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One of the few things a ♦ moderator can do that regular users can't is add post notices to questions and answers. For reference, the current set of notifications are:

  • citation needed
    This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

  • current event
    Post is related to a rapidly changing event.

  • insufficient explanation
    We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer: please explain why you're recommending it as a solution. Answers that don't explain anything will be deleted. See Good Subjective, Bad Subjective for more information.

(Here are examples of citation needed and insufficient explanation in action.)

I've never had a need for the middle one, but I suppose there could be some discovery of a manuscript or whatnot that might get asked about. I'm often tempted to slap the other two on posts fairly regularly. Answers from new users are pretty likely to fall under the domain of "insufficient explanation" if they are longish and under "citation needed" if shorter.

Personally, I think moderators should use these notices often in tandem with more specific comments. But I can see scenarios where these notices could drive away new users.

What do y'all think? Should we be liberal or conservative with post notices? Why?

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  • See also: How rare should post notices be?
    – Jon Ericson Mod
    Mar 19 '13 at 22:18
  • Another possibility for current events--could be a recent interpretation or trend. An example being the New Perspective on Paul--though I guess that's not that new or rapidly changing... but you get the idea, perhaps?
    – Ray
    Mar 20 '13 at 11:48
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    @Caleb: That brings up a problem with these notices. It's not entirely clear who added them without knowing some "inside baseball".
    – Jon Ericson Mod
    Mar 20 '13 at 19:43
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    I hesitate to mention this, but... It is possible to create custom (per-site, not per-post) notices. All the normal caveats apply though; you're kinda wrapping a big roll of crime scene tape around the post, and there are precious few situations where comments or straight-up deletion isn't more appropriate.
    – Shog9
    Mar 21 '13 at 18:42
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Hermeneutics, Religious Studies, Linguistics, etc., these all fall within the realm of the "Humanities." Humanities is the study of the human condition in all of its forms and expressions. Since we are all engaged in this study together here on this site, I'd prefer to see comments, downvotes, and VtDs as means of ensuring quality (in that order). These "post notice" things are dehumanizing since they serve no other purpose other than what appear to be a highlighted, anonymous comment. As a mod, you've disconnected from the community and have chosen not to engage on equally human levels. A web QA board is already impersonal enough, to strip away further levels of humanness and personality from it just seems to grate against the goal of the site.

Please don't mistake this as a plea for blind acceptance of everything - I think that if you check my comment and chat histories you'd see that I'd be first on the soapbox when it comes to pressing for academic rigor and clear research and thought patterns. But I own it. I want people to know that I'm the one who's pressing them for this and I want to engage that person in their endeavor to learn.

EDIT

Thinking on it a bit more, I think that a "post notice" could serve well to summarize a documented conversation (preferably in the comments) that may be too long for future readers to engage in reading. I see this as an extreme fringe case, but I can't say "never."

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    I agree with most of this, but as moderators we don't have one of the tools you list: VtDs. When something shows poor scholarship, has been engaged in comments, but isn't bad enough to unilaterally delete, the post notice can serve as a reminder to the user (they get an inbox notice) that we are serious about the standards and they should do something about it before it gets actually deleted.
    – Caleb
    Mar 20 '13 at 15:19
  • Based on your feedback here, would you prefer we go straight from comments to unilateral deletion? How would you respond to VLQ flags showing up on posts that have already been commented on but aren't outright mod-delete worthy?
    – Caleb
    Mar 20 '13 at 15:20
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    @Caleb What is VLQ? I think that deletion is reserved for a special kind of "bad." I think downvotes and comments are worth more than a "post notice."
    – swasheck
    Mar 20 '13 at 15:26
  • Sorry, that would be "very low quality" and it's a standard designation on flag types. Try hitting the flag link (on main, not meta) and see the options you get. NaA is the other main one.
    – Caleb
    Mar 20 '13 at 15:46
  • How would I respond to VLQ flags that came in? I don't know what my choices are or what the workflow is like. However, I don't know that a "post notice" would add to the scenario anyway. Perhaps head into The Library and incite the downvote wrath of the mob like we do at DBA? Maybe someone in there will take up the mantle of answering more betterly ;) Or maybe I'd toss a bounty on the question itself.
    – swasheck
    Mar 20 '13 at 16:36
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As a new user I am always grateful for the gentle instructions in the comments, and for the edits.

I think I might find such a notice as discussed here rather discouraging.

In general, a comment seems sufficient to move things toward an improved direction.

