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