
    – apnorton
    Jul 7, 2014 at 14:34

My criteria for upvoting an answer is, "how helpful is it to me?"

So if I'm the questioner, that's the criterion I would use.

In most cases, a reader will have a different level of understanding than the questioner. In this case, the reader ought to decide for himself/herself whether the answer is useful.

If I am the questioner, and a reader decides that a certain answer is useful, I have no problem with the reader's upvoting it, even if I do not.


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