All the day I am confused around "Not an answer", "comment" and "disputed flag".

So, another question from the set of confusions.

On this answer of Stack Overflow, IMHO this should be a comment, but according to a respected member, as per this answer on one of my today's earlier question.

While I agree that the quality of the answer is not the best (since it is phrased as a question)

But a low quality answer

So, can please anyone explain how to differentiate an answer that should be a comment and a low quality answer?

As per my understanding, the following are "not an answer" (because those should be an comment).

  1. One line answers
  2. Question asked in answer ( like have you tried this?)
  3. Only link answers (like you can find here...)
  4. Reference to another similar answers.

and the following are "low quality answer"...(I always prefer to edit this kind of answers or questions)

  1. Question with typo or grammatical mistakes
  2. Logic not explained behind answer, only code
  3. Formatting not correct.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • 2
    There is a "have you tried this?" answer that should be a comment and a "have you tried this?" answer that is an answer. The distinction comes with experience. You see, it is in the human nature to make fun of other people even when we attempt to help them, so, someone can form the answer in "have you tried this?", meaning that this is how it is done and they should had tried it before asking. Of course, there is the other thing that someone does not know if it works and makes a suggestion. This should be a comment. How can you tell? If you know whether it works or not, it is a good start.
    – ThunderGr
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


Determining what to flag and how best to flag content comes with experience and to be honest it is not as simple as the list you posted above - it is not black or white but many shades of grey.

The answer that has created your multiple questions today is (as I previously said) not the best answer but I don't think it is flag-worthy which is why I marked it as invalid when I reviewed it.

Now on to your lists that you use to determine flagging.

Not An Answer: I don't necessarily agree with your list of those items that are "Not an Answer".

One line answers

There can be answers that are given in a single line - they don't have to be paragraphs of content to offer a solution. You don't necessarily flag these items, you have to use your judgement.

Question asked in answer ( like have you tried this?)

There are two types of answers that exist here. One would be similar to the version you flagged, where the user is suggesting a possible solution, or there are cases where a person is asking a question like I'm having the same problem, did you solve it?

The second version is definitely "Not an Answer", the first version falls into that grey-area where it is an answer but it might not be the best answer. I personally wouldn't flag the first version but I might comment/downvote.

Only link answers (like you can find here...)

There is a lot of dispute about link-only answers. I personally dislike link-only answers but I don't flag them as not an answer because they are attempting to answer the question.

Very Low Quality: I'm a little confused by the list you use for "low quality answers" but I'll attempt to explain my reasoning behind this flag. I don't typically use very low quality flags because I think these can fall into other categories and I would use those instead.

Question with typo or grammatical mistakes

This flag would only apply if you cannot salvage the post by editing it. Basic typo or grammatical mistakes don't necessarily make it very low quality.

Logic not explained behind answer, only code

I wouldn't flag an answer if it was code only. Yes, it might not be the best quality but it is an answer. I would comment suggesting that the author expand on the answer explaining the code, instead of flagging this for the mods to review. In my experience flagging code only answers will lead to a declined flag.

Formatting not correct.

Again, this doesn't seem to be flag-worthy as long as the post is salvageable.

I wouldn't worry too much about a single disputed flag. Having flags declined or disputed happens to everyone. I have flagged a lot of content on Stack Overflow, most of the time it is pretty straight-forward what to do with it, but other times it is more difficult to decide - what you choose to do comes with experience.

  • +1 especially the ones about typos, grammars and formatting. If you can recognize the problems, you can fix them (or leave a comment nudging the author to fix them). Why on earth does a moderator need to get involved?
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:36
  • It was not about single flag, i was confused. And i prefer to solve that...your ans is perfect.
    – Not a bug
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:36
  • 3
    @KishanSarsechaGajjar I know it's not about a single flag, I'm just saying don't worry about the disputed flag. Disputed just means that someone disagreed with your initial flag. I have almost 1300 disputed flags. It really just takes time and experience to figure out the best way to handle bad content on the site.
    – Taryn
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:38

I agree with you on a lot of them but here is where I feel differently:

Not an answer

Question asked in answer ( like have you tried this?)

for the most part I agree with this, though I don't think its black and white. While I try not to, there are times when I have a question in my answer. However, when I do it is accompanied by links, examples, and/or reasons why I ask and why they should have whatever I am asking for. Also, its normally more of a rhetorical question I guess because I'm pretty sure they don't have what I'm asking for.