I'm sure it is convenient to post a notice rather than take the time to type a comment, especially one like the first that addresses a common occurrence. However, I do not doubt that the added effort will pay off in the long run so long as you still make the expectations clear.

I think it unwise to:
a) use these notices for convenience.
b) to delete a post without first directly warning the author that the post is about to be deleted.
c) use this notice on a post that you do not intend to delete. To do so would be an empty threat and would undermine the weight/authority of the notice.

I think the only appropriate and necessary use of such notices would be when:
a) the original contributor is no longer responding to other prompting;
b) AND an edit will not fix the issue, (determined through Meta community review).
c) AND it is undesirable to delete the post, but certain that the community will delete the post if alterations are not forth coming. (see b above)

By this time there is no shame brought on the contributor that they have not brought on themselves. If they are no longer around they will face no disgrace either.

NOTE: Warnings that the post may be removed should be accompanied by a deadline.

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    I quite agree with this as far as it goes (in that the notices are a strong measure and should be only added after the OP has been worked with in comments and there is still an outstanding problem) but I think this leaves something to be desired as an answer to this question. The question is "when are they necessary?" What criteria makes them necessary?
    – Caleb
    Mar 20 '13 at 15:49
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    Thanks for this Sarah. Can you elaborate what you mean by "situations that have already been addressed without success"? What is the required outcome before we start bludgeoning users? :) Mar 20 '13 at 16:03
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    @Jack Douglas. Thank you. See above. I'm sure the moderators encounter all kinds of more intricate situations that would warrant use of these posts. This seems like the bottom line for what I think would warrant use of these warrnings. If someone fails to cooperate with prior promptings and the situation is not fixable through edit, no one should be surprised to find such a notice on their post--the final warning!! That means these warnings would not be hanging around the BHSE very long as the poster would soon after fix the post and the warning taken down or the post would be deleted.
    – user2027
    Mar 20 '13 at 16:18
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    Thanks for the edit Sarah: I really appreciate the effort you've put into this even though I personally can't upvote it because I don't think these post notices are ever necessary. Can you imagine a post that is so bad we'd want to publicly shame the poster rather than just deleting it? Mar 24 '13 at 17:49
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    @JackDouglas, It is hard to imagine a post so bad; but, sad to say, it is not difficult to imagine a contributor who is uncooperative or possibly simply not around any more. Perhaps such a notice could be posted (with a deadline) in a chat room to the author, as the last warning that the post is about to be deleted if not fixed. Upon the deadline the post would then be deleted if not remedied.
    – user2027
    Mar 24 '13 at 22:27
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    I like that reasoning but still think a comment would be best in that situation. Comments are signed and post notices are anonymous. Comments can say exactly what you mean but post notices are selected from a limited number of fixed texts. A post notice with its big yellow background speaks to regular users rather than to the poster: "look this post has this problem: don't do this". imo the best use for them is when we are not planning to delete the post at all like 'historical significance' locks Mar 25 '13 at 7:34
  • @Monica I'm advocating comment, wait, delete in all the cases where eventual deletion is called for. (or perhaps comment, wait, comment, wait, delete) Mar 25 '13 at 16:12
  • @JackDouglas, I do not think it wise to delete a post without directly notifying the author that the post is about to be deleted. That is where I think this notice would be appropriate. If the situation is severe enough to delete it, it is severe enough to warn them in no uncertain terms despite any shame involved. I edited my post here to reflect this thought.
    – user2027
    Mar 26 '13 at 1:16
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Like you said, the middle one isn't much use to us, but I think the other two can play a roll here.

Personally, I use the things a lot over on [Christianity.SE]. I don't think they substitute for other forms of communication, particularly comments on posts. However, they do serve as an official re-enforcement on the idea. I often add a citation needed banner to posts that have been commented on by our users requesting sources for unbased claims. We do not require sources, but we do require that material can be sourced if challenged. It is quite common for somebody to throw up an opinion answer as if it represents some larger doctrinal tradition. If these don't pass the litmus test, please often comment and flag them. If I am responding to flags and find people have already commented, I often add a post notice rather than straight up deleting the message. This gives the OP more time to respond to the request for sources and puts an official stamp of approval on the request. It also basically tags all these posts. Later one can review all the posts with notices and decide if the OP has responded to pull down the notice or if they have not, to consider deletion.

I think it could work must the same way here, but I would be careful to first explain the issue with the post and request specific sources in a tailored comment before slapping a post-notice on.

