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I can see previous meta discussions on what should be a comment and what should be an answer, but what I'm wondering is, why are so many users posting answers, sometimes quite in-depth (if compact) answers, as comments? Does anyone have any insight? Should there be more encouragement (not any sort of coercion) to actually put things in answers even if they are succinct yet complete?

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    If you incorporate information from a comment into a proper answer, feel free to flag the comment as “no longer needed”. A comment should never prevent you from adding an answer that can be properly scored and critiqued by the community. – ColleenV Feb 6 at 19:46
  • @ColleenV I'll certainly remember that when I dive into the long-unanswered questions :) – SamBC Feb 6 at 19:48
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Huh, weird. This gets asked often enough in metas, and I was fairly certain it was asked here too, but for the life of me I can't seem to find it. Anyway, here's the wisdom of the ancients on it.

Bottom line is, people develop a certain 'answer barrier', meaning, what they don't consider a high quality answer for whatever reason1 goes in a comment instead because the alternatives would be to either not guide the OP in any way or to post an answer they themselves aren't too satisfied with.

I disagree with some folks thinking this is a way to avoid the possible penalties of a low-quality answer (you can't downvote comments) as these folks are often well-intentioned but indeed, this is not how comments are supposed to work. There's occasionally some friction when folks come to meta to complain about a comment-answer being removed by moderators.

Regarding your last question, I don't recall any recourse sites have come up with other than some guidance in meta posts asking people not to do it or a more strict/systematic removal of comment-answers by site moderators so as to make intolerance against them part of "site culture". Both options are far from ideal, obviously: Meta posts create a temporary hype but they tend to get forgotten over time and there's the friction thing that comes stricter moderation (accusations of censorship and hostility etc. being the most glaring, although not the best examples) and if you did come up with an idea, it might well be worth a or !

By the way, I ironically (?) started typing this in a comment and then just realized the topic of the post I am comment-answering on . . .


1: The most common reasons are that either the question is close-able and answering off-topic posts is explicitly discouraged, or they don't have the time to verify their claims, or think they don't have the expertise to deal with all the nuances of the question, or they feel the answer is incomplete for any other reason.

  • This is a fairly apt SE to get into discussion of what counts as irony, but I shan't 😉 – SamBC Feb 6 at 18:57
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    I'll add that sometimes there is friction when comment-answers are not removed by moderators. I've seen it run both ways. Also, I don't know if this is the meta question you were looking for, but it's definitely related. – J.R. Feb 6 at 19:38
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    At EL&U, where at least one very well-respected user answers almost exclusively in comments on principle, the mods have taken to copying the content of the comment into an answer, attributing the commenter, but then making it community wiki so that they do not collect reputation for it. – choster Feb 7 at 3:27
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    @choster does that in any way encourage people to write more answers instead of comments though? It's surely an effective way to deal with legitimate unanswered questions but it's not 'coercing' people into writing more answers. – M.A.R. Feb 7 at 5:59
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    @choster does it seem fair that this one person gets special treatment when all they have to do is type in a different box? It’s their choice, but personally I think it’s ridiculous that a well-respected community member cares so little for the site that they would subvert one of the mechanisms that help people find credible answers to their questions. I’m opposed to community wiki comment conversions. Write a proper answer and take credit for it. We can use the information in the comments without copying word for word. – ColleenV Feb 7 at 13:58
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    @ColleenV - I will do a comment-to-wiki-answer conversion on occasion, but only when (a) the comment/answer seems like it would be extraordinarily helpful to the user community at large, and (b) no one else has answered the question. I'd much prefer to see a well-written answer present so I can simply delete the comment outright – I think that's better for the site in the long run. – J.R. Feb 7 at 15:02
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    @J.R. I know that’s the conventional wisdom when it comes to comment-answers, but I think the first up-vote of that wiki takes the question off the unanswered list even though it hasn’t really been properly answered. Better (IMO) to leave the comment until someone answers the question if it’s really that helpful. On the other hand people read the comment and think the question is “answered” and move on so it never gets an answer so sometimes I ditch old comments on questions with no answers. There’s no perfect solution. – ColleenV Feb 7 at 15:34
  • @ColleenV It's an exceptional case for a known authority on the subject matter. I'm not defending the practice explicitly, I'm just pointing out an attempt to find middle ground between allowing comment-answers (in contravention of policy) and deleting them outright (with a loss of useful information). – choster Feb 7 at 23:32
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    If I may offer a contrasting anecdote: on Physics we somewhat aggressively delete answers in comments, sometimes with another comment left to explain what happened, and we have done this even for well-known topical experts in a few cases. Of course people complained but overall it doesn't seem to have had any lasting negative effect. Meanwhile I think I have noticed that people are less prone to answering in the comments than they used to be, so perhaps aggressive deletion is a component of an effective approach in the long term. – David Z Feb 9 at 7:45
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    @DavidZ: I am not often on Physics.SE, but I like that approach. It's the same one the mods use on RPG.SE, and it's effective at making sure answers go in the answer area rather than the comment area. We even have an FAQ meta about it there: Should users refrain from answers (or partial answers) in comments? – V2Blast Feb 10 at 1:34
  • @DavidZ If the Physics mods want to take the time and deal with the fallout that's fine. We're pretty aggressive (20K+ comments deleted as a team), but policing comments takes time that I would rather spend doing pretty much anything else.Comment-answers can be handled by the community. When you see a comment that has been covered in an answer, flag it as "no longer needed". If no-one has up-voted it, 3 users can delete it. (SO DON'T UP VOTE COMMENT-ANSWERS!) 1 more flag per 3 votes above 3 (i.e. number of flags = 3 + score/3). – ColleenV Feb 12 at 18:13
  • @Colleen Sure; I didn't mean to suggest you should necessarily do the same thing we do, I just wanted to offer an alternate perspective to some other comments. – David Z Feb 12 at 18:57
  • @DavidZ I didn’t really mean to let my frustration bleed through like that :) I would like for people to not see this as a mod issue. We’ve had tons of moderator flags for comment-answers so I’d rather empower the community to help deal with it. – ColleenV Feb 12 at 18:58
  • @Colleen No problem at all :-) – David Z Feb 12 at 18:59
  • So then, comment-answer is not a verb and a noun, right?|| I sometimes use the pity factor. A question should be closed but the OP seems really desperate and the question does not merit a full answer or falls just outside the guidelines. Just saying.... – Lambie Feb 24 at 18:35
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I probably get "questioned / criticized" more than most ELL users for making comments that others think should have be posted as formal "Answers".

