Related: When should the community flag an answer as “not an answer?”

I'm admittedly a bit confused on when "Not An Answer" (NAA) flags should be applied, so I hope you'll bear with me on another question related to question scoping.

Let me suggest, for the purposes of this question, that we broadly define the term "scope," so that it includes every way that a questioner expresses the characteristics of desirable answers to his question. Here are some examples of "scoping mechanisms":

  1. Key concept. This is the point of the question. It could be a word/phrase (what does X mean?), a biblical passage (how is X interpreted?), a concept (who believes X?), and a number of other things. But without it, there is no question.
  2. Perspective. The perspective from which answers should come. It could be a tradition/denomination (Roman Catholicism, Methodism, Mormonism), or a cross-denominational view (young-earth creationism, pacifism, non-trinitarianism). The above linked Meta post deals exclusively with this point.
  3. Type. Examples of this include overview and biblical basis.
  4. Time. Not only words like earliest or first in "what was the earliest instance of X?" but also limiters like "20th century" or "early church" or "Reformation period."
  5. Geography. Relevant in terminology questions, like "What does word X mean in the United States?," and also for specifying regional movements or beliefs, like "When did X begin in Latin America?"
  6. Sources. This can include specifying an individual person, as "What do person Y's writings say about X?," or a category, like scholastics or reputable theologians or published bible commentaries. Similar to Perspective, but here we limit to which types of sources from a particular view are relevant to the question.

I'm sure I'm missing some other possibilities; feel free to suggest more. If you feel that I have inaccurately grouped anything, let me know and I'll split things up.

Now let's start applying this to my question regarding NAA flags. I know that, at least in practice, there are many factors besides scope that might go into the decision to flag an answer as NAA, and, by extension, to accept or decline such flags. I'll ask about the legitimacy and relative importance of those factors in another question. Here, however,

I want to know which of the above scoping mechanisms ought to be considered when flagging as NAA or evaluating NAA flags. If more than one should be considered, are any of them more important than others?

That is, if I believe that an answer violates one of the above scoping mechanisms in a question, should I be more inclined to flag the answer as NAA, or not?

Note that I'm assuming that the scoping mechanisms have been clearly and validly included in the question, regardless of what your definition of "clear" and "valid" is.1

  1. See, for example:
    Is scoping in the body of a question sufficient, or must it be in the title?
    Is tagging sufficient to scope a question?
  • I think 1 and 2/6 are must-haves, but we can be a bit more lenient with respect to 3,4,5 if the question is answered in spirit and especially if the exact answer requested may not exist. Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 21:34

3 Answers 3


One important thing to keep in mind is the authors intent is the main thing to consider. Being blatantly wrong isn't a valid reason to delete according to the Stack Exchange model. for example, if someone asks for the Catholic perspective on original sin and someone answers "I heard it is blah blah" and doesn't cite any sources that is a poor answer in general. But, even it is blatantly wrong, it is still an answer. It should be downvoted, not deleted. In contrast, if someone answers "The Baptist perspective is blah blah" and cites tons of sources, it is still NAA and deserves deletion. If it unclear what the author was trying to do, we should probably assume that they were attempting to answer the question in good faith and simply did a poor job of it. Having your answer deleted is pretty jarring and shouldn't be done lightly.

With that in mind, it would hard for answers to something like "what is the first X" or "what does this mean to Y" (#4, #5) to be NAA - they can easily be wrong of course, but it would be hard to determine the author wasn't attempting to answer probably. Classic NAA stuff (follow up questions, related thoughts, thanks, etc.) is of course easily deleted (#1). Denominational scopes (#2) are fairly obvious too - usually off-topic answers will blatantly say they are arguing why the requested perspective is wrong. I doubt #6 will arise - would people really answer "what did Luther think about X" with "Calvin believed Y"? I would hope not, but it would be obviously NAA if they did.

I am also against deleting "overview" answers (#3) that don't outline all possible positions. An answer that outlines only one or two views, but clearly specifies that view(s) and gives significant details is a valid (partial) answer to an overview question. Indeed, such answers can be quite useful; useful content, not some strict adherence to rules for the sake of it, should really be what we are aiming for. Biblical basis is kind of a gray area - such answers should ideally cite Bible verses, but answering "theologian X argues Y based on his understanding of the Bible" is almost certainly a valid answer.

