In the spirit of @anongoodnurse's earlier question about When is an answer not an answer?, I present the following to the community.

Earlier, the question My 11 year old son is weird was asked, which understandably tested the limits of "What should we advice when one disagrees with the premise of a question" and "'Don't do it' as a valid answer".

Of the three answers provided by the community, I provided the following, which was deleted for not being an answer:

Your son is not normal--and you should be extremely proud!

The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty-Four, etc. are important and influential works of fiction. They are deep, critical pieces that intentionally challenge us to reevaluate the world around us.

Your son's interest in these works at his age is fantastic. Your son is on a path to being a critical thinker. His idea diary and discussion of his listening indicate that he has a strong and vivid imagination. These are traits that should be cherished.

However, your son could easily fall from this path if you push him back from it. Encourage this expression; don't stifle it. One of the things your son will learn is that not everyone appreciates or accepts all his ideas all the time. Your role as a parent is to help foster his curiosity, thinking, and imagination while helping him navigate the complex social environment of the "real world".

Your son is doing well. Congratulations on having such a bright kid!

Honestly, the other answer provided by other contributors did a better job addresses 90% of my points. However, I believe that my point about helping the son "navigate the complex social environment of the 'real world'" is an important and value-added response. As expected in that context, SE users upvoted the other answers and one of those was eventually selected.

I'm more than willing to call my answer a "poor answer", and I believe it can be improved. The lack of upvotes was not surprising, given the quality of the other answers. But I strongly disagree that it's "not an answer." To put it another way, I think my answer wasn't exceptionally useful to OP, but it was definitely not useless.

So, when is a poor answer not an answer?


1 Answer 1


The problem is that the question is bad, because it's:

A highly subjective description of the OP's son, lamenting his taste.

There's apparently a question hidden in there:

how to get him to be more normal

Which is a highly subjective, off-topic type of question. Normal is a highly subjective term except in specific instances where traits can be measured.

In response to this poor question, you replied with:

A highly subjective description of the OP's son, praising his taste.

There's no real answerable question here, and so what you wrote wasn't really an answer to the question asked.

Really, your answer is to a different question, "How can I cope with my son being 'weird'?" Unfortunately, that question wasn't asked. So, I can see the conversion to a comment being justified on that ground alone: answering a different question than asked. Although, I think the same reasoning could potentially be applied to the accepted answer.

I think this could have been avoided altogether if we had more community action regarding downvoting/VTCing the question. There are plenty of upvotes on comments expressing disagreement with the question, or asking for clarity, and a conspicuous lack votes on the question itself.

I understand that the OP has a legitimate concern, but we don't have to allow poor questions to just sit while hoping the OP responds or clarifies. These types of questions are in our power to put on hold, request improvements from the OP, and then re-open when we have a quality question.

As it stands, we ended up with a very low-quality question that attracted new users that were understandably trying to be helpful, but I'm not sure we ended up with anything that's actually a benefit to the community. We can also see that instead of responding to comments requesting clarification, the OP accepted an answer (very quickly). I feel that we really missed an opportunity to self-moderate as a community and help educate the new user. If we'd helped them improve their question, we may have also been able to give them better answers. I'll admit I could have been a little more guiding in my comment, but I'm not even sure it was read by the OP anyway. (One nice thing about holds is that it's readily obvious that there's something wrong with your question, and you're likely to try and find out what the problem was.)

Lastly, if you are willing to consider your answer "poor" and able to be improved, especially after a moderator has pointed out your answer has problems, then you should probably edit or delete your answer. Some minor editing may have been all that was necessary to make it an answer to the question as asked.

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