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The “not an answer” flag on answers is meant to be used when

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.

The “very low quality” flag on answers is meant to be used when

This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

There's quite a bit of confusion between those two flags. I don't want to get into that debate here, so take this as a statement that there is confusion, not that it is confusing.

Low quality posts have a nice workflow: they are shown in a queue to all users with the “edit” (2k) privilege, who can pile on to delete the post or contest the flag. The voting system ensures that after enough reviewers have seen the post, either it will be deleted or the flag will be cleared. As a user reviewing low quality posts, my actions make a difference. As a moderator, I don't need to get involved.

There are a few bad things about the “low quality” workflow:

  • As a reviewer, you have to decide between “Looks OK”, “Edit” and “Recommend Deletion” (or “Delete” if you have the appropriate privilege). “Looks OK” is somewhat confusing because it is the right choice for an altogether wrong answer, which should be downvoted but not deleted.
  • As a user, when you cast the “very low quality” flag, you don't get to enter a reason. Reviewers in the low quality queue have to figure out on their own why the initial user cast the flag. (Sometimes the initial user leaves a comment which makes this clear, but not always.)

As for the “not an answer” flag, it's essentially brought to moderators, after a delay, except when it isn't.

Fundamentally, the “not an answer” flag and the “very low quality flag” say the same thing:

I think this answer should be deleted (either converted to a comment or removed altogether).

I can't think of any reason why certain types of answers that should be deleted should require different workflows. Given that the “not an answer” workflow is inconvenient and the “low quality” workflow is mostly good, I propose:

Replace “not an answer” and “very low quality” by a single “delete” flag, and use the current “low quality” workflow with minor modifications.

The modifications to the LQ workflow would be:

  • Supply a reason for deletion. The primary purpose of this reason is to explain what are reasons to delete an answer. We have close reasons, we should have delete reasons too. A secondary reason is to provide a clue to reviewers.
  • Reword the “Looks OK” button.

A delete vote on an answer would kick it into the deletion queue with a score of 1 in the “delete” column.

Possible modifications, which may be done at the same time or later based on experience (which should perhaps be separate discussions):

  • Allow voting in the low quality deletion review queue, which would help reviewers figure out what to do on altogether wrong answers.
  • Tweak the deletion reasons to cover cases where one would use “not an answer” but not “low quality” today. The reasons should handle common cases, for the rare cases there's the “other” flag.
  • Allow voting or flagging for conversion to a comment (which would be one of the deletion reason, offering a choice the question and the answers like voting to mark as duplicate offers existing questions).

I don't know whether there should be a score threshold for delete flags like there is for VLQ (but not NAA) today. On the one hand, the occasional joke or duplicate answer sometimes has a high score. On the other hand, the vast majority of posts that need deleting have a low score and exceptional cases can be handled by moderators.

(Similar request on Meta Stack Overflow)

