When I am flagging answers I read

This was posted as an answer, but it does not answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.

This is very broad and does not say when an answer is eligible to (or should) be flagged.

Usually, this leads to rejection reasons that do not match the description or flag reason:



(^ wrong rejection reason, complete opposite of what I said)


(^ wrong rejection reason, OP has explicitly excluded the answer)


(^ wrong rejection reason, OP has already tried)

And so on...


There seems quite a mismatch in what (high reputation) users and moderators believe is wrong, or at least I can find no general text that tells me what to belief. I also don't like the guessing and debating that results from this, whereas understanding the moderator's view upon this can help a thousand times.

Hence, my three questions to the Super User moderators:

  1. So, to get this cleared up, in which cases should we flag "not an answer" answers?

  2. How should we flag eligible answers? What do we put as the close reason to be clear?

  3. What do we do when the answer is ineligbile for flagging, but isn't a good answer?


Here is an unmodified TL;DR summary of the important bits of the ♦ answers:

  1. If the post makes an effort to answer the question (even if it does a bad job of it) then it is an answer and this particular flag doesn't apply.

  2. Just flag them as not an answer. If you feel they're an odd case then flag them as other stating "not an answer; because x y z" or something similar.

  3. Add a comment explaining the problem (or upvote any comment that has already done so). If it's particularly bad for some reason then downvote the post.

We need to remember that moderators are human exception handlers.

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here's my take.

It's how I interpret the flags here as a mod and how I use them elsewhere on the network as a user.


In which cases should we flag "not an answer" answers?

The not an answer flag does not mean "this answer is not an answer to the question posed".
It means "the post isn't an answer at all" (see the "It should possibly be..." bit of the flag description, although the "deleted altogether" bit is painfully ambiguous)

I'd extend this to include answers that are answering something completely unrelated to the question at hand (eg, Q:"How do I backup my data?" A:"Mix together 300g flour, 100ml water, 250g prawns and a ripe banana"), but these are pretty rare to see anyway.

Not an answer does not include a post suggesting something the OP has already ruled out, such as in your 2nd and 3rd example flags. In that case it's just a "bad" answer (see answer to 3rd question).

It's not cut and dry, but essentially if the post makes an effort to answer the question (even if it does a bad job of it) then it is an answer and this particular flag doesn't apply.

How should we flag eligible answers? What do we put as the close reason to be clear?

I assume by "eligible answers" you mean those like I've outlined above as being not an answer?
And I'm assuming "close reason" is a typo for "flag reason"?
If those assumptions are correct then:

Just flag them as not an answer. If you feel they're an odd case then flag them as other stating "not an answer; because x y z" or something similar.

What do we do when the answer is ineligbile for flagging, but isn't a good answer?

First, I'm assuming there are no other problems with the post. Obviously if it's spam, offensive, appalling quality, etc you should flag it for whatever other reason might be suitable.

Assuming it can't be flagged for anything then the answer is valid within the confines of the system, it's not an exception and doesn't need moderator attention.

Add a comment explaining the problem (or upvote any comment that has already done so).
If it's particularly bad for some reason then downvote the post.

