While reviewing Very Low Quality, I noticed that some answers which are answering questions or answering partially. What they lack is just a reference. This meta is about discussion regarding giving time for improving answers as stated in so called Official policy for deleting answers that don't cite sources.
We know that our site has a policy which mandates some kind of reference in our answers. Not everyone can go everywhere with books. Some are broad sources like the chapter names or a part from Puranas. User know that the answer will be present in a specified chapter. But we are not getting early answers. As a result, we are getting series of long comments which is not helping the site in any way. Just the OP. In this case we have to encourage users in posting answers explaining first and then the answer can be improved anytime.
That is the case for established users. But we have a total different case for new users. New users do not know that we have a policy which mandates some reference. But they post answer anyways. Some are really good answers. They answer the question anyway. Who knows, that answer could turn out to be a good one and that user shall become a regular user who will contribute regularly for the site. We need to give them guidance and support how to improve their answers and give the choice of writing. What they lack is the direction how to improve their and the source. We have brilliant guidelines for new users, some good resources to help the user to find information to cite and many great meta discussions so that the user will gain interest in contributing to the site.
But.. that is hardly happening. Unsourced answers are flagged very soon in 1 or 2 days. Average time they are getting flagged is not exceeding 2 or 3 days
According to Official policy for deleting answers that don't cite sources, the time given for users for adding sources is a week. For new users, it is a fortnight i.e., 2 weeks. That is agreed by almost all (I disagreed because the time span is less. anyways,). According to that policy, We should give time to the OP for improving their own answers. If not, we can help the OP by directing them to valid sources which can be cited. If said properly, users will understand which area in the answer needs improvement and try to modify.
On the contrary, answers which lack sources are either flagged as Very Low Quality or Not An Answer within a day or sometimes in an hour without making any efforts for their improvement or guidance Just a canned comment to cite sources. I wrote about this practice in fourth anniversary meta post in my answer.
Lately, I have noticed that answers which have no references are flagged as Very Low Quality (VLQ) very quickly i.e., less than 30 minutes after posting. This is a very quick move to flag an answer as VLQ just because it lacks sources.
The flag has totally a different purpose. It should be used
when the answer has poor formatting which can't be improved by editing
when the answer is written in Non English language and gibberish language hard to understand
It asks a new question or a comment
A site specific policy like we have personal experiences. It can be used when the answer has personal experiences as sources.
Again, formatting can also be improved if time is spent. What guarantees immediate deletion is spam, inflammatory speech, blatant non answers, comments and answers posted as a separate answers. Unsourced answers do not guarantee deletion immediately. As stated above, we even have a policy which moderators themselves have forgotten. What to speak of normal users?! Lately, I noticed many answers without a source are being flagged as Very Low quality or Not an answer. There was a 2 day old answer flagged as VLQ or NAA. What is surprising is the answer was fine on its own merit. It answered the question precisely. The reference was present in indirect speech. Only thing it was missing is a number where the verse is said. Even then, the answer is flagged as Not an answer or Very Low Quality (which is to be used when the answer nowhere addresses the question or it is a comment.), moderator commented to cite sources and another moderator added quotes himself and the answer was reviewed as "Looks OK".
Even though I agree with adding sources to help the user, this will not turn out to be a good practice in a long run. When we are doing anything to an answer, we should let them know what is happening to the post. We have to encourage users to cite their own sources and engage them and it is the best if the input comes from them. If they don't respond in the prescribed time, we can add sources if the answer is salvageable. If not, it can be deleted. But intervening to flag, editing on our wish etc., will look condescending which no user really want to see. If the user returns after a week or two just to find their answer deleted with no explanation except a canned response :
"Answers should be backed up with sources on the site. Add sources and flag for undeletion".
If this is seen every time without really explaining why the answer should be modified, how answer can be modified, the experience is not a good one for a user. They can't comment on their own answer if it's deleted. Only some users know there is a meta and chat. Even then chat requires some reputation to talk. So, keeping in these mind, it is better to explain which portion needs sources, whether we have added or the OP in comments is always helpful. It is not possible for many users can't find the required sources immediately given that we get questions on wide range of scriptures. Many need to be verified and added. So, giving some time is better.
Commenting and putting banner as step by step has given some good response. In my activity here on the site, I saw many users responding to reviewer's comments under answers either by editing something in their answer or explaining why their answers are good. Any reply from OP is okay for us. If there is a reply, we can try to improve and make them understand our site's policies. We have to remember that every user here joined a site as a newbie and we can't expect all to have full understanding of SE and our site specific policies. We should comment or moderate in good faith that users would return and respond to our comments and NOT thinking they would never return.
If there is no response from other side, we can continue our moderation activities like flagging and deletion. But what is the hurry of flagging or editing directly without engaging the OP in the conversation?
So, should I let the unsourced and low quality stuff hang around?
No, not at all. We have to remember that flagging should be the last resort. Depending on moderators for every thing is not a good way of moderation for a site like Stack Exchange. We have to use our votes wisely. Even when there are answers flagged as Very Low quality, I am not seeing any downvote or a feedback comment on the answers. If an answer deserves deletion, why does it not deserve a downvote? Why are users not willing to downvote and letting the OP know that there is something which can be improved? So, using downvotes, comments and other mechanism we have on the site to let the user know that their answer has issues is the right choice before flagging as Not An Answer or Very Low Quality. Not every unsourced answer is a non answer.
If the OP is inactive and there is no response from the other and the answer can't be improved in any way, we can let the OP know about that and flag answer for moderator intervention and ask for deletion. Hence, we still have a way to get rid of those even after two weeks.
So, what I humbly ask the community and the moderators is
Be patient while flagging unsourced answers.
Let the user know how to improve their answer on their own and give required guidance in comments. Many will respond with edit or comment if they are active.
Guide them towards helpful meta discusisons and resources posts we have on our main site.
Use your votes and privileges wisely. Votes can be reversed once the answer is improved. (This has happened many times with me and the result was positive and I got comments thanking for guidance.)
Wait for the time span to end and then intervene in flagging or editing drastically with the sources we know. In the mean time, it is very much needed to keep the OP engaging so that they will know how to write answers and we will know which type of sources they are looking for.
Do not post answers in comments. Post answers as early as possible. They can be improved anytime later. It helps our answer percentage.
This is what I propose based on previous meta discussions and . I'm welcome to suggestions from community on how to improve moderation of unsourced answers from new users.
Note: This discussion is only about unsourced answers which answer the answer and has some content which can be improved by community effort. This is not about comment replies to questions, Thank you comments, new questions, personal opinions, rants posted as answers. They can be flagged as usual for deletion.