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    I upvoted this because I'm a heartless bastard who wants to delete everything and I like it when more things get deleted. – DeadMG Jan 2 '14 at 1:53
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    I don't get this suggestion at all. Not all "Not an answers" need deletion, do they? Many of them need to be converted to a comment. The real problem here is that trigger-happy 20k'ers have the delete privilege, and use it to destroy content that should be a comment. – Pëkka Jan 2 '14 at 2:20
  • @Pëkka “low quality” is used on link-only answers, too. There is an option in the review screen that legitimizes that usage. Yet many link-only answers would make fine comments (“I don't have time to write an answer but maybe this link would help”). – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:21
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    Then perhaps that needs to be fixed somehow. That actually explains a lot of 20k+ deletions I've witnessed. From what I've seen in the review queues, no one should be trusted with deletions but moderators. – Pëkka Jan 2 '14 at 2:22
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    @Pëkka Then what needs to be fixed? Link-only answers being deleted? Link-only answers not being deleted? Link-only answers being converted to comments? Link-only answers not being converted to comments? There are many opinions on that topic and I don't know which one you follow. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:24
  • I've never liked the comments part being included in NAA. I'm afraid it'll seem as if I'm requesting deletion rather than conversion to a comment. That's why I prefer to give a custom message for link-only answers. – Jamal Jan 2 '14 at 2:25
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    @Jamal You should not flag as NAA if you want an answer to be converted as a comment. Flag as “other” and specify which post you think the answer should be a comment on. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:29
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    Tangentially, do mods actually have any practical way to convert NAA-flagged answers to edits or new questions, like the flag description seems to suggest? (I suppose "converting to an edit" is something anyone with edit privileges can do, but does the mod interface offer a more direct way to do that?) – Ilmari Karonen Jan 2 '14 at 3:11
  • @IlmariKaronen To edits, yes, provided that the answer is a self-answer (not if the poster made an answer because he'd lost the credentials he used to ask the question). To new questions, no. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 3:13
  • Since the 10k flag queue is no more, maybe this should be revised, don't you think? – Braiam Aug 9 '14 at 21:02
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    Related on SO meta – Yvette Colomb Mar 15 '16 at 9:15
  • +1 for “Reword the “Looks OK” button.” Some people believe that the button means “Looks Good ”, and yell at me for clicking “Looks OK” on bad answers (which they think should be deleted). IMO it’s sad that this simple feature request from 3½ years ago is not implemented, while the confusion over the difference between “bad answer” and “not an answer” rages on. – Scott Jul 31 '17 at 22:29
  • Can you bump this question? I want this to be revisited by all. I can't ask again as it would be closed as a duplicate. – NVZ Jan 12 '18 at 6:49
  • @NVZ You can do that too, but ok, whatever. I'm still convinced that the current distinction is nonsense but I don't have any hope that this is going to be fixed. – Gilles Jan 12 '18 at 11:13
  • "The voting system ensures that after enough reviewers have seen the post, either it will be deleted or the flag will be cleared." unfortunately this is broken: a single edit will take it out of the queue, and the edit does not always solve the issue with the post (seen it many times on aviation.se) – Federico Mar 9 '18 at 13:30
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I rarely see any content that really is VLQ-flaggable anyway.

There is a thin region between spam and OK (not good, just not deletable) answers that we term as "very low quality", and answers in that region are rarely found.

A post is "very low quality" if it has problems that can't be fixed by others. I find that something that tries to be an answer can almost always be fixed. The unfixable ones are:

  • Those which are not really attempting to answer the question: The ones which answer a different question, or are a comment, or are a different question. These can be safely flagged as Not an Answer or for comment conversion.
  • Spam: Flag as spam, obviously
  • Wrong answers: These aren't supposed to be deleted anyway
  • Incomplete answers: Sometimes incomplete answers answer the question or provide sufficient hints to the OP and don't need deletion. Sometimes they are too incomplete, and can be deleted as not an answer. (usually leaving a comment telling the OP to repost a complete answer)
  • For questions, the close flags are sufficient.

So I don't really see any place for VLQ to fit in here. On Physics I just get people using VLQ to mean NAA, or to mean "this should be a comment".

The only thing that the VLQ flag adds is clarity. The words "very low quality" are pretty clear, and someone looking at the flag dialog can easily pick out that the flag is for flagging obvious crap. Contrast this with "not an answer", which is clear, but not so clear for newbies.

I would say that merging NAA with whatever little independent meaning the VLQ flag has is a good idea.

Possibly it might be good to reshuffle the flags, create one flag that is solely for converting to comment, and one flag for "useless post that should be deleted".

  • "very low quality" is incredibly subjective, even if SE has its own "objective" definition of the term. An answer that does not qualify as VLQ can very well be flagged as such just because "it's only one short sentence". – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jan 2 '14 at 4:29
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    @BoltClock'saUnicorn Community does that… Humans are supposed to be more intelligent (not that they really are). – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 8:37
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    If you're not seeing VLQ-flaggable content yet, enjoy it while it lasts... – Shog9 Jan 15 '14 at 1:24
  • VLQ is the opposite of clarity. In the last 2 months, I have yet to see a single VLQ-flagged post that was actually legit. Most users seem to consider it "I don't like this answer". – FuzzyChef Apr 17 '18 at 16:44
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No. "Not an answer" is more of a hint that a mod could convert the answer to a comment. This is not appropriate in the "low quality" case.

