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In my extensive time on the review queues and 10k tools, there's one thing that's always been bothering me: low-quality answers that consist of no more than a few sentences and often a link to external content without meaningful explanation.

In the past, I've flagged some of these posts in the past with NAA, VLQ, and custom moderator attention flags like "convert to comment". I've had mixed results, ranging from deletion or conversion to comment to the flags getting declined with "flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention". I've also tried posting comments asking the author to expand on them or to explain linked content, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm not doing enough.

Considering the quality standards we hold ourselves to here at Stack Exchange, I've always felt that such low-quality answers do not merit full answer posts and should be comments. Is this stance appropriate? Ignoring obviously bad posts such as spam or questions posted as answers, how should I handle these answers?

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    Keep in mind that new users CANNOT comment, and may have no other way to communicate with OP. – James Jan 9 '15 at 15:01
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One criterion that may be a useful distinction is whether it actually, directly answers the question/solves the problem, or just provides a starting point for the OP to research their own answer.

Most link-only answers, link + a couple of sentence answers, or just couple of sentence answers, refer to a tool or general approach but don't explain how to actually solve the problem using it. So it doesn't answer the question (not an answer), rather it's a helpful suggestion (comment).

So for these, there is a criterion that can serve as the basis for a flag, then the result depends on whether the moderator agrees.

Two other kinds of low quality answers:

  • Pabulum answers (trivial generic information that may be technically true but basically useless).

  • Duplicate answers (recycling what someone else has already answered, especially when in a less useful form).

Perhaps a case can be made for some pabulum answers that they are just comments and flag them on that basis. However, these two categories can both meet the definition of an answer and their value is in the eye of the beholder. It isn't clear that there is a defined basis for deleting them, at least one that doesn't involve a value judgement and potential difference of opinion.

The best tool, in this case, may be downvotes. Adding comments about what is wrong with the answer and how to improve it may lead to improvement in some cases. The comment will also call attention to the problem and others may notice it, agree, and downvote. Downvotes can be better than deletion in some respects. Deleted answers are gone. Downvoted answers remain as an example of what not to do (and the comments explain why not to do it).

As @killermist points out, a pabulum answer could be appropriate, so downvotes need to consider the context of the question.

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    +1 For employing a combination of downvotes and comments on those answers that aren't clearly in need of a flag. – Twisty Impersonator Dec 27 '14 at 14:05
  • I'd rename "Duplicate answers" to "Degraded answers". Many should be a comment on the original answer instead of another answer entirely. I agree that both answers can be at least partially mitigated by use of downvoting the junk answer. Sometimes a pabulum answer is all the asker needs because the asker is sufficiently out of their depth to know what keywords they need when hitting a search engine to find a solution. Further, a more specific answer may be the opposite of what they want because it will lead to things that aren't what they want. – killermist Dec 31 '14 at 20:04
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You could always downvote.

In general that's what I do when I see a answer that's not trying hard enough, but not quite passed the threshold of "KILL IT KEEEEEL IT".

I also consider such questions a good way to make a point. I try to post excellent answer to these, covering stuff the LQ answers missed out.

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    I agree especially with the "downvote, comment, and make a better answer" method. :-) – Ben Jan 4 '15 at 14:02

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