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  • What is the "Not an Answer" flag and what is its purpose?
  • When should I use this flag?
  • When should I not use this flag?
  • But I'm still not sure if I'm using the flag correctly...
  • An answer is "Not an Answer", but the flag was declined or disputed!

See also: What is an acceptable answer?

Return to FAQ index

61

What is the Not an Answer Flag and what is its purpose?

The Not an Answer flag is a moderator flag that users can raise to notify moderators1 that a posted answer does not make an attempt to answer the question, and should be deleted.

When should I use this flag?

Use this flag when an answer is being used to:

  • Ask a new question
  • Clarify the existing question
  • Communicate with another user
  • Say "thanks" or confirm that another posted answer worked for them
  • "Bump" the question, as in "I have the same problem, have you found a solution?"

When should I not use this flag?

Do not use this flag when:

  • The user posts a partial answer
  • The answer makes an attempt to answer the question, even if it is wrong or inaccurate or you disagree with it
  • The problem with the answer is subtle and would benefit from additional explanation (see below)

But I'm still not sure if I'm using the flag correctly...

If it seems blatantly obvious to you that what you're looking at isn't an answer, you're probably using the flag correctly.

If the problem is subtle and may not be obvious to whoever reviews your flag, then raise the "in need of moderator intervention" flag instead, and explain in detail why you think the answer violates the site rules and should thus be removed.

An answer is "Not an Answer", but the flag was declined or disputed!

First, verify that the problem wasn't corrected after you raised the flag. If the author or someone else was able to edit the answer and fix the problem, then you did nothing wrong; the problem was simply no longer visible at the time the flag was handled.

If the problem is still visible, then consider that perhaps it isn't as obvious as you thought it was. When reviewing "not an answer" flags, moderators can't see the question or comments in context without clicking further, which they probably won't do unless there's an obvious reason to look for additional context. The same applies to flags handled in review1, which requires reviewers to scroll or click through to view the question or other answers.

As suggested above, subtle problems can be more effectively handled by raising an "in need of moderator intervention" flag, which allows you to explain the problem in detail. If a "not an answer" flag is declined or disputed and a serious problem is still evident, then escalate the issue to the moderator team with a detailed description.

The flag was marked helpful, but the answer wasn't deleted!

There are four possible cases:

  • Your flag sent the answer to review (see below), and one of the reviewers opted to edit the answer. This dismissed the review task and marked your flag "helpful"; if the problem wasn't fixed, raise an "in need of moderator intervention" flag and explain the issue.
  • The answer was sent to review, where users agreed with you and voted to delete the answer (marking your flag helpful), but it later got undeleted. If the problem wasn't fixed at the same time, you should raise a moderator intervention flag.
  • A moderator found your flag borderline and decided not to delete the answer, but didn't want to penalize you by declining your flag.
  • The answer was sent to community review, where others agreed with you and voted to delete (marking your flag helpful), but the answer had a positive score, which means it was forwarded to moderators instead of being deleted.

1 The "not an answer" flag will trigger the answer to be reviewed by ordinary members of the site via the Low Quality Posts review queue if the answer has never been to that queue before.

