Several times now, I've seen an answer for a question that was not asked. A recent example deftly answers the excellent question of how to prevent the spread of influenza virus.

The question asked how to prevent spreading of the common cold.

Another example: someone asked if using moisturizer constantly was bad for eczema. The answer was for people with normal skin, and was pretty much the opposite of what is needed for eczema. Another asked about sanitizing, and the answer was for infections. There were others; these are the ones that come immediately to mind.

It may be common, but I've not seen this on other se sites, so maybe my question is unnecessary?

Besides commenting and possibly downvoting (and, of course, possibly adding a more appropriate answer), is there any way to draw attention to the actual question so that people don't waste precious time and energy answering the question not asked? Maybe:

  • bold the illness asked about?
  • Italicize the pertinent details?
  • Ask for a one line definition of the illness: "Eczema is a condition characterized by dry and irritable skin, with problems arising because of its inability to be an effective barrier against allergens and pathogens."
  • Require the answer to reiterate the question? "Ways to prevent the common cold include..."

I like the third option actually, because it would make for better questions.

I'm truly sorry if you're tired of seeing me here; I'm not fond of posting in meta, believe it or not! I don't know how to call attention to a problem otherwise.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth...

  • 3
    I am not sure about those but I think downvoting and flagging as low quality if it doesn't answer the question is also good.
    – Joe W
    Apr 10 '15 at 3:25
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    @JoeW - Flags for low quality will almost certainly be declined since the answers look good. Flagging the mod for other will also be declined. Apr 10 '15 at 4:04
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    Not always, it depends on the people reviewing and if they take time to look at the question and the answer.
    – Joe W
    Apr 10 '15 at 4:06
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    Far from being tired of seeing you here. You are actually improving this website.
    – Shlublu
    Apr 10 '15 at 8:30

As a moderator on another site, I can tell you how we handle this: We do delete the answer if it does not fit the question, and gently remind the user to pay attention to what he's answering. If we also think that the answer is of good quality, we suggest to the user that he can make a new self-answered question out of it and copy-paste the well researched answer there.

I would say that it works for us. Self answered questions are rare, but they happen, and it is maybe one more good opportunity to get more of them. Also, the regular users learn from having their answer removed in that way, and stop posting irrelevant answers. As for the drive-by one time users, they rarely post very good answers worth saving. In the rare case where this happens, we simply leave a very verbose explanation of how the site works and that we will still welcome participation from them in the future.

Also note that once a site has gathered a decent mass of questions, most of this newly posted advice will be towards a common, popular topic, and will already have been asked and answered elsewhere. An example which happened recently on cooking: a question on "why do egg yolks break" being answered with advice on when to wash eggs before storage. In this case, the washing question already has the points mentioned in the new, misplaced answer, and there is no need to save the content.


This does seem to be a problem, and we should try to fix it. I was the writer of the eczema answer you mentioned, but I have now deleted it because you are right about this being a problem and I don't want to promote it.

Commenting and downvoting and even flagging as NAA is the best thing to do, but the list of ideas you came up with could be helpful too. Out of the ideas you gave in your question, I like the 3rd option the best.

Ask for a one line definition of the illness: "Eczema is a condition characterized by dry and irritable skin, with problems arising because of its ability to be an effective barrier against allergens and pathogens."

This does help raise the quality of questions, and it will also direct the answerers' attention to this, so they will know that the answer is related to the actual question being asked, if they didn't read the question carefully enough. We could possibly even bold or italicize this definition.

  • I didn't mean to single you out; you are not alone! :-( Apr 10 '15 at 4:08
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    @anongoodnurse Haha. Its fine :)
    – michaelpri
    Apr 10 '15 at 10:59
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    If a user is not answering the question as asked, the best solution really IS to comment and flag it as 'not an answer'. The problem is that if it is a particularly good post, it's going to get voted up. And when people search for these problems, they have to trust that the "best answer" is right there at the top. But if the answer is written in the wrong context, that can create a very undesirable situation. It may even dissuade other users from providing the proper answer because, at a glance, the problem appears to have been already resolved. Apr 10 '15 at 16:38
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    as @RobertCartaino says, it needs to be flagged as NAA. It's the same as if someone asked about chicken pox precautions and someone gave them Ebola precautions. Just because it may be a well researched correct answer, doesn't mean it is an answer for that question. This goes to both site members and moderators to review and question answers.
    – JohnP Mod
    Apr 10 '15 at 18:04
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    This has not occurred for me. @RobertCartaino, I did try this: I flagged an answer with the explanation: "his answer pertains to the general use of moisturizers in normal skin. The OP does not have "normal skin"; they have atopic dermatitis (eczema). The answer in this case in not only not pertinent, but bad information." and received the following reply: declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer. Thus my confusion over your comment. Apr 17 '15 at 0:40
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse I saw that and thought it was flagging an incorrect answer rather than a post that was not not answering the (correct) question at all. The post has since been removed. We all make mistakes. Apr 17 '15 at 12:57

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