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On most SE sites, giving answers as comments is generally frowned upon.
But here, it seems to be a very common practice.

I realize that this site is different in that most questions are quick one-offs, and most people with a question don't bother searching old answers, but is that really a good reason for treating comments differently than other sites do?

For instance, this recent question has no answer, but it does have three comments:

  • an answer to the question.
  • an addition to that answer.
  • a suggestion to look at a duplicate question.

The first should have been a real answer. The second should have been a comment on that answer. The third should have been a "flag as duplicate" (which I have since done).

What makes this feel especially wrong is that all three commentators have reputations in the many tens of thousands.

(Note that I'm only using this as an example, not trying to single out those three specific people.)

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The rules about answers in comments are the same here as any other SE site, but yes, for better or for worse, answering in comments happens so much here that it would take a significant groundswell of will and effort from the community for the trend to be reversed.

When those answers-in-comments are flagged, as a Mod, I follow the rule and delete the comment. When I see answers spanning multiple comments, I flag/delete the comment myself and sometimes create a Community wiki answer from it with attribution, or use the comment as the basis for my own answer. I encourage all users to do this too. Those who regularly post answers in comments well know this can happen and don't take any offence.

Having communicated with some of the regulars about this practice, they say they leave small answers in comments when the quality or length of their answer doesn't rise to the level they consider worth earning rep points for, so they just leave it in a comment instead. This can make sense in some very narrow circumstances, but as a general habit it's the wrong way to go about things -- users should generally either take a minute to improve their comment into a solid answer, or not leave any comment at all.

The only time I can think when an answer in a comment is a good idea is when a question has received no answers for a while, the OP comments asking why nobody is answering, and a user knows part of the answer, but not enough to fully answer, so they leave that partial answer in a comment with an explanation that it's only partial. The hope there is that someone else with the rest of the answer can turn it into a full answer, then flag the comment, "It's no longer needed".

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  • I am one of the commenters under the linked question. I would say I tend to leave comments, rather than answers, to poor-quality questions, often from the same posters, not because I don't think it's worth earning rep points with an answer, but rather to avoid downvotes (as happened to me on ELU) for encouraging low-quality questions by answering them. Maybe ELU is less stringent about that. Of course this in a way, as much reputation-chasing as answering purely for the sake of it. Mar 28, 2023 at 20:00
  • @MichaelHarvey EL&U is much more strict about users answering in comments. Every now and then, dozens of useful, helpful and on-topic comments get annihilated by two moderators, maybe a third also joins in, but if the 3rd mod does wipe the slate clean they don't leave a sharp warning.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 28, 2023 at 21:32
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    I like reading the comments! it's what sets us (humans) apart from the Chatbots, which never add any curious nugget, or succinct insight. They wouldn't even know how to.... well, maybe in the near future.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 28, 2023 at 21:36
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    I am planning on: 1. visiting my history and deleting any answers-in-comments that I find, and 2. leaving low quality questions from the usual suspects strictly alone. Mar 30, 2023 at 12:42
  • The fact is that there are mods who remove some answers in comments and sometimes leave them when those answers come from head honcho types. I have seen this over and over again. Personally, when I think the question doesn't merit a full-on-type answer, I do answer in comments.
    – Lambie
    Apr 2, 2023 at 17:43

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