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Somewhat related to this meta question, discussing the proper mix of high-level and common-knowledge level content on a technical SE site, I'm wondering about how we might best go about answering questions on different levels of technical sophistication. In particular, is it problematic when a highly detailed answer is provided to a 'lighter' question, potentially confusing an 'early learner' who hasn't yet been introduced to the finer subtleties of a topic?

Two examples:

Essentially, given the slow, progressive manner in which modern chemistry education introduces the subtleties of the topic, should we try to answer questioners as close to their level of chemical understanding as possible, even if a "more correct" answer could be provided? Or, should we strive to answer on both levels, to assist both the questioner and potential future searchers looking for more depth?

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for bringing this up. I hardly can add any more than already stated by Ben. Just always keep in mind, that the comment section exists to clarify certain points, so if an answer shoots too high, the OP can always ask for clarification. Having more than just one answer is also quite good to approach a problem from various angles. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jul 8 '15 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ Related: Are simplified answers to questions permissible? $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 12 '17 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin precisely, this is what I had thought when I answered this question. I felt that the other answers were going too advanced into quantum mechanics, while the OP was just getting on with the Bohr model. However I'd like to hear your opinion on this. $\endgroup$ – Pritt says Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '17 at 13:31
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TL;DR:

  • Provide the best answer that you can to the question.
  • If you feel that someone else's answer is at too high of a level and you can provide one at a lower level, do so.
  • If you feel that there is a higher level answer that can help other users in addition to the questioner and you can provide it, do so.
  • Let the questioner accept the answer that is most helpful to the questioner.
  • Let the community do their part and upvote good answers at all levels and downvote bad answers.

Should we try to answer questioners as close to their level of chemical understanding as possible, even if a "more correct" answer could be provided? Or, should we strive to answer on both levels, to assist both the questioner and potential future searchers looking for more depth?

We need to do the last one whenever we can and let the questioner and community do their jobs to help us answerers figure out which answer(s) were best. Providing answers on both levels benefits the most people. The questioner may appreciate the lower-level answer. A new user at the level of the question will be most helped by the answer that the questioner accepts. However, another new user may come along and have the same question at the higher level. Other users may learn from both posts about how our models of chemical behavior evolve.

More importantly, providing multiple answers is true to the Stack Exchange model! The nature of chemistry as a subject is that there tend to only be one or at most a small set of correct answers. In other fields there may be more than one way of doing things. Compare Chemistry (1.5 answers per question) to Mathematics (2.6 answers per question) to The Workplace (3.5) at Area 51.

The Community shall help the questioner decide which answer is best by voting. See also the following post, the answers to which lay out the differences between community upvoting and the questioner accepting an answer.

Why do incorrect answers keep getting "accepted"?

The questioner can and should accept the answer that was most useful. The community should upvote any answer they feel adds value.

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