SE has specific flagging reasons, not to make it possible to flag (we already have that with custom flags), but to give guidance on valid reasons to flag.

The "Not an Answer" flag comes with a description that implies its proper use (which I suspect that many people don't read or simply ignore):

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.

In other words, the OP is trying to add additional information to their question in an answer, someone is trying to communicate with another user in an answer, someone is posting a new question, or someone is posting nonsense.

"Not an Answer" flags are widely abused to mean "wrong answer" or "I don't like or agree with the answer". This is a problem for the Review Audits algorithm, because sometimes it gets things wrong when moderators dismiss such flags as helpful. It is also a problem for the mods, who now have to take extra time to figure out what is really wrong with the post, take the appropriate moderator action, and then decline the flag (it also modifies their workflow, since they are declining a flag in contravention to the moderator action).

Perhaps it is time that, instead of hinting at the correct uses of Not an Answer, we should simply spell them out, and leave custom flags for the remaining cases. So our flagging dialog would now contain these specific radio buttons to choose from:

  • it is spam (an unsolicited commercial advertisement)
  • it is offensive, abusive, or hate speech
  • it should be edited into the question
  • it is an attempt to communicate with some other user (should be a comment)
  • it is a new question
  • it is not in English, cat on keyboard, or other nonsense
  • other (needs ♦ moderator attention)
  • 26
    Add a WRONG ANSWER reason and allow people to flag it but don't be silly enough to actually push those in a queue... just discard these flags as soon as the GUI disappears ;)
    – user221081
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:04
  • 8
    @mehow, but then users may not downvote, which is the correct course of action
    – mhlester
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:06
  • 11
    Link-only answers? Just about every candidate in the last election listed link-only answers as targets for deletion, some were quite passionate about the matter.
    – chappjc
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:06
  • 3
    @mhlester people don't usually downvote because they are not aware that bad answers usually get deleted and they get that 1 rep point back...those who do downvote (reasonably) I adore and admire!:)
    – user221081
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:10
  • 1
    @chappjc: I would be fine with people using a custom flag for link-only answers. The purpose here would be to stop people from using "Not an Answer" flags for link-only answers.
    – user102937
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:11
  • 2
    One source of confusion I've seen is whether NAA means "NAA by global standards" or "NAA by per-site rules". For example, if a site has a back-it-up rule and an answer doesn't, some call that NAA and other don't and things get confusing. If we're going to rework NAA, can we address this issue? Mar 4, 2014 at 23:15
  • 1
    Perhaps Shog9's answer is out of date. In his answer one bullet listed a problem and flag: "Makes no effort to answer the question (perhaps an answer lies at the end of the link; perhaps it does not)? Not an answer"
    – chappjc
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:15
  • 3
    @MonicaCellio: That doesn't sound like NAA to me. It sounds like an answer without references. If the site regularly deletes such answers, then it's a custom flag: "Answer doesn't contain references."
    – user102937
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:18
  • 2
    @chappjc: If you're referring to link-only answers, I really prefer that folks call those out specifically. Not an Answer doesn't tell the moderator anything about why a link-only answer was flagged, and those kinds of answers are already controversial anyway.
    – user102937
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:28
  • 5
    @UpAndAdam: In this feature request, I propose to remove the NAA flag entirely, so it will no longer matter. For situations like the one you described, a downvote is the best course of action.
    – user102937
    Mar 4, 2014 at 23:38
  • 2
    @TravisJ: You mean "it's not an answer, but it doesn't meet any of the specific criteria for 'not an answer?'" If it's harmful enough to merit deletion, cast a custom moderator flag and explain the problem. Otherwise, just downvote.
    – user102937
    Mar 5, 2014 at 2:34
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey - I probably wont see it since I don't see custom flags, and probably will not encounter it in the wild very often either (I would action it if I saw it). More than likely users will not understand to cast a custom flag. I rarely see the custom close reason used. The end result is that more of this content will remain with no attention - more than likely without any downvotes either.
    – Travis J
    Mar 5, 2014 at 3:49
  • 3
    @RobertHarvey - After reviewing about 5 pages of flags I do think I see where you are coming from. There does not seem to be a need for "attempt to answer the question" when the reasons you propose exist. It would seem a majority of the flagged content should either be a comment, merged into the question, or is an answer asking a question similar to extending a forum thread.
    – Travis J
    Mar 5, 2014 at 7:15
  • 1
    Related: Add a deactivated “wrong answer” flag option.
    – Himanshu
    Mar 5, 2014 at 7:40
  • 3
    Maybe a dead horse I'm abusing, but just maybe the reputation loss is why people are resorting to flags or close requests instead of downvotes.
    – Jacob
    Mar 5, 2014 at 9:21

