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I asked What should our policy be about answering questions that we perceive as close-worthy?, which is a duplicate of Answering a Question you Closed. The policy we want is basically Rule 8 from Rules of Peer Moderation:

Don't answer a question that you voted to close.

This behaviour is confusing for new users and you should not do it. A question is either answerable or not - there is nothing in between. Decide for one or the other.

But:

How should we handle cases where we encounter one of the following closely related behaviours?

  1. Someone casts a Close Vote and proceeds to answer the question.
  2. Someone answers and starts by saying something like "This is Too Broad, but anyway:"

This discussion should not be about what policy we want, as that is discussed in the linked questions. I would like to know how we should handle this policy.

My behaviour up until now was to mention the Rules of Peer Moderation and that this behaviour is confusing for new users who expect users with a lot of reputation to act as rolemodels to understand the rules and the processes of the site.

Most of the time the person will respond and retract their vote. This is all good. It sends a message that users can be wrong or that someone misclicked and that we as a community are working together to keep an eye on each other and how we would like to enforce the rules. It's a pretty good example, especially for new users.

But sometimes it's already too late and the question is already closed. Or they decide that they can just ignore my comments and keep collecting reputation. It's working after all, so why should they change their behaviour if the system is rewarding them?

Obviously, if an answer is not satisfactory I could flag it as "Not an answer" or "Very low quality". But most of the time the answer is not bad enough to warrant a flag. And except for the discussions I linked that mention you shouldn't do this there are no clear rules and nothing laid out in official guidelines as far as I know.

Do we want to keep just commenting in these cases or is there something else we could/should do when encountering this behaviour?

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    $\begingroup$ This isn't hairsplitting, but "This is pretty broad, but anyway:" isn't precisely the same thing as "too broad". Too broad is VTC reason, but "This is pretty broad" is or can be ambiguous. Possibly those answering in this way are giving the question the benefit of doubt. Too often VTCers will VTC at the least hint of a VTC reason associated with a question. This is also bad practice for peer review. There should be clear reasons to VTC. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 21 '17 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android You have a valid point there. "far too broad" is:a still yields 11 results currently and there are probably a lot of other ways to formulate this and other VTC reasons that are explained in a similar fashion. My original search was for "too broad" which yields 69 resulsts. I'll edit this question because my example here is indeed a bit misleading, but I think if you start with "This is too broad" you are using the VTC reason but answering anyway, which is not a good practice. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 21 '17 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe bring this question to meta SE and see what their stand on this? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 21 '17 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ Related Meta SE post : meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4283/… $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 21 '17 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the question that @Vylix linked to, and most of the answers to it, are from 2009. That's eight years ago, when Stack Exchange was still pretty young. Policy evolves over time. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 21 '17 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ The point about someone effectively saying this qualifies for a VTC, but I'll answer it anyway is troubling and not good practice. There are too problems with the Too Broad VTC. 1) Few WBers apply the criteria correctly, which effectively are that answers would be too long & most questions closed as Too Broad the answers are rarely too long. 2) Sometimes Broad questions can be adequately answered broadly. This a side-issue to your main meta question. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 22 '17 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling The question may be ancient history, but many of the points raised are still relevant. Policy may have marched on, I prefer not to use the much abused evolved because gets overused in contexts where it doesn't apply, but the same issues occur. Alas, alas. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 22 '17 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ I tend to err on the side of helping the poster, if I think they are sincere, and I believe all such behavior should be judged in that context. A question may have reasons to VTC, yet I am also a human capable of guessing what the OP might be facing. So I might be able to help them by answering a more focused writing question, before their question is closed. I answer as a public service to help aspiring creators, be it one or many. So I can simultaneously think a question pretty broad, yet sincere, and worth a little help. Others might close it, or not. I see no harm in answering. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 22 '17 at 12:03
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If someone writes that a question is too broad (or a different close reason), and writes it in an answer, such an answer should be converted to a comment, and if it is too long, then it should be swiftly deleted with a reminder that it shouldn't be posted in the first place.

Answering a question that should be closed, that shouldn't be asked here in the first place (at least, not in the form they are now), encourages people to ask questions that are too broad, off topic, opinion based etc. Why would they care not to, if they still get their answer?

The sooner we delete such answers, the sooner we put questions on hold and guide the OP to how to edit it into a proper form, the better for the overall quality of the site. And good content quality is what keeps people who answer here.

