This is one of the options we have for flagging answers:


But, what is 'not an answer'? What qualifies as an 'attempt to answer the question'. Is "not true" an answer (leaving aside questions about whether is good/useful/supported/correct/thoughtful/helpful, which we are addressing elsewhere)

  • 2
    The apophatic approach you've taken. A good Eastern meta user you are. [To be read in Yoda voice] – Dan Apr 4 '13 at 15:22

Strictly-speaking, this flag is intended for things posted as answers which do not clearly address the question at all - as the description states, answers which do "not attempt to answer the question". This includes:

  • Bare requests for clarification from the author which should be comments (if posted in a timely fashion)
  • "Thanks!" / "Me too" responses (which should be votes)
  • "I have a related question..." (which should be entirely new questions)

Such "answers" are common from folks who are used to more traditional forums, where comments (and perhaps voting) do not exist and it's common to have multiple, related discussions in a single thread. They should be deleted, with guidance given to their authors as to how Stack Exchange sites work (a link to /about may suffice).

This flag is not intended for:

  • Wrong answers (down-vote them)
  • Answers which misunderstand the question (comment / downvote)
  • Extremely low-quality answers (there's a Very Low Quality flag for these...)
  • Answers posted in bad faith (spam, trolling, nonsense, etc. - there are specific spam and "it is not welcome" flag types for these)

That said, a lot of people use NAA and other flag types (particularly VLQ) interchangeably - when the site is small and folks are not used to flagging, it makes sense to take the time to read the answer in context and just use your best judgement, taking action as though the correct flag was chosen (destroying spam, deleting VLQ, etc.) If misuse becomes a habit you should start declining these with a helpful explanation of what flag type is appropriate - educating flaggers on how to clearly communicate problems will make the moderators' jobs much easier as the site grows.


Post edit: It looks like what I'm discussing only partially applies to the discussion here. Part of it is what makes a valid answer on this site. The issues raised below are probably better covered by a VLQ flag, but either way I nominate them for deletion as not being on-topic answers on this site.

In the wild:

"No" is an answer. So is "yes", "maybe", etc.

On Stack Exchange:

One of the stock post notices that can be slapped on things written up in the answer slot that only fit the definition above has this to say:

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.

SE sites aren't just looking for a yes or a no, we are here to connect all the dots and show the why. Questions that could be answered by a simple yes/no have almost no place on the network. Some explanation is almost always required.

On Biblical Hermeneutics:

We're here because we're supposed to be a place where you can pick the brains of experts in interpreting a specific ancient text and follow along, learning something about hermeneutics in the process. If all you want is a final meaning or application -- the yes/no of Biblical questions if you will -- then you are asking in the wrong spot. If you really want to know how to take the text apart and put it back together again, this should be where you can turn.

As such an answer that does nothing except pick out the one "yes/no" bit of a complex three part question and slap a single doctrinal data point in the answer slot is not an answer here. If it doesn't teach anything about hermeneutics, doesn't mention the text in question, doesn't engage the text in any way, doesn't show how a conclusion was drawn, then I don't think it has any place here.

If a single doctrinal data point is in any way a valid answer to the question, the question should be closed. In the case that raised this question, I think the question raised a perfectly on topic set of issues directly stemming from the text. Answers must start by engaging that text, wherever they end up.

  • yes this is more to do with Monica's question than mine I think? – Jack Douglas Apr 4 '13 at 21:05
  • @JackDouglas: Ya I figured that out after I posted it. Parts of it apply here but let me answer the other one first before stripping it down. – Caleb Apr 4 '13 at 21:10

Merriam-Webster says an answer is:

something spoken or written in reply to a question

I think we should clearly differentiate between 'poor' answers and responses that don't attempt to answer the question. If an answer is poor, we have many options and exactly what we do is currently being discussed, eg:

  1. editing
  2. deleting
  3. voting
  4. commenting (usually in addition to another action)

but if an answer is 'not an answer' it either gets

  1. deleted
  2. converted into a comment

I don't think we want to do either of those things to anything that tries to answer the question, however short or poor quality. At least not straight away. If "not true" is given as an answer I'd downvote right away and then try and encourage the poster to improve the answer. Even better, if the answer can be unambiguously improved with an edit, we can just do that.

If there is no response for a week or more the answer could then be deleted (but not converted to a comment: we want answers not comments and that is sending out the wrong message).

Let's completely separate the concept of 'not an answer' from the quality of an answer: if someone tries to answer the question we can perhaps try and salvage the answer or encourage the poster to do so. If it is an answer to a different question, tangential to the question or a request for clarification etc then it needs to be deleted or converted to a comment.

In summary:

  • Any attempt to answer a question should be considered an answer and not flagged as 'not an answer'
  • If an answer can be improved lets do it, if it can't we can delete it if necessary, but 'not an answer' isn't the right flag!

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