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There's been a recent spike in flagging as 'not an answer'. In most cases the answers are either inaccurate, not very good, or just plain wrong. Since they don't add much, it can feel reasonable to try and get them eradicated by mod-hammer.

These flags are being made in good faith, by conscientious members of the community, and we (moderators) are grateful for the many moderation situations that are correctly pointed out every day.

However, moderators commonly reject these flags. Why?

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The purpose of the 'not an answer' flag is well summarised in the meta-discussion Flagging as 'not an answer'. I reproduce it here for convenience.


The "not an answer" flag is for the following situations:

  • The OP...
    • needed to update the question with new information, but posted the new information as an answer.
    • wanted to reply to an existing comment or answer, but posted the reply as an answer.
    • posted a "resolution answer" saying something along the lines of "Joe's answer worked for me"
  • A user...
    • wants to reply to the OP, an answerer or a commenter, but doesn't have enough rep, and instead of thinking "maybe there's a reason I'm not allowed to post comments," ignores the help text about what an answer is.
    • posts to say "I'm having this problem too, does anyone have a solution yet?"
    • has a related issue and isn't aware of the "Ask Question" button.

These are common situations for new SO users who may be confused by the reputation, editing and/or commenting systems. They may be used to forums where it's normal to add a new post underneath the existing posts, and blindly click the "Post Your Answer" button.


So:

  1. If the answer really isn't an answer, but something else entirely (see above), flag it.
  2. If an answer is technically inaccurate, wrong, or just doesn't answer the question, downvote it.
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    If what you are saying is correct (specifically in regards to downvoting answers that don't attempt to answer the question rather than flagging), I feel like the wording of the "Not an answer" flag in the dialog should be changed. It currently reads "This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether." The part I have bolded I believe is currently saying that in this situation, flagging is correct. – bengoesboom Nov 20 '13 at 18:18
  • @bengoesboom - I am quite certain that what I'm saying here is the intended usage. I agree that the wording is a little ambiguous. It depends on the intent of the answerer. I'm not sure what a better wording might be. If you have suggestions, the place to raise that to the team would be on meta.stackoverflow.com. – ire_and_curses Nov 20 '13 at 18:43
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    Re your final sentence, if it "just doesn't answer the question", isn't that "not an answer"? For example, if somebody asks how to speed up a game of Diplomacy, an "answer" saying "play Civilization instead" is NAA, right? (Also a silly comparison, but I hope you know what I mean...) – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 18:25
  • @Monica Cellio - The distinction is whether a moderator can and should make the call. NAA shouldn't require any expertise in the area in order to evaluate it. It should be obviously not an answer, because it's something else. The quality of that answer is a totally different call. That's not a moderator's job (even if they happen to have such expertise). The voting system is an excellent mechanism for evaluating the quality of answers. In your example, the 'answer' should be downvoted into oblivion. It can and will eventually be deleted by high-rep user consensus, if that's warranted. – ire_and_curses Nov 21 '13 at 18:47
  • @Monica Cellio - To put it another way, flagging a poor answer is a kind of privilege escalation. You're saying "Hey! This answer is rubbish! In fact it's so terrible it should just be eradicated! I'm an expert, and I am telling you it's the case. I'm not sure whether you can be as sure as me, but just trust me, ok? So just delete it, please?" You can't do that through non-mod channels, and for good reason. It needs a consensus of high-rep users, and significant downvotes, to delete posts. Mod powers are for exceptions not handled by the rest of the system. Bad answers are not an exception. – ire_and_curses Nov 21 '13 at 18:53
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    Hmm, ok. I would have thought that a question about game X that's answered with "play game Y instead" would be unambiguously NAA. (I should also note that this is theoretical; I haven't cast any flags on this site recently.) – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 18:58
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    @Monica Cellio - There's clearly a grey area, but the problem with grey areas is the edges. One could argue that your example is fairly 'obvious' from a quality standpoint. But if that answer explained in detail the reasoning, then this could be perfectly valid. We see this all the time on StackOverflow. "How do I write a script to do foo?" "Don't do that! Use tool bar instead! It's safer/more reliable/what everyone else does." All I'm saying is such judgements are best left to the community, not individuals, even moderators with the best of intentions. – ire_and_curses Nov 21 '13 at 19:17
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Moderators aren't supposed to be the deciders of correctness, and the bar for deleting answers as not an answer is fairly high.

You should only flag an answer if it is not even intended to be an answer.

These often take the form of clarification question, thank yous, and "I'm having this problem too" answers.

Even if an answer is an answer to a mis-understood question, so long as the writer intended to write an answer to the question he/she thought the OP was asking, than the not an answer flag is not appropriate.

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  • If only moderators understood this before deleting answers. – user1873 Nov 22 '13 at 2:59

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