A couple months ago, we had a discussion about Should we be more strict about one-line answers?. The verdict was that yes, we should be enforcing stricter standards on the answers on this site. Great! That means that we can keep our quality high, and new answers have been deleted accordingly.

But... what about the old posts? There are lots of old answers that were posted before this policy was put in place that would be deleted if posted today, but since they were old, they haven't been deleted, and in some cases have gained relatively high scores.

They were posted before the policy was put in place, so they weren't eligible for deletion when they were posted... but IPS has established some stricter policies that were put in place because we saw how not having them worked. Why not go apply the fix to the problem that was decided on to what prompted the need for the fix in the first place?

Should these answers by deleted, in accordance with the new policy, or should we leave them, since they were posted before the policy was established?

As an example, here are three posts which I believe would fall into this category: How to convince people I'm not stealing their food? (+16), How to politely respond to unclear email response? (+10), How to avoid a very talkative cleaning lady? (+15)


5 Answers 5


People trying to understand site rules look at the material that's currently available. They don't go to meta to look up when policies changed to figure out if they should be evaluating things differently; they see "these questions are closed but those aren't", or "that answer is visible", or "those comments weren't cleaned up", and they use what they see as a model. (I'm speaking primarily from Workplace experience, but also other sites.)

If stuff on the main site doesn't meet current requirements, we should take action regardless of the age of the post. For old, upvoted stuff that was appropriate, isn't now, and is nonetheless good enough that we want to keep it, remember that historical locks are available. I wouldn't use a historical lock for a short, popular, unsupported answer like some of the ones you've linked, but a good question with good answers that was later deemed to be off-topic, for example, can sometimes benefit from this kind of lock. (That happened to one of my questions on another site -- two years later their scope changed, so they locked it and kept it.)


This is a partial answer, intended to supplement Monica Cellio's answer.

There are old answers that lack the explanation and depth we expect by current standards. Like Monica said, we can choose to delete them now if they don't meet our current standards, and for the reasons she listed.

If an answer is 60 days old and has at least a score of 3, its deletion won't affect the answerers' reputation at all (source: MSE FAQs). So it's a good thing we don't punish users for helping out the site in its early days.

  • 1
    Just to add a small point to both answers: If you can bring missing details/explanation on the answer, then edit it instead of deleting it. First course should be trying to salvage the post when possible and deleting as last resort if not.
    – Tensibai
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 16:52
  • @Tensibai Yeah, that as well. Deletions aren't technically permanent. OPs (or anyone who can see deleted posts) can come back and improve the answers, and then get it undeleted. It's very unlikely that would happen though.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 18:12
  • If the post wasn't deleted by author it often require a mod flag to get it undeleted, so when possible I advocate for salvation of the post instead of deletion on old posts, for new posts author is there and can improve if they wish.
    – Tensibai
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:17
  • @Tensibai Moderator undeletion is required only if it was initially deleted by a moderator. Else, users with the right rep can vote to undelete. In this meta, the question was not about salvation, hence I didn't talk about it. Obviously, we prefer to save a post than kill it off. And we cannot write an OPs post for them. It's up to them. We can, however, guide them in the comments, or edit to proofread their post.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:19
  • By experience it only works with chat coordination to have 3 votes. The question is what to do with answer unfit with actual rules, editing is always an option when you feel you had answered on the same line, edits are not definitive either but could be rejected and maybe baking a new answer could be a better approach
    – Tensibai
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:26
  • @Tensibai Exactly. We cannot expect others to write a user's answer for them. I, unfortunately, don't see what you're getting at by making the same point again. If an old post does not meet our current standards, how would you go about improving it? How would you read the OP's mind and flesh out the answer on their behalf? It's not how editing works. I know because, if you see, I'm one of the top editors of the site. ;)
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:28
  • My point is just try to salvage a post before even thinking of delete it, as it is an important part of SE culture site wide even if IPS is a special case. I do think this point stands here, edit enables users should try to salvage an answer instead of rewriting one and deleting the offending post. If author is still active they can edit on it or roll back, if not community will judge. Of course you won't edit an answer you disagree with, but bringing it in chat to give a chance before deletion sounds a better approach in my mind.
    – Tensibai
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:26
  • 1
    @Tensibai I'm sure nobody here on IPS is hell-bent on deleting anything. We all want to edit and salvage a post before even thinking of deleting it. If that is the point you want to make as a response to this meta question, please do so in a separate answer. And also mention how you would go about when editing to flesh out an old answer, with what information, etc.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 7:52
  • Fait point, I had the feeling it was just a side note to complement the existing answers but it seems it worth a real answer after those comments :)
    – Tensibai
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 8:20

Presumably, you decided to delete answers to solve some sort of problem. I'm not really sure how the time an answer is posted would effect whether an answer is causing that problem or not.

