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This is a great site. The people are great, and I really have no complaints spare one. If you visit the "unanswered" section, you'll find that most of the questions actually have been answered. They have been answered however through lengthy discussions in the comments section of the questions.

The thing is, these "lazy answers" are done by users with relatively high reputation. They are familiar with the workings of not only this site, but other SE sites. The people asking questions are fairly new by contrast. All this taken together, clutters up the site by blatantly ignoring and bypassing the fundamental mechanism of this site and the network as a whole.

Worse, it actually teaches new users that this is the correct way to use the site. At best it leaves them with no way or incentive to finalize the question, as they cannot accept a comment as an answer and they already got what they were looking for.

I'm bringing this up here because I can only imagine how this problem is going to compound as users and traffic increase. Again I don't mean to put anyone down, I'm just bringing it up for discussion because I'd like to see this site flourish.

Edit
Examples so far:
Formal way to say "Somehow"
Why can "that is" be omitted in this relative clause?
"Consider" vs. "Regard"
Usage of "so that" in this sentence
https://ell.stackexchange.com/q/63446/20827

Anyway I'm literally copy and pasting almost every question from the "unanswered" tab. If anyone is looking for more examples, just visit that tab.

Also, this does appear to be a real issue, since it's the highest voted question for the upcoming moderator elections.

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    Can you give some examples of this, either by linking or perhaps copy-pasting an anonymized version of the post + comment in? In particular, one thing makes a large difference: was the post closed, then or later? Pseudo-answering off-topic questions is not necessarily ideal, or even a good idea, but it's a lot less bad than pseudo-answering a perfectly answerable question. – Nathan Tuggy Aug 25 '15 at 2:03
  • I've tried to address this to some degree in my answer but it would be very helpful to know what sort of actions you think we could take to address this behavior. AFAIK, short of flagging and deleting all of the (potentially helpful) comments, I'm not sure if there's a solution. – Catija Aug 25 '15 at 3:55
  • @NathanTuggy I'll go digging through and pull up examples, link to questions. I noticed this when I first signed up, digging through the unanswered tab but decided not to say anything at the time. However, every time since I've noticed this in even the first couple results in that tab. I can dig up specific examples though. – user20827 Aug 25 '15 at 17:22
  • @Catija I'm not sure there is any real solution except for awareness, which is why I brought this up just for discussions sake, rather than looking for a definitive solution as an answer. – user20827 Aug 25 '15 at 17:24
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    I understand why it's frustrating you, but there are two things you may not have considered. First, answers are provided by volunteers, so if they only have time for a comment, it's better than nothing. Second, no reputation is awarded for comments, so working comments into an answer is something that has a benefit to new users who would like to increase their privileges on the site. High rep users leaving questions unanswered so that new users have an opportunity to earn rep might not be a bad thing. – ColleenV Aug 25 '15 at 17:36
  • @ColleenV It's not frustrating me. There is an "unanswered" tab for a reason, because threads are not considered complete until there is an accepted answer. On the network, "community" will even occasionally bump up threads that appear to have no answer. And I agree with you totally, this is all done by volunteers, so it would be considerate not to waste the time of volunteers who diligently search the unanswered tab to complete threads that have been unofficially completed in the comments. – user20827 Aug 25 '15 at 21:24
  • Your example has more than one answer. Do you have another example? – ColleenV Aug 25 '15 at 21:29
  • @ColleenV That was one I just pasted in because you can see if you read the comments that the real answer was decided in the comments on the question itself. When I prompted the person to add the information to their existing answer, my comment was rejected. I'm collecting examples right now, have about 8 so far. Basically just visit the unanswered tab. Tons of questions where the OP was given the answer, some short, some lengthy. – user20827 Aug 25 '15 at 21:31
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5

Technically, the answer is "no".

We can encourage people who are answering in the comments to post something as an answer... and this is something I (and others) have in the past done. There's no way to turn a comment into an answer, so if the person who makes the comments declines to post their comments as an answer, the only option is for someone else to decide to post an answer that may include part of what was discussed in the comments.

As mentioned in the answers on one of the questions above regarding converting a comment to an answer:

Unfortunately, you can't, and this is by design, so I wouldn't expect it to change any time soon. If you want people to stop answering, you could always post an answer yourself that quotes the comment and mark it accepted. I'd also recommend upvoting the comment so that it sticks out.

It's not "stealing" to take an old comment that answers a question and post it as an answer, preferably linking to the comment and attributing the content. To make a good answer out of this, it may be necessary to do some work of your own to flesh out the information. If you don't want to earn rep for someone else's comment (and they've opted not to post an answer), you can make the answer into a community wiki.

There's a lot of interesting information on this topic in the questions and answers of this duplicate chain on Meta SE.

