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Checking the moderator tools this morning I see 60 not-an-answer flags out of which only a several I could agree with. The rest were just bad answers, wrong answers or lazy answers.

The way I understand from experience, is that an answer is not-an-answer if the contents of the post cannot be interpreted as an attempt to answer the question. This usually means that the answer post amounts to asking a question to the poster's own problem, asking for clarification, spam etc.

However, the description for the flag says:

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.

Does not answer the question. To me (and apparently to many others, even metaers) that says a very different thing that the flag should be used for. Technically incorrect answers do not answer the question but they are still answers, though low quality. Low quality vague suggestions don't really answer the question but they are still answers. Not-an-answer flags for these have typically been declined.

In my opinion, these type of answers should just be downvoted until the poster naturally deletes it themselves (or 3 trusted users vote deletion) and everyone gains their reputation back.

So my question is, should the not-an-answer flag description be clarified seeing as there is so much noise being generated?

Here are some examples:

flagged twice as non-answer - lazy/bad/wrong answer.
flagged twice as non-answer - ditto
flagged twice as non-answer - ditto

My question is different from When should the “Not an Answer” flag be used?. I flat out just want to change the flag description and not require people to read that post in meta or get their flags declined to understand how the flag should be used.

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I suggested an alternative approach that should clarify things: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/122534/… –  Flexo Jul 26 '12 at 11:59
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"This was posted as an answer, but it does not intend to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a clarifying comment, another question, or deleted altogether" - this interpretation has been discussed in more details in another question What is "clarifying comment"? Imagine question and answer like "- why my flag was declined? - what flag did you use?" You see, second is a clarifying comment, not an answer, not even intended to be an answer... –  gnat Jul 26 '12 at 12:03
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I disagreed with your last example shown - it's just a link and in my view a link on its own is never an answer. It's 30 seconds with google or spam. In that instance there hadn't been any attempt to improve it since posting and there were far better answers. If a question really can be answered with just a link then it's a bad question to begin with in my view. –  Flexo Jul 26 '12 at 12:16
    
@Flexo see my latest comment to ChrisF in Boltclock's answer –  Esailija Jul 26 '12 at 12:19
    
The "intend to answer" criteria has a problem with the "I know the answer, check my blog" type of answer. There is often a clear intent here, it just fails to actually answer anything. –  Bo Persson Jul 26 '12 at 17:43
    
@BoPersson well the wording I proposed is intended exactly at weeding out even a slightest possibility for flagger to use Not-An-Answer for checkmyblog / link-only kind posts. Search in the meta for not-an-answer + declined-flags to me shows that applicability of these to link-only posts is a permanent source of misunderstanding between moderators and flaggers. For comparison, for almost a year now I flagged literally hundreds of link-only posts using Other flag and it worked like a charm –  gnat Jul 28 '12 at 17:50
    
related - Proposed improvement to flagging, for answers: there is a detailed explanation for the intended use of "Not An Answer" flag - it is a comment on the question or on another answer... it is additional information about the question from the original asker... nothing more than "Me too!" or "Did anyone find the answer?"... a random conversation or rant, or meaningless typing –  gnat Aug 30 '12 at 7:48
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Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/95659/… –  GSerg Sep 5 '12 at 10:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted
+200

We have adjusted the flag to:

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.

 

flag dialog on SO

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+1 I really wish I could up vote this more than once. The previously inaccurate description on the "Not An Answer" flag has bothered me for a while, and is a source of confusion for many users. So I'm glad to see you guys finally fixed it :) –  Wipqozn Sep 21 '12 at 20:48
    
Given this description, I flagged this answer, which clearly was meant to be a comment (on how stackoverflow is presenting the question, rather than an answer to the question itself), but it got declined. Did I misunderstand the "Not an answer" flag? If so, how? –  Shahbaz Nov 21 '12 at 11:39

It definitely needs clarifying. Even I had a bit of trouble figuring out the true intended use of the not-an-answer flag when I first started out as a moderator, being confused by the exact phrase "it does not answer the question" (my same emphasis on "the"). Oddly enough, now that I've understood what the flag is meant for, I'm seeing the same misguided use of the flag and shaking my head at how easily the flag description is to misinterpret.

As for ideas... how about this?

This was posted as an answer, but it is not an answer.

Or this?

This was posted as an answer, but it does not constitute an answer or any sort of attempt to answer the question. It appears to have been intended as an edit, a comment, another question, or something else that should be deleted altogether.

Or this?

This was posted as an answer, but it is not an answer. You know, like, an "answer"... that isn't really an answer. You know? An answer that isn't, you know, an answer?! Know what I'm saying? Know it?! Do you know?! Know?!

... no? Rats. Alright, look, the point I'm trying to make here, is that this was possibly meant to be an edit, a comment, another question, or something else — that does not fit the dictionary definition of the word answer in terms of a question and answer but for whatever reason was posted as one — that should be deleted altogether.

Whatever it is, just get this... this thing out of my sight!