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  • $\begingroup$ How should we delete the answer? For low quality? NAA? What flag should we use? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 23 '17 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix Well, some of us can simply click little Delete button under such answer. For short ones, NAA flag + explanation in comment may encourage diamond moderators to convert to comment. For long ones, it gets more tricky and I honestly can't tell now. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 23 '17 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ I guess NAA is the right option to send the answer to the low quality queue and ask for recommend deletion votes $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 23 '17 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ However, I feel somewhat mixed deleting a good answer, if the only offense is the author cast a close vote and answering the question. I think this should be a general guideline, but we should judge each answer case-by-case. A good and thorough answer preferably should be preserved. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 23 '17 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix if someone is trying to game reputation, I have only negative feelings. And answering question while saying "this question shouldn't be answerable" looks exactly this: abusing & gaming rep system of this site. Don't forget that answers may be undeleted, once question is fixed. Or answerer can get the content and post it as a self-answered question later. Actually, over 10k even you will be able take such answer and post a question that will fit the answer while not being too broad or off topic. Licence on this site allows it, with proper attribution. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 23 '17 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ I can't say I agree with converting short answers to comments. It just encourages answering in comments, which isn't really good. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 23 '17 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I meant "answers" that contains mostly explanation why something is too broad or opinion based. I'd prefer others to be simply deleted. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 24 '17 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Vylix This is somewhat old, but the specific flag you use doesn't really make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. (I myself sometimes have real trouble picking between flagging as NAA and VLQ.) If you can't decide, but both apply, then choose either. It's better to use the wrong flag reason to flag something that's worthy of being flagged, than not flagging something that's worthy of being flagged just because you can't decide which flag reason to use. The only exceptions to this is spam & rude or abusive flags, which should only be used in those specific situations. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 5 '18 at 19:51
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I admit to having been guilty of this a couple of times in my early days but there's one that I stand by having put an answer in.

The question was too broad, so much so that my answer was an elongated comment explaining how utterly vast the implications of the question were. It wasn't something that could have been trimmed down to a narrower answerable question but did require a better explanation of why it wasn't reasonably answerable.

As an exception to the rule, and all rules should be considered with due exceptions, such things should be taken into consideration.

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TL;DR;

  1. Discussions between normal members of the community and the user showing this behaviour.
  2. Discussions between moderators and the user showing this behaviour.
  3. (Temporarily) deleting the answer that caused the second or third moderator flag about this topic.
  4. Back to point two to get the answer undeleted.

If you see this behaviour from a user for the first time - comment

The first thing you should do is to comment. Maybe this person misclicked in the review queue. Or they forgot that they VTCed, but the question was edited and then they answered. Or maybe they just weren't familiar with this policy and didn't think about how this will come across for new users who are trying to learn how the site works.

In any case, the first thing to do is to comment and ask them. Maybe they can and are willing to retract their vote or vote to reopen. Or they might delete their answer (I can't imagine this scenario, but theoretically it's possible and we should at least give them a chance). If it's the second scenario they can edit their answer and leave a comment explaining their reasoning.

The purpose is to get their input, direct their attention to Meta discussions like those listed at the top of this question and to show that we as a community can normally handle stuff like this with comments instead of flags and moderator attention.

It's probably not that bad to leave them with the reputation from one answer of this kind.

If you see this behaviour from a user for the second or third time and they haven't shown any interest - comment and flag it for moderator attention

Ideally this situation shouldn't come up. But we are all humans and at one point this will probably happen. If you see that someone is doing the same thing they did before you should comment and be clear to point them at how we want to handle this policy.

After that you would ideally wait a bit and check back a few hours later or so. If you can't wait you should just go to the next step:

Flag it for moderator attention.

This step is not meant to ask for deletion. It is to build a history that someone is ignoring the policies. Ideally you would point to the last time you saw this behaviour. This is often difficult, but if you are sure that you have seen this before from the same user you can do this step. Explain why you think the user shouldn't do what he is doing and point to this discussion.

The moderator could then decide what to do. Probably they will start with a comment, too, to show that the behaviour reached moderator attention.

To be clear - I think this case will already be an exception and my view of moderators with their special mod powers is that they are exception handlers. And they are exceptionally good at judging what needs to be done and can take into account other things such as other flags in the history of a user, or just their experience in dealing with this kind of stuff. When it becomes an exception it's time to make an exception handler aware of this and let them handle it. First by commenting I hope, but the moderators know best how to judge and should take into account things like the scenario described by Separatrix or Molot.