So my conclusion, is pretty much the same as El'endia Starman's comment - Failing to meet #1,2, or 6 is normally a valid reason for the NAA deletion. Failing to meet #3,4, or 5 rarely is because such failures will normally just be weak (or even wrong) answers, not people ignoring the requested scope.

  • For full disclosure, I probably raise more NAA flags than most users. In other words, I'm not saying most bad answers should stand - there actually is a lot of content that needs deletion. Rather, I just want to be clear that not all bad answers are NAA.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 0:04
  • A few things I've run into: Regarding #6, I ask specifically for published commentaries, and don't get any. Is that NAA? Regarding #3: I ask for overview, I get biblical basis (not merely a bad overview). Is that NAA? Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 0:54
  • @Nathaniel If the question clearly asks for those then yes I think it counts as NAA, and flagging those answers will often result in their deletion. Other sites have different standards though, and anything remotely connected to the question is allowed...
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 6:41
  • @ThaddeusB But probably not as many flags as me :P
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 6:42
  • 2
    +1, I think I'm with you here except for the #3 on which I would be a little stricter. Sure if they provide one or more views that are clearly identified that should count even if it's a poor overview, but it's quite common for these question to attract single-perspective answers that are not clearly labeled or contrasted with other views. Often these are presented as "truth" answers as if the question was looking for the "right" view as opposed to what the available views are. I would be explicit about those being NAA fodder.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:06
  • 1
    @Nathaniel On #6, If they something like "in my opinion ...", then yes it is clearly NAA. If they say something like "I've read..." it is probably a bad answer, but not NAA. #3 is similar, if it looks like just their opinion (i.e. a bunch of Bible verses explained), it is NAA. If it looks like a collection of other opinions (the same explanations but with "X explains verse Y as Z", "A explains verse B as C", etc) then it is probably OK.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:21

One more comment, this one directed at our moderators. On BH.SE, a lot of times a mod will mark my NAA tag as "helpful" but not delete the answer. Instead he/she will downvote, add a pink box that explains the problem (for example "this post requires additional references"), and let the community decide if it needs deletion or not via the Low Quality review queue. This also gives the OP a chance to fix it up.

This seems like a good middle ground for borderline case, and I think it is something C.SE moderators should consider doing.

