I've only been active on StackExchange for a month or so and I've noticed a big divide between providing an answer that the user will find helpful and providing a technical answer that is correct.

As it is with most things, there is a "simple" answer to most questions and there is a "technically correct" answer that that often misses the point. I don't intend to be critical; rather I'm trying to decide whether the answers should be written from a technical point of view or an "average person" point of view.

An example is a question I replied to a few days ago regarding RAW "images". The technical answer is there's no such thing as a raw "image" - only raw data, which are interpreted as an image by whichever application you choose when viewing those data. The data can then be further interpreted using software to make adjustments so the image will appear a certain way.

However, the user was wondering whether they need to edit RAW images to make them look good. I answered the question in a way that I believed the user would understand, while still retaining enough detail to differentiate between a jpg image and a RAW file. I focused primarily on answering the question of whether the user should edit the image or not.

There was a variety of comments, most suggesting the answer is incorrect because there's no such thing as a "RAW image". The criticism is valid; however, that leads me back to my original question: Should the response be 100% technically correct (if possible), or should the response answer the user's question in terms (I assume) they would understand?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Good question, however you may get down voted either way by those who would have liked it the other way around - just saying. \$\endgroup\$
    – Goat
    Apr 12, 2016 at 18:31

4 Answers 4


I think we have a tendency here to get too technical, and we should encourage more simple, plain English answers. But in no circumstances should we settle for simple, plain English, but technically inaccurate answers. If you are being technically incorrect due to trying to dumb it down, they you need to try again. You can be simple and also accurate.

I don't think the comments are being pedantic. You are suggesting that you can view a RAW file on screen just as your camera saw it, that you can export RAW to JPG and nothing really happens except the format changes. And that you can share SOOC raw images with no editing. When in fact all of those things require a conversion process which applies sharpening, curves etc. and is not what the camera saw at all - what you see on your computer LCD is a JPG rendering, what you see on your computer screen is an editing program's rendering, etc.

I think you could reword your answer, or just leave out the talk of SOOC RAW and your answer would be fine. It has more upvotes than the more technically accurate answer, so it's obviously resonated with more people. But if it has technical inaccuracies, which you seem to accept, then by all means edit them out - they don't help your answer in any way

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, sometimes a good answer is more accessible and less detailed, but technically inaccurate is never acceptable. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15, 2016 at 11:46

My approach is: use whatever discourse which I want to.

It happens so that if a person got down to making an account on SE they will most probably appreciate an exact answer to their question and other connected clarifications - StackExchange emerged from succefful StackOverflow which is a right place for exact technical answers. The corpus of recorded Qs and As makes more people wanting exact answers communicate here and less people confused by comprehensive answers to register.

If my answer is overcomplicated other members will answer in other, simplier, way and there will be two versions: a simple and an exact one. Both will be upvoted, only one of them being accepted does not matter.

Users may appreciate answers written in an accessible language, too.

Answers containing both comprehensive and accessible viewpoints + solution are most valuable.

Users of SE do not hesitate asking additional questions.

So, the purposes of answering questions are:

  • solving the stated problem both for OP and for oher readers (not necessarily with experience similar to OP's)
  • enlightening on related subproblems and terms

Should the response be 100% technically correct (if possible), or should the response answer the user's question in terms (I assume) they would understand?

Both. You should be aiming to do both, not one or the other.

But then, I'm a technical writer by profession, and most of my working life has been spent boiling down highly technical material for non-tech audiences. Or different-tech audiences.

And I seem to have made a "career" on this SE of doing common sense answers and not burying the lede in the technical nitty gritty. Mostly. ... Ok, sometimes. :)

You should never state something that you know is technically incorrect or (and this is actually harder and where you might need reviewers) that could be interpreted as being incorrect.

One guiding principal of technical writing is that accuracy trumps completeness. Giving someone an accurate but incomplete answer is always more helpful than giving them a complete but inaccurate answer.

I also know that my writing isn't sacred, and criticism can be constructive material to help you build a stronger answer; but this is not surprising. I've been working for 20+ years in a department of 100+ writers/editors where process includes multiple peer reviews on everything. I've had everything about my writing questioned at one time or another.

There is no shame in accepting help to have the weak points of your answer pointed out so you can fix them. And this is why we have comment, and edit capability. The problem is that for most non-professional writers, your ego is tied into your words, and you're seeing criticism of your writing as criticism of you and your knowledge. And this is hard not to do.

Maybe try to think of it as a form of spellchecking. :) Try to get past the ego-bruise to focus on making a stronger answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really wish I could upvote this more. Really, you're hitting at the heart of the matter of why we do (or at least, try to do) what we do here. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb Mod
    May 10, 2016 at 0:04

One of the option to handle these kind of questions, where the OP has likely misunderstood the terminology of the words are to explain to them about the usage of such terms without too much technical details. Such as:

RAW images are actually RAW data and always require processing because there is no way to directly represent such data. Hence everything you see on a screen is post-processed. You job here is to make adjustment to the post-processing. This is what gives RAW their charm in professional photography.

I believe statements like this are suited to everyone with minimal technical details and reasonable amount of explanation (in plain simple English)


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