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When flagging an answer as "low quality" you see some explanatory text that reads:

This answer has serious formatting or content issues and might not be salvageable.

An effort should be made to improve answers before they're flagged for removal. I don't mean to discourage any "low quality" flagging at all, so if an answer is old and the user hasn't been back for a while, go ahead and flag it. But if an answer is only a few hours old and has no downvotes or comments (meaning no one made an effort to communicate that improvement was needed) then I'm hesitant to just delete it.

Moderators just don't have time to look at every low-quality answer on the site. We need everyone in the community to use the tools at their disposal (downvotes, comments, edits) to deal with these. Please use flagging for deletion as a last resort.

Naturally this is open for discussion, so feel free to voice your opinion if you disagree with me.

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I just think all of those are side effects of showing flag weights in profile. –  YOU Apr 11 '11 at 16:31
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@YOU "If you measure it, it will be manipulated." twitter.com/spolsky/status/24578294293 –  George Stocker Apr 11 '11 at 16:33
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Aye for this. We had a recent post on Gaming about similar, though ours was less "You should do fixes yourself" as much as it was "Stop flagging things that we really have no action to take". –  Grace Note Apr 11 '11 at 16:38
    
Obviously the solution for those users is to edit and flag, I'm sure the mod will help you increase your flag weight if he sees you edited the question. –  Ivo Flipse Apr 11 '11 at 17:12
    
@YOU I agree, I guess the display of flag weight created a staggering number of flags that the mods have struggled with. –  amelvin Apr 26 '11 at 14:07
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@RegDwight: Thanks. I'm not sure how I managed the exact same typo twice. Must have been a long day. :) –  Bill the Lizard May 7 '11 at 4:01

6 Answers 6

I would actually argue that the "low quality" option should be removed from the answer flag dialog, now that edits can be performed/proposed by anyone.

I don't think I've ever used it when flagging an answer. It seems to be covering a very small percentage of what might be flagged. The minimal cases that it would cover would be handled just fine by the "Other" box in the dialog.

Edit: Given the discussion on other answers here, it seems that "low quality" flags are more useful for questions than for answers. It also aligns better with my own flagging experience. I've updated this answer to be specific to answer flags only.

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+1. I agree with this entirely. If it's low quality, downvote, comment, vote to close or edit, whichever is most appropriate/possible. Those are the tools for dealing with low quality posts. –  user142852 Apr 11 '11 at 17:13
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What @Ninefingers says would be fine if "in theory" were the same as "in practice," but unfortunately that's not the case. Some posts are so terrible that even people who want to improve by editing have no hope of doing so because the OPs' intents are inscrutable. And for late answers to questions in low-volume tags (to use the extreme example) the community delete mechanism might not work. –  Pops Apr 11 '11 at 18:56
    
@Popular Demand - I'm rather curious to see the percentage of flags that come in as "low quality", and the percentage of those that are actually acted upon. My answer here is simply due to my own experience with flagging, and is purely anecdotal. –  Rob Hruska Apr 11 '11 at 19:17
    
indeed. Three cheers for data! –  Pops Apr 11 '11 at 19:37
    
I'd forgotten about this question, but I've just posted a question about removing the low quality flag. It's for a different reason than you gave here, though. –  Pops Sep 1 '11 at 19:10

When some idiot drops a truly awful answer on the site, why should I want to edit and improve it? Especially if there's another perfectly good answer next to it? I'll downvote it. I'd like to be able to Now that I have 20K I can vote to delete it. I'm happy to resist the urge to flag it, though, even downvoted, it serves as something of a broken window.

Awful: (a) a completely arrogant misreading of the OP's needs or constraints. (or b) incomprehensible. (or c) Floridly, wildly, and flagrantly wrong.

In other words, way out there.

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If it's truly a blight, then you don't have to try and improve it. But any attempt at a real answer should stay, in my opinion. Even a wrong answer, with a downvote and a comment explaining why it's wrong, will be helpful to future programmers who might have thought the same thing. Consider it a head on a spike, left there as a warning to others not to go that way. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 11 '11 at 17:39
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@Bill, I think by "awful" he's referring to answers that are incomprehensible, not just wrong. I wouldn't call every wrong answer "awful" - just wrong. –  Aarobot Apr 11 '11 at 19:09
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@Aarobot: By that definition it's okay to flag the "awful" answers. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 11 '11 at 19:26

"An effort should be made to improve answers before they're flagged for removal."

Everybody can either edit or propose an edit. Do so, if it can fix the problem.

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The very wording of this flag says they are beyond salvage. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 11 '11 at 18:16
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@JeffAtwood: I don't think people reading comprehension much. –  Won't Apr 11 '11 at 18:31

From the "building a definitive database of knowledge" perspective editing answers is clearly the best choice.

However, what happens if say, someone heavily edits my poor answer and my answer gets upvoted as a result? I get all the undeserved reputation, I don't learn from my mistakes and the person who actually got the job done gets no credit whatsoever.

(The reverse can also happen but it's far less likely.)

Maybe a "needs to be rewritten" feature would be useful here. If an answer is flagged as such, the author is notified, and the answer is removed from the public view until the author either modifies it or deletes it.

