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

See also: What is an acceptable answer?

Return to FAQ index


2 Answers 2


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 moderators and privileged users1 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:

  • Asking a new question
  • Clarifying the existing question
  • Communicating with another user
  • Saying "thanks" or confirming that another posted answer worked for them
  • "Bumping" the question, as in "I have the same problem, have you found a solution?"
  • Not attempting to address the question asked in any way

When should I not use this flag?

Do not use this flag when:

  • The user posts a partial answer to the issues presented in the question
  • 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 is blatantly obvious to you that what you're looking at meets the above conditions for using the flag, you're probably using the flag correctly.

If the problem is subtle and may not be obvious to whoever reviews your flag, then consider raising an "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 simply ceased to be 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 aren't shown 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 the review queue for privileged users1, 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:

  • A moderator found your flag borderline and decided not to delete the answer, but didn't want to penalize you by declining your flag.
  • Your flag sent the answer to community review (see 1 below), and:
    • One of the reviewers opted to edit the answer. This dismissed the review task and marked your flag "helpful". Or:
    • The reviewers agreed with you and voted to delete the answer (marking your flag helpful), but:
      • The author later undeleted it, or:
      • The answer had a positive score. Answers with positive scores can't be deleted by community members, so an outcome in favor of deletion will instead forward the answer to moderators for further review.

In the first and last cases above, a moderator will have already seen or will see the situation and has already or will soon handle it. In other cases, if the problem wasn't fixed, flag the answer using the "in need of moderator intervention" option and clearly explain the issue.

You can see which situation of the above happened by clicking through to the post's timeline, which will link to the community reviews (if any) the answer went through, as well as show its deletion history. If there's no entry for a community review, the flag was processed manually by a moderator.

1 The "not an answer" flag will trigger the answer to be reviewed by members of the site with editing privileges via the Low quality posts review queue (named Low quality answers on sites with the Triage queue) if the answer has never been to that queue before. If the answer ends up in this queue, the flag will still be able to be processed by moderators after a delay that varies per site (15 minutes on most main Q&A sites, 60 minutes on some large sites including Stack Overflow, and no delay on meta sites). If the answer has already been reviewed in that queue before, this flag can only be handled by moderators.

  • 13
    "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
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 13:20
  • See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/224817/…
    – scenia
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 13:54
  • 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? Commented Mar 23, 2015 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.
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 18:20
  • @RobertHarvey Personally, I have (literally) no doubt that the example in the linked meta question was not an answer, and was therefore appropriately flagged as such, but obviously some reviewers disagree, and it's unclear (to me) why that is. Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 18:33
  • @KyleStrand: Can you look at that "answer" and evaluate whether or not it is an answer without looking at the question?
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 18:52
  • 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. Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 19:49
  • 5
    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
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:32
  • 1
    @MartijnPieters Can you please explain why you rolled back that edit in whole? Commented May 24, 2018 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. Commented May 24, 2018 at 21:22
  • 4
    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. Commented May 25, 2018 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. Commented May 25, 2018 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. Commented May 25, 2018 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."
    – user102937
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 15:16
  • 3
    @RobertHarvey But then doesn't a custom flag bypass the community review process? Commented May 26, 2018 at 6:32

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 doesn't attempt to answer the question. It usually pushes an answer to the Low quality posts queue (Low quality answers on sites with the Triage 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.
  • "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?

    Non-answer 1: The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.

    Non-answer 2: Brazil is a state in South America.

    Non-answer 3: We went to Brazil for our honeymoon.

  • obviously dishonest answers to the question. Most of these are also Code of Conduct violations and should thus be flagged as rude or abusive or with a custom flag. 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.

  • answers violating site-specific requirements on answers. A typical example are sites requiring answers (or answers to certain questions) to be backed up with sources or explanations. In that case, unsourced or unexplained answers can be regarded as non-answers. You can see it this way: on such sites, the rules for answers are implicit in every question, and thus answers which don't follow the rules do not address the question. Be sure to familiarize with a site’s specific guidelines before using the flag this way.

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 an answer addresses the question and is at least one small step forward regarding the problem at hand (and more than a link), it’s not NAA. These posts are better posted as answers instead of comments. The fundamental distinction between answers and comments is not merely length, but rather that answers seek to address the question and comments try to improve the question.

  • 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).

  • plagiarism. Answers which are just verbatim copies of previously existing answers, or other sources, without attribution should be flagged with a custom moderator flag and the situation explained, including a link to where you think the copy was made from.

  • duplicate answers. Answers added which only repeat a point made in a long-existing answer without adding anything worthwhile to it should be flagged with a custom moderator flag which explains the issue and links to the answer which you feel is the source. This almost only applies to short answers which show an egregious lack of awareness of previous answers. Longer answers often offer a different explanation or presentation of the facts which is worthwhile. Answers which were posted only minutes apart are not flaggable merely because they cover the same points. Such an answer may be flaggable if there is clear plagiarism (i.e. it's a direct copy and paste with, at most, minimal differences).

  • 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 when the author has no other positive contributions to the site, but the benefit of doubt should be granted to users who have other positive contributions (i.e. flag gibberish from such accounts as NAA, unless such posts are repeated).

  • 4
    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
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 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
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 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. Commented Mar 15, 2017 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. Commented Mar 15, 2017 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".
    – jscs
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 12:59
  • 1
    Not to say that I disagree with this answer, but a lot of other people do.
    – jscs
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 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
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 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. Commented Mar 15, 2017 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
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 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. Commented May 25, 2018 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. Commented May 25, 2018 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. Commented May 25, 2018 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
    Commented May 25, 2018 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
    Commented May 25, 2018 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
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 18:39

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