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Because of the support the thought received here, I'm creating a new proposal about deleting poor-quality answers.

In order to increase the quality of answers on Puzzling.SE, I'd like to propose that we start deleting answers that contain absolutely no explanation whatsoever. While normally I'd suggest we simply downvote them, there are a couple issues preventing this:

  1. The issue is very rampant. One-line, unexplained guesses as answers are everywhere. Pick any of the riddle-style questions and scroll down; chances are, you'll find them. It's too much content to watch and come back to, and it isn't feasible for us to walk each individual through this process.
  2. People are upvoting these answers because they could possibly correct, or they feel it was a good guess. This makes it harder to communicate that an answer isn't what we're looking for.

They may technically be answers, but they're entirely unhelpful when they don't come with an explanation. Here's a short list of answers: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, (deleted) twelve, (deleted) thirteen, (deleted) fourteen. If you've already seen this list, it's the same list. No need to click through. If you haven't, note that these answers had much higher scores before I made the above-linked post.

In addition, we should leave comments on these answers asking for explanations. The community can do this, too, but when answers are deleted, we should leave comments on them something along the lines of:

Would it be possible for you to expand upon why you believe this answer is correct? Feel free to edit your answer, and if you do, flag it so it can be undeleted. Thank you!

It's important to note that this course of action shouldn't be used for answers that have bad explanations, just answers that have no explanation. Bad explanations should be downvoted, not deleted.

Promoting good answer quality does two important things: first, it lets us better see and differentiate questions that are of poor quality from those that are of good quality, which in turn lets us better determine what content we should be a home to. Second, it raises the standard of quality for our site.


Here's the workflow I suggest, and it's pretty simple:

If your answer has been deleted, all you need to do is add an explanation that addresses how your answer fulfills every part of the question. You are free to edit your answer using the 'edit' link below your it. If you do, click the 'flag' link below your answer, and fill in an 'other' request to have your answer undeleted.

If you see such an answer, flag it, and/or leave a comment asking for expansion.


If you have comments, thoughts, opposition, hate mail, or love letters, feel free to respond below!

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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with this. Answers without an explanation could just be a lucky fuss too. So in addition to this, we should encourage questioners only to accept answers if (obviously) they are correct, and explain why they are correct well. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Nov 19 '14 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Do people get notified if their answer is deleted? $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Nov 19 '14 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @pac No, but they do get notifications for comments, which is why commenting is an important part of this. They can find their answer through comment notifications. $\endgroup$ – Aza Nov 19 '14 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. We should. Where we are already doing this, it's helping a lot. Could we add a custom delete reason that automatically leaves the comment? $\endgroup$ – A E Nov 19 '14 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ Totally agreed. Well worded and policy well crafted. $\endgroup$ – Travis Don Kindred Dec 4 '14 at 4:42
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I think it's important to comment first and give the authors some time to fix their answers before deleting them. Last night I went through one particularly problematic question and posted such a comment on several of the answers; by morning most of them had been improved significantly.

If you see a post without explanation, leave a comment asking them to improve it. If you don't have the reputation to leave a comment, then flag it.

If you see a post that has a comment asking for explanation that is at least 48 hours (a full 2 days) old and the poster has not added an explanation, flag it for deletion.

If you see a comment asking for improvement on an answer that has since been improved, flag the comment as obsolete.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a the best way of going about it. Immediately deleting an answer may come off as a hostile gesture to new users. $\endgroup$ – jliv902 Nov 19 '14 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Can't users edit after deletion? If we delete right away, we eliminate the clutter and can safely forget about it until something happens. If we wait, we have to remember to come back and delete it and we run the risk of letting this behavior be more prevalent. $\endgroup$ – TheRubberDuck Nov 21 '14 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ They can, if they have a link to it (it doesn't appear on their profile). But in my experience, deleting a question and saying we'll undelete if they improve it rarely, if ever, results in improvement; threatening deletion has about a 50+% improvement rate. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Nov 21 '14 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin Isn't it on their profile under "See more", "See recent deleted" or something along those lines? $\endgroup$ – warspyking Nov 21 '14 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking You guys get that? Looks like it is, as long as it was deleted in the last 60 days. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Nov 21 '14 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin Yes we do, you didn't realize that? $\endgroup$ – warspyking Nov 21 '14 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @warspyking for a long, long time regular users couldn't, and I don't often look at profiles as a non-mod. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Nov 21 '14 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin I never knew that, now I understand. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Nov 21 '14 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ We can also see it in our reputation changes. I only recently noticed that, is it new? $\endgroup$ – warspyking Aug 17 '15 at 20:22
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Assuming we want explanations (and I believe we do), this is probably the only way it's going to get enforced. Downvoting works very well when there's a culture of it, but not so well if you're the only one doing it. While I am generally against deleting content that at least attempts to be helpful, I think it may be best in the short term.

However, I'd hate for this to be seen as an alternative to downvoting in the long run. For one thing, only mods can delete an answer if it isn't negatively scored. We don't want the mods to be the sole arbiters, and I'm sure they don't want that burden either.

Right now there are only three users with over 4000 rep (where you gain the privilege to delete answers), and even then they can only delete answers with -1 or lower. Unless we start/continue downvoting content we don't want, then all users can do is flag for mod attention. That's not a long-term solution.

If you think an answer deserves to be deleted enough to flag it, downvote it as well. Once we get to a point where this is consistently done, maybe they won't need to be deleted, and user voting can work as intended.

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    $\begingroup$ It's possible that our community could be modified to allow more mods or an increased ability to delete for normal users. $\endgroup$ – Travis Don Kindred Dec 4 '14 at 4:43
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Yes, we should enforce explanations in answers. With downvotes and a comment linking to a meta post first, then deletion if the user refuses to fix the problem. Ultimately, though, to convey that we're serious about quality, deletion will need to occur, because votes are generally more a measure of popularity than quality.

Answers without explanations aren't helpful; they are on the same level of quality as link only answers, which, SE-wide, are generally deleted if left unfixed. It's too easy to be left scratching your head and wondering why something could be right when faced with a naked answer to a puzzle you find very difficult. Explaining the reasoning behind an answer helps improve others' ability to solve puzzles, by showing lines of reasoning that they might not think of and expanding their perspective.

Additionally, I've seen a few answers which contain only a solution and a remark to the effect of "if this gets accepted I'll add an explanation". Attempting to coerce an accept should never be acceptable behavior.

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Answers without explanation should very quickly have a comment added to them asking to either add an explanation or to move the answer to a comment. If neither happens after a few hours they should either be deleted or moved to a comment.

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    $\begingroup$ "a few hours"? That seems harsh. People aren't on the internet all the time. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 8 '15 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ @randalthor I suppose they might reasonably be on the internet just after posting an answer. But in any case a few hours could be 24 if people prefer. $\endgroup$ – Lembik Mar 8 '15 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ You can see on people's profiles how long ago they were last 'seen' on SE. Deleting their answer when they haven't even logged in to see your comment seems unfair. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 8 '15 at 12:48

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