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This answer is a good answer, but, as explicitely mentioned, ends up not fitting the question since it has been edited since the answer was made.

What should users be suggested to do in such a case?

  • Ignore the answer and possibly upvote other fitting answers, hopefully reordering things after a while?
  • Downvote the answer because it doesn't fit at this given time?

It seems like downvoting would punish the poster for no good reason, which is what's making me hesitate so much.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In this case I think editing could be done to make his answer more directly answer the question, and put the rest in as "if you're wondering" at the bottom... \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Sep 2 '13 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvotes does not punish the poster. Do not take a downvote personally, ever. Also, the system is rigged to lessen the impact of a downvote on rep. A downvote takes away less rep than a upvote gives. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Sep 23 '16 at 17:43
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Downvotes are appropriate for answers that no longer fit a clarified question. Take it as an object lesson in why it's risky to answer a question before it's clarified.

Downvotes also notify the owner of the answer that there is a problem with it. They may ignore it, or may take action, but either way the downvote has served its intended purpose: to separate the good answers from the not-as-good answers and let the answerer know that there are problems with their answer. Remember that downvotes go away if they choose to delete; and if they edit, downvotes can be reversed and they may attract new upvotes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Except that in this particular question, it could be mistaken for a clear, albeit basic, rules question. The edit made to the question completely changed the meaning, so I can't find it fair that someone would answer a question well, discover that through editing it was a different question, and then lose reputation over what was a good answer. Editing or deleting seems more appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – WrongOnTheInternet Sep 2 '13 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @shatterspike1 Downvotes are still appropriate. Those are motive for the answer owner to edit (to try to reverse the downvotes) or to delete (to remove the votes entirely). Either way, a downvote is not inappropriate, and is in fact helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 2 '13 at 22:58
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If you can edit them to meet the new question, do that, it's the best solution. A comment on the answer might also work, if you don't feel right editing.

If not I'd go ahead an flag them with a custom flag, explaining the situation. Sometimes a Not an Answer flag works, but generally you'll want a custom flag here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In this specific case, the author made a separate answer to the new question. Editing could only lead to duplicating I think. \$\endgroup\$ – leokhorn Sep 2 '13 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @leokhorn in that case yeah, flag it for deletion. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 2 '13 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Completely rewriting an answer to answer a different question is problematic at best. Editing is for clarifying, not changing. It's their reputation, not the editor's that is affected by the answer content. Completely changing the answer breaks that relationship that should otherwise be respected. Comment, sure; downvote, if you like; flag for deletion, sometimes; edit to overhaul, no. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 2 '13 at 23:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie again "if you can edit" \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 2 '13 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle That doesn't really bear on what I said? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 3 '13 at 0:45
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Downvotes and Upvotes are a means to ordering the list of answers, not a reward or a punishment.

If an answer no longer fits a question due to editing, that is exactly the same as an answer that never fit the question - it's the current state that matters, purely for ordering the list purposes. The most useful (to that question) answer should be on top. The least useful at the bottom. This is so people looking for an answer to the question can get the most information in the least amount of time by reading top->bottom.

The community isn't venerating heroes and casting down villains - it's acting as a highly complex sort algorithm. It's not perfect, because what the 'community' thinks is most useful is not going to apply to outliers, and there's stuff like this - cult of personality and confusing upvotes with personal approval. But the overall goal is to simply sort the information, not to pass some sort of moral judgement.

Additionally; If the answerer wants to preserve his answer in the face of a radically different question, he is free to re-ask the original question himself. There is nothing wrong with this, and if his answer is good, it is what he should do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the emphasis on "downvoting isn't evil" and on the bigger picture. \$\endgroup\$ – leokhorn Jun 19 '14 at 18:35
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Downvote. It's not relevant how much of a brilliant well crafted piece of prose an answer is - if it doesn't answer the question as posed, it's not a good answer. Upvoting and downvoting are not "reward" and "punishment" and have nothing to do with how good a person the answerer is, how smart they are, etc. It is solely about is the posted answer a good one for the posted question.

Don't flag - what do you want the mods to do that you can't do? Mod intervention is for clear off-topic cases; stuff like this we look at, say "Mmm-hm that looks like a corker," dismiss the flag and move on. If you want it deleted for being off-topic, vote to delete.

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    \$\begingroup\$ if it's no longer an answer, that fits a canned flag reason. Your resistance to flags is...odd at best. Deletion is a 20k privilege, like 4 of us have it. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 2 '13 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Y'all complain when we delete comments, how much more when we delete answers... We don't do that unless it's spam, totally off topic, etc. If it's "well it's not quite fitting with the question" we let the votes and the community sort it out, which is I'm sure what you'll demand the first time we do the opposite and you don't like it. It's what all three of us mods do. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 2 '13 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Answer deletions leave a public history, comparing it to comment deletion is a nonstarter. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 2 '13 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the first paragraph. This site is about providing expert answers to questions; Answers that do not answer the question - for any reason - shouldn't appear high in the answer list. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Sep 3 '13 at 5:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Deleting an answer that no longer fits the question is fine: you can leave it deleted, or edit the answer so it fits and restore the answer. It's akin to putting a question on hold whilst awaiting clarification. Comment deletion is an entirely different thing, like wax eagle said - I'm ok with it now that I understand it, at least. If my answer of mine was deleted with a comment saying "This is no longer an answer; please modify it to answer the current question before restoring it if you like" I might be irked but I'd understand, and it's a useful part of keeping the quality high here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 3 '13 at 11:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ We see that flag misused all the time for "here's an answer I don't like or personally disagree with". If it's an upvoted answer, or unless as in this case the op has specifically edited to say "I'm off topic" (in which case he really should have self deleted) it is unlikely we'll delete based in a flag. Mod action is for exceptions the community can't handle using normal site mechanisms. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 3 '13 at 12:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alright, I'm satisfied with that. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 3 '13 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cool. We deleted this one since the OP came out and marked it as OT, just want people to understand in "judgement" cases we want the community to act instead. Like closing, we don't close unless there's community votes - or it's just complete junk. You have the POWER!!! \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 3 '13 at 17:41
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A downvote without an explanation is a very sad thing to see on an answer that you took an effort to make nice. However I agree that a downvote has the power to get attention.

Especially when we are talking about originally good answers that look weird now because of an edited question, the best course of action IMO would be:

  1. Leave a comment explaining why the answer doesn't make sense for the revised question. If there's already a comment doing that, upvote that comment.
  2. If possible, wait a while for the answerer to react, and then downvote if he doesn't, to attract his attention.
  3. Keep an eye on the answer, and remove your downwote if and when the answer is updated to make sense in the new context.
  4. Remove your original comment as it is no longer relevant, and optionally leave a comment thanking the answerer for fixing his answer, or even upvote it if you think it's worth it.

This approach is also good for answers that deserve downvotes for other reasons. A naked downvote is a real heartbreaker.

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