If an answer has a problem that is best solved by deleting the answer, delete the answer. If you don't delete them, the problem will remain unsolved, and new members might see the undeleted answers and think they are encouraged rather than discouraged.


Subpar answers being used as a justification for giving more subpar answers, is indeed a problem. But is deleting them the right solution?

I had a very unfortunate experience on SO a few years ago, when an extensive answer I wrote to a very highly upvoted question, was deleted along with the whole question. I brought up the problem on meta and was happy to see a reply that gave me hope:

The question should not have been deleted. Say it with me:

We do not delete good content. We do not delete good content.

There are bad answers on that question (no doubt!) and the question itself is off topic, but that doesn't mean it should be deleted.

If it had no good content? Sure. Delete it.

The appropriate action would have been to flag the question for moderator attention requesting a wiki-lock and cleanup of the answers after.

A historical lock is also a bad idea because the question has a lot of views, good content, and has already shown that the community is willing to update it.

How to handle Off Topic Closed Questions

If you see upvoted content that is useful, don't delete.

If there are a high number of votes or views and there is something to learn; don't delete it.

If you really, really, really, feel like it should be deleted, engage on Meta.

If there's any doubt that something is useful to people; don't delete it. Bring it up on meta. That's what Meta is for.

Please don't delete information that some do find useful, just because we don't find it useful. One man's trash is another man's treasure, as they say.

  • 3
    This a completely different example. We're not talking about deleting 3 year old community wiki answers in which people have put a lot of effort to questions that aren't good, but bad answers that don't explain their why/how on good questions. If you take a look at the examples Mithrandir provided, you can see we're talking answers of about 5 lines of 'say this', without teaching people an Interpersonal skill. So, I'm sorry but I find the analogy between your SO wiki answer and the answers here not sufficient here to warrant not deleting.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 7:51
  • 1
    To add to what @Tinkeringbell's saying, we're not talking about questions, but answers. The questions will probably stay no matter what happens; the answers might not.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 22:18
  • @Tinkeringbell well why don't we delete this answer too then :) Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 0:10
  • Meta is different. And I disagree with your answer, but it's not low quality ;) You provide a point of view, an example and an explanation. We're not talking of deleting all answers we disagree with. Just the ones that e.g. just provide a script, a say this and all goes away answer. Without explaining why or how that sentence will save your life or the principles you used to formulate the sentence no one is going to learn a new interpersonal skill, just how to be a good parrot ;-) If this was a one liner we might have deleted it
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 6:21

I would suggest slow replacement.

When checking for a duplicate question, consider whether or not the existing question was answered well. If not, don't redirect to the earlier question, but instead let the new duplicate be answered again, judging its answers by the new standards.

If a good new answer arises, let its version of the question be the one to which people are referred when duplicates are detected.

The matter can even be forced if a really poor old answer is noticed, simply by asking the question again and letting it go through the process I've outlined. As long as people can follow the policy of not redirecting to low-quality-answer questions, you can get a better answer established.

This would require a certain amount of active supervision. Mods might need to adopt a new/old question pair briefly and chaperon them until a clear choice can be made. Even so, as long as they simply take opportunities as they arise, rather than attempting to replace all old questions on their site ASAP, it shouldn't be overly taxing.

As an aside, there's always the option of improving the existing answer yourself.

  • Not sure what you're getting at. How does duplicate questions relate to deleting poor-quality answers?
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 10:37
  • Arwen is asking whether existing low-quality answers should be deleted due to higher standards introduced since they were given. The existing questions these low-quality answers are answering seem less likely to obtain new, more substantial answers, at this point, than freshly-asked questions about the same subject. I'm suggesting that, when a new question is asked and it is a duplicate of an existing question that has mediocre answers, allow it to stand and receive answers that might better suit the new standards. Afterwards, consider that question the one to which we refer new dupes.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 11:43
  • Perhaps I should add... this implies that once the new question has received sufficient good answers, it would be best indeed to delete the original with its low-quality answers, or at least delete those answers and redirect to the new question.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 11:46
  • Why would we re-ask the question? That's detrimental to often extremely well written answers. We're talking about simply removing the low-quality answers from the questions that already exist... which often have 10+ answers already. Questions are irrelevant here.
    – Catija
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:01
  • @Catija - I apologize, I had the impression that the question involved questions with accepted answers that were too brief to stand up to current standards. If not, then indeed I'm speaking out of turn.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:29
  • Whether it's accepted or not is sort of irrelevant... accepted answers can still be deleted if they're determined to be of poor quality or to not meet the site standards. :)
    – Catija
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:34

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