I've run into this situation a couple of times, where people give an "answer" that basically repeats the problem in the original question. (Not going to give examples here obviously, but it's happened.) So a hypothetical example might be a question like:

I've noticed that addition overflows just get wrapped around in x86. Why?

and a hypothetical non-answer might be something like:

x86 naturally wraps around addition overflows in numbers, just like MIPS and other architectures. You need to be careful when performing arithmetic; check the carry/overflow flags to see if something overflowed.

On the one hand, this doesn't answer the question. But on the other hand, it's well-written (no specific quality issues), and it seems to answer the question.

Should an answer like this be flagged? (Sometimes commenting doesn't help, since there's just no response.)


The "not an answer" flag is for the following situations:

  • The OP...
    • needed to update the question with new information, but posted the new information as an answer.
    • wanted to reply to an existing comment or answer, but posted the reply as an answer.
    • posted a "resolution answer" saying something along the lines of "Joe's answer worked for me"
  • A user...
    • wants to reply to the OP, an answerer or a commenter, but doesn't have enough rep, and instead of thinking "maybe there's a reason I'm not allowed to post comments," ignores the help text about what an answer is.
    • posts to say "I'm having this problem too, does anyone have a solution yet?"
    • has a related issue and isn't aware of the "Ask Question" button.

These are common situations for new SO users who may be confused by the reputation, editing and/or commenting systems. They may be used to forums where it's normal to add a new post underneath the existing posts, and blindly click the "Post Your Answer" button assuming that it says "New Reply" or something.

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  • I'm here for the same question, "What exactly constitutes 'not an answer'" as nearly every answer I flag as "not an answer" is declined, even when it quite literally "does not attempt to answer" at all, but instead just point out other issues in the code instead of the issue OP is asking about. To me this is a comment. If the "I am flagging to report this answer as..." modal had the above description, even distilled down a bit, would make this distinction much clearer. – Drew Reese Aug 1 at 22:46

Your hypothetical example is an actual answer. It might not be a good answer, but it is still an answer.

Examples of answers that are not answers (and can be flagged as such):

I have the same problem. Anyone find a solution?

Thanks but that didn't really help. (should be a comment)

I have a different problem, what if.. (should be asked as a new question)

I have some new information (should be edited into the question)

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  • Hm... the question asks "why", though, and there's nothing in the answer that says "because X". It just restates the question in a different form, doesn't it? – user541686 Mar 2 '11 at 17:54
  • @Mehrdad: We don't moderate for technical accuracy or answer quality. That's what voting is for. The "Not an answer" flag is there to catch those specific cases I outlined. – user102937 Mar 2 '11 at 18:06

I'd say no. Moderators can't be expected to judge the technical merit of an answer like that.

Just downvote and leave a comment if you feel like it.

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  • Okay, but then what is the Not an answer flag for? – user541686 Mar 2 '11 at 17:27
  • @Mehrdad as far as I understand the blog post and the comments there, that is rather for clear no-answers like comments posted as an answer, follow-up questions by people who can't comment yet and the like. – Pekka Mar 2 '11 at 17:31
  • Ah, all right, that makes sense. :) +1 – user541686 Mar 2 '11 at 17:58
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    This is what I've been reduced to doing - downvote & comment. Invariably every non-answer I flag as not an answer gets disputed and the moderators are hesitant to actually remove the post. – Yuck Aug 31 '11 at 18:31

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