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I often see people answering questions in the comments section, when it should be used only for clarifications and similar stuff.

Those answers are often good enough to solve the asker's problem (even if they are usually short and not very in-depth).

So why not writing the answer in the answer box and earn well deserved reputation points?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It makes me feel I take less risk, when I'm not sure of what I'm saying. I won't be downvoted... Ooops! did I just make an answer in a comment ? \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jun 16 '16 at 10:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes I'm not really sure that what I propose is correct. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew Morton Jun 21 '16 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dim Statistically, you're still better off posting an answer, unless you're wrong more than 5 times out of 6. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Jun 22 '16 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DmitryGrigoryev Right, but psychologically, a downvote is much more significant than this. It can't be compensated by a thousand upvotes... Do you think I might be over-emotional? \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jun 22 '16 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dim I prefer to think of a downvote as of a price I pay to learn something I didn't know. Unless of course I wrote a poor answer knowing it would be bad, in which case it's better to post it as a comment, or not post at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Jun 22 '16 at 10:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do not mind posting 'hints' or partial answers to prompt the OP to re-word the question or think about choosing a project that is doable and survivable. The OP having abstract or dangerous questions can create a stream of 'almost' answers or extreme opinions. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Jun 24 '16 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can't answer in comments - I am too long-winded! \$\endgroup\$ – John Birckhead Jun 28 '16 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I have only made this answer longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." \$\endgroup\$ – JimmyB Jun 29 '16 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ In a word, lazy. Like I'm being right now. \$\endgroup\$ – Jennifer Mar 10 '18 at 23:16
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  1. Question is opinion based and should be closed.

  2. Question is too broad and should be closed.

  3. The question is a good one and deserves a complete answer, but I only have time to give a brief answer. I want to leave the answer space open so somebody else can write the complete answer and get the rep for it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, especially for no 3 - Though a lot of people give comment-sized answers as well, I hate doing that. \$\endgroup\$ – Asmyldof Jun 15 '16 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't like it very much either, but you know, better a short answer than nothing. \$\endgroup\$ – Electrical Architect Jun 15 '16 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ideally, if no full answers get posted within a couple days, I'll come back and convert my comment-answer to a real answer. But realisitically, that doesn't always happen. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Jun 15 '16 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ #4 An answer as a comment is subject to upvotes but not downvotes. I'll throw a "hypothesis" in as a comment sometimes when there is low/no activity. \$\endgroup\$ – Jacksonkr Jun 24 '16 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most answers are opinions based on personal experience and fundamentals but for people may not like broader answers just prefer personal relevance and ones they understand. THe ones they dont understand needs more time to teach fundamentals or add links, like the best kinds found in Wiki format with links. So comments are appropriate even if it is an answer that should be self-evident to advanced readers. \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Jun 15 '17 at 22:13
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I can see me and other people doing it, despite being discouraged, because:

  • the answer is only a partial one
  • there is only time for me to write a bit to nudge things into the right direction
  • there isn't really enough information in the question to reliably answer, so it's more a guess waiting for more data

Often it is the feeling to be able to provide something useful, but not having enough time (or being in the mood) to write something full. I also sometimes hope it encourages someone to write a whole answer who wasn't really sure if he was right.

Regarding rep: they aren't everything. At a certain point, you don't care about earning some

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reps are meaningless numbers from site groupies and not an indication of technical accuracy , skill or experience. +1 means yah I like this because I agree with it, but in this I agree with you and it is technically correct. \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Jun 15 '17 at 22:10
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I use both the mobile website and the regular desktop website, depending on where I am and what device I'm using. When I browse questions during my lunch break, I can easily upvote interesting questions (and downvote "gimme teh codz" trash), but it's not easy to write much words on a device without a proper keyboard. Fact-checking becomes problematic with only a single small screen.

I think of Answers as somewhat more definitive and likely to be useful to others. Writing a proper answer usually takes me at least 20-30 minutes of research, with multiple browser tabs open, several drafts, and lots of detail checking. I usually only do this if it is a topic I know from experience, or am interested in learning about (and only then if I manage a useful writeup worth posting). I don't always end up posting, sometimes another user gives a much better answer than I might have done.

