Voyageur Technologique

Do Better Science by Answering Your Questions in Public

StackExchange for Open Science

If you’re doing science, you’re probably keeping notes, especially doing background reading. However, these private notebooks are where keypresses and knowledge go to die. The next time you have to figure something out, to make sure you understand it, leave a question + answer pair on the StackExchange dedicated to your branch of science.

StackExchange Question + Answer Pairs

StackExchange is a question and answer site with a dedicated community and awesome moderation tools. It also lets you simultaneously post a question and answer it yourself. This simple format is awesome for multiple reasons.

You’re helping yourself the most

When taking notes, the best way is to restructure the knowledge you’re trying to store. Writing the notes in public forces you to do this restructuring. You can’t just regurgitate, you have to write so other people can jump in on your trail of reasoning. And by “other people”, I include your future self who’s forgotten you even had the question in the first place.

Easier than a blog post

Blog posts are hard. You have to consider an intended audience, scope and structure. When writing a question + answer pair on StackExchange, all of these choices are made for you:

  1. The audience is other people looking for the answers to the same question.
  2. The scope depends on the StackExchange site.
  3. The structure is a short question and answer.

I’ve written around 20 blogs posts, but I’ve written almost 200 questions and answers, because it’s so much easier when the details have been decided for you.

Become a better writer

In my experience, the difference between a good writer and a bad one is how much feedback they’ve gotten. On StackExchange, people are incentivized to suggest edits to your question. These edits are then reviewed by the community. Consequently, it’s common to revisit your question and find it greatly improved with carefully explained edits you can learn from.

Direct, focused feedback

With a typical blog, there are two metrics to measure the quality of your work: visits and (questionable) comments. With a StackExchange question + answer pair, I get to know if I helped someone else by visits, but also upvotes. I get to be notified if my answer has become out of date with focused and moderated comments left by other users. By reading other answers to the same question, I get to know if my answer wasn’t as complete as it could have been.

Nice feedback

Everyone will be nice or we’ll kick them out. StackExchange has excellent moderation tools and elected moderators. This means the community is always being led by it’s most enthusiastic members, not just the bitter old people who’ve been around the longest.

Try it. It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. You have no obligation to maintain your question and answer if your focus has moved on. If you get lost or overwhelmed, feel free to contact me.