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When there is an answer you feel is 'bad', what are the correct actions to take?

For example, the question:

has an answer:

If you always use both functions together it might be faster to run the code in one pass instead of two, but here it is perfectly fine to use two functions.

This answer could be considered to be 'wrong':

  • Technical: Best practice (and other answers on the same question) recommends the Single Responsibility Principle where a function does one things only.
  • Presentation: It is a short, 1-sentence answer

As a user, what are your options?

  1. Flag it as Not-An-Answer (NAA)
  2. Flag it as Very-Low-Quality (VLQ)
  3. Vote to Delete it (if you have enough reputation)
  4. Down-vote it.
  5. Edit the answer and improve it.

This meta-question is a discussion point....

... with the specific emphasis on the NAA and VLQ flags.

Flagging an answer for moderator attention is not the right answer in a situation like this. Poor quality answers are supposed to be dealt with by down-voting, and by voting-to-delete. It is not an 'exception case' for there to be a bad answer, or an answer you disagree with.

Links:

Please consider the nature of the answer before suggesting it is something only a moderator can process. The community normally has the tools to resolve these issues... use them, before flagging.

UPDATE: Not an Answer flag - "should be a comment".

@konijn pointed out that the NAA flag includes the text:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.

This is a judgement call, and it is true that only a moderator can convert an answer to a comment.

My opinion (personal, not as a mod), is that the answer above is in fact an answer since it contains: "... but here it is perfectly fine to use two functions."

It is because of that particular sentence/statement that I declined the flags for NAA. It is/was an answer. Further, converting it to a comment removes the option for people to 'disagree' with it by down-voting (comments cannot be down-voted).

I am forming the opinion that NAA and VLQ flags should only be used when there is 'no doubt' about the answer. Anything 'grey' should be handled with comments/edits/votes.

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Down vote + corrective comment should do the trick.

  • Downvotes alone is already doing a good job of keeping it away from the upper fold.
  • A sight of a negative score is already a red light indicating a bad answer.
  • Even more, a negative or corrective comment.

If the answer's owner does not take action in response to the down vote, then forever will it be given a negative remark by incoming voters and a negative reception to incoming researchers.

But sometimes, people fear losing reps in downvoting answers, so they avoid it (like I did before). Users should overcome that and use their points to improve the quality of posts.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that people fear losing rep. The problem is that rep is hard to come by, and there are too many bad answers out there. I've contributed quite a few answers to StackOverflow, and only just recently broken 1200 points. I could easily drop all the way down to 1 downvoting answers, and then I would have nothing to show for all my time invested. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Johnson Apr 15 '14 at 22:03
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I see that the answer with the bad advice has been downvoted, then deleted by three non-moderator users.

I agree with the downvoting, and in fact contributed one of those downvotes myself. Normally, I would also leave a comment, but I didn't feel like typing out a rebuttal while browsing on my mobile phone. I figured that the bad answer would be outcompeted by better ones, and that should be enough of an indicator of its poor quality.

However, I'm not convinced that deletion was justified. We delete spam, and we delete answers that aren't answers. However, this was an earnest, though misguided, attempt at answering the question. I don't think that bad advice should be censored. If anything, leaving it in place as a downvoted answer would be informative: it tells other users that someone had that thought, and that other programmers thought it was poor advice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. There's nothing wrong with keeping a bad answer around. The downvotes already convey the message. Only pure non-answers should be deleted by the community. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Apr 14 '14 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jamal I've undeleted the answer then. \$\endgroup\$ – 200_success Apr 14 '14 at 17:29
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I've struggled with this same situation on a few occasions, and I would just like to point out that you may be putting too much faith in the community (but there's no better option).

The community is great overall at recognizing answer quality and voting accordingly, but the community is non-perfect and people often have wrong beliefs, stupid opinions, or have momentary lapses of judgement. And let's be honest: a reasonably large fraction of software developers are bad at what they do. Once they've been on the site awhile, hopefully that will improve, but until then, it's possible that their beliefs of what are good code and what is actually good code will differ. (I see this a lot in the PHP tag -- the PHP community is about a decade behind good software development practices, and it shows on occasion.)

In these situations where the community supports a bad answer, what should we do? My initial reaction, and I guess what I think is best considering the other options, is to hope that the original question asker and any subsequent readers will consider the critical comments and draw their own (correct) conclusions.

I wish there were a better option, but I'm afraid it would be too much responsibility for the mods to handle these situations and it could potentially become a bad situation of mods' opinions becoming law. It also would be a giant slap in the face to someone to have an answer receive upvotes and then have it deleted by someone.


I don't think these situations happen often, but it's just something to consider. The community is not infallible. If we ever see a massive influx of new users with relatively low skill, it might become a real problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing you say is especially true: too much responsibility for the mods to handle these situations ... the problem with flags is that mod-actions are binding, and you don't want mods making value-judgments on the merits of an answer which is a borderline good/bad thing. Mods are moderators, not domain experts. \$\endgroup\$ – rolfl Apr 14 '14 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ In these situations where the community supports a bad answer, Then it's not a bad answer. Which better authority than the community to assess the quality of an answer? \$\endgroup\$ – dfhwze Sep 28 at 21:11
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There's an important aspect to this which hasn't been discussed: namely, new user retention.

The majority of low-quality answers come from new users who aren't familiar with precisely how this site works. Either they contribute a one-sentence pointer or simply refactor the code and give it back to the OP has an answer. Common mistakes.

While I agree that downvoting is a good tool to use -- and, really, is the crux of the Stack Exchange model (upvote/downvote = good things rise to the top) -- I'm very, very loathe to hand out downvotes to new users, especially if it's their first or second post. This is likely to scare them off or make them think that their contributions aren't valued by the community. And, while it may be true that that specific contribution isn't valued, their future contributions, taken collectively, very likely are.

I suggest leaving a polite comment explaining why the answer is considered low-quality for this site, without downvoting. Then, if the user doesn't change their answer or if they become defensive or hostile, dole out the downvote as necessary. Very often the comment is the only facilitator needed to bring a bad answer up to a decent one.

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Hmmm,

I have a suspicion that I was one of those users who flagged the answer.

'This answer should be a comment` (I paraphrase) is one of the reasons to flag an answer, and in my opinion the linked answer should have been a comment. To me, that's a judgement call.

If that's not a good thing, then we should remove the option to flag an answer as 'this should be a comment'.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is good feedback. Yes, the NAA flag includes "should be a comment".I'm going to have to incorporate that somehow in my mind-set. \$\endgroup\$ – rolfl Apr 17 '14 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added an update to the question, FYI \$\endgroup\$ – rolfl Apr 17 '14 at 0:25

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