Question quality is also a factor. If the asker seems like a diligent student or hobbyist who could benefit from some help, but the actual question is not likely to be useful to anyone else, I tend to just comment (as though it was chat). In fact that kind of thing really should be moved to a chat room, but often the OP doesn't have the necessary reputation points.

If it's a basic, fundamental question where I can find the answer on Wikipedia or in the stackexchange Search Q&A box within 1-2 minutes, I'm not going to bother writing a duplicate answer -- that doesn't deserve anything more than a comment (Related - or Possible Duplicate -).

About half of the EE stuff I learned in college was in the labs, helping other people or at least learning from their mistakes. (One of my peers built a 80x386 computer motherboard for capstone project, laboriously wire-wrapped over several months, and only applied power on the last day. The board had all pads tied to ground, so it was a short trip. Lesson: build and test frequently in small stages.) So I'm attracted to interesting problems. Sometimes those problems offer good "lessons" that deserve a proper, definitive Answer writeup. And other times not.

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Rep is not an issue for me. It is sometimes easier and faster to throw a few (or even many) thoughts into a comment that I expect to be useful to a seeker who cares.
This saves formatting etc while providing the core of what matters.
Others are welcome to use such as part of 'proper' answers if they wish.
(I've produced a few of those as well when they seem needed :-) ).

Quite often (& certainly too often) questions are put on hold because people say/pretend that they are too hard to understand or answer as is or too general or whatever. Often enough I consider the reasons given specious* and find that an answer that is liable to be long-term useful to 'those who come after' can be easily enough given. As this satisfies the basic reason for existence of the site ["Quality answers to quality questions that will be eagerly sought and easily found by search engines and thus make the owners business plan work] I may consider a "comment answer". If I feel someone, especially a newcomer, has been overly disadvantaged by this I may "answer" at whatever length seems needed.

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Knowing how it's liable to be received, I'll note that it seems that we may need extra 'put on hold' reasons although some may not be used much as the reasons may be subconsciously held. These 'new' reasons may include eg

  • 'Does not have or act like they have a 1st world face',

  • 'female',

  • 'Uses English as second or other language, no matter how erudite'.

  • 'Jagger's ~= "Can't be a man coz he doesn't smoke, the same cigarettes as me"' eg Uses products or systems that mark them as inferior people (Arduino, ...)
    Uses language from an inferior technical culture (noob, So ..., hacker, maker, ...)
    (I happen to dislike most such words, but my aim is to subvert :-) ).

Other similar may come to mind.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or perhaps as a variant of "Jaggers" (Love the term BTW) - "I've not heard of it therefore it doesn't exist". i.e EE is really only about circuits from the old National Analog application note collection in book form or anything to do with MicroChip uControllers. \$\endgroup\$ – placeholder Jun 27 '16 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @placeholder " National Analog application note collection in book form" -> :-) :-) :-) Oh yes!. Loved and valued possessions. Usually only ever now looked at when I go to the dungeon to count my gold. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jun 27 '16 at 15:43
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Let's keep in perspective that comments aren't answers, so technically nobody is answering a question in comments. Comments can be and sometimes are deleted. They must be thought of as expendable temporary noise resulting from the overall process of answering the question. Think of them as construction lines or scaffolding, temporary devices to be deleted when the job is done.

Basically, replace all words in comments with "blah blah ... blah" and the page should still have the same meaning. Of course this amounts to the same thing as the comments being deleted, but keep in mind they sometimes are deleted. I often don't bother reading comments, particularly those below the question. The question content needs to stand on its own. If important information is later revealed, it must be added to the question. Comments have such low signal to noise ratio that they are not worth the time to read. I up/down vote and decide to close or delete questions on their direct content only.

My impression is that the main reason people write answer-like content in comments is because they aren't really sure of what they are saying and too chicken to take a chance on looking like a fool and getting downvoted to oblivion. Since comments aren't peer reviewed and can't be downvoted, so such "answers" have no value. Unfortunately, those not familiar with the site may not realize that, and may be misled by bad information in comments.

