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Part of the nature of our site seems to be that we receive a lot of first posts from users that are posted as answers, but are really either comments or follow-up questions.

The reason this happens is partially because you need to earn 50 reputation to comment on someone else's post, so new users who are unfamiliar with the platform see a "conversation" that they want to participate in, and posting an answer is the only option available to them.

The ones that are clearly intended as comments are easy: moderators have a tool to automatically delete an answer, and then convert it to a comment.

Users who are asking detailed questions in their "answer", however, pose additional challenges.

We have a standard comment that we leave for these users, advising them that their answer needs to be fixed.

Should we continue using this standard comment? At what point do we delete the non-answers that can't easily be converted to a comment? How do we balance policing the quality of content on our site with being welcoming and accomodating to new users who may not be familiar with our peculiar format?

  • I've posted 2 suggested courses of action to address these issues. Please vote for or against one or both answers, if you agree or disagree. Also, please feel free to post your own answer, or add comments to discuss specific parts of either answer. – user420 Apr 3 '13 at 12:35
  • Isn't there a flag for that? it is not an answer – Mast Apr 20 '15 at 10:03
  • The flag doesn't actually do anything but draw moderator attention. This question isn't "how do we notify moderators", but rather " what should moderators do?" – user420 Apr 20 '15 at 10:29
  • Answers which are not answers should not be listed as answers. It would be a contradiction to let them be answers if they don't deserve that title. What's wrong with burning them? – Mast Apr 20 '15 at 11:06
  • @Mast read my comment on Robert's answer for background on why not instantly deleting non-answers was considered. – user420 Apr 20 '15 at 11:11
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I think there's a misconception that these posts are "answers that need to be fixed." They're not.

More often than not, these posts are a simple misunderstanding — a misuse of a feature by an unsuspecting new user not familiar with how the site works.

Policies about being welcoming and bending backwards to help new users are commendable. But I think those sentiments are a bit misapplied in this situation. There's nothing inherently unfriendly with with telling a customer "excuse me, but I think you are in the wrong line." But it's not really all that friendly to leave these posts on display to be down-voted and further commented on publicly. That's why we created a feature specifically to handle these types communications privately and constructively.

Helping Users When Deleting Answers

It used to be that, when you deleted a post, any comments you left to the author were also removed from their inbox. We changed that behavior so you can now reach the author of a deleted post to explain your actions.

When deleting a post, simply leave a comment immediately before deleting it. Your comment will appear in their inbox, even though the post has been deleted. Note that this only works for moderators and only for comments to the author of the post (@replies to other users will not work)… and the post has to be deleted within one hour after leaving the comment. The details are outlined in this meta post.

There are plenty of cases where leaving constructive comments creates a useful signpost for others to learn from, but in this case, it is very unlikely such lessons are going to reach the intended audience.

  • I agree, which is why I raised this meta question. The policy of not deleting non-answers was a bit of an experiment, but I feel it has failed. For back reference, the decision to start this experiment stemmed from specific feedback from a user who was very helpful in sharing her perspectives as a new user. Unfortunately, I do not think that the attempts have resulted in any users making these mistakes attempting to fix their posts. – user420 Apr 4 '13 at 16:38
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Any such non-answer should be flagged for moderator attention.

If the answer can be converted to a comment, then a moderator will do so.

Otherwise, a moderator (or other user!) should add a slightly modified version of our standard comment that indicates that the answer will be "hidden" (read: deleted) until it is fixed, and inviting the user to edit the answer and then flag for moderator attention.

The answer will then be deleted.

0

I suggest that any non-answer get flagged for moderator attention.

If the answer can be converted to a comment, then a moderator will do so.

Otherwise, a moderator (or other user!) should add our standard comment.

If the user is unregistered, the answer should be deleted, and the flag removed.

If the user is registered, the flag then remains on the answer, and moderators check it periodically over the course of a week.

  • If the user returns within that week, and updates the answer satisfactorily, the flag should be removed.
  • If the user returns within the week, and updates the answer, but not to the point where it really fixes the problem, friendly comments should offer suggestions for further improvement.
  • If the user returns within the week, but makes no attempt to update the answer, it should be deleted.
  • If the user does not return within the week, the answer should be deleted.
  • Please feel free to add comments if you like or dislike specific parts of this answer; the answer will be updated depending on feedback received. – user420 Apr 3 '13 at 12:32
  • Do you have any examples of someone actually converting a related-question-answer? Following up over the course of a week seems like a lot of overhead for something that strikes me as highly unlikely. If they had a good answer, they probably wouldn't be asking a question. – Karl Bielefeldt Apr 3 '13 at 16:02
  • I can't think of any instances where I've seen this, but I can't say for sure. If anyone did follow up, it would have been at most 2-3 out of the dozens that get deleted so far. – user420 Apr 3 '13 at 16:08

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