While this is an old problem, it's one that will only increase with time. As Stack Exchange sites gain in popularity, more and more users are coming to the sites in search of answers to their specific problems.

Unfortunately, not all of them understand the basic operating principals behind Stack Exchange, and ask questions, or start discussions as separate answers.

Deleting these answers is fine, but more often (I would argue almost always) than not, a new user doesn't understand why.

Granted, comments are a way of doing this, but there are drawbacks to comments:

  • They require extra, replicated effort on the part of the moderator for something that they do repetitively
  • The message will be inconsistent; messages like this would be consistent, cite the relevant resources that guide the user in the right direction
  • The larger size would have a higher chance of grabbing the user's attention, as well as put more weight behind the action (as it's officially attached to the answer in a consistent manner).
  • The banner will serve as an example of what not to do to other users who can see the deleted post.

Additionally, there are tools that can help with auto-commenting on posts, but these have their drawbacks as well:

  • Not all moderators use these tools
  • The messages that are delivered by the tools are ultimately generated initially by the moderators, so the message will not be consistent
  • These tools are not always available on other devices (e.g., mobile platforms)

It would be helpful to the user if they had a reason indicating why the answer was deleted. Something along the lines of:

deleted question with reason

In order to accomplish this, I propose an additional (not a replacement) button in the moderation tools labeled "delete with reason". Mods would still be able to delete answers outright, they just have the option now of stating why in an easy manner which will allows for more time to moderate harder.

Placement is not important (screen real estate is valuable, yes), but I envision it looking something like this in the moderator tools:

delete with reason button in moderator tools

When clicking "delete with reason", a dialog, much like the "close" dialog will appear with options:

delete answer reason dialog

Initial options for the reasons could be:

  • Asking a new question
  • Starting discussion

A mechanism like this has the potential for other benefits as well:

  • Users with an answer deleted with a reason might actually be directed to perform the right action now, and in the future (creating better site denizens)
  • Users who wish to contest the deletion of an answer on meta can cite that specific reason, which mods can specifically address (which actually might reduce noise on meta about "why was my answer deleted?")
  • Can reduce flags on answers asking "why was this deleted?" (admitted, I've not personally experienced this to be a pervading problem on Stack Overflow, but this might be the case for other mods on other Stack Exchange sites)
  • Other Stack Exchange sites which don't have that many users will give a better experience to their users when their first action isn't ideal for a Stack Exchange site; this will enhance the chance that the site will retain the user and get good contributions from them (as per Farseeker's comments: first, second).

Additionally, if this works well for the moderator tools, I imagine that it would not be such a leap to eventually have this graduated to users with the rep to cast delete votes, thus allowing non-mods to deliver a more clear message to new users about how to best participate on a Stack Exchange site.

