Polite Answers Are Perceived as Higher Quality

A study published in Management Information Systems found that the more polite an answer is, the more likely it is to be viewed as a good answer. Researchers studied conversations in Stack Exchange, a community site for posting questions and answers, on which question posters rate responses.

The only exception to this finding is when the person posting the response is considered to be an expert. Then politeness doesn’t seem to matter.

To avoid this “politeness bias,” which could falsely elevate responses, the researchers propose giving more weight to ratings by users other than the poster. And rather than marking a response as “best answer,” responses could be marked “accepted.”

In the example, below, Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) workers discuss bank transfers.


We can see that the impolite answer is harsh, telling the poster to check instructions before asking a question, as if to say, “You’re wasting my time.” However, that answer provides almost identical information with one exception: “go to the Earnings page.” I’m not sure how helpful this is, but otherwise, the responses—at least in terms of clear instruction—are very similar.

This study reminds me of another that found well-written online reviews to increase sales—even if the review was negative. Although this is more about writing style and grammar than tone, both have implications for getting ideas accepted online.


  • How would you assess the two responses above? Could you see the questioner selecting the polite answer over the impolite answer for “best answer”?

  • How, if at all, are you influenced by writing style, grammar, and tone in online discussions and reviews?