Sometimes really short answers get posted on the site, and some users (even well established users) do so regularly. Both users and mods have taken action to show our disapproval including:

  • Commenting complaining it is short
  • Flagging
  • Voting to delete (trusted users)
  • Deleting (mods)
  • Converting the answer to a comment (mods)
  • Edit into a much fuller answer

But is this right? Should we be discouraging short answers by these means just because they are short, ie not because they are either tangential to the question or missing vital information, or just plain wrong? Should we treat short answers from established users any differently to short answers from drive-by visitors or anyone in-between?


3 Answers 3


I'm one of those who has been taking action against these answers, mostly by converting them to comments, but I've done some thinking and some listening and I've had a change of heart. I now think that we should judge a short answer the same way we judge any answer:

  • We should not comment complaining it is short, flag or make extensive edits changing the whole character of the answer: please provide a better answer instead.
  • We should not vote to delete or mod delete the answer, unless it is not an answer. If it does not answer the question at all then we need to delete it regardless of how long or short it is
  • Mods should not convert answers to comments unless the information provided is useful but tangential to the question. Comments can't be searched or edited or improved. That's fine for incidental stuff and requests for clarifications, but it is not fine for important information that we want the internet to find!

In short, if an answer answers the question, it should be left alone (minor edits for style or grammar aside). If it tries to answer the question, it should be left as an answer. If it provides some sort of tangential information or asks for more information from the asker then it should be converted to a comment.

or, to put it another way from the useful comments below:

Brevity is NOT an implicit problem; it's simply an indicator that is often associated with incomplete answers.

If we think an answer is sloppy, or in some way not up to some sort of standard of how 'in depth' we like answers to be, then I suggest we should either walk on by, or use the only appropriate tool we have to show this: voting. Especially voting up the great in-depth answer that user B has just been provoked into providing by the 3 word answer user A has posted :)

  • I agree with all of Jack's answer except the: if an answer answers the question, it should be left alone. Is someone thinks that the answer actually answers the question and can further contribute to the question, I think it's up to his choice to either write a new answer or edit the existing short improving it. Nov 27, 2012 at 7:44
  • Thanks. I'm mostly drawing that conclusion from the mSO post I linked to: "Post a separate answer if you think you have sufficiently different information to warrant it; otherwise, leave a comment." Nov 27, 2012 at 8:38
  • 2
    If an answer apparently lacks explanation but is essentially correct and working and there can't be a different answer on the subject, then in most cases there would be no point in posting a separate answer merely to explain how the first answer works. I say, "in most cases", because sometimes the expansion can work as a separate answer worth crediting (or at least one that you'd like to credit for). I do agree that overly short answers, even if correct, should be discouraged. But as long as the community's short-answer-spotting machine and answer-improving one work, there is no big issue.
    – Andriy M
    Nov 27, 2012 at 11:21
  • 3
    +1. I'd further summarize what you're getting at like this: Brevity is NOT an implicit problem; it's simply an indicator that is often associated with incomplete answers. If one sentence provides all the info that could possibly be needed (which is rare), it's a great answer. If brevity means it's technically right, but lacks detail that would make it much more helpful, it's not a great answer, and should be improved or given some competition from a more complete one.
    – Jaydles
    Nov 27, 2012 at 16:22

I'm going to rebel against JackD just a bit, and on one point specifically, which is also my answer to the Q:

We should not comment complaining it is short, flag or make extensive edits changing the whole character of the answer: please provide a better answer instead.

The issue here is that we as mods see something from the SE team who wrote the core SE engine. Specifically there is a system-applied flag on content that is "too short" according to the general SE guidelines. Those rules apply to the entire network. They aren't custom to our site. No, I won't disclose what limits trip that flag. However, when your answer is so short that it auto-trips the flag, I will ask that the answerer provide more detail, or if the person is a habitual short-answer-provider I'll just convert to comment without leaving them any room for discussion or dissension.

If another mod reverts the conversion, so be it.

But this is my take, and this is where I stand my ground. If you can't be arsed to write a full answer that gives some how or why then I won't give you any ground on keeping your answer. Especially when you have more than 2k rep on any site in the SE network.

I do read every answer before converting, and if a simple sentence is the entire solution, often as not the question should be closed or deleted. So I may often go that route.

Probably 90% (statistics made up on the spot, no way!) are actually from people with less than 150 rep, so most of these actually are comments, and so I'm rather justified in such an auto-conversion policy. I see enough of them to know when to make that decision.

So this is my policy, by which I govern all "short" posts. Feel free to offer me constructive feedback, but you're unlikely to change my mind except by logic, or by SE mandate.

  • The only logic I've got is that the system-generated flag is just that: system-generated. It can't really judge whether the post is a valid answer or not, just throw up a list of answers with characteristics "often associated with incomplete answers"—after that it is up to real human beings (I know you're one of those and I'm pretty sure all the mods are :) Nov 28, 2012 at 6:02
  • Yeah, but it's a guideline given by the SE team to help keep quality high, that's all I treat it as. If the SE team has heuristically determined that the answer is unacceptable because it matches the characteristics of all unacceptable answers, that's a pretty broad flag for a high-rep user. Kind of like a wet cod to the face.
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Nov 28, 2012 at 15:16

If it answers the question only and not the how or why - leave it alone. Someone else can add the how or why. *TAILS

*This Answer Intentionally Left Short

  • I've had a change of heart on this one also. I am actually back to where I originally was, in fact. So long as it answers the question it isn't harming anyone. Someone with time to kill can add a second answer explaining more of the how and why and if the OP only wanted the quick answer then they are good, but the next person the googles sends over will see a fuller answer and some agreement in two answers promoting confidence, prosperity and world peace... Well at least confidence.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 27, 2012 at 10:50
  • A change of heart from ... what?
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Nov 27, 2012 at 16:44
  • My bad, @jcolebrand - a change of heart from a chat discussion on this topic in the Heap. I've waffled on this, as an American politician would say - Originally I was where my answer here was.. Then I let the group convince me I was wrong and all answers needed to be more complex.. I'm now back to this point..
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 27, 2012 at 16:52
  • 1
    As you can see, those coming onto this conversation don't benefit from a chat discussion ;-) This is why we encourage bookmarking beneficial or long chat discussions ;-)
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Nov 27, 2012 at 16:53
  • Thanks for the tip, sir. I will keep that in mind in the future and learn how to bookmark chat discussions.
    – Mike Walsh
    Nov 27, 2012 at 18:53
  • No worries, I assure you. Ask someone in chat, most folks should know how to bookmark and it's a good exercise for those who don't.
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Nov 27, 2012 at 19:00
  • Is 'waffled' the expression because you have to turn them over repeatedly? Just a guess because I don't think I've ever cooked one :) Nov 28, 2012 at 6:03
  • I wanted to answer with "nothing" but figured that would be too obvious.
    – swasheck
    Dec 5, 2012 at 15:28
  • @swasheck you really should have done :) Dec 17, 2012 at 16:20

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