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Here's a scenario:

  1. New user asks question ignorant of the site's format.

  2. While some are commenting on their question and their question is/is not getting closed, others "answer" in the comments to the question.

  3. New user's problem is solved, question remains closed/unedited and eventually gets deleted as obsolete.

Such a question could be helpful to other users, but because the original asker has no more interest it leaves. Eventually we'll face the same question again. Such a problem might boil down to this: users take the shortcut of using a comment for their answer, treating the site more like a discussion board, and then their questions die/get deleted/whatever.

Question: Should we not offer answers in comments? Should the comment system be entirely for the refinement of questions/answers? Do we need to hold out until a question is proper before we can give our potential answer, officially? Or should we take guesses at what new users (where I've seen this issue the most) are intending to ask?

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Correct, you should not use comments for answers. Doing so robs the questioner of the opportunity to learn how to use the site constructively and robs all other users of a good answer (more than 600 characters worth at least) to a coherent question.

Flag these comments as "not constructive" and they will be deleted.

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Answers flat-out shouldn't be posted in comments. Beyond the reasons suggested by mxyzplk — we're not using the site correctly, and everyone gets robbed of a soldified answer — I want to highlight a very deep problem with answers in comments:

Comments have virtually no quality assurance.

When you post an answer, the entire question is bumped for everyone to see. Your answer is big and obvious. It has enormous upvote and downvote buttons. People can review it, point out critical issues you need to address, improve it now or later if/when it's worthwhile doing so, and downvote it if it's wrong. Plus, the question overall gets more activity and attention by virtue of the bump, which is healthy for it.

Comments have none of that. They just silently appear, will probably not get noticed (except by the asker), and only have an upvote button.

So providing an answer in comments, or permitting one, is irresponsible: you subvert the community-checked quality assurance process that validates or refutes your solution. You could provide an answer in comments (we'd delete it, but you can still try) — but maybe this is the time you provide bad/mistaken guidance. Nobody notices to respond to it, asker takes it and leaves, is never seen again, and operates on bad advice. (Good job.) If you're confident you're correct, submit your answer to our QA process and see. If you're not confident, either don't post at all, or post an answer anyway and see if we really do downvote it.


There's some common motivations people have for doing this anyway, and I'd like to address those:

To those deliberately giving up rep: You may be nobly sacrificing your reputation via answers in comments, but please don't do that. You're also sacrificing site quality, which sucks! Please use our answer mechanisms so that we can keep the site high quality, cement your answer for future visitors when it's the correct one, etc.

If you're leaving the comment so someone else can make a better answer: They won't. We need you to do that yourself. People probably just won't notice your comment. (If the question's bright and new, it's probably got the attention of people who have already thought of that.) If it's bad/incorrect guidance, nobody will want to do that, but then we'll have no way to show it's bad guidance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You also miss out on reputation points for upvoted answers \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jun 30 '15 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus A common defence of answers-in-comments is that the citizen feels they're nobly sacrificing reputation in order to not clutter up the answers. Gamification isn't usually a useful appeal for this sort of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 30 '15 at 0:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus I've added a bit about that to the end. "You'll get rep!" is absolutely not a motivator here. It's sort of an anti-motivator sometimes, as BESW describes. I'd like to remove these comments shortly, as "you'll get rep!" inspires the opposite behaviour we want from some of these individuals. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 30 '15 at 1:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another common justification is that someone else can use the comment to make a better proper answer later. Deconstructing that might also be good? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 30 '15 at 1:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Thanks, I'll consider how to do that. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 30 '15 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also think its worth stressing that a lot of people answer in comments because they know full well that the answer isn't of a sufficient standard to count as an answer on its own \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 30 '15 at 7:15
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I'd assume to use the comments for clarification of the question, rather than actually putting for the answer itself. Even if the question is changed after the answer is submitted, at least answers are shown and people will know to search for answers there, rather than passing over the question post entirely.

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