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I answered a question and my answer was (pick one)

  • deleted
  • converted to a comment
  • added to my question as an edit

Why was this? Why was my answer not acceptable?

What is the definition of an acceptable answer on StackOverflow?

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3  
There's also this section of the site FAQ. –  Anna Lear Jan 10 '12 at 21:15
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2 Answers

up vote 81 down vote accepted
+500

The following is a slight modification of my post on meta.gardening. Consider a hypothetical question:

How can I foo the bar in X?
I'm trying to foo the bar using qux. However, I get an error message <error>. What am I doing incorrectly?

When should I post a comment and when should I post an answer?

If your response is:     then it should be: Corrective action    Flag as NaA

 1 Can you post your     comment on the     If you wrote an          Yes
   code?                  question           answer, delete it 
                                             and leave a comment 
                                             instead. If you 
                                             don't have 50 rep,
                                             please wait until 
                                             you do.

 2 Have you fooed the baz?     "                    "                Yes

 3 What version of X are       "                    "                Yes
   you using?                 

 4 I've had the same           "                    "                Yes
   problem since 
   version X.1

 5 You missed a comma,         "            Flag question as         No
   which is causing                          "Too Localized,
   the error                                 Fix my Typo."

 6 This was discussed in       "            Vote to close as         Yes
   this question and answer                  duplicate.
   [internal link]

 7 The accepted answer   comment on the     Write a better answer    No
   is incorrect or no     answer             of your own or notify 
   longer accurate.                          the answerer.
 8 You cannot do that    an answer          Link to documentation    No
   in X because it                           if possible.
   doesn't support Y.

 9 This is what you're        "                    "                 No
   doing incorrectly. 
   [Explain]. Here's how it
   should be done [code]

10 Try this: [code]           "             Improve the answer.      No
                                             Explain why you think 
                                             that's the solution.  
                                             If it's a code only 
                                             answer, use comments to explain.

11 This is the problem:       "             If it's an external      No
   [Explain]. In a                           link, it helps to 
   related answer/blog                       document the key points 
   post, I/they discuss                      here so that the crux 
   blah [link] which might                   of the post is available 
   be of interest                            even if the link goes down. 
                                             Do it yourself or leave 
                                             a comment for the OP.
12 See here:            be heavily          The answer must be       Depends
   [external link]       improved            improved as described 
                                             above, else it will be deleted. 
                                             Downvote if link is tangential to
                                             the question. Write a new answer 
                                             with details and then flag as 
                                             Not an Answer. 
                                             Also flag if the link is broken.

13 I've tried these     a new question      If you have +75 rep,     Yes
   solutions and it                          consider placing a bounty
   doesn't work on                           to seek a better answer.
   [operating system].                       If not (or if it's
   How should I modify the                   different enough), 
   solution to make it work?                 ask a new question.
14 Thanks man,          deleted              Glad it worked, but     Yes
    this worked!!1!                           seriously, just 
                                              upvote it if you have 
                                              the reputation.
15 Sir, I am having a   deleted with         Do not encourage these   Yes
   similar project       extreme              users to ask new questions - 
   this is due           prejudice            they're most likely 
   tomorrow. Can you                          going to be closed.
   please send me the code 
   for your project at [email]

Why should they be that way?

The first three responses are clearly asking for more information and don't answer the question. Fourth is merely a "me too" statement – adds nothing of value. If the only problem with the code is OP's clumsiness or if it's a dupe, they should be closed as "Too localized" or "Exact duplicate" respectively. If the former, the question should also be deleted (either by a mod or by 10k+ users). While #7 is helpful, it still doesn't answer the question. It is good practice to let the OP know that things have changed. If they don't respond, downvote and either move on or write a better answer if you know.

Responses #8,9 and 11 are what we'd like to see on this site. They are to the point, precise and informative. If you're referencing an earlier answer (could also be an external link), provide a crucial summary so as to make the answer self sufficient. This is important for two reasons: having the summary helps in the case of link rot (i.e., external links are dead because their site shut down) and to not have to make people click through a whole bunch of links just to get to the answer. They can proceed if they like what they see. It always helps to link to the relevant documentation/authoritative sources (quoting the important information) in your answers. Remember, in all these cases, you should cite the source(s) that you quoted (it is a good practice to make it explicit that you're quoting yourself). Feel free to edit them in an answer (not yours) if the OP hasn't done so, for after all, this is a collaboratively edited site.

Responses #10 and #12 are curt, and perhaps the most contentious of all. These are quite tricky as they do in fact answer the question, but not in a way that is considered a good answer. Moderators and frequent users generally try to encourage these users to expand on them or quote relevant parts. True, it is tempting to just leave a link and walk off as in #12. However, remember that the answers that you're leaving are not just for the person who asked the question, but for practically anyone who visits that page. If you're not willing do that, then it probably is a good idea to not post that link in the first place. #10, while technically the solution to the question, gives no indication or explanation as to why that is the solution. Beyond this, there is nothing much that can be done other than let the votes speak for itself. However, if you flag these as "Not an answer", you better be prepared for a loss in flag-weight. The only time it's acceptable to bring these to a moderator's attention is if the link is dead and there's nothing to indicate what might've been there.

Responses #13–15 are self explanatory, but please, do not encourage users who post #15 to ask questions here.

Why was my answer converted to a comment and why was I encouraged to post my comment as an answer?

Often when your responses belong to #1-#7, they don't answer the question and the moderators move the answer to the comments, where they belong (till the OP responds/updates their question). At times, when the answer is good, but falls a little short of being a great answer, moderators might nudge you to improve on certain sections or provide a little more info on the topic.

