I flagged this answer as Not An Answer (NAA), because while this does point the OP in the direction of the correct answer, the answer as written should be a comment.

In the event the answer gets deleted, the content of it is:

You need to construct a query with a PIVOT.

This answer is a link-only answer to the MSDN documentation.

My flag was declined with the reason:

declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

I am curious as to why this was declined, considering this is a comment, should it have been flagged with other instead of not an answer?

  • 2
    Personally, I would have flagged as VLQ, but you're right, that doesn't answer the question. Apr 30 '13 at 13:26
  • 2
    This answer was not useful and does not follow the FAQ. "Always quote the most relevant part of an important link"
    – Kermit
    Apr 30 '13 at 13:27
  • 14
    This is clearly not an answer, it should be a comment. Actually, it's more like a perfect example for a "not an answer" case.
    – Lamak
    Apr 30 '13 at 13:34
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    @Servy I'm not saying that minitech is making a mistake on his flags, I'm saying that if the 40% of his rejected "not an answer" flag then gets validated when flagging again and choosing "Other" (explaining that is not an answer), then I think there is a problem with the people rejecting them in the first place
    – Lamak
    Apr 30 '13 at 14:41
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    @Lamak Or, as explained in Servy's answer, there's a problem with the moderator tools that means that rejecting one flag on a post rejects all of the others. If you correctly flag as "not an answer", and somebody else incorrectly flags as "spam", then your correct flag is going to end up declined because spam flags take priority. Not saying that's what happened here, but I've seen a fair number of meta posts saying that incorrectly declined flags happen to be because of other invalid flags on a post. Apr 30 '13 at 14:49
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    The question was essentially "I want to take rows and turn them into columns!" and sucked. The answer to that question is "you want to do a pivot query", which is in fact the answer to the question. And that's all we require. He doesn't have to do the OP's work. Some people do, but that's not a requirement for answers. So, while it could have been a comment, it could also have been an answer to the question. Doesn't require mod intervention. The community can downvote, leave a comment, etc.
    – user1228
    Apr 30 '13 at 15:53
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    @Won't That's confusing to me. I thought that SO strove for quality and not quid pro quo. That's tantamount to answering "How do I get data from this table" with "With a query." and a link W3Schools.
    – swasheck
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:08
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    @Won't While I agree that the question sucked, that was clearly a piss poor answer that should have been a comment.
    – Taryn StaffMod
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:09
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    @Won't I'm going to stop posting code in all of my query-related answers and just say "Here's the documentation for SELECT. Work it out. PS Please upvote." I agree with the others. Why bother having any kind of guidelines around link-only answers (which have been this way for some time) if you're suddenly going to trump those and say they're valid answers? Apr 30 '13 at 16:09
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    @AaronBertrand: Yes, because that's what I said. I can pull the same nonsense on you--if your answer isn't 100% compilable code, then it should be deleted. Both extremes are nonsense, so please save it for your facebook update. Again, when a question is answered by a single line (the link was irrelevant to the substance of the answer), then a single line can be an answer. The issue becomes the question. Both of which in this case can be handled by downvoting.
    – user1228
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:06
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    @Won't I guess we just disagree on what indicates quality in a one-line answer. Use a pivot query - with or without a link - is a garbage answer and could have just as easily been a comment. Also WTH does facebook have to do with any of this? Apr 30 '13 at 17:10
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    @AaronBertrand: Because facebook! And of course we can disagree. Hell, boltclock did, and was part of the delete. That's fine. But, believe me, when you're searching for information about something and you don't have the correct term for it, then you face a much harder time than you would if someone just tapped you on the shoulder and said, "hey, that's a pivot query. Here's 2m search results for you."
    – user1228
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:13
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    @Won't "so please save it for your facebook update" Kind of childish, I think.
    – Kermit
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:15
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    Jnk and @bluefeet now aren't you both glad the SO mod thing didn't work out? This seems like a communication/P&P fuster cluck
    – swasheck
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:37
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    Just went to view the question, and what did I see on it; 6 Flags. Nice theme park! (Actually, never been there; but, you know!) Apr 30 '13 at 17:50

This was actually addressed recently by Shog9, and much earlier by Anna Lear.

The gist is that if the answer ATTEMPTS to address the question, it should be downvoted instead of deleted or flagged, even if it is terrible.

  • 1
    Punk Johnny-5 bringing clarity, precedent, and stability to the situation.
    – swasheck
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:31
    – JNK
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:34
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    Well just because those two stated that opinion, it is hardly community consensus (and in this case, a different moderator seemed to agree with bluefeet's assessment and deleted the craptastic "answer"). Apr 30 '13 at 16:38
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    @AaronBertrand If it comes from the community team it doesn't really need consensus - they set the rules on what mods act on to a large degree. The mod who deleted did so as the third vote so he acted as a user and not a mod in that instance.
    – JNK
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:48
  • @JNK well they're going to keep getting flags from me. Apr 30 '13 at 16:49
  • 1
    @AaronBertrand the worst they can do is decline it
    – JNK
    Apr 30 '13 at 16:49
  • @AaronBertrand I think you make a pretty solid point. "In some meta posts or comments you may see moderators suggesting / requiring particular kind flag to be used (or to avoid) for link-only answers. Convenient litmus test in cases like that..." (flagger's guide to link only answers)
    – gnat
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:03
  • @JNK also, the mod who deleted did so as the third vote so he acted as a user and not a mod in that instance - I can't agree with this assumption. It may have just been coincidence that the mod didn't arrive on the answer until after two delete votes had been cast, and may have still deleted (as a mod) if he were the first or second vote. Apr 30 '13 at 17:08
  • @AaronBertrand for my own personal experience, if I see a mod act as the last vote on a closure or deletion I don't consider it a "moderator action" - it's just another vote.
    – JNK
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:10
  • 1
    @JNK meh, I don't agree. That may describe how you act as a mod, but frankly if it should be "just another vote" then the mod should abstain and let the 3rd/5th vote come from a regular user. Since the mod's vote is binding I think it's splitting hairs whether they intended it to be "just another vote"... Apr 30 '13 at 17:12
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    The point I'm making is the 3rd/5th vote is always binding. I see your point though, which is that the appearance to the user is still that "a moderator did this"
    – JNK
    Apr 30 '13 at 17:13

