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On 15 Aug 2020 I edited an answer by @TimPost to The limits to a Very Low Quality answer.

That answer, after my edit, stated:

If you use the 'Very Low Quality' flag, you're sending a signal to moderators that the delete button probably needs to be pushed. You're telling us that:

  • The post is an indecipherable mess and can't be salvaged in the amount of time we're prepared to ask our users to spend editing a single post. This could be due to the post being written so horribly it can't be understood, containing horribly formatted code, or both. Put simply, it would take way more than a reasonable amount of time to straighten this mess out, put that responsibility back on the person who wrote it while keeping it from distracting others.

  • Casting close votes and down votes is simply not enough here.

You should not use it to describe the following, but should be using comments, close votes, downvotes and / or edits instead:

  • Questions that can be understood, but don't provide enough detail
  • Questions that are sloppy, but contain everything needed and can be easily edited into shape.
  • Questions that don't show any research effort
  • Questions that are clearly off topic
  • Answers that are just wrong or even actively harmful
  • Answers that are link-only where the link(s) lead to content that could answer the question (i.e. are not SPAM)
  • Posts that are blatant SPAM or trolling (use SPAM/Offensive instead)
  • Posts that you simply don't like, for whatever reason

My edit added the third last dot point:

  • Answers that are link-only where the link(s) lead to content that could answer the question (i.e. are not SPAM)

On 23 Feb 2021 the answerer made a minor edit to their answer but left the dot point I added exactly as I wrote it.

Yesterday (22 Apr 2022) an editor removed the dot point so presumably they think that a Very Low Quality flag should be used on "Answers that are link-only where the link(s) lead to content that could answer the question (i.e. are not SPAM)".

Should a Very Low Quality flag be used on "Answers that are link-only where the link(s) lead to content that could answer the question (i.e. are not SPAM)"?

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    You've set this question up as a false dichotomy which doesn't accurately reflect what you wrote. You wrote that link-only answers should not be flagged, but should be handled "using comments, close votes, downvotes and / or edits instead". For a very long time, link-only answers have been considered Not An Answer and should be flagged as such. It's OK for them to be flagged as VLQ, but NAA is generally preferred. Either way, they should be flagged and deleted.
    – Makyen
    Apr 23 at 3:52
  • @Makyen The question TimPost and my edit answered was not about the Not An Answer flag. It was about the Very Low Quality flag. I think most link-only answers should be voted for deletion but that there are a few that contain gems of information that should be taken advantage of to improve our content. My edit addressed the case of the latter small subset.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 23 at 3:59
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    Effectively, what you said is that people should be gaining rep by tossing a link into an answer and calling it a day with the expectation that someone else will come along and put the work into creating a real, actual answer form that link. Just a link is not an answer, regardless of how good the resource is that it points to (unless the question was an (usually) off-topic request for links to external resources).
    – Makyen
    Apr 23 at 4:06
  • @Makyen I would see it as a teaching moment about how questions should be answered if they want answers that attract upvotes. While link-only the answer should be attracting downvotes but a few of them have the potential to be turned into answers that attract upvotes instead. I think it comes down to how much we want to invest in training the future answerers to always write answers of at least a few paragraphs.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 23 at 4:10

2 Answers 2

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I'll repeat what I wrote elsewhere - the edit you made would have been accurate if you had told people what to do instead - i.e. followed the pattern set up by the spam/offensive bullet:

  • Posts that are blatant SPAM or trolling (use SPAM/Offensive instead)

So it would have read:

  • Posts that are blatant spam or trolling - use "spam" or "rude or abusive" flags instead
  • Answers that are link-only but are not spam - use "not an answer" flags instead

To address the points that Makyen has made in comments, VLQ can be a valid flag type for this link only posts but NAA is preferred, so the bullet point could have been explained as such:

  • Answers that are link-only but are not spam - while mods may accept VLQ flags, "not an answer" flags are more appropriate here

Regardless, the issue for me is that there's an inclusive list prior to the bullets that doesn't include flagging as an option so if you don't tell someone that flagging for another reason is the correct behavior, the explanation makes it look like the answer is saying that link-only answers shouldn't be flagged at all because that's not an option in the paragraph leading up to the bulleted list.