As for why answers/good info in comments is a bad idea, see this post by Robert Cartaino:

Comments were designed to simply ask for clarification about the original question. Comments are such a light-weight mechanism, that putting useful information in there can actually be somewhat harmful:

  • Comments cannot be properly vetted (voted on for correctness).
  • The information in comments is not editable by the community.
  • Comments are not easily searchable. When users are looking for your content, they are less likely to come here to find it.
  • When users see that a question has been answered in comments, they are less likely to contribute proper answers.
  • Questions with comment-based answers remain marked as "unanswered" by the system, so that does not bode well for the community.

When someone asks a question, members of the community are supposed to propose answers. Others vote on those answers so, very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer. Answers-as-comments breaks that entire structure.

Discussions in comments are no better than any bulletin board system on the Internet. Every time a new user comes along, they have to read through the initial post, then all the noise in the comments to get the whole story. You end up with valuable bits of the solution scattered among a bunch of noise and conversation. That's a condition we work very hard to prevent on these sites: The Chat Room/Forum Problem.

Ok great! So when should I use chat?

If you need to have extended discussions with the OP in order to get things clarified or to work out a solution, then you should consider using the chat instead of a back-n-forth in the comments. This way you can talk to your heart's content and still leave the question clutter free. You can also collaboratively work on an answer before writing it up.

Chat is an informal environment where pretty much anything is allowed and the only moderation done is for spam and offensive content. You can discuss off-topic questions, alternate endings for the Star Wars trilogy or exchange pleasantries.

Hope this little guide helped clear some of the confusion that has been floating around on this topic.

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4  
Thanks for the adapted version, it's a very good table. –  Gilles Jan 11 '12 at 20:32
    
There's one point I disagree with: #12. An answer should never consist of just a link. Flagging as NaA (if the answer without the link is just “read this”, not if it does contain information) is appropriate even if the link currently works. The community should not have to police dead links. The appropriate response to #12 is to post a new answer containing that link and an explanation, if the link is worthwhile. –  Gilles Jan 11 '12 at 21:00
1  
@Gilles Yes, it was unfortunate that it got clumped under "definitely an answer". I guess the point I was trying to make was that it is technically an answer, and suggestions to improve are given in the next column, but your point is taken. I'll improve the wording later when I get some time. The reason I said it shouldn't be flagged as NaA is because it is not something that needs moderator attention. The community can easily act on those themselves by either downvoting or writing a new answer or editing the answer (if it is upvoted heavily and accepted). –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 11 '12 at 21:19
    
@yoda An answer that needs deleted is grounds for NaA (or VLQ), that's the point of the flag. –  Gilles Jan 11 '12 at 21:30
7  
This is spectacular yoda. –  jadarnel27 Jan 12 '12 at 15:39
    
This is really cool. –  Pëkka Jan 12 '12 at 21:03
    
@Gilles This OK? Let's not go near VLQ. –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 13 '12 at 4:33
1  
@yoda Better, though as a moderator I always convert such answers into a comment, whether or not there is another answer that mentions the same link, and whether or not the link is broken (if the link is broken I might delete outright). The person noticing the link-only answer might not have the knowledge or time to write another answer, or the link may be redundant with others; deleting/flagging the link-only answer is still cleaning up the site, hence good behavior. –  Gilles Jan 13 '12 at 12:38
    
@Gilles I dislike them as much as you do. However, a some of the new mods have been declining these flags because they say the link does answer the question, as in there's nothing more to say. I'll include "Flag if there are other better answers or if it's redundant". –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 13 '12 at 15:44
    
@Gilles See updated #12. Let me know if you need it to be changed further. –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 28 '12 at 19:20
    
@Gilles Ok, how would you want to word it? Or are you disagreeing on the "Depends" part? –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 28 '12 at 19:24
    
I still disagree: if you take out the link from an answer and it becomes useless, then the answer should be deleted. There's no “Depends” about that. I systematically flag such answers, or delete them where I'm a mod. If the link looks useful, I convert the answer to a comment. –  Gilles Jan 28 '12 at 19:27
    
@Gilles That's the part I disagree with. If all that needs to be added to a "link" answer to make it useful is a couple of lines of explanation/excerpt from the link, then the flagger should first try to ask the OP to edit that info in. Barring that, edit the info in themselves if it's not a lot. It does not require mod intervention on the first go. Only when it is broken should it be NA right away. What I'm trying to do here is to get the flagger to write a better answer instead of simply flagging –  Lorem Ipsum Jan 28 '12 at 19:33
    
Good information, although I don't feel good about seeing an image used to display entirely text data. –  Pops Mar 16 '12 at 15:42
    
Should this be expanded to include "Don't foo the bar." and "Don't foo the bar using qux, use baz instead." as potential answers (cf, meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/8891/…) ? –  MPD May 23 '12 at 18:36
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An acceptable answer is any answer that directly addresses the question asked. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer provides information on how to post a good answer. Note that an incorrect answer that directly addresses the question asked is still an answer.

An answer is not any of the following:

  1. Any "answer" that doesn't address the question, even partially.
  2. A request for clarification (leave a comment under the question instead).
  3. A clarification of the question (edit your question instead).
  4. A new question (use the "Ask Question" button).
  5. Conversation, such as "Thanks", "Me Too", or "I Like Turtles".
  6. Exact duplicates of other, previously-posted answers
  7. Bare links (see How can I write my answer that links to an external resource properly?)

Any answer that doesn't directly address the question asked, or falls into one of the above "Not an Answer" categories, is subject to deletion.

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protected by Robert Harvey Jan 10 '12 at 21:25

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