According to this and this answers I've always thought that flagging one-liners or too short answers was good practice. In particular the latter (by Tim Post) has near the end (emphasis mine):

Everything else such as 'me too', 'thanks', 'asdfgh', 'hi mom!' etc are cut and dry enough to not need explanation. If you think a one line answer is useful enough to keep around, but doesn't constitute an answer just flag it as other and indicate why it should be a comment.

Moreover among the comments of this answer from @animuson he explained to me that I should have custom-flagged a too-short question I simply flagged as NAA at the time.

Therefore when I find such answers usually I custom-flag them after leaving a comment like this:

This answer is too short and doesn't meet SO quality standards. Please improve it by adding some explanations in order to make it useful for the community and not only for the OP.

However I recently gave a closer look at my flagging history and noticed that several flags I raised following those guidelines were declined with various motivations, among which:

  • declined - flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention.

  • declined - Just because an answer is short doesn't mean it should be a comment.

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

Therefore I'm a bit puzzled now. Did I miss something or simply there is no consensus among moderators about what "too-short answers" mean? Should I continue custom-flagging too-short answers?


Given the answers/comments I'm getting I realize probably I haven't been completely clear. My puzzlement is due to the fact that many times I have flagged answers that I deemed too short (according to the links I provided) and those flags were accepted as helpful. Therefore when I analyzed my flagging history in more detail I found that some mods had different opinions about that. Thus my question here.

So I must infer that different mods have different opinions about flagging too-short answers and no clear-cut rule/guideline is actually in action. This question is not about ways to improve an answer, it is about how to become a better user by flagging appropriately when it is needed. Clear guidelines are useful for that. If there are none, I'm ok with it and I'll take it into account when flagging.

I see two possible cases about flagging too short answers:

  1. There are clear-cut guidelines, but I haven't been able to find/understand them well enough (in this case I'd appreciate some more pointers).

  2. There are no clear-cut guidelines, and the discrepancy I found in the mods reactions to my flags is the obvious consequence of this.

If there is another explanation, I'll be glad to know what it is.

  • 12
    Are you flagging because the answer is wrong, or for some other reason? The length of an answer isn't necessarily relevant, as long as it attempts to answer the question and doesn't just direct the OP somewhere else on the Internet to get their answer.
    – user102937
    Nov 11 '13 at 5:00
  • 5
    Judging an answer only by its length seems silly. If it is a full, valid anser to the question, why flag it?
    – Pekka
    Nov 11 '13 at 5:21
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey Well, as I pointed out with those meta-links, I understood that too short answers were discouraged because although they might answer the question of the OP they usually add little for the community in general, but maybe I got it wrong. Nov 11 '13 at 5:32
  • Sometimes we mark things as helpful because we don't want to deal with the meta fallout. Also, sometimes we're lazy. At all times, however, we are human. Nov 11 '13 at 19:44
  • @GeorgeStocker Yes, I suspected you were humans, as I am ;-) The whole point is that I'm fairly new to SO and although I committed some time for those janitorial tasks, I'm still struggling to understand what is accepted behavior in some cases, and sometimes I fear I've missed something. As I said, I'm Ok if mods are humans :-) the important thing is to understand if I broke some general accepted practice. Nov 11 '13 at 19:51
  • @LorenzoDonati The only time you should really get upset or wonder if you're doing the right thing is that if you have multiple flag declinations and you seem to get them repeatedly. I imagine just about every user who flags consistently will get one or two declined flags. When you get 10 of them, then I'd start wondering about what you're doing wrong (if it helps, I have 721 helpful flags, and around 20 declined flags over 4 years). Nov 11 '13 at 20:06
  • @GeorgeStocker Thanks! This really helps! Nov 11 '13 at 21:00

Yes and No are still answers to a lot of questions, so flagging short answers like that as not an answer (when they do attempt to answer the question) is semantically dishonest.

If the question suggests that an answer should contain more detail (and most should, after all, or they probably don't belong on the site in the first place), then it's a quality issue, and not one that requires moderator intervention. You can down-vote, comment, improve the answer, or post a better answer, all of which will either directly or indirectly show the author of the answer that a short answer - even if it is an answer - is not desirable.

Addressing the edit

Seems similar to this discussion about link-only answers. If you flag as not an answer, it should not actually be an answer, rather than an answer that just fails some other measure of quality (such as length). As I said above, a short answer is still an answer, it just might not be a very good one (and that can hinge largely on the quality of the question). If you think it's just not a good answer, you should down-vote it instead of flagging it and forcing a moderator to deal with it. If you decide to flag it, you have to accept that this is subjective, and you never know what you're going to get.

Different mods will likely view such a flag differently, and even the same mod may change their opinion about how to handle these over time (or even depending on the day they're having). If the answer answers the question but you feel it should be removed for other reasons, and down-voting / commenting / editing it yourself is insufficient, then flag for moderator attention with a custom reason, rather than NAA, and explicitly describe the problem (and why moderator intervention is required). If you flag as NAA, it needs to undeniably be not an answer.

It may also be the case that there were multiple flags on the answer. When some are accurate and some are not, the moderator can choose to accept or decline all in a swoop. So you may fall on either side of a decision that way, too.

  • "semantically dishonest". I guarantee you I am going to use that at work sometime today! :) Nov 11 '13 at 7:32
  • related: Question closed because yes/no answer
    – gnat
    Nov 11 '13 at 9:35
  • That answer I flagged as NAA was a mistake of mine and animuson gave me directions on how to avoid it (the fact he deleted the answer shows I was right to flag it, but I chose the wrong flag). Please see my edited question for a clarification on why I'm asking this. Nov 11 '13 at 19:29
  • @Lorenzo yes, I updated based upon your edit. Moderators are human and they won't always agree on everything. And if you choose the wrong flag (an answer that is too short <> not an answer) it may get accepted or it may get declined. Nov 11 '13 at 19:39
  • 1
    Sorry but I wasn't clear. After animuson explained that to me, I won't ever flag as NAA what is an honest attempt at answering. The whole point is about custom-flagging. But your answer seems undeniably to imply that there are no clear-cut rules, which is what I wanted to know. Thanks! Nov 11 '13 at 19:42

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