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If someone heavily edits your poor answer into shape and it gets upvotes, then you should learn from that. At a minimum you should learn what kinds of answers get upvoted. Comments already serve as "needs to be rewritten" flags. Removing it from public view would be counter-productive, as then only one person would be able to edit, instead of the whole community. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 11 '11 at 17:42
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@Bill the Lizard I should, but let's be honest, I won't. All I will learn is that it doesn't matter how crap my answer is, someone will edit it and I get points for it. Ker-ching! :) And in the original scenario, the answer would still be removed from public view but with no chance of improving it. –  biziclop Apr 11 '11 at 17:43
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On your first point, I'm sure you're right some of the time, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and hope that they're trying to learn. On your second point, the original scenario is deleting the answer, which I'm trying to convince people is the wrong way to go. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 11 '11 at 17:47
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@biziclop Users who continually post such and never learn eventually get abandoned by editors who are tired of the continual revisions, or their continual supply of "needs fixing" posts tend to get brought up in some fashion like a Meta post. It's not truly "profitable" to try and outsource the quality of your posts. –  Grace Note Apr 11 '11 at 17:47
    
@Bill the Lizard That's why I suggested an alternative somewhere in between. –  biziclop Apr 11 '11 at 19:26
    
@Grace Note Then the not entirely unreasonable reaction of our protagonist would be that people on the site are idiots. Not entirely unreasonable because the same behaviour first seems to be rewarded, then it's punished. If it is punished at all, because you can't really expect people to check someone's complete posting history before they decide to fix a broken answer. So as long as the general guideline is: edit broken posts, there will always be someone to edit it. –  biziclop Apr 11 '11 at 19:30
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@biziclop People who revise other users' posts do it to help that user - whether it's a mass rewrite or just some touch-ups, we're already "benefiting them for undeserved reputation" to some degree that may be immeasurably small. Editors who volunteer extensive time towards an individual user are rightly entitled to give up on that user when they feel nothing is being learned or that they are being taken advantage of. So be it if that classifies them as idiots. –  Grace Note Apr 11 '11 at 19:33

I don't know if I agree with this. The vast majority of low quality flags I have seen have indeed been on posts I would actually characterize as low quality, and deserving of mod action.

I have seen "low quality" used incorrectly as a synonym for "technically incorrect" which is definitely wrong, but this is rare.

In short, I want to know about severe quality problems on the site and I am not seeing an issue with the way low quality flags are being used so far.

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Have you determined this from the low quality flags you have seen, or have you taken a random sample of all low quality flags? –  Won't Apr 11 '11 at 18:33
    
It's possible that my perception is off, but I seem to be dismissing "low quality" flags on answers a lot more than on questions. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 11 '11 at 18:36
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@will I clear many hundred on weekends, but maybe I'm misremembering if this is specific to answers –  Jeff Atwood Apr 11 '11 at 19:12
    
@BilltheLizard, @JeffAtwood: low quality answer flags are almost always unwarranted, IIRC. –  Won't Apr 11 '11 at 19:16
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@bill that's fair, perhaps I am just thinking of questions here. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 11 '11 at 19:27
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I flag a lot, and I don't think I've used the low quality flag on an answer more than once or twice. It's really got a lot of overlap with not an answer, which I use a ton. –  Michael Petrotta Apr 12 '11 at 1:54

I don't see any motivation for the general user to edit answers.

Commenting or downvoting are useful for answers that are technically wrong.

Flagging if an answer is really a question, or inecbomhrensiple or spam seems fine.

But why should people edit a low quality answer in a system where people compete for reputation? For a moderator there is motivation, for a user a bad answer is merely an invitation to make a better answer and gain rep/badges/kudos/whatever.

I would see no problem with removing answer editing as a user function - comment, comment and downvote or comment and flag are enough options.

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The motivation is that we are here to have an excellent repository of information. If your only motivation is the reputation, then don't edit. But if you're with those who want to see a successful site that contains quality information and replaces noise with signal, then editing is an excellent way to contribute that. When it's unsalvageable, you flag. But if it can be fixed? Edit. ♪ –  Grace Note Apr 26 '11 at 13:44
    
@Grace I think you are over-simplifying, J, J & Co don't run a not-for-profit so the real motivation of SO/SE is to have an active and intelligent userbase - the excellent repository is a bi-product of the userbase and its actions, not the other way round. And your second/third sentences are insulting - I wouldn't have answered 271 questions across SO/SE in the past year if I didn't want to see etc and so on. Editing answers is not a time-effective way to contribute to SO/SE for normal users, like me - even if it is for you. –  amelvin Apr 26 '11 at 14:04
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@amelvin I'm sorry if that came off as an insult, but your implication by your fourth paragraph was that the system is just for the reputation competition, so I wished merely to note that there are other motivations. We have many vested editors across the network, most of whom are not moderators, and they enjoy it even if it's not time-effective. Because we feel that it is a meaningful way that we can contribute. We do everything from minor grammatical fixes to humongous translations of former garbage into clear data. Some of us aren't bothered by the lack of reputation. –  Grace Note Apr 26 '11 at 14:10
    
@Grace Sorry, don't want to row - do understand your points. This is a question of usage, and different people use SO for different reasons/motivations and so on. And I think I've been guilty of oversimplifying a rather complex use case regarding answer editing! –  amelvin Apr 26 '11 at 15:53
    
Pardon? I'm sorry, but I don't know what you mean by row. –  Grace Note Apr 26 '11 at 15:56
    
By "row" I mean "argue" - must be a local word. –  amelvin Apr 26 '11 at 16:26
    
I see, I see. I'm sorry myself, then, for having dragged it out like such. As much as it is important to understand how many perspectives there are in this, it'd be pretty crude and backwards if I were not to acknowledge the perspective of users such as yourself. –  Grace Note Apr 26 '11 at 17:02

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