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This question already has an answer here:

I have flagged this answer as "not an answer" - the description of the flag is:

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.

(emphasis mine)

This was declined as:

flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

(emphasis mine)

In this specific case, the answer given does not answer the question. It is on a tangent that is entirely unrelated to the question and the issue the OP is having.

How should I have handled/flagged this?

How should one flag "answers" that have nothing to do with the question - not answers that are wrong, but simply completely unrelated?

I find the description of the "not an answer" flag misleading in view of the decline reason.


I had originally commented on this answer, asking the poster what relationship it has to the question (or words to that effect) - the comment was removed, probably by the same moderator.

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marked as duplicate by hims056, Azik, Martijn Pieters, Hugo Dozois, Lance Roberts Nov 6 '13 at 16:01

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

That's right. +1 It can create misunderstandings between mods and users. – Alenanno Feb 6 '12 at 11:32
Indeed. Like this disputed one. Unbelievable. Luckily it got deleted anyway. I've become sort of passive to blatantly mishandled NARA flags, if not evident by the flag->content link, then nothing you're going to select / say is going to work for that handler, I guess. – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 11:38
I actually face the exact same issue when handling such flags myself. In fact, I looked at that answer you flagged and couldn't figure out what to do with it so I left it alone — I wasn't the one who declined the flag. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 6 '12 at 11:57
@BoltClock'saUnicorn Admirable behaviour, see my latest comment on Fabian's answer. – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 12:00
Well, the author of that answer tried to answer - if the answer is bad, just downvote it. If it's really bad vote to delete it. But in my opinion we should not flag answers just because they're bad or wrong. – Shadow Wizard Feb 6 '12 at 12:01
Flag decisions are often open to interpretation which implies a risk that flag will be dealt with by someone who disagrees or misinterprets the intent. This is especially the case with not-an-answer flags with their wildly rich set of suggestions: "should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether" (should... what?) – gnat Feb 6 '12 at 12:10
@ShaDowWizArd - My issue is not that the answer is bad or wrong. It is that it is completely unrelated. It is a good answer to some other question... – Oded Feb 6 '12 at 12:13
So in such case you should have explained it to the moderator - you can't expect him/her to know all programming languages, investigate each flagged post in depth then decide what to do. – Shadow Wizard Feb 6 '12 at 12:15
Don't forget when you flag an answer you are flagging monkeys with guns in there hands. If it looks reasonably like an answer, we aren't going to shoot it. – Won't Feb 6 '12 at 15:49
@Won't - Fair point. I will keep that image in my mind from now on, whenever I see a ♦. – Oded Feb 6 '12 at 15:52
up vote 8 down vote accepted

If it is not obvious why you're flagging the post, use a custom flag reason! In many cases like e.g. Thank you posts it is immediately obvious to the moderator that those are not an answer. In more subtle cases you should try to provide more information, the moderators on SO don't have much time for each flag, if the issue is not obvious you need to explain it in your flag. Even if you're technically using the correct flag reason, if a mod can't easily see that you're correct, they're more likely to come to the wrong conclusion and decline your flag.

The "not an answer" flags should not be used for answers that actually try to answer the question, even if they fail. Wrong answers should be downvoted, not flagged. Answers that provide a workaround, but don't explicitly answer the question are still valid and should not be flagged.

I'm not familiar enough with the subject to say whether this answer is an answer or not, so I can't say anything on the validity of this specific flag.

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Based on rchern's answer here, the intention should still be considered, even if not actionable. 'I can't see that this is correct, therefore it must be wrong' is an awful 'strategy', though. :/ – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 11:49
In this case, the answer has nothing to do with the question. It is answering something else, something that wasn't asked or even touched upon in the question. – Oded Feb 6 '12 at 11:51
@Mr.Disappointment That is not the point I was making. If the issue with the post is not obvious, it might look to the mod as if your flag was just wrong. I generally use custom flags if it is not immediately obvious why I am flagging a post. – Mad Scientist Feb 6 '12 at 11:56
@Fabian Agreed on that. But what I will say is that if a mod is unsure, they can always leave it for another mod, talk to their contemporaries, i.e. let it be handled by someone who is sure, rather than making a 'blind' decision. Declining, like accepting, should only be done when you know. Not used as a fallback when unable to determine. – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 11:59
Just to add - I had commented on the answer (asking to poster to explain how this is relevant to the question, or words to that effect). This was deleted, probably by the declining mod. The assumption that there was not enough information for the mod to make a call is somewhat flawed. – Oded Feb 6 '12 at 12:20
@Mr.Disappointment such a strategy would be not just awful but rather against the spirit of clarifications given in Sep '11 SE mod newsletter "... Flags should be closed as [helpful] under most circumstances. If you feel strongly that a question was flagged in bad faith, it is okay to mark it [declined]. But try to err on the side of clearing as [helpful] whenever the user is trying to be genuinely helpful, even if you do not necessarily act on the flag..." – gnat Feb 6 '12 at 12:37

Two issues are present here:

What should I do if I see an answer which answers the wrong question?

Don't flag it at all. Comment on it explaining the issue and possibly downvote. In many cases, this is an honest mistake. I myself misread a question at least a few times. Besides, flags are for moderator intervention, and moderators can't get too much in depth with the meaning of posts, since they are familiar with only so many technologies. Even if there was a flag reason for that, I don't know what could mods do with these flags anyway.

Can the close vote reason explanation be less ambiguous?

Maybe it would be better if the part you bolded was phrased differently and less ambiguous and misguiding. Maybe simply

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

I know that this is circular reasoning. If anyone has a better suggestion, bring it on.

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'it is not an answer' and 'it does not answer the question' read the same for me. – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 11:46
@Mr.Disappointment: Well, they don't read the same to me. Notice the part the question in the second sentence - that's what makes the difference. It is not an answer to this question is the same as It does not answer the question. – Goran Jovic Feb 6 '12 at 11:50
@Mr.Disappointment: a wrong answer is still an answer. Whether it answers the specific question is subjective and such subjection is best left to the voters. – Chris Buckley Feb 6 '12 at 13:26
Okay, it reads the same in the surrounding context. – Grant Thomas Feb 6 '12 at 18:51
It's the difference between a value judgment ("how good is this answer?"), handled with voting, and a clear "this shouldn't exist (as an answer)". How about This should not have been posted as an answer (whether right or wrong). It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.? – ire_and_curses Feb 6 '12 at 21:32
There's definitely inconsistency in the terminology used in the process of raising a "not an answer flag". When one first see's "not an answer", it is the natural choice for situations where an answer doesn't actually answer the question. The problem is that the answer may still be an answer of sorts, in which case the name of the option doesn't make sense. It's a bit of a paradox that would be good to eliminate by changing either the name or the description. Of course, that means deciding on a policy on flagging posts that aren't answers! – Mike G Mar 11 '12 at 15:46

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