Odds are there was some other flag on the post of a type other than NAA, possibly indicating that the problem was with some sort of technical inaccuracy. Since flags need to be either accepted on the whole or denied on the whole, and accepting an invalid flag is much more harmful (due to accepted flags being used for review audits) than rejecting a valid flag, this is the lesser of two evils.

Either that, or it could have just been a mis-click. It happens.

Regardless, it has since been deleted as it is clearly not an answer.


Here's my take on the matter:

  1. That is, definitively, not an answer.
  2. The moderator, whoever it was, who declined the flag was operating within guidelines. Guidelines, that I can have a lot of sympathy for; especially on a site the size and breadth of Stack Overflow. There's absolutely no way than any moderator can be technologically competent in every tag. There are, no doubt, tags that no moderator is able to form an opinion on and so they should not be expected to form one.
  3. Link only answers are an abomination that should be expunged. They are contrary to, what I see as, the point of Stack Exchange; they are insulting to the question asker and should be seen as being barely above lmgtfy in the chain. Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange is about getting great answers to questions quickly; questions which are useful for a lot of people
  4. A link to the documentation is barely above a RTFM. The difference in this case is the the poster was politer and didn't post it as a comment.
  5. The community around the tag are highly guilty of allowing this kind of question. The "here is my data, here are the results I want, gimme" kind of question. In some cases this is completely justified; they're complicated requirements with extremely complicated queries that are well explained. In most cases the OP is simply lazy or doesn't know how to ask a question. These questions should be closed1.
  6. That question should have been closed immediately and not answered at all.

This is what should have happened:

You should have downvoted the question and voted to close, both of which I have already done. I'm a little surprised everyone's concentrating on the answer rather than the question also. That answer should be downvoted and a comment left indicating that the answer should be a comment. If you have 20k you should then vote to delete. If you have less than 20k I would flag as not an answer. That's just me; other's obviously disagree.

1. Though, if it's a question about how to work where to update account balance after a transaction (which there are far too many of) you might want to consider answering for your own sanity..


Apparently a mod thought it was an answer


The test for a link-only answer is: if you read it without the link, does it still contribute something?

Example: “See this link” → not an answer

Example: “RTFM! PIVOT” (where the question asks how to write a query using PIVOT) → not an answer

Example: “You need to construct a query with a PIVOT.” (where the question does not mention PIVOT) → this is a very partial answer, but an answer nonetheless. It informs the asker that PIVOT is the right tool for the job. It may be very low quality — it certainly is below the threshold where I'd post a comment (hint as to how to build an answer) rather than an answer — but it is an answer.


The flag was declined because the post actually attempted to answer the question.

You even said so yourself, it was a link-only answer.

"Not an answer" shouldn't be used for link-only answers.

It wasn't a good answer, and was only really useful if the person had no idea what the correct lingo for what they were trying to do, but it was an answer.

Moderators can not and should not become the judge of the 'quality' of an answer, so long as it is an answer. The community judges quality through upvotes and downvotes.

I don't believe the answer should have been deleted, because it is useful for people who don't know the lingo. whether it deserves any upvotes or not is not for me to say.

  • 2
    Your comment "Not an answer" shouldn't be used for link-only answers. confuses me because I have used this on many flags and they were not declined. I know the mods get tons of flags to clear and yes, they can make mistakes, but when I have countless similar flags that are helpful, this declined makes little sense.
    – Taryn StaffMod
    Apr 30 '13 at 19:44
  • 1
    When did this guideline change? We were encouraged to flag link-only answers in the past and mods used to drop in and delete them.
    – Troyen
    Apr 30 '13 at 20:19
  • @Troyen You still are encouraged to flag them, just don't flag them as 'not an answer'. Apr 30 '13 at 21:02
  • No, a link-only answer is not an answer and should be deleted or converted to a comment. This isn't a link-only answer, however. May 1 '13 at 10:05
  • @Gilles according to you, they are answers. meta.stackexchange.com/a/95691/16587 you can down vote me, but recognize that I'm saying nothing that wasn't highly up voted before. May 7 '13 at 0:31
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    @GeorgeStocker I have no idea what your comment even means. That you agree that link-only answers should be deleted (as in the answer you cite)? That you disagree that link-only answers should be deleted (since you seem to be disagreeing with my comment)? That you're just in a bad mood and whining about a downvote (on meta, FFS)? May 7 '13 at 0:37

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