If you're not willing to stand up and put your reputation on the line when making technical statements, then it is pointless for others to waste time reading them.

About the only time it makes sense to give some information about the answer in comments is when you want to give hints for homework, but a short answer with only a hint would get downvoted or deleted as "low quality".

So the bottom line is that there are too many people here that haven't learned to use the site properly, and others that deliberately abuse it. Again, just skip over comments and life will be simpler.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe there's quite a lot of truth in the sentence "they aren't really sure of what they are saying and too chicken to take a chance on looking like a fool and getting downvoted to oblivion". Of course it doesn't apply to every answer in the comments section, but probably to most of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Electrical Architect Jun 27 '16 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElectricalArchitect Not mine :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jun 27 '16 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin - I'd argue (no surprise) that little of your comments on comments apply to my ones, (in most cases). BUT I accept that there's a reasonable amount of merit in much of your characterisations. They certainly don't apply in all cases and people have to decide for themselves the relative gains of reading or not reading comments. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jun 27 '16 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin I must say I quite disagree. Comments can be useful, and the fear of loosing rep is mostly irrelevant. But I followed your advice and made a complete answer. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jun 28 '16 at 7:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dim: I don't think the fear of loosing rep is the big issue, but looking like a fool is. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 28 '16 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin Well, I have no such fear: I am a fool, already. My biggest fear is to mislead to OP. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Jun 28 '16 at 10:40
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Usually users don't come up with a question can be answered, because they don't read any info on how to use the site, don't care about being part of the community and just want\expect an answer. I'm not going to answer a person if they aren't going to take the time to write a good question or be a part of the community, but I might impart a few sentences and set them in a better direction. Comments are great for helping people through their problem or giving them suggestions and are short. An answer is like writing in stone for the generations to see, writing takes time.

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I wanted to say that as a comment (again) on Olin's answer, but it's actually too long to fit.

Technically, that is right, there are questions, answers, and that's all. This is if we consider, as Stack Exchange mainly encourages us, that this site should be a repository of great answers on great questions. Amen.

But there are also people. People with problems they'd like to solve. And that we can help. And sometimes it even takes several people to help one. Look at this question for example: How can a USB-RS232 converter manually assert its TX pin?

That is an extreme case: 19 comments and not a single answer. Why? Because nobody had the full answer. People were just adding their brick to the wall, and at the end, the OP made progress towards an appropriate solution (even you, Olin, made a comment - well, I have seen a lot of comments from you that were more helpful than this one, however). So, thanks everyone, we helped a guy. It does not really fit with Stack Exchange's expectation of what questions and answers should be, but we did help a guy, and that counts.

Note that here, nobody cared about rep (either to gain it or fearing to loose it). And it's actually almost always the case. I think nobody really put a comment instead of an answer because they fear loosing reputation. This is what I said on the top, but it was obviously a joke. Anyway, answers that get too many downvotes can be deleted and you get the rep back, right? However, I may comment because I fear being wrong and mislead the OP. That's different, and rep has nothing to do in it: I know that comments should be taken with caution, and I expect people to do the same. And when I don't have time to check what I say, I put something in a comment, eventually with some warning inside, so the guy who reads it know that it may be a solution, but maybe not.

And this way, I'm actually in line with SE policy: I write a full answer only if I feel it is great enough (well, I may have written not-so-good ones also, but that wasn't my intent). If I had made a full answer instead of each comment-answer I have written, this site would be less clean. But some of these comment-answers, I believe, have been helpful.

So, to sum up:

  • I comment because I fear leading the OP in an approximative direction, but I still feel what I say may be useful (and I put the appropriate warnings in the comments). Recursive example
  • Or because I know only a part of the solution, not the whole thing.
  • Or for the reasons The Photon and PlasmaHH already pointed out.
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Sometimes I know an answer or a helpful suggestion, but I don't have the time nor inclination to make a full-fledged answer post. In those cases I may add it as a comment, reasoning that a comment is better than nothing at all.

In that case, someone else who feels the desire is free to take my suggestion and turn it into a complete answer post - I won't take offense to that.

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