  • 1
    I think there's a bit of a difference between the sites: Hermeneutics requires you to show your reasoning, but that is often pretty subjective. Putting that post flag indicates that the mods think it isn't sufficient. On this site NAA flags are usually raised for blatant wrongly scoped answers, where it's much more objective and more binary. So the mods are more likely to just directly delete a post. But sometimes they use the additional references flags, just not as often.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 6:39
  • Being a moderator in both places I would bring up a couple more factors. It might be less noticeable as a user but the mod experience on each site is quite different. First of all NAA flags on both sites go into a special queue that gets community attention anyway even before a mod sees them. Second BH traffic is massively lower that CSE and new posters are treated with kid-gloves a lot longer than would be healthy here. CSE sees a huge flow of NAA stuff and the more of it that gets left around (even if its a matter of hours on some posts) the more similar responses it attracts.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:00
  • Also NAA is much more clear cut here than on BH. The usual problem here is that answers are a blatant miss-match for the scope of the question. The usual problem on BH is that they aren't fleshed out with "show your work", which is a much more subjective issue and the mod-notice and delay of a couple days before deletion is a more reasonable approach than it is for the kind of patently out of place posts that are common on CSE.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:02
  • My experience is that in some borderline cases, my flags get quickly declined, and then after a week of the answer getting downvotes, it gets deleted. In such scenarios what Thaddeus is suggesting (regarding mods marking as helpful but not deleting) seems preferable to me. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:49
  • @Caleb Yes, Nathaniel is correct - I was intending to refer to borderline cases. If an answer is clearly NAA, then it is clearly NAA and should be deleted. But sometimes it is hard to tell if an answer is a bad attempt at answering w/in scope or not an attempt at all. (For example, someone asks for a Catholic perspective and someone answers with a vague post that may or may not represent Catholic thought.)
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:08
  • @caleb I don't know how the pink boxes work, but if there is the possibility to add a custom notice something like "This question requested a specific viewpoint. Answers to the question must present the requested viewpoint. Please revise your answer to make it clear you are presenting the requested view or delete your post." would work.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:10
  • The post notices are fixed across the entire SE network and we can't adjust them. Either t one of the two we have applies or we just comment.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:27
  • @Nathaniel I would be curious to look at the mod history for some examples of this to see what the flow actually looks like. Can you dig up any posts in this category from your flag history?
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:29
  • @Caleb Apparently site specific notices are possible. I will go ahead and request one. :)
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:39
  • Draft wording placed in chat for feedback.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:56
  • @Caleb If my memory serves me, this one (8/13 21:49) and this one (9/14, 17:20) are examples of this (though the 2nd hasn't been deleted yet). Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 17:19
  • @Nathaniel Neither of those are cases where a flag was marked helpful and then later acted on. In both cases the initial flag was declined (by me) because I disagreed with the flag and thought those were valid attempts at answering the question (even though they both were horribly misguided and wrong). I wouldn't mod-delete either answer, I think those qualify as down-vote fodder for being not-helpful. The former was later flagged by somebody else and the next mod along handled it differently. Given how bad the content is I'm not going to argue with him ;-)
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 17:38
  • @Nathaniel However neither of those illustrate the situation described. The eventually deleted one was from 2011 anyway so giving it more time wasn't a meaningful option, it just happened that somebody came along and disagreed with my judgment call (which I'd totally fine with). The latter I still wouldn't delete for NAA, nor would I give it a post notice. It's just wrong and misguided even though he thought he was answering the question, but that's what votes are for. I don't see that as a scope problem or a fast/slow deletion debate.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 17:41
  • @Nathaniel By the way don't read into that anything about your flagging. Most of the time when I see your name on flags my reaction is to just push them through because they're usually great. Just because in a few individual cases I make a different judgment call doesn't mean you're doing something wrong! Heck I might be the one that's wrong -- an other mods and users sometimes disagree with me. That's just the way this goes, at the end of the day it's a human moderated system and none of us are robots following exact rules. As much as I like regular expressions they can't be made to find NAA!
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 17:47
  • 1
    @Caleb I guess we disagree about what an "attempt" means. I'm struggling to come up with examples short enough for this format that don't come across as snarky, so I'll forego that. But regardless, in cases where the Mod realizes it's debatable, I like the idea of letting the answer pass through the NAA queue (even if it is ultimately disputed or declined) rather than a quick decline. I'll keep reminding myself that declines don't matter, but they do make me second guess flagging anything except the most trivial cases. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 18:27

This may qualify as NAA to this question :), but I wanted to say we shouldn't be rewording old questions that no longer fit the site scope and then deleting the old answers. It seems like 1-2 of these questions is bumped each week and while we've closed most of them, we did reword a few. I don't think deleting once valid content just to keep a question open is a good idea.

  • Where's that flag button... =). I'm uncomfortable with that in some cases as well, though exactly when that's appropriate is probably worth discussing in a separate post. The cases I had in mind when creating this question are all recently created content, not old questions/answers. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 0:00
  • This depends on the status of the question. If the old question is CLOSED by virtue of not fitting the site guidelines then they are fair game for as much modification as necessary to make them open-able. If that means deleting answers then so be it. The alternative is that the whole thread is likely to be deleted. Deleting answers at least gives previously interested parties a poke and something to build from if they want to take another stab at it once the question is open.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 8:56
  • This did happen once recently to a non-closed question which was a mistake on our part, but I would argue it should have been closed and the edit just short circuited the flow it should have seen.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 8:56
  • @caleb - I disagree. I don't think old closed posted should be edited to be brought in scope if it means deleting upvoted answers. It seems pointless to kill old content, even if it is now off-topic, when someone can easily just ask the "fixed" question as a new question... If it comes up again, I'll raise it as a separate meta topic.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:16
  • I believe there already has been such a discussion but it's hard to search from mobile…
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:30
  • Here is one discussion about edits that invalidate answers. I believe there is more somewhere. Keep in mind that closed questions are basically tracked for eventual deletion anyway: sooner in the case of downvoted questions that show no hints of being salvageable, later where good content exists, but sooner or later all closed questions are likely to get the ax if they don't match the site and aren't being fixed. This is pretty standard SO modus operandi. Edits are a salvage job on something already junk yarded...
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 16:59

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