I don't really see any harm in my approach, and I certainly don't care if there happen to be "site guidelines" advising people not to do this. Within reason, each site is free to honour such guidelines to the extent that the specific user base (and their elected representatives, the mods) see fit.


Just today I posted this comment - which received two upticks, and two comments suggesting I should have posted what I had to say as an answer rather than a comment.

Part of my reason for just commenting was that it takes much longer for me to write an actual answer. And that's not just because (as implied by my "nom de plume" here) I'm very slow at typing - it's also because I'm acutely aware that my first impressions are often mistaken. In the case of the linked comment, that's unquestionably the case from my perspective (the eventual answer was much more accurate than I was).

A related factor here is that if someone like me posts an off-the-cuff reply / reaction to a question, there's every possibility that someone else will be minded to take issue with the substance of whatever I say (as opposed to simply taking issue with me saying it in a comment rather than an answer, which I do sometimes find rather tiresome).

Personally, I suspect that people often start arguing / nitpicking over the finer points of detail raised by a question because they don't agree 100% with some simplistic response given in a comment. To my mind, this can eventually lead to higher quality answers, because two (or several) heads are better than one.


TL;DR: I already feel under enough pressure to answer more and comment less. I'm not asking to be treated less severely than I am at the moment (but I do get irritated sometimes if I think my "relevant" comments have been over-hastily deleted), but please don't ask the mods to be even harsher than they are. So far as I'm concerned, they do a great job, and the balance is currently just about right.

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    I don't really like it when we scold each other in the comments - I think it detracts from how friendly ELL actually is and we should do so sparingly. How do you feel about someone taking the information in your comment and using it in their own answer instead of admonishing you to write one? (I don't mean copy and pasting your words into a wiki - just starting from the information you've provided) – ColleenV Feb 19 at 20:25
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    I've said several times both here and on ELU that I don't mind if someone copies my comment text verbatim into an answer, but that's not ideal, obviously. If I thought it was good enough for an answer I'd have posted it myself (unless I was only commenting because I'd actually closevoted, in which case I sometimes think it's only fair to give the requested information anyway, if that's not too difficult). But if someone uses my comment as a springboard for a more "complete" answer, I see that as flattering for me and beneficial to both that user and the site itself. – FumbleFingers Feb 20 at 12:48
  • ...I would also just add that if I've posted a comment that is or comes close to being an acceptable answer, AND no upvoteable answers have been posted within 48 hours of a question being raised (a "valid" question, that hasn't been closed), I think it would be excellent if the system could automatically (or thru deliberate mod intervention) convert my comment into an answer AND force my account to post a bounty on the question! – FumbleFingers Feb 20 at 12:52
  • Some folks are hesitant to use information from comments as a start for their own answer because they don't want to "steal" it - I was hoping to get you on record that you don't mind if people start from your comment. I'm not so sure about automatic conversion into an answer... If someone wanted a comment to be an answer, presumably they would have made it one. I don't think it's fair to essentially force someone to post an answer. I'd rather just delete it after the asker has probably seen it and let a new user looking for questions to answer tackle it. – ColleenV Feb 20 at 14:18
  • I was being very specific in saying that the idea of "auto-converting comment into answer" should only apply if no upvoteable answer has been posted, after at least 2 days. In case it wasn't obvious, I should also have explicitly added that I probably wouldn't be so happy if this was done to one of my comments if I had closevoted at the same time as posting it. Another relevant point here is I'd like to think that at least sometimes, a user who rarely if ever posts answers might be more inclined to do so if they could take at least part of their material from a "trusted source" (Me! ;) – FumbleFingers Feb 20 at 14:43
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    I still don't think that it's a good idea to forcibly convert comments into answers as part of a system (mod-driven or otherwise) even though you might be OK with it. I would rather see a "nudge" type system that notifies you if a question you've interacted with has passed a certain threshold of "unansweredness" so that you could decide what, if anything, you want to do about it. It's usually better with volunteers to just let them volunteer to help. – ColleenV Feb 20 at 14:46
  • Yes, a "nudge" approach sounds like an excellent idea! Personally, I'd be very happy to have the system automatically "shame" me into either taking the time to post a fully-fleshed-out answer myself, OR post a bounty that might encourage someone else to do so (on "neglected" questions that I didn't VTC). I'm not sure if this would be a viable "meta meta" SE question / feature request, or if it's more specifically relevant to ELL (and perhaps ELU). Either way, I'd love to see you raise it wherever you think it fits best within the system! – FumbleFingers Feb 20 at 15:04

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