  • 1
    @amanaPlanaCAnalPAnaMA: I've specifically discussed that with @NineShogsShogging; this relates specifically to the answer, that relates to the question.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 19:56
  • @TheGhostofChristmasPast I am using automated comments, so that addresses your first point. Since some other mods do the same, it addresses your second point (at least partially). The real question is, is this so important that it requires developers' effort? Dec 21, 2011 at 19:58
  • SO probably gets more flags daily than the rest of the network combined. The smaller beta sites get 0 flags a day on average, and they have 3 mods. From my experience these flags are rare on SO; I don't think this is that big of a deal. Dec 21, 2011 at 20:01
  • @NullUserException: Agreed on the first point, I don't agree on the second, as there are 12 moderators on SO, and they can tweak their tool at any time. In regards to this being so important that it requires developers effort, if I thought it wasn't, I wouldn't waste the time with a post and a feature request tag. =)
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:02
  • @NullUserException: I'm deleting anywhere between 10-20 answers a day on these two points from SO from new 1-rep users. I can't say if that's the same, more, or less than your experience.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:04
  • @TheGhostofChristmasPast What I meant is I've rarely seen flags complaining about a deletion; I've personally never had anyone say anything about my deletions. And I've got 600 of them so far. Dec 21, 2011 at 20:07
  • @NullUserException Fair enough. I've already mentioned that's not my experience as well in the last bullet point at the bottom.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:09
  • 1
    I'd go so far as to say a quarter of the flags I handle on SF are "not-an-answers" of the variety where, "this should be its own question," is the primary reason. Dec 21, 2011 at 20:09
  • @NullUserException - just because you're not getting contact about it, the stats do show that a positive first encouter on the SE network hugely translates into further contributions. A comment that they may not see + delete isn't exactly a great first welcome to a site. Additionally, SO might be doing 10-20 a day of these, but on SF we maybe do 10 a day (per mod) as well - difference is that our flag queue and activity is maybe 1/10th of SO's so the signal:noise ratio is much higher Dec 21, 2011 at 21:07
  • @Farseeker If this gets implemented anything like post notices, the OP won't be notified of it. At least with a comment they'll get a notification. And casper is understating the number of NaA flags we get. I'd say it's well over 40/day. Dec 21, 2011 at 21:09
  • @NullUserException - well, that's just an implementation issue then. The concept itself is still very valid and something I wish for regularly. SO probably doesn't need to many new users, the rest of the network does, and anything to stop them from not coming back is a good thing. Dec 21, 2011 at 21:12
  • @NullUserException: I think you meant I'm underestimating the number of NaA flags you get that are either new questions or starting discussions. There are plenty of NaA flags that are posted because of link-only answers. This is asking for a specific resolution to those. However, a third option could be "link only answers are not good answers" as per the meta post
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 21:13
  • @NullUserException The point being that having pre-canned messages auto-inserted for deletion reasons is not a bad thing. It doesn't have to be just the points outlined above, but rather, what we are seeing as trending which are becoming issues that deteriorate the integrity of the content on the StackExchange sites.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 21:14
  • @Farseeker Good points about first experience on StackExchange sites with lesser traffic; I've incorporated them into the last bullet point in the last set of bullet points on the bottom of the post.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 21:18
  • @Farseeker While it's not a bad idea in principle, I don't think this will ever be implemented. I asked for deleted questions to be made available to the OP regardless of their rep (so they can see why it was deleted, see comments on it, etc. and learn their lesson), but that was declined (see this). It seems like Jeff's position on deleted content is: "It's garbage, we shouldn't worry about this at all". Dec 21, 2011 at 21:20

1 Answer 1


When I have time, I follow this work-flow when handling just the sorts of not-an-answer flags on Server Fault this feature would help with.

  1. See the NA flag.
  2. The excerpt reads like someone who is attempting to use us as a discussion forum or some other tangential thing.
  3. Click on the answer to expand it.
  4. Add a comment with roughly the same text every time (no Greasemonkey script for me, I moderate from too many devices)
  5. Delete
  6. Go back to the mod screen to wash, rinse, repeat.

If instead of a post-flag, an auto-filled comment were to be put in there instead, it would help a lot. Since mod-comments do show up in the user's universal inbox even after a post is deleted, this would be visible to the person who matters. That would change my work-flow to:

  1. See the NA flag.
  2. The excerpt reads like someone who is attempting to use us as a discussion forum or some other tangential thing.
  3. Click the Delete-with-reason button.
  4. Select stock answer.
  5. Move on to the next flag in the queue.

Shorter and with fewer page-reloads. It is a very good idea to keep a no-reason delete around since that's still a large part of what I end up clicking.

From gut, I guess about 1 in 4 flags on Server Fault are of the type I'd used this feature on. There are a lot of technical sites out there that grow The One True $Thingy Thread style threads that gather, "but what about my weird edge case?" questions. They're damned hard to sort through when you're googling, and are exactly what Stack Exchange is trying to get away from.

When handling these sometimes I dearly wish for a Convert to a Question button since once in a (great) while the 'answer' is a darned good question. Since that isn't going to happen, some stock text I can throw in an auto-comment to point them in the right direction will make my work-flow a lot more efficient.

  • Good point about mobile devices, I've updated the question accordingly.
    – casperOne
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:59
  • 1
    Step 6 is very, very important when dealing with the mod queue. Hygene is important after dealing with some of the flagged content. Dec 21, 2011 at 21:04

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