This question asks, quite simply "How many days have passed from the start of the show to the events of the last episode?".

This answer makes no attempt to address the question, and instead discusses how long someone can survive without food or water.

Normally, I down-vote on-topic answers that are of poor quality, and flag for moderator attention answers that are either spam, should have been a comment, or answers that don't address the question at all.

I have a number of flags for "not an answer" that were marked as "helpful" (12, actually). However, the flag on the above answer was declined, saying "flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention".

What defines an answer as "not an answer", and when should flags be used to draw attention to them?

  • 3
    I've seen that a fair amount. One version of this problem that concerns me is that there are cases where we get encyclopedic answers to questions which include tons of facts and background, but don't actually answer the question. On the one hand, it doesn't address the question, on the other hand, it's a lot of info that can help someone doing a search on the subject, so does it help SE by providing that info or hurt it because it doesn't answer the question?
    – Tango
    Mar 5, 2012 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


After the long commentary on my previous answer, I'm going to give a clearer proposed policy, and see if it sticks.

  1. If an answer is intended as an answer to the question, even if they don't understand the question exactly, it should be left. An example of this from one of my posts on SO is this question.
  2. If an answer is asking another question, but doesn't provide any information, it should be converted to a comment.
  3. If the answer is a short one-liner that while funny, isn't intended as a serious answer, the answer should be converted to a comment.
  4. If the answer is more of a comment, containing things like asking for clarification, I've always wondered that, etc, it should be converted to a comment.

How's this?

  • I think that's a reasonable breakdown. Thank you.
    – Beofett
    Mar 6, 2012 at 0:08
  • 3
    "If an answer is intended as an answer to the question, even if they don't understand the question exactly, it should be left." Why? The answerer should be given time to edit it to answer the question, but if they don't, why not flag/delete the answer? Jun 17, 2014 at 12:59
  • @curiousdannii: Because the mods do not wish to intrude upon the sovereignty of the community in judging the quality and relevance of answers (by voting). This ties into the "moderators as human exception handlers" idea that you'll see floating around on MSE and MSO quite regularly.
    – Kevin
    Aug 14, 2016 at 23:43

The intention of an answerer is hard to guess and easy to get wrong, but...

  • If an answer just goes off on a tangent. For example:
    Q: "How did R2D2 get caught in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope?"
    A: "Well, C-3PO spotted a sandcrawler and..." (without ever mentioning R2-D2 at all)

  • If an answer is clearly based on just the title, ignoring the body of the question. For example:
    Q: "How did R2D2 get caught in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope?" (body goes on to mention that he should have been able to defeat the Jawas handily)
    A: "The Jawas caught him." (failing to address the actual question in the body)

Then the answer does not address the actual question and should be flagged as Not an Answer.


Definitely looks like a not-an-answer to me. Unlike what some of the other answers in this meta post say, I see zero evidence that it is an attempt to answer that specific question.


I saw that flag, and I determined that while it certainly wasn't a good answer, it at least gave some kind of a range on the possible time. It was a poor answer, without much basis in fact, but it was an attempt non-the-less. I've seen answers be quite popular, and generally well accepted, that use physical basis, interpret facts in the series, to come up with some plausible numbers. Granted the useful and popular tend to include far more information than this particular answer did, and to specifically state what they are assuming the answer is, but given that this was the first answer from the user, I decided to let this slide and not delete it.

It is true that the answer in question didn't specifically say this was the length of time, but I determined it wasn't worth deleting for that simple omission.

However, I feel that answers should be deleted which are comments, further question, extremely short snides, comments on other answers, etc.

  • 2
    The length of time the answer dealt with was how long Rick could have been in the hospital, not how long from the first episode to the stated point in Season 2, so I disagree that it makes any attempt to answer the question. FYI: you can accept a flag as helpful without actually deleting, if you think it is a borderline case. IMO declining flags should only be if there's no validity to the flag at all.
    – Beofett
    Mar 5, 2012 at 18:46
  • 1
    Actually, speaking of answers that don't answer the question... ;) Aside from why you declined this one specific flag, what is the answer to "how do we handle answers that don't address the question"? What defines proper use of the "not an answer" flag? Are you saying that we should only flag if it isn't the user's first post? That we shouldn't flag if looks like they might have wanted to answer, but forgot to include the information that makes it qualify as an answer? What are the guidelines we should be following?
    – Beofett
    Mar 5, 2012 at 19:23
  • @Beofett: Hence the last sentence in my statement. But I'll make it a bit clearer. Mar 5, 2012 at 19:30
  • How do you distinguish between answers which are comments, and answers which don't address the question? If I ask "How many years do students attend Hogwarts?", and someone answers "The Hogwarts school year is 8 months long?", does that count as a comment, or a bad answer? How do we factor in whether or not it was a user's first post?
    – Beofett
    Mar 5, 2012 at 19:53
  • 2
    @Pearsonartphoto: How about LONG answers that provide tons of info, but still don't actually address the original question?
    – Tango
    Mar 5, 2012 at 22:12
  • @TangoOversway: My feeling is, if the person answering the question misunderstood it, then it is likely that others will also find the same thing. The most voted answer in my most viewed question on SO doesn't answer my question, but it does provide useful information for those with a very closely related question. See stackoverflow.com/q/4471025/544198 . Overall, I tend to leave an answer if it is intended as an answer, even if it isn't addressing the question. Mar 5, 2012 at 23:33

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