Reference to another similar answers.

If it is only a link to the similar answer or the code copied directly then I say definitely not an answer and I will flag. I did this just a couple days ago and it was marked as valid and the answer was deleted. However, there is nothing wrong with linking to or borrowing code from another answer as long as you give credit to the original poster and add something to the answer (a better explanation than originally given, more code, etc...)

Low quality

Question with typo or grammatical mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, just fix them if you can or suggest to the user to fix, unless of course it is completely unfixable but usually with grammar this isn't the case

Logic not explained behind answer, only code

I agree with this for sure. However, like most times, I won't flag or downvote without giving the person a chance to explain if they are new. I leave a comment with something like, "Code only answers are frowned upon on SO :(. Please give an explanation of what you have done and why it should work". If they are a veteran then I might just flag.

Formatting not correct.

Again, this is usually easily fixed so I will do so or comment and let them (if they are knew they may not understand the formatting concepts on the site). If they aren't new at all then I may flag but usually comment if it is logically a good answer.

  • How is this a bad answer? Did I miss something?
    – codeMagic
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:11
  • 1
    Obviously, someone disagrees with you. It is a very good answer, though. People seem to have great difficulty with the meaning of voting on meta. Someone has to improve the help files :)
    – ThunderGr
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:29
  • @ThunderGr thanks for the response. I know how SO works very well but I've just recently started participating in meta so I wanted to make sure I didn't misunderstand something about posting here.
    – codeMagic
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:36
  • Voting is often used to express disagreement, rather than express criticism of quality. Please read. (I didn't down-vote by the way, just explaining that it doesn't always mean a post was bad.)
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:38
  • @AaronBertrand thanks for the comment. It seems that's more for feature requests but I understand what you are saying. Thanks again for the info! I'm hoping to spend more time here!
    – codeMagic
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:42
  • I don't think so - I can disagree with an answer based on its principles or I can feel that it is not valuable, poor quality, etc. Same for a question tagged discussion that sets a premise I disagree with, or a bug that I don't think is a bug, or either of those based on quality too. Again, I did not in this case, just speaking generically.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 17:45
  • And of course, those are just for legitimate down-vote reasons. My down-votes are mine, I earned the right to down-vote, and realistically I can down-vote because I don't like your hair, think your avatar needs better focus, or because I remember you from a similar argument we had last week. I also don't have to explain why I down-voted. Not saying that I should do any of those things, but I can. Anyway, it's meta rep, consisting solely of imaginary Internet points. At some point you will embrace that "who cares?"
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 17:51
  • @AaronBertrand thanks for your comments and information. I agree that we reserver the right to downvote for any reason we wish but, as you said, that doesn't mean that we should and especially without leaving a comment unless it is obvious, IMHO. I've learned to embrace the "who cares" feeling about them from my time at SO. Since I have just recently started contributing to meta, I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing something and that my posts follow the standard set by more experienced members.
    – codeMagic
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 18:47
  • I have largely stopped commenting on my down-votes because far too many times that leads to vengeful behavior. If I do comment and the answer has already been down-voted, I make sure to disclose that I didn't down-vote. Perhaps I sometimes down-vote and comment, and state that I didn't down-vote. :-) Anyway there really is no difference between SO and meta, except that (a) meta rep matters even less (as are the consequences of down-votes), and (b) on meta the reasons to down-vote are a superset of the reasons to down-vote on SO. So, embrace it here too.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 18:51

There are no real hard and fast rules, as to be able to "answer" everything you asked about really depends on the specific scenarios (i.e. the question where the potentially bad answer is).