1 Answer 1


The problem with the guidance on the “not an answer” flag isn't only that people don't read, it's also understood differently by different people. We've had many debates on MSO as to whether it covers things such as

  • gibberish (if a post is completely incomprehensible, does it “attempt to answer the question”?)
  • statements (whether true or false) that address a related question but not the question that was asked — when does it stop being a failed attempt at an answer due to misunderstanding the question, and start being unrelated musings from someone who thought they were posting on a discussion forum?
  • posts with only a link and no other information — does that count as answering, and if so, does pointing someone towards Rome count as having driven them there?

I've proposed to overhaul not-an-answer/very-low-quality flags before. I think our proposals work well together: make flagging more specific, and let the community handle some types of flags.

I would structure the flagging dialog a bit differently, with two levels. Like closing and question flagging works now, selecting an option at the first level brings up the corresponding second-level options.

  • It is spam
  • It is offensive, abusive, or hate speech
  • It is an attempt to communicate with another user

    • check box: it should be converted to a comment on [box, prefilled with the question, allowing selecting an answer instead]
  • It should be deleted because … [essentially, the current choices in the very low quality queue]

    • it is a “thank you” comment
    • it is a different question posted as an answer
    • [not for self-answers] it is a “I'm having this problem too” comment
    • [only for self-answers] it should have been an edit to the question [guidance: perform the edit first]
    • it is merely a link with no other information
      I like Shog9's guidance proposal: “It is impossible to identify the solution presented in this answer without following a link to an external site.”

    • it is incomprehensible
      [note that “not in English” isn't right here, or else has to be customized per site]

    • it is completely unrelated to the question
      [I'm not sure how to word this, or whether it is needed at all (as opposed to a custom flag). This is for a class of answers where VLQ tends to be used now, where the answer has absolutely nothing to do with the question. This could perhaps be lumped with “is a different question” or with “incomprehensible”.]
  • It is wrong [which doesn't flag, but brings a popup telling the user to downvote instead]
    (I wonder if “it is urgent” should be another honeypot… Is it a problem outside SO?)

  • other (needs ♦ moderator attention)

  • 5
    That's a lot of dialog options. Complicated menus hamper usability.
    – Servy
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:02
  • 6
    The "it is wrong" flag honeypot seems like it might save a fair bit of confusion.
    – jscs
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:17
  • 1
    youtube.com/… Mar 5, 2014 at 19:35
  • 1
    @Servy I know, I'm a bit worried about this. Suggestions to lump options together without compromising guidance would be welcome. It isn't worse than the current close dialog though (which has slightly fewer options in total but one more level). Mar 5, 2014 at 20:07
  • 2
    I like the "it is wrong" honeypot, but how would you handle users that don't have the downvote privilege?
    – Troyen
    Mar 5, 2014 at 21:28
  • @Troyen Like the VLQ canned comments now: show a different message, here saying that when you reach X rep you'll be able to downvote. Mar 5, 2014 at 21:32
  • 1
    @Troyen - Or don't do anything special. Encourage the user to downvote. If they attempt to downvote with insufficient reputation, the system will encourage them to gain more reputation.
    – JDB
    Mar 5, 2014 at 22:12
  • One thing narrowly missed by this: an answer to "How does string concatenation with the + operator work?" saying "String builders are faster!" - Not an answer in the slightest, but doesn't appear to clearly meet any particular current option. Mar 5, 2014 at 23:50

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