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Whilst reviewing answers I came across an answer that was several paragraphs long and I imagine that without reading it there are those who might consider it to be ok and happily move on to the next answer in the review queue.

After reading the answer I decided to flag it as not an answer, because in my view, it did not attempt to answer the question, apart from a few key words, such as "windows 8" and "install" it was nothing at all to do with the question.

My flag was declined by a moderator who gave the reason "declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it"

So I decided to raise another flag about the post, stating that it did not attempt to answer the question, which was also declined with the reason "declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer"

After a little deeper investigation I found that the question had been copied from another site, so I left a comment with a link, the question has since been removed.

My question is, when is an answer not an answer? Does writing several paragraphs (copy and pasted or not) about a subject unrelated to the question qualify as "not an answer"?

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It maybe a very "low quality" answer but still it is an answer. – Aziz Shaikh May 20 '13 at 12:20
Got a link to the question? – Wooble May 20 '13 at 12:21
@Wooble this is the question How to install a Windows 8 App Without Submitting to Store the flagged answer has been removed, I'm not sure how or why – user241462 May 20 '13 at 12:22
It was deleted by a mod; maybe your last flag convinced them? (But yes, it's definitely not an answer, although I can see why a mod in a hurry might reject the flag because it feels like an answer :) ) – Wooble May 20 '13 at 12:23
It was plagiarism: buildeasypc.com/sw/windows_8/install_windows_8.htm – Pëkka May 20 '13 at 13:43
Please remember that mods are humans too, and they don't always get it right. They are not always technically versed in the specific topic area, so if something smells like an answer to them, they are likely going to decline the flag. There is also a flaw in the system currently (but I believe it is being addressed) where if one person flags as not an answer and another flags as spam, you can't decline the incorrect flag without also declining the correct one. – Aaron Bertrand May 20 '13 at 16:12
This is many times a dupe. meta.stackexchange.com/q/167624/147640, meta.stackexchange.com/q/95659/147640, meta.stackexchange.com/q/180247/147640, know there are more. – GSerg May 20 '13 at 16:34

3 Answers 3

"Not an answer" does not mean "a bad answer", or "not quite an answer to this question, as it turns out".

It means "not an answer". That is, not an answer at all.

The answer is certainly an answer; in this instance, it's a bad answer that misses the mark and, as such, you should downvote it and move on.

Flag comments and links as "not an answer".

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No, flag spammity spam as spam. – Emrakul May 20 '13 at 14:10
Your answer here is exactly right up to a point, but I do have a difference of opinion with your conclusion. In my mind, the 'answer' in question was not even an attempt to answer the question because it seems to reveal a lack of having read the question at all to begin with. It's not that it's wrong; it isn't really even remotely related, except that "Windows 8" and "install" are mentioned. It seems to me it was merely posted as a result of a search term lookup, and wasn't an attempt to genuinely answer a question at all. – Andrew Barber May 20 '13 at 14:44
@KnightswhosayNi: You're right. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 20 '13 at 17:50
@AndrewBarber: My point was that my opinion is that "not an answer" doesn't mean "not an answer to this question" but "not an answer to any question". Now I suppose that there's no proof one way or the other. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 20 '13 at 17:51
I understand. As I noted in my answer, I can see gray area here for opinions, definitely. :) – Andrew Barber May 20 '13 at 18:35

This may qualify as a gray area. My opinion though, is that the 'answer' you refer to here was not an answer in any way, shape, or form. Or, to be more semantic to the flagging reason, it was not an attempt to answer the question.

An 'attempt' to answer a question requires having read and at least thinking you have understood the question. There is no way that the person posting that answer ever read and understood that question at all. Therefore, the resulting answer could not be considered to have been an 'attempt to answer the question'. There are cases where someone could make an honest mistake and misunderstand a question; I can't imagine how that could have legitimately happened, here.

The only possible thing I can think that happened here is someone used some sort of quasi-automated system (eg. a bot) to post 'random', keyword-related text as a response to some keyword search here, perhaps as a way to try to see if they could farm rep to dump elsewhere.

As I noted above, sometimes people do similar things honestly, and I don't tend to delete those when flagged. But this case seems obvious to me.

Why did the flag get declined, then? Probably because the answer may have appeared to be an attempt to answer the question as it was presented in the flag queue. Not all of the relevant information is immediately presented to us in the queue, which sometimes can make our choice of action on a flag seem obvious to us - and at times, incorrectly. Figure in personal bias, the pattern of flags that have been coming in, whether we are distracted by a dog, spouse, co-worker, boss, or herd of unicorns, and stuff happens.

It's also entirely possible that the mod who handled your flag disagrees with me.

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This was the answer:

enter image description here

(Here's the transcript for blind people)

The most important question when reviewing answers for "not an answer" answers, imho, is: Is this an attempt to answer? If the answer is no, and only in that case, you should flag it as not an answer.

Examples of "not an attempt" answer are:

  • "Thanks" answers
  • "I have the same problem" answers
  • "New question" answers
  • ...

Notice that the difference if very subtle between "Is this an answer" and "Is this an attempt". I ask you to judge the intention, not what came out of that intention.

Regarding this particular answer, the answer to the above question is obviously "yes". The user tried to answer the question but made the mistake of copy-pasting entire paragraphs from a specific link (as you made notice in the comment). I assume this is the reason it got deleted.

Therefore yes, this is can be considered an answer, but a very low quality one.

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It does not look like an attempt to answer the question, the only relationship between the two are the words "windows 8" and "install". I can't say what the user was trying to do. I can say that the answer does not attempt to answer the question. Describing how to "Install windows 8 professional" does not attempt to answer how to "install a windows 8 app without submitting it to the store". The answer does not attempt to answer the question. – user241462 May 20 '13 at 12:41
@axrwkr Yes the user intention is to answer the question. I think you didn't fully understand the difference between "is this an answer" and "is this an attempt to answer". The answer, in this case, to the first is "no", to the second is "yes". (Watch edit for examples) – Jefery May 20 '13 at 12:50
It's also stolen from buildeasypc.com/sw/windows_8/install_windows_8.htm without attribution which is grounds for deletion in itself. – Pëkka May 20 '13 at 13:42
I could easily be convinced that the OP is testing a bot that pastes random text pulled off the web with similar keywords to see if they can get rep that way; I see no evidence they actually read the question and were trying to answer it usefully. – Wooble May 20 '13 at 14:32
I agree with @axrwkr here; to me, there does not appear to have been any attempt at all there to answer the question. It looks like more what Wooble said: someone testing a bot that simply pastes text in to keyword search results. A cursory reading of the question could never have resulted in that answer. – Andrew Barber May 20 '13 at 14:48
It could also have been the result of someone meaning to post an answer to another question and having the wrong tab/window up. I know I've done that every once in a while. – Servy May 20 '13 at 14:58
@Servy Ooh, good point; I did that once, and managed to ninja-edit it out! ;) – Andrew Barber May 20 '13 at 15:02

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