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Looking at this comment and the response to it, I'm a bit confused:

Just to clarify. I shouldn't flag an off-topic answer as "Not an Answer" right? Example: OP asks "How do I append a string to the end of a line". User answers "Here's how you add a string to the beginning of a line" – doubleDown 12 hours ago

@doubleDown: That's a good example. It's a wrong answer. Worthy of a downvote, but not a flag. – Robert Harvey♦ 12 hours ago

Huh? Till now I've always thought that a good faith answer which answers the wrong question is NAA. I've been acting on flags on Physics accordingly.

"Wrong answer" is something that mods aren't supposed to handle. If "answers the wrong question" is classified as "wrong", then isn't that

For a more stark example: Q: How do I parse HTML with regex? A: To convert a string into a character array, use .toCharArray()

The answer isn't wrong. However, it obviously doesn't answer the question and imo ought to be deleted.

A real-world practical example would be this, where the OP specifically asked for a pure JS solution (and mistakenly tagged the question as ). That's not a "wrong" answer. That's just not an answer to the question, and seems (to me) to fall under the NAA flag text:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.


I don't particularly care about nitpicking on flag reasons. I also don't care about declined flags. I'm worried here about flags not being actioned just because the flag reason makes mods not look for the right issue1.

I personally feel that this discrepancy sprouts from the fact that the SO mod team doesn't have the time to look too deeply into a post. NAA flags are more commonly for questions/comments being posted as answers. And then you have a whole bunch of NAA flags being used wrongly, for "wrong answer". So it's quite easy to deem a flag as "flagging a wrong answer" because the answer doesn't seem to be a question/comment in disguise -- especially when you don't have the time to read the answer and associated question thoroughly. I can see that a custom flag is much better in this case, however, this is not made immediately clear to flaggers.


So, I have two questions:

  1. Does "answers the wrong question" count as "wrong" in the sense that it is not a moderator's job to identify and delete such posts?
  2. Should we stop using NAA for "answers wrong question" on SO? How about on the rest of the network? If this is the case, the NAA flag reason probably should be tweaked to remove the ambiguity.

1. An example of this is when a broad question receives a spam flag. A moderator may miss out on the actual issue because of the flag reason. This is OK by me, because it ought to be obvious to the flagger that "spam" != "broad".

However, NAA is ambiguous here, and it's not obvious at all that "answers wrong question" != "does not attempt to answer question". If this ambiguity is leading to flags not being actioned, we have a problem.

  • Personally, I say that unless it is the OP themselves that has flagged it (such as if they realise they've answered the wrong question and want the answer migrated to the correct place - which mods can't actually do, but the poster may not know this) then I don't think it's a mod job to deal with these posts. They are 'wrong' answers and a comment explaining this and downvotes by the community are the correct response to these posts. – JonW Jun 20 '13 at 9:51
  • @JonW: Huh. Unless the answer is a wall of code, it's usually easy to figure out that it isn't answering the question by reading the text around it. It doesn't require domain knowledge (which is the reason why mods don't have to judge correctness). – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 9:56
  • But the point of 'not an answer' is to stop people from posting 'I like this' sort of crap as answers. It's a deterrent both to them and to others. An incorrect answer is still an answer and it is appropriate to the site, it's just been posted in the wrong place. Flags are for punishing wrongdoing, not stupidity. – JonW Jun 20 '13 at 9:58
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    @JonW: Flags aren't for punishing, they're for removing stuff that shouldn't be there in the first place. In fact, keeping aside the link-only-answer reason, if "answers wrong question" is not NAA, then NAA can be safely removed. The other use cases of NAA are VLQ, too -- VLQ is for unsalvageable things; things that can't be made into an answer. – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 10:00
  • Fair point, 'punishment' is the wrong term, but flags are for dealing with inappropriate posts, and I don't think an answer in the wrong place is an inappropriate post, just a mistake. – JonW Jun 20 '13 at 10:12
  • @JonW: I'm not talking about an answer that was meant to be posted in one place but was mistakenly posted elsewhere. I'm talking about the case where a user misinterprets a clear (=not vague) question and posts an answer. – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 10:16
  • Related: meta.stackexchange.com/q/167235/182868 – Ral Zarek Jun 20 '13 at 10:31
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If the question is:

How do I append a string to the end of a line

And the answer is:

Bubblegum

Feel free to flag as "not an answer". However an answer saying:

Here's how you add a string to the beginning of a line

requires some - minimal - understanding of the subject matter. Although I'm fairly confident all current SO moderators are more than qualified to realize that's not really an answer to the question, I'm not that eager to ask them to do so. I'd just downvote it and move on.

  • 4
    Uh, it actually doesn't require any understanding of the subject, it requires understanding of English. – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 9:57
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    @Manishearth Without a concrete example we are kinda wasting our time. If the answer is literally "Here's how you add a string to the beginning of a line" and nothing else, then flag it. If there's code in it, in all likelihood it does answer the question (because appending a string to the end of a line is the same to adding a string to the beginning of a line in almost every language there is). If it's a good faith attempt to answer the question, I really don't see why a moderator should be involved (other than downvoting it if it's wrong, that is). – yannis Jun 20 '13 at 10:05
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    Your examples strike me as being somewhat contrived, @Manish; in practice, they may not be so simple to evaluate. Thus, a bad habit for mods to get into. – Shog9 Jun 20 '13 at 10:06
  • @Shog9: What about this? I gave that as a practical example in the question. – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 10:13
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    @Manishearth Why would a downvote not suffice there? – Bart Jun 20 '13 at 10:15
  • @Bart: Because IMO it doesn't really belong there :/ – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 10:16
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    @Manishearth If you flag, you're asking a moderator to evaluate if the answer is indeed a JS one or not. That requires knowledge of JS. You can't assume moderators know every technology there is, even if the technology is as popular as JS. – yannis Jun 20 '13 at 10:19
  • Meh, it's an answer. It's to some extent even an answer to the question. You can fault the user for not answering the question to the letter. And a downvote would be justifiable. But to involve a moderator in all this and have them evaluate it seems a bit much. – Bart Jun 20 '13 at 10:19
  • @Yannis: Ah, I get it now... In that case, I have a supplementary question, which I'll ask separately. – Manishearth Jun 20 '13 at 10:21
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No, answering the wrong question does not warrant a "Not an answer" flag.

Just vote such an answer down. Comment on it if you like. But the OP of that post made a good-faith effort to create an answer.

"Not an aswer" should be used for:

  • Thanks, that solved it! -- thanking is not answering
  • Why are you using regular expressions? You should totally use a parser! -- critique and asking for clarifications
  • My question is: how do you know the answer to the ultimate question is 42? -- new questions posted as an answer.
  • Your exact question was answered in this forum post: [link] -- link-only answer with no context.

Moderators are not expected to judge answers on technical merits; too many topics, too few moderators, too much scope for uneven moderation if they did.

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    "Why are you using regular expressions? You should totally use a parser!" is an answer if the answerer follows to show how to use a parser. – John Dvorak Jun 20 '13 at 10:00
  • "Your exact question was answered in this forum post:" there is a dispute if link-only answers should be flagged. The highest-voted answer says they shouldn't, and they should only be downvoted and commented upon. – John Dvorak Jun 20 '13 at 10:01
  • @JanDvorak: I've done that, and had the answer accepted. But if it is just that sentence, then no, it is not an answer. – Martijn Pieters Jun 20 '13 at 10:06
  • @JanDvorak: I explicitly used the term forum post to try to indicate that the link is external. "Someone on foobar.com solved your problem, here's the link". – Martijn Pieters Jun 20 '13 at 10:08
  • "Moderators are not expected to judge answers on technical merits" I would say they're not expected to do so per not-an-answer flag. I sometimes raise flags requiring some technical judgement, but these flags are always "Other", with custom explanation – gnat Jun 20 '13 at 22:54

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