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    > Not an answer does not include a post suggesting something the OP has already ruled out – I believe the community begs to differ, as indicated by my previous meta question on this subject. There's no point in keeping redundant/obsolete answers around (unless they explain why something the OP has ruled out is not a good idea or where there's a workaround). – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 10:35
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    The third flag has nothing to with that too, the "answer" just said, "try X", while the OP already mentioned that he had tried X – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 10:55
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    @slhck: Then the community should deal with it themselves as they have the tools - down vote and comment . – Iain Apr 19 '12 at 11:07
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    @iain I've done my fair share of flagging too (> 1200 now), but my understanding was that anything that doesn't attempt to solve the problem should be deleted, because it's noise. This applies to redundant answers too, because there's no value gained from keeping them around. – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 11:25
  • Thanks @DMA57361, also welcome back (didn't see you handling flags / active for some time) to Super User. I will no longer use "not an answer" for "low quality / dumb" posts... :) – Tom Wijsman Apr 19 '12 at 12:48
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    @slhck: I think we (as high reputation users) should band together and sort out what we will use our delete votes for, perhaps in the VtC/D room? Not to undermine / override moderator's actions, but to delete stuff where we can do it and a moderator isn't really required. And if a moderator wants to, he can always jump into VtC/D room and walk through a few. As for your last comment, I kind of feel the same as to make the viewers read less stuff, that's why we are removing thanks, HTH from posts and more too... – Tom Wijsman Apr 19 '12 at 12:52
  • @TomWijsman Sounds like an idea, but let's face it: How many actively moderating 20k users do we have? You, Daniel, Journeyman, me, that's about it. Even the VtC/D room needs help from moderators for just closing questions, which even 3k users can do. – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 12:56
  • @slhck: Hmm, indeed a problem. Another meta question to raise that issue (perhaps even Meta.SO)? Or perhaps I should stop caring and leave from this whole moderation thing and just answer tons of questions instead, perhaps throw in an edit here and there... :/ – Tom Wijsman Apr 19 '12 at 12:58
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    @TomWijsman: When I was trying to marshal the 10k+ users on SF I asked that /review have a delete tab added to make it easier for us to see what was being nominated. More votes may help get it noticed. – Iain Apr 19 '12 at 13:34
  • @Iain: Hey, that's great, +1ed it. – Tom Wijsman Apr 19 '12 at 13:39
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    Inconsistent with this ♦ moderator post, unfortunately. While this explains the moderator behavior, it doesn't exactly resolve the problem. These "answers" are useless... – Daniel Beck Apr 19 '12 at 18:44
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    Also inconsistent with this comment by nhinkle♦: > I agree, in situations like these we should be deleting answers which suggest doing something that the asker already ruled out. /cc @dan, so maybe, DMA57361, could you discuss this with your fellow colleagues so we get a final, official response? – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 21:33
  • @DanielBeck: Exactly what I experience when flagging, moderators handle the same type of flag differently; consistency would indeed help here. Unaccepted the answer till it is resolved. I've not chosen to include that in the copy-pasted TL;DR summary anyway, because we have those two questions to refer to. But indeed, this full answer and flagging on SU show inconsistenties... – Tom Wijsman Apr 20 '12 at 9:31
  • I agree some of these suggest-something-question-has-excluded answers could be deleted, but it should not be an automatic reason to remove an answer. Consider that the OP maybe hadn't realised Y really could solve X how they wanted, so suggesting particular usage of Y could be the answer they really needed, in a sort of reverse XY Problem style. Sometimes of course it's clear that isn't the case, so downvote/comment etc. But imo they only deserve deletion if the answer doesn't add any value. @DanielBeck – DMA57361 Apr 20 '12 at 9:34
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    CC @slhck for above. Plus: Perfect consistency with the handling of edge cases is never going to occur (here or on the wider SE network), because not everyone agrees on which side of the fence each edge case lands on (or even if the fence exists, or what colour it is). That's true of the SE staff, mod teams and all the communities, and this is broadly a good thing imo (else they'd be no way to develop and change anything). That said, improving the consistency of flag handling can't really be a bad thing. – DMA57361 Apr 20 '12 at 9:38

in which cases should we flag "not an answer" answers?

"it does not answer the question" … actually entitles you to flag anything that logically does not answer what the OP asked for.

Simple cases

This could be, in the most obvious cases:

  • comments that don't really solve the problem (“reminds me of the time when my foo controller broke down as well …”)
  • a follow-up to another answer if it's not a standalone answer of its own
  • a clarification question that should have been posted as a comment
  • "I have the same problem!"
  • answers that exactly repeat what has already been said in other (possibly upvoted/accepted) answers
  • random gibberish or otherwise unsalvageable posts
  • spam

Redundant answers

Furthermore, you can flag:

  • "don't do that!", unless the answer mentions why exactly this is a better solution. See also How to Answer:

    What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”

  • "use this alternative", if the OP specifically has ruled out this exact alternative beforehand (as confirmed by the discussion here).
    If the answer mentions why the alternative is a better solution and how it overcomes what the OP thought of as impossible, then it should stay though.

  • "try this", if the OP specifically has already tried this (for example, as indicated in the original question or a follow-up comment).
    If you flag, make sure the answer was posted at a point in time where this was already known, otherwise then the person answering can't be blamed for not knowing (although short "try this" answers could be converted as comments if they're egregiously short).

Answers that don't logically answer the problem stated

Now, finally:

  • answers that state the obvious / repeat the situation of the OP, unless they explain the backgrounds and why it happens.

    Recent Example:
    Q: "Sometimes I need to hold my power button for a few seconds to boot my device. Why?"
    A: "Holding the power button for a few seconds force-reboots your device".

    In these cases, if you're unsure, let the OP handle it. If the OP is not satisfied with an answer, they'll most likely drop a comment, just as the user did in the example above. Since the OP is trusted with knowing what answer helped them best (because they can choose to mark it as accepted or not), they should also have the final say in what answers their question and what not.


How should we flag eligible answers? What do we put as the close reason to be clear?