While the change that you made to add "comments" was good (and was kept), the only options for an answer were comment, vote and edit - no flagging! It would have been recommended to also add "other flag types" - so it would have read:

You should not use it to describe the following, but should be using comments, close votes, downvotes, edits, and/or other flag types instead:

As such, the full paragraph and list would read:

You should not use it to describe the following, but should be using comments, close votes, downvotes, edits, and/or other flag types instead:

  • Questions that can be understood, but don't provide enough detail
  • Questions that are sloppy, but contain everything needed and can be easily edited into shape
  • Questions that don't show any research effort
  • Questions that are clearly off topic
  • Answers that are just wrong or even actively harmful
  • Posts that are blatant spam or trolling - use "spam" or "rude or abusive" flags instead
  • Answers that are link-only but are not spam - while mods may accept VLQ flags, "not an answer" flags are more appropriate here
  • Posts that you simply don't like, for whatever reason

This solution is the most accurate (in my opinion) way of explaining how link-only answers fit into the flagging ecosystem. It indicates the best practice for how to handle them but doesn't leave people questioning whether these answers should be flagged.

In a perfect, magical world where everyone has infinite time, yes - your proposed solution of following the link and editing the answer to improve it would be the best solution but, honestly, if I'm going to do that properly with more than just a giant quote and no other context to directly answer the question, I'll write my own answer and get the credit for it myself rather than doing all the work for someone who just posts a link and walks away.

So, certainly, someone should feel free to leave comments or edit but, failing that (or in addition to it) the answer should be flagged because if it's not flagged, there's a good chance it will never be improved or deleted unless someone chooses to do the work themselves.

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    I think your dot point looks fine and I hope you'll edit that into @TimPost's answer. I don't think I've seen what you "wrote elsewhere".
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 23 at 5:08
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When adding the dot point to @TimPost's answer I read carefully their first dot point that describes what constitutes a Very Low Quality Post:

  • The post is an indecipherable mess and can't be salvaged in the amount of time we're prepared to ask our users to spend editing a single post. This could be due to the post being written so horribly it can't be understood, containing horribly formatted code, or both. Put simply, it would take way more than a reasonable amount of time to straighten this mess out, put that responsibility back on the person who wrote it while keeping it from distracting others.

At the time I suspect I was trying to figure out whether to mark as Helpful or Decline a flag on a question that was link-only but led to a page from which an answer could easily be found and parts copy/pasted with attribution to provide a useful answer.

The link-only answer was not an indecipherable mess and it could be turned into a useful answer by an editor or the original answerer by clicking the link and copy/pasting with attribution. Consequently, I declined the flag and probably commented that anything but an indecipherable mess of an answer does not meet the Very Low Quality criterion and so issues the flagger had with its quality should be addressed by commenting, editing, downvoting and/or delete voting instead.

I do not think that link-only answers are themselves useful, because not all viewers will follow them and in time many become broken, and so I downvoted the answer. If I had more time I would have used the link to take advantage of the content at its destination and copy/pasted an edit into the answer with attribution to the original author.

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  • This seems to bury the lede. Your actual answer/position here is buried in the middle of the fourth paragraph. It would be helpful if you clearly and unequivocally stated your position at the start and then explain it, or have it as a heading, or something, to make it more clear.
    – Makyen
    Apr 23 at 3:58
  • @Makyen If you feel strongly that all link-only answers should be flagged/deleted then I think you should propose that as a new flag reason. I've structured my answer in this way so that its viewers can understand how I read and tried to slightly improve Tim Post's answer.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 23 at 4:15
  • It's not a new flag reason. The directive has been to flag link-only answers for many years. Please see: "Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer?"
    – Makyen
    Apr 23 at 4:23
  • @Makyen You're right about not needing a new flag reason - NAA would be fine based on that but VLQ still seems inappropriate to me.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 23 at 4:54

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