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The general policy on stack sites is: Don't answer in comments.

Today I commented on a question that had answers in the comments reminding the (reasonably high rep) user of the policy but I couldn't find a meta question to link to. I flagged their comments for removal as answers in comments but I feel like I might be doing the wrong thing since the other user is higher rep than me.

My search for a policy uncovered this meta on flagging comments to turn into answerers. In my opinion the should just be removed and advised to create their own answer instead. I also found the support your sheriff post which advised not to answer in comments.

Roleplaying games have multiple meta on the topic including; Should users refrain from answers (or partial answers) in comments?

Do we agree with this policy and how do we enforce it?

  • It's not just Role-playing Games. There's also Aviation and Photography that I can think of right off the bat. And then there's e.g. Information Security which seems to have a policy of allowing answers in comments. – a CVn Mar 12 at 8:53
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    It's actually the official policy of SE (mentioned on the privilege's help center): "When shouldn't I comment? Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);", but some sites made a compromise with it. – Andrew T. Mar 12 at 9:59
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We currently do not have an official guideline on how answers in comments should be handled. And as someone who is (or was for quite some time) quite active on WorldBuilding, RPG and other sites (for example Writing, IPS, SFF, ...) I remember lots of discussions about this all the time.

Basically it often boils down to roughly the following points:

  • Answers in comments can't be properly voted on -> some people "fear" the downvotes on normal posts and try to avoid them by writing in comments; this kind of behaviour is not okay
  • Answers in comments are hard to read, because it's this little bit of space under the question that can get crowded if many people post comments; especially when you write multiple comments and some get more upvotes than others they can get out of context once there are lots of comments and some get hidden
  • For a normal user there is no way to edit comments after a few minutes
  • People often use this for not-really-researched "answers" that are more opinions than actual answers based on facts and research, which is not useful and not what comments are for
  • The idea behind comments is to ask for clarification and encourage the writer of the post (question or answer) to improve their post; answers in comments don't encourage such behaviour and are therefore not what comments are made for; the answer box is made for answers and should be used for answers; the comments should be used for comments
  • Comments are meant to be removed all the time, which means that it won't be bad for your account if lots of comments are deleted as long as there are no rude/spam flags on them; removing lots of answers because they were downvoted can lead to answer bans; anything with the goal of circumventing bans of any kind is bad
  • You can simply remove your comment, which makes comment-chains hard to understand (answers in comments often lead to some sort of discussion about the "answer" as would be normal under a real answer)
  • Flagging is different for comments, for example moderators can't add any information when they decline a comment flag and marking a comment flag as helpful will automatically delete the comment, which means that the feedback you can get from borderline comments is more limited than what you could get for borderline answers; this makes it difficult for everyone to understand decisions relating to such instances
  • Comments are temporary; it would be fatal if someone asked a question, someone answered in the comments, everyone thanks them for the "answer", the comment disappears and later someone has the same question - and can't find the answer anymore...
  • You can comment on closed questions and thereby "answer" questions that the community deemed to not fit the sites scope

Much information can be found here: How do comments work?

The gist of it:

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever.

I think we should not allow answers in comments.

But before nuking the comment-answer you should try to ask the user to expand their comment to an actual answer, because comments are normally too short for a real answer, so that their information will be preserved for future readers with a similar question.

RPG is kind of extreme about comments. I don't think we need to be that extreme here. But we shouldn't let everyone do what they want to do. The existing features are there for a reason. If you feel there is a problem with normal answers that makes you use comments instead raise that issue on Meta instead of willfully using the wrong feature to get around some restrictions.

But always remember that not everyone is used to StackExchange rules. Explain the guidelines, tell them the reasons and if they do this time and again raise custom flags and explain the behaviour to mods.

  • This particular example was on an otherwise off-topic question. The answerer was right not to use an answer. It's an edge case worth considering. – bruglesco Mar 12 at 11:29
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    @bruglesco If you answer the question anyway the asker will remember that they can get their answer even if it's not officially an "answer" but merely a "comment". Many people remember that and will continue to ask off-topic questions if they are answered anyway. That's one of the reasons not to answer in the comments like I mentioned in my last bullet point. Off-topicness should be explained in the comments, the question closed, ideas on how a question can be reframed to be on-topic should be presented, and then later the question can be reopened, but off-topic questions shouldn't be answered – Secespitus Mar 12 at 11:44
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    There's also an issue that pops up occasionally on SciFi.SE with ID questions: someone posts a suggestion in a comment, the OP replies, "yes, that's the one, thank you", and by the time the suggestion's been made into an actual answer, the OP's vanished, never to be seen again, having already gotten the answer they were looking for. And now you're left with an answer that's known to be correct but will never be marked as accepted, which is another issue that frustrates people. – F1Krazy Mar 20 at 12:43
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I sometimes answer in comments because I find value in it on occasion. I also can't even count the number of times I started a comment then did a cut and paste into a real answer.