Be as specific as possible. Mention if the OP has ruled out the answer too, this helps. Link to relevant meta posts. If unsure, raise it on chat.


What do we do when the answer is ineligbile for flagging, but isn't a good answer?

Downvote, comment.

  • Note that this is my personal opinion, not moderator policy. Feel free to disagree or point out problems. – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 10:29
  • I'll kind of ignore your answer till it receives enough upvotes or confirmation / edits from a moderator. – Tom Wijsman Apr 19 '12 at 12:47
  • Haha, no problem. Just my 2 cents anyway! – slhck Apr 19 '12 at 12:54
  • For things like superuser.com/a/54855/139040 which is snarky and doesn't try to actually answer the question or superuser.com/a/27184/139040 which doesn't really have any bearing on the question as asked, would it be better to bring the links over to VtC/D chat instead of flagging? Also, in following "related" questions, I end up in old weeds occasionally and I wonder if continuing to prune old non-answers is something I should be trying to do, or after a certain age (1 year or so), should I just ignore and just downvote them? – killermist Jun 25 '12 at 3:58
  • For these two cases (and generally, anything that is at least an attempt to answer the question, but a really bad one), just downvote and comment. The goal would be to have the OP delete the post themselves. This is even encouraged through the Peer Pressure badge. @killermist – slhck Jun 25 '12 at 7:24
  • Pruning old non-answers is of course allowed and encouraged! We always try to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high, no matter how old a topic is. However, for old answers and posts where you're almost sure the OP will never return (e.g. one-rep users who never came online again, deleted users, et cetera), there's rarely any point in downvoting, since the OP won't bother to fix their post or delete it themselves. If you find something that is really "not an answer" in the sense of what we've tried to clarify here, go ahead and flag. @killermist – slhck Jun 25 '12 at 7:26
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    Finally, note that moderators should never have to judge the contents of a post. So, if something is an answer to the question, but just "bad", what should they do about it? But, if they see you genuinely trying to help, they will err on the side of clearing the flag as "helpful", even when a post is not deleted. In cases where you're not sure, visit our moderator chat room and drop some links there. – slhck Jun 25 '12 at 7:28
  • @slhck: Sorry for treading on a moribund thread, but (1) Why do you say “comments that don’t really solve the problem but are off-topic”? ISTM that either “comments that don’t really solve the problem and are off-topic” or “… that don’t really solve the problem but are on-topic” would make more sense. (2) You say “for old answers and posts where you’re almost sure the OP will never return …, there’s rarely any point in down voting”. Well, as you know, down voting causes an “answer” to drop in the display for users who sort by votes, and down voting to −3 or below makes a post go dim. – Scott Aug 26 at 15:50
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    @Scott Eh, that was over six years ago! I rephrased that one sentence – you were right in that it was illogical. About downvotes, I think I was talking about flagging posts and downvoting them which I perhaps thought wasn't necessary. Of course, one should always downvote bad content (to push it down, to make it fade out, to enable high-rep users to click delete, etc.) – slhck Aug 26 at 16:01
  • So we’re saying that, if the question asks ‘‘How do I drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco?’’, and the answer describes how to drive from New York to Boston (or how to take the train from New York to San Francisco), then it’s not NAA, because it is an answer to some question that’s vaguely related to the one that was asked?  You can understand how people are exasperated by this interpretation, right? – Scott Aug 26 at 16:09
  • @Scott As a former mod, what would always trouble me are flag reasons that require me to make a technical judgement. If the rationale is clear (e.g. question clearly specifies macOS, but answer is about Windows) and expressed as such in the flag reason (and not just “not an answer”), I'd say it's fine to flag. But that's my personal interpretation; not sure how the mod team handles it these days. I've been a little out of touch with the SE mod team for a few years. – slhck Aug 26 at 18:01

I've done my fair share of flagging over on SF and now I have a ♦ I've dealt with lots too.

As a high rep user there are few reasons for you to flag as you mostly have the tools to do what's necessary yourself (or in conjunction with other high rep users). You're pretty much stuck with Spam/Offensive or Not An Answer.

Remember that moderators are human exception handlers - the community should call on them when they can't do something themselves which should be rare as there is lots you can do.

Not an Answer

I tried to only flag 'answers' that didn't answer the question - the majority were 'me too' type of answers, stuff that should be comments or stuff that should have been an edit. I'd leave a comment about asking their own question merge text etc and then I'd flag saying what I'd done and what I thought was required.

If an answer was incorrect or said something that the OP specifically excluded then I'd leave a comment to that effect or downvote and comment etc - these are answers, you really shouldn't need to ask a moderator to deal with these as you have the tools to do it yourself.

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