  • 7
    "Do not use this flag when a user posts: [...] An answer to a (slightly) different question". What if it's an entirely different question? Like advice about handling strings for a question about image-processing? – scenia Mar 10 '14 at 13:20
  • See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/224817/… – scenia Mar 10 '14 at 13:54
  • 2
    @JasonC: I made some updates. – Robert Harvey Mar 19 '14 at 20:34
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey This may still be overly restrictive; the specific case in that link may arguably fall under "communicate with another user," but it's not a good fit. Perhaps another bullet item should be "Discuss the topic at hand without actually providing an answer", or something? – Kyle Strand Mar 23 '15 at 17:42
  • @KyleStrand: Is there the smallest of doubts? If there is, use a custom flag instead. Don't use NAA unless it is crystal-clear. – Robert Harvey Mar 23 '15 at 18:20
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey Without looking at the question, you can tell that either it's not an answer, or the question itself is off-topic for SO, because the only question I can imagine for which that "answer" is an answer would be something like "why doesn't the API for [some Apple product or OS] provide volume control that fits [some specific need]?" That's more of a discussion question than a solve-this-programming-problem question. – Kyle Strand Mar 23 '15 at 19:49
  • 3
    Do not use this flag if you have to consider the question to determine if it is not an answer? :o How would you know if it is not an answer if you cannot look at the question it was supposed to answer? Example: Answer: "Donald Trump is the President of USA at the moment of writing this comment.". Can you tell me if it is an answer or not? I won't tell you the question I have in mind, because that seems to be your point. – Masked Man Jun 28 '17 at 17:32
  • 1
    @MartijnPieters Can you please explain why you rolled back that edit in whole? – Sonic the Bracketed Hedgehog May 24 '18 at 21:17
  • 1
    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog: because Braiam has misunderstood what the NAA flag is for, and has been trying to convince the rest of the world that their interpretation of the wrong help page applies to the NAA flag. They then tried to use their edit here to claim authority. Their edit was wrong here, as was their edit on the SO faq post on the subject, so I rolled it back. – Martijn Pieters May 24 '18 at 21:22
  • 2
    I'd like to propose removing the third bullet point under when not to use the flag and the final paragraph about mods not being able to see everything - it seems to me to just be discouraging people from properly flagging in order to justify lazy mods. On many sites in the network there aren't so many flags that the mods shouldn't be expected to check the context when needed. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 13:44
  • 3
    @Robert Nothing changes from the mod's perspective if someone writes a custom flag saying it's NAA. They'll still have to check the context. So I just don't see the sense in recommending people not use the standard flag. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 15:00
  • 1
    @Robert Sure but most of the time it's straight forward to the mods who check context. Mods who refuse to ever check the context of flags surely must be such a small minority that they don't warrant changing the advice of how to flag as this post does. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 15:14
  • 1
    @curiousdannii: This isn't a change in advice; it's been the way I've described for years. The whole point of having a custom flag is to give people the ability to provide the necessary context within the flag itself. I never said we don't check context; what I said was "don't make this harder than it has to be." – Robert Harvey May 25 '18 at 15:16
  • 3
    @RobertHarvey But then doesn't a custom flag bypass the community review process? – Sonic the Bracketed Hedgehog May 26 '18 at 6:32
  • 1
    Already writing it, @Sonic. – Shog9 May 30 '18 at 20:05
24

What is the not an answer flag?

The not an answer flag (NAA) is a flag to indicate that someone used the "answer the question" box to post something that isn't really an answer. It usually pushes an answer to the low-quality queue, where its fate is decided by reviewers. If it stays there for too long, the answer is also shown to diamond moderators in their flag queue. If the flag is considered valid, the post is deleted.

When should I use this flag?

Use this flag when an answer is being used to:

  • Ask a new question
  • Clarify the existing question
  • Communicate with another user
  • Say "thanks," or confirm that another posted answer worked for him.
  • "Bump" the question, as in "I have the same problem, have you found a solution?"

When may I use this flag?

You can also use this flag for the following reasons, if you include a comment below the answer explaining the specific problem:

  • link-only answers, i.e., answers that become totally worthless when you remove all URLs. Note that a short answer that mostly is a link can still be an answer, if the actual text is useful; it usually is a bad answer though. For example, the following can still be an answer (to the right question):

    Consider the blobfish module. It solves the problem you're describing.

    The following is a link-only answer:

    Take a look at https://example.com/cgi-bin/docs/html/blobf.html

  • answers that attempt to answer another question or are just a general dump of unsolicited information, for example:

    Question: What is the capital of Brazil?

    Not an answer 1: The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.

    Not an answer 2: Brazil is a state in South America.

    Not an answer 3: We went to Brazil for our honeymoon.

  • duplicate answers. Flag these, if they copy existing answers verbatim or just repeat some point of a long-existing answer without adding anything worthwhile to it. The latter almost only applies to short answers that show an egregious lack of awareness of previous answers. Longer answers usually offer a different explanation or presentation of the facts that is worthwhile. For example:

    Question: Can I swim in liquid nitrogen?

    Answer: No, you may freeze or suffocate.

    Duplicate answer: Don’t do it man, it’s dangerously cold.

    Not a duplicate answer: Nitrogen becomes liquid at −210 °C, it can freeze you in seconds. Also, all the evaporating nitrogen displaces the air and may suffocate you.

  • obviously dishonest answers to the question. Most of these are also not nice and should thus be flagged as rude or abusive or with a custom flag. But sometimes they are just a well-intentioned, but bad joke, e.g.:

    Question: What’s the difference between affect and effect?

    Answer: The first letter.

Rules of Thumb

If you can’t determine whether or not it’s an answer without looking at the question it supposedly answers, explain the problem in a comment below the answer.

If you need knowledge that goes deeper than a basic expertise of the site’s topic (e.g., knowledge of a specific programming language on SO) don't use an NAA flag.