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  • It sounds to me like you are misusing them on c.se: do you know there is "some amount of public shaming associated with them"? Mar 20 '13 at 13:32
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    @JackDouglas: It's possible I am, but the shame aspect is a footnote to the discussion where you linked, not the main point. Bear in mind I'm not arguing they should be used as a first or main line of defense or an a convenience tool.
    – Caleb
    Mar 20 '13 at 23:33
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From Bounty Reasons and Post Notices (emphasis mine)…

We liked this idea of explanatory text associated with bounties so much, we extended it to also apply as a general “post notice” to locked questions like this one on Stack Overflow, and we allow moderators to apply (in some rare cases) arbitrary post notices to individual questions and answers, as you can see on Skeptics.

… I think the intention of post notices was that they should be used in exceptional situations only.

They are a means of communicating to other people (not the OP) in a clear recognizable way the reason for the action (eg locking) or the problem with the post, so they make particular sense on high-traffic posts such as on questions attracting many 'me too' answers. For the purpose of communicating to the OP, I think it is preferable to make a personal comment, and on a site like this that seems to me to be the most appropriate action (rather than both comment and post notice) in the large majority of cases.

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  • From Shog9's answer to Monica's version of this question on mSO: "It's probably also worth mentioning that besides the obvious "alert - here be dragons" nature of these notices there's also some amount of public shaming associated with them; if they're over-used, then this becomes less effective.". These are important points too imo, particularly for a site this small. Mar 20 '13 at 9:16
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I had to literally write the answer to an FAQ to get here, but I think I know how to answer my own question. In effect, post notices are a last line of defense against answers that fail to go into sufficient detail or make assertions that are not sufficiently backed up.

  1. Comment. Ideally ask an interested question.

  2. If you are thinking of a downvote, this is the best time to do so. Withhold an upvote until the problem is fixed.

  3. Ideally someone will edit the answer into shape by adding citations, details, or logic. Please do not remove unsourced material at this time.

  4. If no edits are forthcoming, we wait for the question to go fallow. As long as people are actively working on it or thinking about working on it, adding post notices is probably a bad idea. We are a slow moving site because of our topic and it's ok to give people space to fix problems with their posts.

  5. When it becomes clear that no fix is forthcoming, analyse the Q&A page. If there are no good answers, it's possible there was something wrong with the question and it should be closed with an eye on deletion (if warranted). If there is at least one good answer with a higher score than all the bad answers, we might leave well enough alone. If the answer is just plain bad and not fixable, we ought to delete it. If the comments are sufficient to correct the issue, we might consider editing them into the answer—especially the author's own comments.

  6. If the best answer (or answers) has some good information, but either not enough to answer the question or contains controversial and unsupported assertions and if the author has shown they will not fix the problems (either because they are unwilling or because they have left the site), then the moderators should consider adding a post notice. If a notice is added, a clear comment from the moderator should be added too. This should serve a similar purpose to the mod messages that accompany suspension. (We haven't had any of those yet, thankfully.)


I have a few concerns about this:

  • How long should the wait in step #4 be? At a minimum, we need to know that the author has seen steps 1-3 and had time to process them. I suppose a week is plenty long.

  • How will we remember to come back to answers to do step #5? The normal workflow of the site does not facilitate waiting.

  • Should we ever follow through with the implied threat to delete annotated answers?

  • Do we need a custom post notice?

But overall, I think this procedure could help us deal with answers that are helpful, but which don't meet our (admittedly high) expectations.

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  • This is good, but I think it only focuses on one specific niche: potentially good-ish but currently not-great answers. I see post notices as being most useful at the other end of the spectrum: answers that aren't even close to the right track and the OP is marching on. The flow for these is probably similar but definitely not the same as you've outlined. I'll try to re-work my answer to explain the potential use-case I see that isn't covered here.
    – Caleb
    Mar 22 '13 at 23:47
  • @Caleb: What do you mean by "marching on"? Do you mean more bad answers to other questions? (I guess I can wait until you update your answer.)
    – Jon Ericson Mod
    Mar 23 '13 at 0:00
  • @GoneQuiet: Certainly we can have good questions that have no good answers, so we ought not delete for that reason alone. But if a question collects a number of bad answers, it's a warning sign. I guess the phrase "top-scoring" isn't exactly what I mean. Clearly if we have several ok, but flawed answers that shift spots over time, we want to deal with each of them. (But then we must consider the question again. I've always believed that the quality of a question must be judged by the quality of it's answers.)
    – Jon Ericson Mod
    Mar 25 '13 at 16:31

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