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This is closely related to an old question on Handling “look at this link” type of answers, which focussed on what the community's response towards such link-only answers should be, and is technically answered by the SE policy in the How To Answer guide:

Provide context for links

Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

In many cases low-quality "answers" which include little more than a bare link would make a perfectly good comment, but a poor answer. The susceptibility to link rot is a genuine concern - more so now that CV has got older, and its effects are starting to set in! So the policy seems very sensible to me, and my question is more about how, as an end user, I should take regard of it when I encounter such an answer on the site.

Downvoting a relevant and helpful link seems harsh - particularly to a new user unable to post comments for technical reasons. But it would presumably be the most appropriate response if this was felt to be an "answer quality" matter to be resolved by voting. If on the other hand we treat such "answers" as suffering a fundamental functional problem, then some sort of rectification is preferable.

One possibility is editing the answer to include more context, so it is no longer just a link. But this is something that the original answerer is usually better placed to do. Another option is to convert the answer to a comment, which would be its more natural place - but that is something for Moderators. If this is the preferred response, presumably regular users should use the "not an answer" flag to bring this to their attention? In the review queue, there is also an option for "recommend deletion" (I believe high-rep users have this tool even outside the review queue). But completely removing a relevant link also seems unsatisfactory, for obvious reasons. Are these deletion recommendations sent to a queue which is checked manually by Moderators, who could convert to comment instead?

It seems to me that most of the time, if we encounter such an "answer", the appropriate response would be to flag it - at least, if we did not have time or knowledge to edit in the contextual information necessary to render it a self-contained answer, or thought that the link was so extraneous that it was not even worth saving as a comment. Is this a fair summary of the situation?

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    $\begingroup$ @smillig They're certainly closely related questions. I don't think my question is answered there - I know that such answers are discouraged by policy and where the community stands on them, which I hope I've made clear in my question text. But I'm not clear what this means I should do when I encounter one. $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Mar 31 '15 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ The fact such answers are discouraged could be consistent with writing a comment to inform the author of this (linking to the Answer Guide), maybe even downvoting it. Or a more extreme option, if we regard such answers as functionally deficient, of flagging for a Moderator to convert to comment (but they're an overworked lot and if this is regarded as unnecessary work for them I'd rather avoid it). The review queue also prompts for deletion, but this generally seems quite extreme if the link contains useful information. $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Mar 31 '15 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ (It's also worth noting that thread dates from 2011 - link rot has become a more serious issue since then, as more and more links stop working. So it's worth wondering whether what is considered the "proportionate" response has changed too.) $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Mar 31 '15 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ In his answer to the linked question, @whuber recommends making a comment that there needs to be more context and when an edit is not forthcoming he "downvotes or votes to close, depending on how uninformative the reply has been." Coming from whuber, I would take this approach as "cannon"! $\endgroup$ – smillig Mar 31 '15 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @smilig I did find whuber's answer there useful (more so than the accepted answer) but I wasn't sure how one would implement it as a workflow. For instance, if I see such an answer in the Review Queue, should I add a comment asking for further information to be added, then press "Looks OK" (even though it doesn't), then remember to come back to the thread after a reasonable time to fulfil the request has elapsed? Or should everyone "skip" it in the Review Queue, so it stays under the scrutiny of the Queue until either collective patience is exhausted or the necessary edits get made? $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Mar 31 '15 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ (If the latter then it relies on all reviewers following the same procedure, since if a few press "look okay" then such posts will fall out of the queue. A very clear consensus on workflow would be necessary for this to be sustainable.) $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Mar 31 '15 at 14:13
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I flag link-only-answers as "not an answer". I also vote to delete them in the low quality review queue, because even though it is possible such links to be helpful, the way the information is provided is not adequate to the Stack Exchange format. This is the minimum recommended procedure I understand from reading a compilation of such matter available here.

Moderators can convert answers to comments, but they will not have the time to check all cases. If someone come across with a link-only-answer, which the link is useful, it is ok to flag for "moderator attention" and ask/suggest for the comment conversion, explaining why.

Leaving a comment to the OP asking for more context in the answer is a possible option, but not required. Editing the answer to include more information can be considered a "radical edit", which is a custom reason for rejecting edit-suggestions from <2k rep users.

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  • $\begingroup$ (+1) I think that the best treatment is to convert them to comments. It also drives the point home to the person who posted a link-only answer, for future motivation. Members can and should alert the moderators whenever they hit upon such a link-only answer. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Apr 6 '15 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ What I am not sure about (and this is partly a technical question about how this site works) is whether sufficient people recommedning deletion on the review queue will remove the answer entirely before a Moderator has the opportunity to convert it into a comment. (My guess would be that a Moderator could see it even if it was deleted, anyway, and that the flags on it recommending conversion to a comment would still be active, but I don't know. Could anybody help me out here?) $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Apr 6 '15 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Silverfish, a moderator would know about the flags-are-still-visible part, but yes, if a post in the Low Quality review queue gets 3 delete votes or 5 recommend delete votes, it will be deleted & won't be converted to a comment by those actions. $\endgroup$ – gung Apr 7 '15 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ Could the downvoter to Andre Silva's answer explain what aspect they disagree with, or post a suggestion of their own? (I know that on Meta such a downvote generally means someone has a different opinion on how such things should be done, and that's really what I was trying to elicit by asking my question in the first place!) $\endgroup$ – Silverfish Apr 7 '15 at 15:39
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I agree with @AndreSilva.

If you are hoping that the moderators will convert it into a comment, it is probably helpful to post a comment under the answer noting that it is more of a comment than an answer. This may make the task of categorizing the type of non-answer and deciding the appropriate course of action (i.e., delete vs. delete and convert) faster and easier for the moderators. I will often leave a comment like the following:

Welcome to the site. At present this is more of a comment than an answer. You could expand it, perhaps by giving a summary of the information at the link, or we can convert it into a comment for you.

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