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This has been bugging me for a while, but I was prompted to ask here just now due to the question What are these wires on single-sided PCBs?.

To preserve the issue, here is a snapshot of the complete comment chain at the time of this writing:

A comment attempting to answer a question has these drawbacks:

  1. It is not peer-reviewed. Others can only upvote, not downvote.

  2. Comments discussing the "answer" are easily lost in the comment chain, and are noise there since that's not what the comments below a question are for.

  3. It's not labeled as a answer, and can therefore be easily overlooked by future readers.

  4. It circumvents the close mechanism. The whole point of closing a question is to prevent it from being answered. This is usually to force the OP to clean up the question by withholding a positive result until then. If a positive result is received via a comment, then the will of the members or mods expressed thru the close mechanism is subverted.

I liken comments to a question to scaffolding or construction lines to help build the question. They can also explain why a question is not a fit for the site.

So the question here is: What to do about comments answering questions? In this case, I flagged for moderator attention using the custom reason, explaining that it was a attempt to answer the question. I'm not sure that was right, and I don't know yet how that flag will be handled.

What is the right procedure?

Update

The flag I raised on the answer-comment was accepted as "helpful", and the answer-comment is now gone.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For completeness and so it gets linked, here is a previous meta post about this: electronics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5803/… \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 21 '18 at 9:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Why do people answer in comments? \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Sep 24 '18 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby It's highly related, but not a dupe. The main questions are not the same, and the answers of the previous post give no guidance on how to actually handle those comments. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 25 '18 at 11:15
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I don't think those should be handled by involving the mods. I don't think it's such a big problem either. Look at the difference between the two sentences winny gave in his comment and the complete answer Transistor made on this same post. Which one seems like a good quality answer to you?

And we all agree that answers should be high-quality, right?

Sometimes, you don't have time to make an answer such as the one Transistor made. Or you're just on your phone on which it is impractical to write long texts or lookup datahseets. Or your children are screaming and you can't concentrate. Or [insert reason here]. I choose to write answers only if I can write a good quality answer: complete, consistent, with all explanations, and backed by references. Because I want a clean site. And on the other hand, I don't see how giving a hint to OP in a comment could be considered such an evil thing to do.

So, just don't consider it is an answer. Consider it a simple hint, and all the drawbacks you've mentioned in your post suddenly vanish. If in some specific cases, it tickles you, you can always handle this with a comment as Nick suggested, but I see no reason to involve the big guns.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was expecting the disagreements. Now, I'd like to know what the people who disagree do in the situation I described 1) refrain from posting at all 2) posting the crappy answer 3) smash the kids and make a good answer anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 15 '18 at 23:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you can't write a good answer, you shouldn't be writing any answer (including cheating by writing the "answer" in a comment). I wouldn't even think of writing a answer from a phone. It's not right to inflict crappy answers on everyone here just because you're not in a situation to write a good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Sep 16 '18 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's my point. That is why in this case, I only give a quick hint as a comment. Not an answer. And this is probably what winny did too. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 16 '18 at 13:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ You shouldn't do that either. At the very least, my points 1, 2, and 4 still apply. And, Winny gave a reasonably full answer. It would have made a good enough real answer with very little modification. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Sep 16 '18 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm doing my best to act according to the rules and the spirit of the site. But if I see someone who needs help, has asked a good question which has not been answered yet, and I am not in condition to write a proper answer, I think I'll keep posting a hint as a comment... I'm probably some kind of misguided do-gooder. But hey, we all have a small subset of rules we can't manage to follow, no matter how hard we try, haven't we? If this is too serious an issue, please diamond mods, let me know. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 17 '18 at 7:41
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I post a comment , which prompts the author of the comment-answer to make the answer out of his comments. It has a desired effect more often than not. It works particularly well in cases where the question has no answers yet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been doing the same thing lately. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Tweed Sep 15 '18 at 23:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave: I suspect this works better for both of you because you are mods. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Sep 16 '18 at 13:29
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My take on the consensus about this, globally across the SE network:

Comments don't matter much, they aren't important. Questions and answers are what matters and that's where we expect certain quality standards.

There can be many reasons why someone doesn't want to post a full answer: they don't have the time to provide a quality answer, they are unsure, they only know one out of several needed answers, they think the question is uninteresting/too trivial etc etc. If so, then posting a simple comment is fine. It is certainly much better than to post a sloppy, one-liner answer.

Similarly, we should not post "link-only answers" which contains nothing else substantial but a link to an external site - such should be posted as comments, as per SE policy, to avoid that the site ends up as a collection of broken links in the long term.

A comment like the one in the screen shot should not be encouraged to get posted as an answer, since it lacks details. Now compare it to the excellent accepted answer of that question. That's the kind of answers we want to encourage, not sloppy one-liners. (But of course, in some rare cases, the only possible answer is a short one and then that's fine.)

Note that if you leave a comment containing the answer, you leave it open for someone else to give the same answer formally, claiming the credit & reputation.

Over at Stack Overflow we face such comments all the time and nobody really cares - they are considered helpful and harmless. We leave them be as they are not important. The comments often get up-voted if correct, but comment up-votes don't count towards your rep anyway.


It circumvents the close mechanism. The whole point of closing a question is to prevent it from being answered. This is usually to force the OP to clean up the question by withholding a positive result until then. If a positive result is received via a comment, then the will of the members or mods expressed thru the close mechanism is subverted.