Or this?

merely links should be in comment section

Disclaimer: these may or may not have been inspired by actual custom flag messages.

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The second one has the most potential here, imo. ;D –  Esailija Jul 26 '12 at 11:45
    
I think you need to differentiate between answers that are wrong and should be downvoted and that which constitutes not an answer. –  Iain Jul 26 '12 at 12:02
    
There is also a problem with categorizing link-only answers. The link can be excellent, very specialized and the answerer was too lazy to also quote the relevant contents of the link (Though I don't understand this). The link can also be a spam link or advertizement. The link can be completely irrelevant altogether. Not all link-only answers are created equal. I don't think they are flat out not-an-answer. –  Esailija Jul 26 '12 at 12:05
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@Esailija if you need to follow the link to find out which one if these cases it is, then it's not an answer. An answer is "These are the step you need to follow to solve your problem and here's a link that backs up what I've just said". –  ChrisF Jul 26 '12 at 12:08
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@ChrisF That should be established somewhere, it depends too much on the moderator right now. A week or so ago, I completely destroyed my flag weight when I got a dozen of declines. Examples: 1, 2 . –  Esailija Jul 26 '12 at 12:17
    
@Esailija - Line between link farm (low quality) and reasonable established it for me. The thing to watch for is cases where it's both just a link and technically wrong too. I tend to explicitly flag "link only, regardless of technical merit, it should be removed" or similar for those cases to make it clear that it isn't just flagged for being wrong. –  Flexo Jul 26 '12 at 12:22
    
I hope one of you guys marked that third one as helpful =) That's great stuff. –  jadarnel27 Jul 26 '12 at 12:45
    
@Esailija dozen declines for the link-only posts? if so, you likely had an encounter with serial flag decliner - "someone who makes a large number of questionable declines of flags in a row..." –  gnat Jul 27 '12 at 6:56
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@gnat Yes, in fact each and every flag was acted upon, as in, the posts were either deleted by the moderator who declined them (yes he declined but still deleted the post) or some another moderator. I am now starting to think the declines were wrong after reading your post, I'll probably make another question about it later. –  Esailija Jul 27 '12 at 7:17
    
@Esailija well if you're going to ask that another question, consider making a screen shot of your flagging summary page to have a record that you did not imagine things. Although they say flags stay there forever, there seem to be a chance for them to be abducted by aliens so to speak: My “not an answer” flag is gone and not showing in my history –  gnat Jul 27 '12 at 8:59

Does not answer the question. To me (and apparently to many others, even metaers) that says a very different thing that the flag should be used for. Technically incorrect answers do not answer the question but they are still answers, though low quality. Low quality vague suggestions don't really answer the question but they are still answers. Not-an-answer flags for these have typically been declined.

I cannot even understand the distinction you are trying to make here. I am all for improving the description, but if you cannot describe to me, in a way I can understand, what the meaning of your change would be ... I humbly suggest that the mere presence of the single word "the" is not really the issue.

Technically incorrect answers do not answer the question but they are still answers, though low quality

I think it's rather insane to argue that a wrong answer "does not answer the question". It does answer the question... incorrectly.

Maybe this would help? I've bolded the part that is different.

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.

I still feel this is hair splitting at best. But I guess if 5% of folks are confusing "not an answer" with "incorrect answer", perhaps this trivial little change would help some of them?

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I think the main ambiguity is when the poster sincerely intended to answer the question, but the answer is completely besides the point (because the answerer misread the question, or because he doesn't have a clue). For example: “How do I print a string in C?” Answer: “cout << mystring;”. Is that a wrong answer or not an answer? How does it help to leave such an answer on the site? –  Gilles Sep 5 '12 at 0:32
    
Jeff, one example where straight "does not answer" runs into issues is link-only answers. FAQ wording for these is: "Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question... This includes answers that are barely more than a link to an external site". You see, this description also sounds like "does not answer" unless one pays a pretty close attention. Here, additional attempt to or intend to would make a difference imNSho –  gnat Sep 5 '12 at 6:27
    
One area I'm not sure of is where the answer supplied is for a different technology than asked about in the question. If the question is "How do I print a string in C?" and someone gives an answer with VB6 code then to me it is not an answer to the question asked and is just noise. Similarly with Oracle answers to SQL Server questions. Should I be downvoting or flagging these? –  Martin Smith Sep 5 '12 at 7:22
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Just realised (not being a C[++]er) that is essentially the same point as @Gilles is making I think. Which I suppose highlights the problem that the moderator might have to make a judgement on relevance in technologies they are not familiar with. Maybe best just to downvote and vote to delete these unless it should be blindingly obvious to anybody. –  Martin Smith Sep 5 '12 at 8:06
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@gilles I feel the very same ambiguity remains even if we add the magical words "attempt to". How do I read the minds of the people answering the questions so I can know if this answer was actually an honest attempt to answer the question in their mind, or not? –  Jeff Atwood Sep 6 '12 at 5:52

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