If the problem still persists - flag it for moderator attention for deletion

If you have followed the previous steps and are sure that a user has ignored the policy willingly multiple times and you flagged at least once in the past for moderator attention and received a helpful flag for that: then, and only then, you may flag for moderator attention and ask for deletion.

The moderator will then decide what to do. Ideally they would at this point have a history of at least two or three flags that point out this behaviour and can see that the user in question has received information about the guidelines before. By normal users and moderators.

Hopefully this step is not necessary. But in case it will be necessary: an answer should be deletable, regardless of quality, if there is a history by this user to willingly ignore the sites guidelines.

A post deleted because of this policy enforcement should be able to be un-deleted. The user in question should start a Meta discussion about why his behaviour is correct, whether we should change the policy or just contact a moderator in the chat to get his answer undeleted. If the content is good the deletion should be a shot across the bows. If the problem persists the deletion should persist.

We want good content. Just not at the cost of willingly ignoring guidelines. It's the same as with people posting poor quality questions - they won't learn if they are not punished in any way for repeatedly ignoring the guidelines. With low quality posts there are automatic bans. With the behaviour outlined in this question there should be actions by a moderator.

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For #1 ... does this happen often? I'd imagine that VTCers would tend to be the more process-oriented among us -- no shame in that -- and would be more likely to adhere to guidelines. We could sorta winkle this out with queries against the database (answer posted by a person after a VTC but before the next edit) but it's a little shaky.

For #2 ... there are shades and shades of "This is too broad but anyway", "This verges on too broad but anyway", "From Hell's heart I stab at thee but anyway". I have a good deal of sympathy for #2 behavior, because we live in an imperfect, fallen world, and questions reflect that. Some people will fix the questions and some won't. If it comes down to a choice between holding out for a better question and opening the door a crack for a shot at great answers, I'll tend to fall on the latter half of the scale.

Your mileage (parsecage? light-yearage?) may vary, but hey.

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First and foremost, leave a comment to remind the user that what they are doing may confuse new users.

If a question is too broad, you should've flagged it, not answer it.

However,

Let them collect the rep while they can. If their answer is good, they deserve it.

As long as that is a valid attempt to answer the question, I don't see any reason to take it down. Downvote is a different matter, you can use it if you disagree with their behavior (VTC and answer).

However, in case the question changed and their answer become invalidated, go ahead and notify them that the question changed and their answer has become invalidated. Flag the answer for NAA.

If they fail to update their answer, the community should be prepared to delete that answer. I believe all rep will be lost, and that should be enough lesson.

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    $\begingroup$ Reputation changes from bounties, votes (both up and down), and acceptances on deleted posts (including answers to a deleted question) are nullified. (Exception: Reputation earned for posts with a score of three or higher, and where the post has been visible on the site for at least 60 days, is retained). How does deleting work? What can cause a post to be deleted, and what does that actually mean? What are the criteria for deletion? on Meta Stack Exchange. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 20 '17 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Edits shouldn't invalidate existing answers. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Oct 20 '17 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings That's the general rule. However, if it's an attempt to salvage a question from being closed, within a reasonable amount of time (less than 12 hours?), I'm fine with it. The fault lies on those who answer while knowing that it will be closed. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 20 '17 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ While I'd say that there is definitely a difference between people answering the question in good faith and people acknowledging the question as too broad (either in text or by VTCing) yet still answering it anyway. I don't think it would be a good idea to have exceptions to the don't invalidate existing answers policy. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Oct 20 '17 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings it's not an exception. The author has the full right to edit his question. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 20 '17 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ It's an exception from the policy. Going against one policy because of another one doesn't sound very useful. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus which one do you consider to be an exception? The author edit on attempt to salvage the question? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 20 '17 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ The policy is that you should not invalidate answers. Ask a new one if what you wanted to ask is so far away from what you actually asked that bringing both sides together would invalidate the work someone put into answering what you actually asked. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus is that a policy? I find that it is more like ethic. The author's right to modify his post seems to trump over this. Of course, people is expected to respect that (that's why I posted a question in meta before), but in case it's an attempt to salvage his question, I think it's well within his right to right his wrong. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Oct 21 '17 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ There have definitely been examples of question author edits being rolled back by someone other than the author because the edit invalidated answers, and the author asked to simply post a new question (and point out the differences to their existing one) if they want to make drastic changes. I don't have any example readily at hand, but I know I've seen it, and I'm pretty certain I've done it myself too on occasion. Obviously, if a question has no answers (or all answers on it are deleted), then especially the OP has much greater latitude in making changes. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 21 '17 at 11:21

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