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Like the title says.

I followed the "Why was your post deleted? See the faq" link which was appended to the deleted answer of mine, trying to find out what I did wrong, but none of the reasons mentioned in the faq seems to match.

What are users supposed to do in such cases?

Edit: I mean generally, not only in my individual case.

I don't know if my individual case is helpful to describe better. Here is what happened:

I think I found an error in a top voted answer of a question. That question dates back to June 2009. The question is not closed, still interesting and has no accepted answer.

The top voted answer was helpful to me, but, at least to my understanding, unfortunately contains an error, too. I just wanted to inform the author about it.

As a complete newbie to stackoverflow (reputation of 1), I am not allowed to add a comment to an answer before reputation 10, so I couldn't use that.

Contacting the author thru his profile (private message or s/t like that) wasn't possible, too. At least I found nothing like it, may be I missed something here.

Flagging the answer felt wrong to me (the author didn't do anything condemnable, quite the contrary, he has helped me. And why bothering a moderator with a correction?).

So I added an answer. Which in turn was deleted then.

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Mmm, that indeed stinks, no idea what to do in that case.... To address the issue at hand, maybe if you point out the answer in question, somebody can add a comment. –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 20:25
@Pekka: this was meant more generally, not only my individual case. I edit my question. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 7:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Stack Overflow isn't a forum. When you get some rep, you can leave comments. But until that time, you have to twiddle your thumbs in cases like this*.

Answers that are not answers such as yours are routinely flagged by users and deleted by mods.

If you are now wondering why your hand wasn't held during and after the deletion, its because the mod queue has stayed between 150-200 all day (sorry, work and stuff), full of lots of "not an answer" flags.

The solution to your problem is to not add non-answers. "[I may have found an error and] I just wanted to inform the author about it." I don't care. And the cops won't care either when you're standing outside of his bedroom at 2am in the morning, holding a boombox over your head.

You have three FOUR options--provide an answer with a fixed version, flag for mod attention (we won't do anything about it, most likely), get enough rep to leave a comment, or read Jeff Atwood's answer.

*Damn, I completely forgot about submitting edits.

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+1 for not blasting boomboxes outside policemen's bedroom windows. I would also add that non-answers are broken windows, and the first priority is to patch them up as soon as possible, not inform the perp that they broke a window. –  Robert Harvey Apr 7 '11 at 20:43
@Will @Robert All true, and I respect you guys have a lot to moderate. Still, be nice. This is just a new user looking to fix a piece of information that, if he's right, is incorrect and has gone undetected by the community so far. –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 20:53
@Pekka: I thought I was being nice. :\ Anyway, see my posted answer here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86486/… –  Robert Harvey Apr 7 '11 at 21:00
@Robert I thought "perp" was a little rough in this context, but your answer does a good job explaining what you mean. –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 21:06
@Pekka'strollingaccount: I'd respond, but I believe you are trolling me. –  Won't Apr 7 '11 at 21:57
see my answer; he should have edited. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 21:59
@Pekka: I think Will is humorously referring to your user name. There are good reasons why account names shouldn't have words like "troll" or "sock-puppet" in them. I'M TALKING TO YOU @BADP! –  Robert Harvey Apr 7 '11 at 23:03
@Robert So I get judged by the words in my user name now? That's so... mean. Gravatar-ist. Retreats into corner, sobbing –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 23:08
@Will: yep, sorry, meanwhile I realized that SO is a Wiki (thanks Jeff and Robert). And no, I don't want you to hold my hand. I am taken already ^^ –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 8:39
@JürgenThelen: Your punishment is that you must now beat noobs with a stick when they screw up. And edit everything that is wrong in the world (btw, that feature is relatively new and is completely under my radar). –  Won't Apr 8 '11 at 13:16
@All: Since I only can accept one answer, I will accept this one. After the last edit, this answer lists all possible choices users generally have in case of deleted answers (which was the question). @ChrisF, Jeff Atwood and Robert Harvey: thank you for leading me on the right track and to better understand how SO works. Your answers were the ones I'd accepted, if the question had been targeted on my individual case only. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 9 '11 at 9:12

What you could have done was post your own answer that corrected the fault.

Reference the other answer, explain why you think it's wrong and supply your answer.

This is a win-win all round. If you are correct you get up-votes, possibly the acceptance and maybe even a Necromancer badge.

Whether you do this, rather than editing the answer (which I did initially consider suggesting), is ultimately your decision. However, I'd weigh up several factors - extent of edit, age of answer included and each case would be unique. An edit has to be clear enough for two other users to understand and approve, so make sure you're clear in both the edit and the edit comments.

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or, he could have edited the answer to correct the error; see my answer –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 22:01
@Jeff - I did consider that option, but as the edit would have to go through two reviewers there would be no guarantee that it would be seen by the wider community. –  ChrisF Apr 7 '11 at 22:03
posting an answer is fine as well, if it is at least a partial solution. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 22:15
@ChrisF: maybe my fault is that I tend to think way too revision control minded ^^. I didn't want to bloat the topic for just a minor change. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 8:19
@Jeff: editing an answer feels like bad style to me. And the origin gets lost. I would prefer keeping the origin intact so anyone can follow all changes at any time. But now I realized that you are absolutely right, I totally missed that SO is a Wiki, where editing topics is standard. My bad.. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 8:27
@jurgen I think chris and I are both right, it can be OK to provide a new partial answer, and it can be OK to edit. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 8:39

Thank you for asking this question, rather than just continuing to post non-answers, or giving up and going somewhere else. Your dilemma is indeed the same dilemma faced by countless new users who are used to posting messages in forum environments.