Regarding this, I see what you want to achieve: to encourage high-quality questions. But at the same time, if the question could actually be answered in a simple comment, then it must have been understandable and could perhaps be salvaged with edits, given that is is on-topic. Perhaps it's not a bad question, just mediocre?

What matters most is the long term quality of the content that is preserved on the site. If a question is closed and there are no accepted or up-voted answers, it will eventually get automatically deleted, with all comments and poor answers along with it.


Personally, I don't think we should waste diamond mod time on cleaning up on-topic comments. This site has a somewhat low number of moderators, and their time is better spent dealing with more serious issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've noticed on some SE sites (I think The workplace is one of them), the mods aggressively cull comments, and often leave a note like Do not write answers in comments. Sites that do this appear a lot cleaner than EE.SE. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Sep 18 '18 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop Main main experience is that of SO, which stands out by having so many users. I don't think there's a way for moderators to keep up with removing such comments there even if we wanted. And that's a concern here too: the site keeps growing and there's just so many moderators. Regardless of what we think of such comments, I don't think we should create extra workload for them. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Sep 19 '18 at 6:32
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I must agree with Nick Alexeev, Lundin and Dim.

Sometimes a good "answerish" comment can be turned in a good answer just by prompting the person which commented. I did it repeatedly and it worked out remarkably well.

A "Would you mind turning this excellent comment in a real answer, I would be happy to upvote it" comment often produces better results than nuking the comment or bashing the writer for not writing a real answer.

This latter, harsher, attitude has its merit in other sites (as Olin pointed out somewhere in a comment): Workplace (as Olin said) or RPG (for my experience as almost a lurker there), but I doubt it will produce much better results here.

The problem with those sites is that many (most) answers, by the very nature of the topics of those sites, have a very opinionated content (and good content usually caters on personal experience rather than hard, scientific facts). Therefore allowing too much commenting (in general) will swarm the threads an turn them into a traditional forum.

Sites as ours, where most answers require a very technical spot-on answer, usually with objective data to back it up, is much less prone to that kind of problems.

I think we can, and should, tolerate this practice. Why I think we should? Simple, we have much less active and competent contributors than other sites. I would not risk pissing off a good contributor by nuking his effort just because it doesn't produce a "real answer".

As I said, maybe he had not the time to post a full-fledged answer and didn't want to ignore the question anyway (which could piss off the poster of the question, if no answer is given: a good question attracts good answers so it should be tended for).

If it really turns out to be a problem, another user could turn the comment in an answer and take credit and rep for that, maybe crediting who posted the comment (I did it one or maybe two times because the author told me I should do it, since he had no time, and he was ok with that).

If it is still a problem, a mod could turn the comment into a community wiki answer. But this is really overreacting and wasting mod time IMO.

I don't think we have a real issue with that kind of comments.

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A couple of cents...

I think it depends on the reason on why it was given as a comment rather than an answer, which is of course not always easy to infer, unless we are allowed to mind read again.

In all cases I think there should be an answer written that includes the information from the comment as good as possible, when necessary with acknowledgment. No information should be lost once the comments are wiped away.

If such a comment is not harmful, it shouldn't be bad to leave it in. For those that would be an answer that for some reason you think is wrong, you should comment and write a proper answer, possibly mentioning that the information in the comment is wrong.

Nobody should ever see this as stealing reputation or getting it stolen by using the information to formulate an answer (unless its copypasta)

  • The comment is only half the answer, or more an elaborated guess that nailed it. In this case the commenter seems to be driven by the desire to help, but is too insecure to post it as a rock solid answer. A real answer should probably say "As xxx guessed correctly" or so to be nice.
  • The comment is a full one sentence complete and correct answer. But it feels short. Sometimes you really want to only say "yes" or "no" but to make it a good answer you would need to elaborate but don't feel like it, or are on a phone or without much time.
  • The question is really a multiple question in one and the comment answers only part of it. Here already the question is in a bad format, but not answering all of it in the answer is seen bad by a lot of people. The commenter might want to be helpful but might not be able to fully answer everything. For this case we might want to either introduce a special close reason that forces the OP to reformulate the question into single ones, or we encourage people to answer partial aspects in single answers. As of today when you do so, you get comments (mostly by the OP) that complain you didn't answer all of it etc.

Overall I think sometimes comments that (half) answer a question can be a motivation for other people that were unsure about whether they know the answer, and now see it as a confirmation.

So the real question remaining that is what to do after all the information is put into an appropriate answer? Unless we get a way to do this on our own as a community, I fear the only sane way is to flag the comment as "no longer needed" and burden a moderator with it.

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Answers in comments are a problem on some sites. This is because a comment containing a controversial, poor or outright wrong answer can only be upvoted and is displayed above other answers. Typically, if a question attracts such comments, mods have to baby-sit it removing the comments containing attempts at answering (example). Fortunately, this is rarely the case on our site.

Requests have been made to create a custom "Answer in comment" flag for comments here and more recently here. These have been declined, and a comment on another post suggests that "No longer needed" flag should be used in such cases:

If the comment either is no longer or never was needed - say it's an answer in comments, a comment that was already addressed in an edit, or a comment that we would consider "noise", like one that just says "+1, great post" or "thanks for your answer" - that's what NLN is supposed to address.

-- Catija♦ Aug 28 at 22:55

I would definitely flag a comment containing an answer I feel is wrong. I would let partial answers or hints stay though, unless a question is overrun by them.

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