It's well established on SE sites that off-topic questions should not be answered. For example, see

Nevertheless, we, as a community, do both not infrequently.

  1. Is downvoting an answer to an off-topic question an appropriate way to discourage the practice?
  2. Should comments or posts answering off-topic questions be flagged for deletion?
  • I often downvote these answers (and questions), as well as answers to obvious duplicates (the ones that we see twice a week that established users should know are duplicates). As for flagging them, I admit I've never done that. I want to think on this a bit, and I'm also curious to hear what others have to say.
    – Richard Mod
    Jul 17, 2021 at 12:51
  • 2
    @Richard The more I think about this, the more inclined I am to feel that deletion is the better solution. For one, the intended spirit of downvotes is not an act of punishment, but that's how it would be used in this case. Also voting still leaves in place an action to be discouraged; deletion removes the action altogether.
    – Aaron
    Jul 18, 2021 at 15:29

4 Answers 4


Is downvoting an answer to an off-topic question an appropriate way to discourage the practice?

If a question is off-topic, it should be closed and deleted. There is a voting procedure for that. If you downvote an answer just because you believe it's off-topic, you override the close-voting procedure.

Should comments or posts answering off-topic questions be flagged for deletion?

If a question is off-topic, there is no point to keep the question. The whole question should be deleted.

The line between good and bad question is difficult to recognize. The close-voting procedure allows for somewhat objective judgment. Moreover, it appears to me that the answer voting system is meant to point good and bad answers, rather than to discipline the users. The reputation loss from receiving a downvote is very small.

  • 1
    I generally agree with your sentiments, but "If a question is off-topic ... [it] should be deleted] is overstated. Although we routinely close off-topic questions, we rarely delete them. ( See: Should we be more aggressive in deleting closed questions?.) The result is that off-topic questions that have been answered potentially encourage future off-topic questions. Allowing we continue to keep off-topic questions around, the next best solution might (would, IMO) be to delete their answers, including comments that provide them.
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2021 at 2:17
  • @Aaron there are many reasons for closing questions. In particular, duplicate questions often should not be deleted. But what's a benefit in keeping off-topic questions? Jul 26, 2021 at 2:43
  • I agree with you. That's the basis for the question I linked to. But the current reality is that we do keep them, so at least for the time being, pruning the answers might provide some disincentive both from answering and asking future off-topic questions.
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2021 at 2:47
  • 1
    @Aaron my opinion is: we shouldn't single handed punish users for what might be a genuine will to help others. If we don't close and delete questions that have no value, that's the problem to solve. Jul 26, 2021 at 2:56
  • 2
    Again, I agree, but keep in mind that answers (and questions) cannot be singlehandedly deleted, except by diamond mods. The rest of us can only flag them and, if they wind up in the "low quality posts" queue, vote to delete them.
    – Aaron
    Jul 26, 2021 at 3:50

Downvoting an off-topic question/answer seems a waste of everything. It costs the dv-er, and if (as is often the case) the OP has a rep of 1 or so, the dv doesn't get represented anyhow.

Off-topic questions need deleting. There's no good reason they're there, surely? Which then means the answers (and questions) are superfluous.

Answering dupes, which may get deleted, is a different issue. Sometimes, the question spawns a slightly different slant on a problem - so the question isn't, as may be construed by some, an exact dupe. Thus, answers may well augment those in the other 'dupe'. I agree that an answer which adds nothing more deserves something, either dv or deletion.

Difference between closing and deleting? There's a possibility that those reading the closed questions begin to understand the rationale behind the closure. Deletion avoids this, but 'saves some space'.

  • 1
    This answer seems to be about questions, but the question is about answers.
    – Aaron
    Jul 29, 2021 at 9:08
  • Trying to cover as much as possible. The two are quite related.
    – Tim
    Jul 29, 2021 at 10:32

If an offtopic post gets answers there are two things that become problematic:

  1. The presence of the question encourages others like it, either through search engines sending more traffic, or simply from folks thinking those sorts of questions are okay, as they get answers.

  2. Upvoted answers make it harder for questions to be deleted, even if the questions are heavily downvoted. Normally automatic processes remove very bad posts.

I will usually downvote answers to obviously off topic questions before voting to close the question.

  • Where you do stand on (flagging toward) deleting such answers (presuming the question itself remains undeleted)?
    – Aaron
    Jul 29, 2021 at 16:52
  • 2
    Deleting them helps. Once they get to 0 or lower votes, or are deleted, they don't obstruct removal of the question any more.
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Jul 29, 2021 at 16:54
  • This answer provides important context information I was not aware before: a question with answer with a positive score can't be deleted easily. But downvoting an answer given in good faith seems to be a terrible workaround for this mechanics. Aug 5, 2021 at 22:23
  • The solution is not to answer questions that are off topic, @user1079505
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Aug 6, 2021 at 23:55
  • @DoktorMayhem The fact that deciding whether a question is off-topic requires voting demonstrates that we don't believe that a single user, who is not a moderator, is capable to recognize an off-topic question easily enough. At the same time we trust any user to answer a question. These two approaches contradict each other. Oct 28, 2021 at 22:51

Personally, I have not been systematically flagging or downvoting these answers. I don't feel that answers written in good faith should be necessarily downvoted; however, "in good faith" here would mean not only that the answer is otherwise acceptable, but that the answerer reasonably believed that the question was okay.

For example, if the question is marked as a duplicate but the answer is substantially different than the linked post, my current logic would not fault the answerer. If the answer is different, that is evidence enough to me that this was written with the belief that this question is not a duplicate. I don't mean to say that intent should be evaluated in a merit-based vote system, but I recognize that there are gray areas with some duplicates.

For off-topic questions, I think it's important to note that even experienced users can disagree on the validity of questions every once in a while, and if I think they may have a legitimate argument for its topicality, I would be okay with that answer as well.

Most cases, though, are night and day: either on- or off-topic, unique or duplicate. When a question clearly should be closed, I will often hold answers to that question in some contempt. Generally, those are bad-faith answers, and while I don't have a hard rule, it doesn't take much for that kind of answer to get the down arrow from me. A flag is an available option, but honestly it's worth considering a comment. That might be the better option in a lot of cases, particularly with newer users.

Happily, most black-and-white SE questions don't attract any answers (Yay community!). So when a question IS being considered for closure and you believe it should be open,

  • Don't vote to close. You may want to review as "Leave Open", but "Skip" is probably the better option when you're not sure.
  • Leave a comment explaining why you think it should remain open. This will give future voters-to-close (and if things go south, voters-to-reopen!) your perspective on the question. Other users may disagree with your logic, but it's never a bad thing to get some perspectives out in the open. If things get long-winded,
  • Inquire here on Meta M:PT for a community ruling and discussion.

Answering is possibly a bit presumptive if others are indicating that they strongly believe the question is a duplicate or off-topic, so use good judgement in that regard.

These are just my current opinions on the issue, and I would be happy to hear other ideas.

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