If a "question" post does not actually contain a question, is it appropriate to flag an "answer" to that post as "not an answer"?
Re: Flag or not an "Answer" when "Question" does not contain a question
Summary: I think the part about the question is the primary issue in that situation.
Unclear (vague, insufficiently defined etc.) questions can lead to problems, when people try (usually with good intentions) to answer them.
Therefore for a situation where:
a "question" post does not actually contain a question
I suggest on the question:
- add a polite & constructive comment to the OP recommending improvements;
Adding that explanation makes it easier for the OP to understand how specifically they are being asked to improve the question. Also it helps other site members to see when the missing material has been added, and then they can vote to reopen it (and those helping in the reopen review queue can see whether the requested information has been added to the question).
Regarding the answering of unclear questions. Generally, unclear questions shouldn't be answered, as explained here (especially the first bullet point):
Answer well-asked questions
Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which...
- ...are unclear or lacking specific details that can uniquely identify the problem.
- ...solicit opinions rather than facts.
- ...have already been asked and answered many times before.
- ...require too much guidance for you to answer in full, or request answers to multiple questions.
- ...are not about electronics design as defined in the help center.
The use of the "Not An Answer" (NAA) flag should be limited to really clear cases where a post is not an answer, and that would apply irrespective of the quality of the question e.g. when an "answer" is really someone new asking a related question, or just a rant about the topic etc.
More details and examples of when to use the NAA flag here:
- How do I properly use the "Not an Answer" flag?
- When should you decide whether to flag a posted answer as Not an answer?
As you see in those linked Meta article, a genuine attempt to answer a poor question shouldn't be flagged as NAA. That user might be misguided and perhaps is unable to resist attempting to answer a question which they really shouldn't do (see above), but that doesn't make it NAA. (However it might be a valid NAA for other reasons, unrelated to the question.)
In the general case you describe, you should not flag it as "not an answer".
According to How do I properly use the "Not an Answer" flag?:
Do not use this flag when:
The user posts a partial answer to the issues presented in the question
The answer makes an attempt to answer the question, even if it is wrong or inaccurate or you disagree with it
More likely in the case you describe, if you see a problem with the question, you would flag the question, or vote to close it if you have that privilege.
I see a significant number of questions which may not contain any "?"s but whose point in question is entirely clear to me. This may be because the OP does not have English as a second language or they do not have a good command of English. A question does not necessarily need a "?", which is a construct which is desirable but not essential in every case. Having one or more usually helps.
IF the intended question is clear I wonder why people do not spend the usually minimal time required making it into a formal question.
If the question is not a clear one the problem may be as above or because the reader does for some reason not grasp what is actually being asked.
In that case a comment asking about what is being asked also takes little effort.
One or more examples would be extremely useful.
In the case of answers, if someone has answered an apparently unclear or apparently non existent question then they, at least, consider that it is a question and can be answered AND they have done so.
A comment to the answerer may be of value to them and you.