Some times when I do this are:

  • If the question requires answers to have a certain level of research or scholarship that I don't have. This is more the case on other sites. For example, on Mi Yodeya, answers should refer to Jewish texts or at least quote prominent thinkers. I answer if I can do that, or if the question is one where I can get away with not doing it. On Worldbuilding, some questions require equations and others scientific references/knowledge I may not have.
  • If I'm capable of providing the references necessary but I'm tired or rushed or just not motivated to do the research.
  • I'm just not up to spending the time to write a full answer.
  • If I feel the OP could easily find the answer I might write with a bit of research and I feel moved to point her/him in the right direction.
  • If I am only able (or willing) to answer part of the question.
  • If I voted to close the question but I felt the intent of the question was reasonable and I'd like to help out the OP (I hear you all on not encouraging off-topic questions but these are usually cases where the question is too broad or badly articulated).
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    I believe the idea on RPG is that partial answers in comments have no value. If you can't answer the whole question then your small amount of input is unlikely to help the OP. Not saying I agree with that just stating why the policy is so strict. – linksassin Mar 13 at 22:22
  • @linksassin As someone who has asked multiple questions at this point, I often find the comments very useful, when they're sincere. Answers are better, but I'd rather have comments than nothing, since that is generally the choice for people reacting to a post. – Cyn Mar 13 at 23:44
  • This is Meta, so up and down votes have no meaning aside from general agreement or disagreement. But I would find it helpful to have comments about which parts of my answer you agree or disagree with. – Cyn Mar 13 at 23:46
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    I downvoted because it reads like you are advocating for answering in comments which I disagree with. Unresearched, unsupported opinion are exactly what this policy is trying to avoid. It is better to not comment and take longer to write a good answer that is supported than to give a partial answer. – linksassin Mar 13 at 23:49
  • @linksassin That's fair. I don't give unsupported opinions though (there's no way you'd know that and lots of people do). If I remember the answer or have a useful reference, I give it. I just don't always feel like writing it up with links/refs and explanations. – Cyn Mar 13 at 23:52
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    The problem with doing that is that other user see it and think it is ok to post their opinion in comments without evidence. Unless you can back it up it's really just noise. While you may be able to back it up if required, others cannot and it sets a dangerous precedent. – linksassin Mar 14 at 0:00
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Personally I think that answers in comments are fine if a sufficient answer is so brief that the SE system keeps telling the answerer that it's too short for an answer and requires the addition of unnecessary and distracting fluff.

Comment-answers are common on Stack Overflow, where the solution to a problem is often a short piece of code that requires no explanation.

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An answer should never be deleted, no matter where and in which way it is given, because the answerer might not give it elsewhere and it might be lost.

It is one of the endlessly annoying features of Stack Exchange that invaluable information is being destroyed by overzealous mods invoking inane rules.

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    Answers that are provided via the answer box are never deleted. With sufficient reputation you can still see the content. Comments are simply gone. If the author wanted the content to remain they'd provide their answer via the way that ensures the content will stay. And if an answer is so short that it can't be posted as an answer it's very likely too short for most Stacks. Maybe StackOverflow because of their topic and the sheer amount of content can't take care of such short "answers" that bypass all quality controls of the site, but we certainly can. – Secespitus Mar 12 at 17:57
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    I can't think of a single situation in which a "sufficient" answer would trip the "too short" warning. If it's too short, you haven't explained it enough. And if it's a single word, it'll be too short for a comment, too. – F1Krazy Mar 12 at 18:25
  • @Secespitus Technically, deleted comments remain, can be viewed by moderators, and in many (not all) cases can be undeleted. That said, in practice you are right; they are unavailable to any normal users. – a CVn Mar 19 at 9:12
  • Short pieces of code should still have an explanatory message! If the OP couldn't work it out themselves, they don't have the necessary experience to understand short, code-only answers. – CJ Dennis Mar 19 at 10:25
  • @aCVn Certain SE staff could see and undelete them, too. – Secespitus Mar 19 at 11:04

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