From time to time one runs across answers here that offer nothing beyond a bare answer to the question taken in a narrow sense. In particular, there's no general explanation, no attempt to show a larger pattern by giving good and bad examples, nor anything beyond the simplest possible answer to only the question asked. (Sometimes, only the title of the question actually receives the minimal answer, such as this wondrous sampling, which at least is honest enough to admit to its failings.)

On most of Stack Exchange, and especially on the big original, Stack Overflow, the policy is that attempts to answer the question should not be deleted, but that those don't do a good job should be downvoted — and, if lacking an explanation, usually downvoted heavily. And I do not think that's a bad idea in general (I've voted Looks OK on probably hundreds such answers on SO alone), but ELL has some unusual circumstances. Here, most of the time the questions and answers are more precise and narrower in their application. So while there's some value in receiving code that just works, even with a very limited understanding of its function, there's much less value in being told which of four choices one should have picked on an exam, and nothing more. Our stock in trade here is not working code (and the understanding of it to follow), but simply understanding.

To put it another way, by the time they can use ELL, learners have already mostly graduated beyond the simplistic rote memorization that these answers provide in such small quantities.

This phenomenon is especially bad on word and phrase requests ("I often use 'Holy mona lisa!'."), but it can show up even on questions about verb conjugation ("The second sentence is not Standard English, and not acceptable.") Hot Network Questions are especially prone to these ('I would use the past tense verb "been" Carrie has been at the airport for two hours.'), and sometimes get more than one ("If you want to keep most of the words from the original sentence, I would use: Carrie has been at the airport ever since she arrived two hours ago."). Sometimes reviewers delete these; sometimes ♦ moderators do; sometimes different reviewers decide not to delete them. Sometimes they get accepted before they can be deleted, or just get more upvotes for being correct than can be countered by the downvotes they receive for lacking useful explanations. So it seems to me we should work out consensus for how to handle these, rather than relying on our current informal and diverging approaches.

Submitting Answers that merely answer the question is a similar discussion, but appears to be more from the perspective of answerers and voters, rather than 20k delvoters, 2k Low Quality Posts reviewers, and flaggers. Nor does it really deal with the bottom-of-the-barrel answers discussed here, which not only lack authoritative references, but, crucially, just don't have anything generally applicable.

  • I would add that poor answers seem to be tied to poor questions. In your examples, dictionary lookup, list, and rephrasing questions IMO.
    – user3169
    Oct 26, 2016 at 22:51
  • 1
    @user3169: Well, sometimes, but only one of those three is closed (or even has any close votes), and all three have much better answers than the examples. Oct 26, 2016 at 22:54
  • 2
    I'm with deleting them. If learners want to be spoonfed, they'd prefer the direct answer with no 'clutter'. If there is ever any wish to learn, they'd expect to see a minimum of logic or explanation behind any answer.
    – M.A.R.
    Oct 27, 2016 at 7:44
  • ell.stackexchange.com/a/108708/1694 would you consider deleting that answer? Because it is definitely the correct answer, but with no real explanation . It has 13 upvotes so far
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8, 2016 at 8:32
  • @Mari-LouA: Yes; the upvotes on what is blatantly an HNQ question are not a particularly reliable indicator of high-quality answering, only popular. It is, of course, correct, which doubtless contributes to its score, but is not really something the site should encourage as reference material. And the several downvotes on such an obviously correct answer (not to mention the numerous upvotes on the comment asking for an explanation) indicate that there are others who object to it. Nov 8, 2016 at 8:37
  • I thought it was a good example you could use. Can't write answer because my keyboard is messed up (๏̯๏)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8, 2016 at 8:45
  • @Mari-LouA: Fair cop. I fell prey to the classic problem of comments: even when intended to help improve post, often just trigger discussionary response. :| Nov 8, 2016 at 8:50
  • 3 downvotes out of 13 is hardly several, I can't bring myself to downvote a correct answer
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 8, 2016 at 8:50
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    @Mari-LouA: No doubt many users feel the same way, which is why it's so striking when a correct answer does get downvotes. There must be something quite distinctly wrong with it. Nov 8, 2016 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


I'm in favor of ♦ flagging them. Some of these unsubstantiated answers can be converted into helpful comments, and the mod team can convert those that fall under that umbrella.

  • Mod-flagging, you mean? VLQ/NAA flagging would either delete or keep them, obviously. Oct 27, 2016 at 8:12
  • Yes, I meant mod-flagging. Of course, it's not a one-size fits all solution. If you think there's absolutely no way the answer would be helpful as a comment (e.g., if it is flat out wrong), then voting to delete might be the better option (although, in that case, flagging it for moderator attention might get it deleted even more quickly).
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 27, 2016 at 8:14
  • I am more likely to delete if the answers were posted by an unregistered user. I figure if someone when through the trouble to register that they might be interested in posting more than one time so maybe we should help them understand how to interact with the site.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 27, 2016 at 11:30
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    I don't think conversion to comments would be a good idea. Are unsubstantiated answer-comments really an improvement over unsubstantiated answers? At least an actual answer can be downvoted if it is inaccurate or misleading.
    – sumelic
    Oct 27, 2016 at 16:49
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    @sumelic It depends - if it's not an answer that deserves to be left around, but it contributes something helpful, like maybe suggesting a phrase very similar to something in another answer, why wouldn't we add it as a comment on that answer? It's a judgement call for sure, but moderators aren't elected for their looks :) The community can always address a comment with their own comments, a better answer, or for egregious problems a flag. Sometimes that has more impact than a DV anyhow.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 27, 2016 at 17:46
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    @sumelic - I second what Colleen said. Not all flagged answers would be automatically converted into comments; only the ones that seem like they would be useful comments. If the answer was inaccurate or misleading, it would likely be deleted rather than converted.
    – J.R. Mod
    Oct 27, 2016 at 22:02

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