I left this comment for what I saw as a single line comment (the first sentence) followed by a series of questions.

I got called out for harassing by leaving that comment.

Should I have just flagged it and moved on? I thought I was being nice and warning the user about the possibly quality of the answer. Perhaps I was a little blunt.

The actual answer here isn't too important, the question is that based on what a reasonable user believes and his/her judgement of an answer, would the approach taken be correct in a similar situation?

Looking for a consensus and closure.

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    While the answer isn't great, the first sentence does appear to be an answer to the question. Note that Joel Coehoorn is a 100k+ user and a moderator on meta. So I'm pretty sure he knows what's considered "not-an-answer". – Mysticial Oct 25 '12 at 2:35
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    So do we have different yardsticks based on a poster's rep when evaluating questions, answers and comments? – RichardTheKiwi Oct 25 '12 at 3:01
  • No we don't. I'm just saying that it's unlikely that a high-rep user/moderator would post a non-answer. So if you find yourself judging it as a non-answer at first, you might want to take a second look to see if you missed something. – Mysticial Oct 25 '12 at 3:03
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    Even high rep users make mistakes, and I think they should be handled like any other. I once left a comment for a user with 100K rep because he didn't really answer the question. The comment was similar to the example I gave you in my answer. He said "Hey, I think you're right" and deleted his post. ;) I was a bit surprised, but I think the way I handled it helped the situation. Usually, the high rep users are better at responding to constructive feedback because they helped build SO and know the rules. ;) – jmort253 Oct 25 '12 at 3:07

First, instead of writing:

I'm tempted to flag this "not an answer". I see a huge question:answer ratio

How about this:

Hi Joel, I noticed a lot of questions in your answer, which leans more towards "not an answer". I was thinking you could improve it/avoid it being flagged/downvoted with an [edit] or maybe leave this as a comment so the asker can improve his/her post. Hope this helps!

The 2nd comment is more likely to be taken a bit better by the author, a long time user with a history of large contributions to Stack Overflow, and it looks a lot better for new users who may stumble on the comment, and who might learn something from it.

With that said, I agree with you that this is not an answer. While helpful, the problem is that the question is vague and should most likely be closed as "not a real question". Instead, Joel should have made that a comment seeking clarification, encouraging the asker to make some edits, which would make for a more detailed, solid question that would help future visitors with the same problem.

Lastly, just to clarify, I think you're skills at recognizing a post isn't an answer are solid, just your execution could use a little more delicacy, as most people, even if they make a mistake, have good intentions. Hope this helps! ;)


Your comment is pointless:

I'm tempted to flag this "not an answer". I see a huge question:answer ratio

Either flag the answer, or don't, what's the point of advertising that you are tempted to flag it? If you honestly believe the answer doesn't stand as an answer, flag it, if you think it stands as an answer but it's a bad one, downvote it.

While the second part of the comment ("I see a huge question:answer ratio") tells us what you think is wrong with the answer, you don't tell us anything on how the answer could be improved. If you don't think it can, no reason to comment at all.

...and just to not be misunderstood: I may feel that the comment is pointless, but calling it harassment is a bit too much.

  • And yet, we're always encouraged to leave comments when downvoting, yes? Which would necessitate essentially the same comment after the downvote. I'm not sure how that's less "pointless" by your reckoning. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '12 at 2:43
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    @NicolBolas Personally I never leave comments when downvoting, and I don't think I've ever encouraged anyone to do so. I try to only post comments when what I have to say would improve the post (imho), regardless of whether I voted (up/down)... – yannis Oct 25 '12 at 2:44
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    The website does it; what you personally do or encourage is irrelevant. Pressing downvote will often bring up a box asking you to explain your reason for doing so. – Nicol Bolas Oct 25 '12 at 2:45
  • @NicolBolas I'm not sure how that's less "pointless" by your reckoning. You asked, I answered. – yannis Oct 25 '12 at 2:45
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    Hi @NicolBolas, the reason you give for any action can still be explained in a constructive manner. If your comment is only going to punish negative behavior instead of offer ways to fix the behavior, then it really isn't that useful and actually does more harm than good. – jmort253 Oct 25 '12 at 2:50

By all rights, the question should have been closed for being way too broad; any question where the only legitimate answer is "it depends" probably deserves that. Garbage in, garbage out; ask a bad question, you get poor answers.

That being said, I don't think the comment itself is out of line. It's telling the answerer that they have a problem that should be corrected. Granted, it's in an answer to a bad question, so all bets are off really, but still.

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