When should I not use this flag?

Do not use the not an answer flag for:

  • partial or short answers. If there is a hint of an answer, it’s not NAA. Don’t listen to people who claim that these should be comments. The fundamental distinction between answers and comments is that the former seek to address the question and the latter try to improve the question – not length.

  • wrong answers. Downvote them and use comments to explain what is wrong. The NAA flag is for answers that are not even wrong, i.e., they do not even live on the right–wrong axis (for the respective question).

  • spam, rude, or abusive posts. Use the respective flag instead, as it ensures a quick and proper handling. Note that gibberish can be flagged as abusive.

  • 2
    Note: This new answer originated from a discussion between moderators and is separate to allow review. I am aware that it disagrees with the old answer on some matters. That’s the point. – Wrzlprmft Mar 15 '17 at 11:35
  • 1
    @ShadowWizard: That’s not what I meant. This answer is intended to replace the existing one. However since it’s almost completely written from scratch and changes some important aspects, I did not just want to replace the old answer, but leave this here for others to review first. The aforementioned discussion ended mostly in agreement and included the other answer’s author. – Wrzlprmft Mar 15 '17 at 12:06
  • 1
    @randal'thor mods don't use the flag, just handle it. If users won't know how to use it, it would be a problem. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Mar 15 '17 at 12:24
  • 1
    @ShadowWizard Damn the 5-minute window on comment edits ... s/how to use the NaA flag/how the NaA flag should be used. – Rand al'Thor Mar 15 '17 at 12:26
  • 1
    "answers that attempt to answer another question or are just a general dump of unsolicited information, for example:" This is misleading at best on SO for one: meta.stackoverflow.com/q/268369 where the prevailing ex post facto definition of "an answer" is "anything that anyone manages to post in the answer box". – Josh Caswell Mar 15 '17 at 12:59
  • 1
    Not to say that I disagree with this answer, but a lot of other people do. – Josh Caswell Mar 15 '17 at 13:01
  • 1
    how is this different from this post by Shog? – That’s not a FAQ and mostly about link-only answers. I do not see any disagreement here. – Wrzlprmft Mar 15 '17 at 13:04
  • 5
    While I like a lot of this, the requirement that reviewers and moderators have to read comments to understand why something was flagged isn't going to work in practice. "not an answer" flags should be obvious without requiring additional context, so anything that isn't clear when reading the answer by itself should most likely be placed in a custom flag. For that reason, the "duplicate answer" and "answering a different question" examples will most likely not be processed correctly if flagged as "not an answer". I'd recommend removing those and the wording about leaving comments. – Brad Larson Mar 15 '17 at 16:07
  • 3
    @BradLarson: And that’s the crux that lead to all this: What you say may apply to SO and maybe some other big sites (and I totally understand this), but it’s a bad idea for many other sites. Also, it goes totally against the wording of the question (at least for answers to a different question). – Wrzlprmft Mar 15 '17 at 21:35
  • 2
    @Robert that's not a critical flaw, and if everyone followed your advice then the majority of flags on many sites would have to be custom flags. I don't know which sites you moderate, but what you're saying is not applicable to all. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 15:18
  • 2
    @Robert because other than this community written post on MSE, nothing suggests to the user as they go about their flagging that the NAA flag should only be used for what is blatantly obvious. Users should be trusted to flag responsibly, and aside from SO and maybe a few other high traffic sites, using the NAA flag is responsible. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 15:32
  • 2
    @Robert this isn't my post, though I do agree with most of it. There's absolutely nothing marginal about posts which answer another question, though evaluating that often involves reading the body (not just the title) of the question, which is why I still can't make sense of your advice. – curiousdannii May 25 '18 at 15:40
  • 3
    @RobertHarvey: There is one major problem with your suggestion: A huge amount of NAA flags aren’t handled by moderators but by the community (statistics for SO). Custom flags cannot be handled by the community. – Wrzlprmft May 25 '18 at 16:50
  • 4
    @RobertHarvey: I could equally claim that you are trying to bend the NAA flag to your will. For example, the flag description clearly says “it does not attempt to answer the question. Anyway, with the current answer-flagging system, we can only have makeshift solutions. What we need are proper answer-deletion reasons. – Wrzlprmft May 25 '18 at 17:11
  • 3
    The reasons for an NAA flag are specifically enumerated in the flag description. – and the comes deleted altogether, which is rather unspecific and captures a lot of things. – Wrzlprmft May 25 '18 at 18:39

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protected by Robert Harvey Jun 19 '13 at 16:31

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