If someone asks a very basic question, then a one line answer or answer with code only is probably acceptable.
A question may be asking for a code fix "what's wrong with this" and then code only answer might be a decent one.
Additional information may be useful, helpful, or not necessary - again, depending on the question.

As per my understanding, the following are "not an answer" (because those should be an comment)

One line answers
One line does not equal "not an answer".
Not an answer is when, really quite simply, it did not answer the question within the scope that would resolve the question, or very least steer towards the answer with helpful info relevant to the question.

Often one line is not a good answer, but depends on the question.

Q. "How do I start PHP sessions?"
A. "session_start();"

What else do you want? (Note: Example is only for the point here - is a bad example in the real world as this should be flagged to be closed/duplicated and no answers should be given)

Question asked in answer ( like have you tried this?)
If there is a question only then it should be a comment, or new question, depending on if it's relevant to the original question or not.

If, however, there is also a suggestion present that can be classed as an answer, then a question in an answer is fine as it may also help lead to the answer. Even if not for one person but for another if their issue is slightly different.

"This is the answer you need"... "Have you also tried this/heard of this/know this approach exists.."

Only link answers (like you can find here...)
There's a debate over this on MSO.
My logic is: link only answers shouldn't be allowed, as even if the linked resource provides a perfect answer, the answer should be on this site, not another one.
What if the other site or resource linked to goes down, is deleted, changed and becomes a poor answer, etc.
The answer text should be here on Stack. Links should only be used as a secondary resource to the answer itself, even if the answer is only the text from the link destination copied/pasted to Stack (and declared as such).

Reference to another similar answers.
This is likely not an answer, as it's effectively declaring "this question is a duplicate".
I state likely as sometimes there's a rogue scenario, but I cannot think of one that would allow this sort of answer)

It should be flagged as such rather than an answer, and the answer (which declares this is a dupe) should be downvoted for not flagging the question as dupe instead.

Even copy/pasting the other answer to the new question is bad. If the other answer is valid and acceptable for the new question, then it is simply a dupe.

If the other answer is only similar, and so not a dupe, then linking to the other answer as an additional resource is fine, but only alongside a valid answer to the question.

the following are "low quality answer"...(I always prefer to edit this kind of answers or questions)
Question with typo or grammatical mistakes
Logic not explained behind answer, only code
Formatting not correct

Some argue grammar doesn't matter, as long as it answered the question.

However, I don't find an answer to be that good if I'm distracted from my reading/learning about a resolve due to bad spelling/grammar, or struggle to decipher the text when reading it because it's incoherent or badly worded.

When someone asks a question, while they may not be struggling per se, they do have a problem, so need clear cut responses. They don't need their problems to be expanded in another direction.

Logic not being explained is again dependant upon the question and answer. Maybe it's a complex scenario and some notes and details would be required for the OP and other visitors to grasp the explanation being made.
Maybe it is a simple resolve and adding logic would only benefit a handful of users (i.e. very little understanding of the subject matter).

Formatting is along side grammar/spelling issues. It's distracting and especially with code, as a user is trying to grasp the solution to their issue, and is struggling due to code layout being confusing/difficult to read.

There are many many things that can be wrong with an answer that doesn't stop it from being a legitimate answer, even a valuable one.
However, a great answer will nearly always have well explained details, formatted code, good grammar, potentially links, etc.

If an answer doesn't need all of that, then it likely wasn't a question that could warrant a great answer.

This sort of behaviour is why we have downvotes and comments, and edit.
I prefer to edit if simple issues, such as grammar/spelling, or something obvious. If there's something wrong with the way the answer was explained, then I tend to comment so the answerer can correct it in their own words (I might have missed the point they were making, etc).

  • Agree with you on link only answers +1
    – Not a bug
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 10:36

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