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    There are low quality answers that could be converted to a comment. I'm not the only one to observe this. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:09
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    Yes, I'm aware of that. There are answers that are not flagged at all that can be converted to a comment. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about whether these two flag reasons are distinct, and yes they are. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 2 '14 at 2:16
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    But what's the point of keeping them distinct? More specifically, what's the point of keeping the NAA workflow around? As both a 10ker and a ♦ I find that workflow broken. Would you want separate “low quality” and “not an answer” flags with the same workflow (because if the flags aren't unified for some reason, I want the NAA workflow to disappear), and if not identical then very similar review options? Why? – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:19
  • @Gilles but it isn't the same workflow, is it? Because one kind needs to be deleted, and the other kind sometimes needs to be converted to a comment instead? To me, that looks like two very distinct things. Is there something I'm missing here? – Pëkka Jan 2 '14 at 2:24
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    @Pëkka I don't get your point. Converting an answer to a comment deletes it. As I wrote in my question, conversion to a comment might be one of the options when flagging or voting to delete. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:26
  • I won't lie: like everything else review-related, I simply don't care any more. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 2 '14 at 2:29
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    “Not an answer” is absolutely not a valid flag if you think the answer should be converted to a comment. Flag as “other” and specify which post you think the answer should be a comment on. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:30
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    @Gilles either you are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of the "not an answer" flag here, or I am. My understanding has always been that "not an answer" alerts a mod, who then decides whether the answer gets deleted altogether, or converted to a comment. While "Low quality" givers 20k+ers the option to delete right away. Is this not the case? – Pëkka Jan 2 '14 at 2:32
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    That is my understanding, also. If an answer should be a comment, then you flag it as "not an answer", because it's not an answer. What on earth else would it mean? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 2 '14 at 2:34
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    @Pëkka “Not an answer” if you expect a conversion to comment sucks. First, because it is likely but not guaranteed that your flag will reach a mod. Second, and speaking specifically as a mod here, your flag doesn't say which post you want the answer to be a comment on. This is not always easy to determine, and I very much prefer the flagger to tell me that. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:53
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    @Gilles that is completely new to me. But then either the workflow is broken, or the flagging UI is extremely misleading. – Pëkka Jan 2 '14 at 2:55
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    @Gilles: “Not an answer” if you expect a conversion to comment sucks. First, because it is likely but not guaranteed that your flag will reach a mod. This has always, without fail, worked for me. It is implicit that such a flag means the answer should be a comment on the question, and if it's unclear then someone can figure it out with their brain. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 2 '14 at 2:57
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    @Pëkka It's part of why I want to remove the NAA flag (its workflow, not its functionality). Yes, it's in the official guidance… but common sense and experience (from the mod side at least) says it's wrong. – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 2:57
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    @Pëkka, Lighntess: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/214587/… – Gilles Jan 2 '14 at 3:10
  • I disagree. "I have this problem too" and "thank you" answers should be flagged as NAA but they shouldn't be converted to comments because they're just noise, even as comments. – Donald Duck Jul 30 '18 at 18:35
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For rewording the "Looks OK" button, why don't we rename it "Shouldn't be Deleted", "Not Deleteable", or "Don't Delete"? That would make it clear that ALL of the following are "good" answers with respect to the Low Quality Posts queue (that is, they shouldn't be deleted):

  • Correct and useful answers
  • Incorrect answers (e.g. 'Strings are mutable in Java, just call myString.updateTo("newValue");' or 'Dereferencing a null pointer in C always returns zero')
  • Answers that are technically correct, but are so incomplete or vague that they are not useful (e.g. "You need to add a spline" or "Rewrite your second section, the error is on line 5").
  • Answers that you can't tell whether they are correct or not, but you can tell that an attempt was made to answer the question

Another possible wording would be "Attempts to Answer the Question".

Any of these would emphasize that "OK", from the perspective of the Low Quality Posts queue, means something very specific and not a general answer quality value judgment made from the reviewer's prior experience with the subject(s).

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