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I asked this question today. Never mind the details, the point is that several users gave 'non-answers' - answers which are specifically what I said I wanted an alternative for. Some of these got up-voted, so that actual answers (albeit incomplete ones) appear(ed) in the third or fourth place. And people seemed to continue up-voting the non-answers.

What I did was to both comment on the non-answers pointing them out as such, and flag them as "not an answer". I also emphasized "Please don't tell me that X". But I felt frustrated that people were simply ignoring what I asked and that the system sort of encourages them to do this - they see upvoted "answers" first and tend to upvote them more.

Here it was suggested that I just accept what's right, and that will appear first. But in my case I haven't gotten an answer to accept, and the plethora of non-answers, especially when they're upvoted, discourages people from suggesting other answers.

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well, you did ask a question of the form: "how do i do task without using obvious solution. Sometimes it's fine to ask those questions, but when you do, please specify the reason why you don't want the obvious solution, so that people would be more able to solve your problem – Sam I am Mar 20 '13 at 20:19
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You have several options really.

The main thing I would say is that - if people are repeatedly misunderstanding your question - then the best course of action is to amend your question text. You may think you're putting one point across but if people are interpreting it differently then it sounds like they're reading different things into the question.

You can edit your question to focus specifically on what it is that you're asking as clearly and concisely as you can. Even using the old fashioned tactic of emboldening the relevant part of the post to draw attention to it.

You can also add a comment to their answers, and even downvote them if you see fit.

Finally, yes, if they have just clearly not read the question properly then you're entitled to flag for attention (provided the answer really isn't an answer, and it's not just a bad answer).

However your best course of action is to assume they've interpreted your question in a way you didn't intend and then amend the question text itself. People don't really take time out of their work to explicitly answer a question incorrectly, so don't just assume they're at fault here, it's more likely a miscommunication is going on.

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People don't really take time out of their work to explicitly answer a question incorrectly, well, sometimes they do. For example when someone asks a question for which people assume the answer should never be done, i.e. because it's clearly intended for malicious purposes, would clearly have security vulnerabilities, or there's an obviously superior solution that should always be used instead, many people will choose to provide an answer knowing that it's not what the OP asked for. (Sometimes it's also because the OP stated a constraint and people couldn't see a valid case for it.) – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:05
@Servy well yes, that's a fringe case really, and those responders know perfectly well they're giving an answer the OP doesn't really want. They're making a statement, as it were. – JonW Mar 20 '13 at 20:09
@Servy: ... but some people certainly take time off, say, their homework to rack up reputation by answering a seemingly easy question. – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:09
@JonW I don't really consider it a fringe case. I see such questions/answers quite a few times a day. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:10
That's nothing. I once took time off a test to answer a question:… – BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 20 '13 at 20:11
@einpoklum Because you can never have too much procrastination. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:11
@Servy I don't really disagree with you, I just think it's better to assume ignorance rather than malice for most such situations. – JonW Mar 20 '13 at 20:11
@JonW In some cases it's not clear, but frequently the poster is very explicitly stating that they're choosing not to answer the question as asked. Often it will start of with something like "No, don't do that, it will [...]. You should be doing [...] instead." – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:13
@Servy: I try to remind myself of that and not make my comments too snide. But it sure gets frustrating. Especially when the misinterpretation leads to Programming 101 lesson 1 answers. – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:13
@einpoklum I've found that, from personal experience, when the issue is that the answerer simply misunderstood the question entirely and assumed it was much more trivial than it is, it tends to not get a whole lot of upvotes (particularly if you comment explaining why the answer misunderstood the question). Enough people will notice the comments and either not vote, reverse their upvote, or even downvote. It's when the community knows that the answer dosen't answer the question and doesn't care; still feeling it's correct that they tend to upvote it a lot, hence my comments to this answer. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:16

Unfortunately, people can post answers regardless of whether or not it actually answers the question that you asked. You also cannot prevent other people from upvoting answers that clearly do not answer it. I have seen numerous times wrong answers added and upvoted.

My suggestion would be to comment on the incorrect answers saying that it does not solve your problem, but make sure that your question is clear on what you are asking. Remember, you can always downvote the answers if it does not answer your question.

Also there is nothing that forces you to accept an answer that does not actually answer your question. If you do not get an answer after a few days, you can always place a bounty on the question to get more attention to it.

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There really isn't much that you can do besides downvoting the answer (for not being helpful) and adding a comment explaining that it isn't a valid answer because it doesn't incorporate [...] condition(s) from the question.

Flagging as not an answer is not appropriate. If they made a good faith attempt to answer the question it is an answer, even if it's wrong or doesn't provide enough information to be helpful to you. They tried to answer the question, so it meets the minimum standard for not being deleted.

If you don't get an answer after several days you can add a bounty to the question in which you state that the answers given are insufficient. This will not only provided renewed attention to your question, but incentivise users to read through the whole question in detail, read the answers, your comments on why the answer wasn't helpful, and also to target the answer for what you think will be most helpful, rather than what the community thinks will be most helpful.

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Well, the question is whether it's a good faith attempt or not. When you ask "I want to achieve Y without doing X" and people tell you "you should do X", that's flaggable... as opposed to someone saying "well, I think you really have no choice but to do X". – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:05
As for a bounty... yeah, I guess, but when you only have < 1,000 reputation, a bounty is quite a gamble. The "rich" can throw their money at things and make it work for them... – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:06
@einpoklum I think you'll find that in most cases your flags will end up being declined in that case. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:06
@einpoklum You only need 75 rep to post a bounty, not 1000. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:07
@Servy: I think he's saying that with < 1000 rep, you're expending a great proportion of your total reputation on a bounty which makes it more of a gamble since you can lose privileges if your rep is low enough. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 20 '13 at 20:09
@einpoklum: I can assure you that that is not flaggable. People are painfully good at completely missing the point, I've seen all too many cases of it myself, but in no way is that my business as a moderator because they aren't breaking any rules in doing so. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 20 '13 at 20:09
@BoltClock'saUnicorn: Yes. And with my 500 reputation, it's a whopping 10% of everything I've got! Imagine if Servy had to pay 1,000 reputation, or yourself 2,000 reputation, just to offer a 50 rep bounty on something. – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:14
@einpoklum The fact that it does matter is exactly why the system works! If it didn't really cost you anything that you noticed then people would put bounties on every question and bountied questions wouldn't get any more attention than regular questions. If you aren't willing to part with the 50 rep then it would seem this question isn't all that important (which is fine). If it really is that important, a bounty is likely the best way to ensure it gets an acceptable answer. – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:18
@Servy: You realize that the class gap between us makes it difficult for me to seriously consider your advice on the matter. It's like a well-off middle-classer lecturing a minimum-wage worker on why the economic system is fair or reasonable. – einpoklum Mar 20 '13 at 20:37
@einpoklum I don't see how your analogy is so absurd. The reasonability of most economic systems tend to violate the expectations of those who haven't actively studied it, and minimum wage workers tend to not study economics a whole not (neither do most middle class workers either, but assuming this one was). None of the systems are perfect, naturally. That you haven't spent much time working with the system means you're in a position to benefit from the comments of those that have. If you don't want to participate in it, you can choose not to (not an option for the analogy, granted). – Servy Mar 20 '13 at 20:47

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