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It's worth to mention that I'm still a newbie on Physics SE and SE in general, but during this year or so I found that different sites have different "standard" ways of answering (and there's nothing wrong with that in principle). As an example, the Role-playing Games' answers almost all have the same structure:

Big, concise answer

Paragraph(s) explaining the answer

Eventual paragraph(s) on related topics or specifications

like this, and personally, I find it very easy to understand and I try to always answer in a similar manner, as opposed to "specifications, then answer but not clearly stated", like this. Is there a reason why a lot of people don't do this? Is it just different ways of explaining for different people, or is it a site-related thing?

Disclaimer: I'm not talking about those awesome huge answers that explain everything in a great detail better than a physics book, nor about opinion-based answers (but they shouldn't belong to the site anyway). I'm talking about "normal" answers.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it is because the answers of the RPG SE have more likely a single-sentence summary. Most PSE answers have not. My another reason to not answer on this way is that it would look as if I would want to attract attention on an unfair way. However, I still like to answer with a summary in the first sentence, and then explaining it in the body. $\endgroup$ – peterh - Reinstate Monica Jul 29 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I follow. You're just asking why all users don't put a bold, one sentence answer at the top of their answers? $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Jul 29 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ If you don’t like an answer there’s the possibility to vote it down or add a comment requesting additional information. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Jul 30 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ It just looks gaudy to me. It looks like the flavorless, nuance-free, SEO-optimized and click-optimized "content" that pollutes lesser sites. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Jul 30 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ The marking "TL;DR" is originally an editing mark meaning "Too long; Didn't read". That's not a compliment to your writing, it's a statement that you filled the text with too much junk. The editor is telling you to cut what's below not complimenting you on having written a good summary. So an answer that marks itself or part of itself "TL;DR" is basically saying you did a poor job of writing your own answer. Now if you wanted to ask why people don't write a summary of their answer at the top before getting into detail, that's a different question.... $\endgroup$ – Brick Aug 12 at 14:59
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It's really just personal preference in how one chooses to construct the answer.

Sometimes people will put a "TL;DR" at the top, or the bottom, to summarize things which is kind of what you're looking for. Not everybody does though.

The "issue" you describe, where you get a lot of extra information and details before the punchline, is a trend that I notice in my work with other scientists and engineers. I can't tell you how many times a yes or no question gets a 10 minute response in a meeting where somebody tells us about all possible options and not just the one we asked about.

Part of this could be related to academic writing training -- a formal journal paper isn't really constructed in the way you describe. They tend to be structured with a background, a methods/equations/etc section, results, discussion, and the conclusions. The style of writing you refer to is more like what journalists do -- it's called an inverted pyramid style of writing.

The inverted pyramid is pretty useful because it let's people read as deeply as they need to in order to understand the point. When possible, I try to write my answers along similar lines -- and I also try to structure my journal articles similarly, at least for the abstract and then within each section, but that's a work in progress (like writing always is)!

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  • $\begingroup$ This clarifies it, thanks. $\endgroup$ – Mauro Giliberti Jul 29 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ "a formal journal paper isn't really constructed in the way you describe" -- indeed. It would be a real drag to have to write a quick, complete, 250-word TL;DR jab at the top of every paper that explained in a concise way what the whole thing was about. Oh, wait... $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 3 at 8:49

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