As a note, there are several reasons why someone may decline to post an answer:

  • They don't consider it a "full answer" and don't feel like fleshing it out. This may be partly the "lazy answer" you're talking about... but it could also be that they simply want the OP to have some information but they don't have the time to make a full response right then. Often, they return and write such an answer... but often they do not.
  • They aren't sure enough of their answer and don't want to give bad information. This is common with non-native speakers. They think they know the answer but aren't totally sure, so they post it as a comment. Sometimes a slight nudge from a native-speaker (or very fluent non-native) agreeing with their assessment will get them to post an answer... sometimes not.
  • They don't know the grammatical/structural explanation for the answer, so don't feel that they can explain why the answer is what it is. This is often my excuse. As a native English speaker, I have an intuitive answer to the question but I don't know the grammatical explanation. The main goal of SE is to have sourced information but this clashes a bit with the personal experience of the native speaker.
  • They don't consider the question to be a "good question" so they comment, expecting the question to be closed. It's generally discouraged to answer questions that are off-topic, so someone may think that a question will be closed, so they make a comment addressing the question... often these questions do get closed but sometimes they don't.

As another note, I'd like to point out that many recent questions are really the sort of non-question that answers itself in the question and asks "is this correct"... to which the answer is often "yes", and often requires no additional information. This is actually a potential candidate question in the graduation election.

Should the answer be "no", there's certainly room for a full answer explaining an alternative phrasing or word choice but it's difficult to answer these questions when there is no need for explanation.

I would argue that encouraging users to bring these yes/no topics up in chat before asking them as a question would be helpful. If the answer is "yes", then no question is necessary. If the answer is "no", then the person is encouraged to ask the question on the site, with a rephrasing to remove the "yes/no" aspect of the question... and should the question have been asked previously, it may be possible to link the user to an existing question, saving them from asking a new one.


I'm sure there are several other reasons why someone might opt to post a comment instead of an answer and I encourage others to explain why they choose to comment in their own answer or as a comment here.

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  • Per my comment on the question, answering a question that should be closed with a brief explanation (e.g. "see M-W [here]()" or "Search for [define XYZ]()" on a dictionary question) is another possibility. – Nathan Tuggy Aug 25 '15 at 2:05
  • This is pretty much what I have in mind. (The last I checked, I have over 3k comments, BTW; so some of those answer-comments are no doubt mine.) I almost always find my personal reason in each occasion falling into one of the four main reasons above. Also similar to Nathan, when I post a definition of a word given by a dictionary as a comment, it usually (but not always) means that I think the question is possibly off-topic, because it's easy to look the word up in a dictionary. (Seeing this meta post, I tried another approach in my latest answer ell.stackexchange.com/a/65274/3281. ;-) – Damkerng T. Aug 25 '15 at 9:01
  • I agree with most everything you've said here, except that it is unfortunate that comments can't be turned into answers. Answers have reputation consequences. Something I mention in a comment because I think it might help folks answering the question or help the asker to clarify their question should not be promoted to an answer that can get down-voted. If I wanted it to be an answer, I would have posted it as one. – ColleenV Aug 26 '15 at 16:38
  • @ColleenV It's one of those things that's such a part of how I speak... I've been in retail for so long that I preface disappointing statements with "unfortunately" in an attempt to soften the blow - I don't think it's "unfortunate", either... just one of my random regular uses. I'd bet that the quoted text is using it in the same way, too... though I'm not certain. – Catija Aug 27 '15 at 17:56
  • I hear you. I re-read my comment and it was a little more strident than I intended. Our diversity folks had someone give a presentation on unconscious gender bias and one of the talking points was that women use too many qualifying words, so I've been experimenting. I don't like the results though, so I'm going back to using my feminine communication wiles that get folks to agree on stuff instead of argue about it ;) I'm pretty certain my colleagues will still respect me even if I say things like "pretty certain" instead of "certain". – ColleenV Aug 27 '15 at 19:40
  • @ColleenV OMG!!! I've been dealing with the same exact thing. I heard a report on the radio a few weeks ago about the overwhelming use of "just" by women... and how it should be stricken from our writing and I've been struggling with it for weeks... I just/simply can't write without using them and I can't believe that they're "never ok" ... they have to be ok in some uses! – Catija Aug 27 '15 at 19:42
  • I think it's kind of odd that women are getting pressured to change their communication style when traditionally that's where we've excelled. Sure there are some issues with self-deprecating talk, but it seems to me like sometimes less confrontational/direct language is more productive. Not a big fan of the Lean-in "ignore your nature and act like a man to succeed" philosophy either. – ColleenV Aug 27 '15 at 19:53
  • @ColleenV There are probably better places to discuss this... I'm in the ELL Cabin if you want to continue the chat. – Catija Aug 27 '15 at 19:54

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