Take a close look at those forum environments. On reflection, have you found any of them really useful to you at all? Can you count on the fingers of one hand the times when posting to a forum really gave you a timely, meaningful answer to your problem?

Recently, I googled "Ford Taurus 2005 won't start when hot." Do you know how many matches there are? One million, five hundred and sixty thousand. Do you know how many of those matches actually impart useful information? Exactly zero. Well, zero in the first two dozen matches anyway.

Why is this? Because those matches go to forums, where dozens of people have posted the same question over and over again, and hundreds of people have posted countless useless answers to that question, including

  • "I have the same problem, any idea?"
  • "Mine starts but I have this other problem."
  • "Mine always starts, I don't know what your problem is."
  • "Mine only starts at Disneyland."
  • "I like turtles."

    And so on.

StackOverflow is a known solution to a known problem. The question and answer format is carefully crafted to encourage the posting of high-quality material.

Consequently, you can understand that we get a little impatient when people come to StackOverflow and fail to take a small amount of time to find out what StackOverflow is about and how it works before they post their non-answer, or worse, know that they are posting a non-answer, but post it anyway.

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Very good and detailed answer. Still, in this case, the user had something meaningful to contribute and the system didn't allow him to. That can be viewed as a fault in the system - which is for the devs to solve though, not moderators –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 21:05
@pekka not at all true; he could have clicked "edit" to improve the existing answer –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 21:58
I rarely use forums at all, but I see your point. I took the time and read the faq before even posting and followed "Be honest": Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down (I can't). Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong (I can't). Provide better answers of your own (I tried). Best of all — edit and improve the existing questions and answers! (Felt wrong to me) –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 8:08
@Jürgen: All of those problems can be solved by earning a small amount of reputation points. See stackoverflow.com/privileges. It only takes a day or two to earn this much rep, if you provide good answers to people's questions. –  Robert Harvey Apr 8 '11 at 14:57

I think I found an error in a top voted answer of a question

Is there any reason you didn't click "edit" on the answer to correct the error?


That would be my suggested course of action.

share|improve this answer
I agree, with the caveat that it's considered bad form to edit someone else's code. –  Robert Harvey Apr 7 '11 at 22:04
@Robert: that's why there's a comment field where you can explain the reason for your edit... OH! SO ALLOWS LOW-REP COMMENTS WHEN THEY SERVE A PURPOSE! –  Shogging through the snow Apr 7 '11 at 22:26
I don't think editing is the optimal thing to do in such a situation. Neither the OP, nor the poster of the answer get explicitly notified that something has changed. (I'm not counting the edit showing up in the "responses" tab as a notification in this case.) It also takes away the chance of responding to the edit - maybe the original answer was correct after all, and the editor mistaken? A comment would have been the optimal thing here, and failing that, another answer –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 22:35
@Pekka: sounds like you're describing deficiencies in the editing UI. It probably should notify the author of the answer that an edit is pending. And if the author doesn't respond to an important issue, then posting another answer is appropriate - much better than hiding the problem away in a comment... –  Shogging through the snow Apr 7 '11 at 22:44
@robert it's bad form to edit someone else's code? People apply edits all day long to my code. No, I don't think this is bad form, it's normal software development. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 22:52
@pekka I don't agree. In fact, I violently disagree. (Though I agree notifications could potentially be better.) –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 22:52
@Jeff: Surely you don't consider Markup an IDE, or its rudimentary versioning process a form of source control? In a normal production environment I would totally agree, but we're talking about a Q&A site. In this environment, it's almost always better to point out the error, and let the original author fix his own code. –  Robert Harvey Apr 7 '11 at 22:59
@Jeff If I'm not mistaken, the editing process in its current form doesn't allow for any communication between a <250 rep editor and the editee. Therefore, to me, editing is not a good venue to point out coding errors that are more than mere typos. An error like that needs to be called out. Not because of form, but for the sake of the person who made it, and so the asker can correct the bug if they copy+pasted it into their code –  Pëkka Apr 7 '11 at 23:03
@pekka as stated above, it could be, if you were aggressively notified about edits on your posts. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 0:21
@Jeff fair enough. Maybe that's what's needed then... or a "this edit corrects a major error" check box that causes aggressive notification. But that again would come with a bunch of other issues, not sure whether it'd work. –  Pëkka Apr 8 '11 at 8:01
@Jeff: editing felt wrong to me (see my comment in the answer of ChrisF). Even now, having fully realized that SO is a Wiki (where overwriting someone else's work is standard), it still leaves a bad taste, because other users cannot follow who changed what, where and when to be able to make their own decision on what's right or wrong. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 9:02
@jurgen what? you can click the date to see revision history like so meta.stackoverflow.com/posts/86494/revisions –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 9:06
@Jeff: waaah, I didn't know this! I cannot find any clue in the faq and haven't seen a button or s/t like that which will show me the revisions of a topic. Where can I find it? Which date? Nevermind. Found it. Oh my... –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 9:11
@jurgen it's OK, but for your penance, you must generate +500 reps. :) –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 9:13
@Jeff: hehe, I will try ^^ Hm, a little hint in the faq about "revisions can be seen/followed by any user, here's how" would be kind of helpful to newbies like me, I guess. –  Jürgen Thelen Apr 8 '11 at 9:45

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