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I just had a pretty heated discussion - at least on my side - with the moderator casperOne about a comment to one of my own answers asking the user to accept my answer. My answer was the only one to the question.

I was told that comments are not the place to ask the user to accept the answer, as this is considered noise. I found this question here on meta stating that both of the following actions are ok:

  1. Posting a comment to my own answer referring the user to the FAQ here on meta on how to accept answers.
  2. Posting a general comment to the question itself if there are multiple answers telling the OP that he should accept an answer and also linking him to the FAQ.

Now, that's pretty much the same, with only one difference: In my case I asked the user to accept my answer. As there were no others, I'd say "no harm done" but obviously that's not the case.

casperOne asked me to post this question to clarify that issue:

How to educate a new user about how to accept answers?

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It does get noisy if you're doing it incessantly and just want people to accept your answers. But if you're politely teaching new users how accepting answers works, I don't see a problem. Just remember that it is entirely up to the user to decide whether or not to accept, and sometimes users just don't understand either. Generally I only do it if the user is new and has expressed appreciation for my answer in a way that's more suitably represented on Stack Overflow by marking it accepted (e.g. commented "This was what I needed, thanks!"). Otherwise, I leave it. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 5 '12 at 13:11
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Just a side note: If someone has greater than a 0% accept rate, they don't need education about how to accept. –  Andrew's a Unitato Sep 5 '12 at 16:23
    
@AndrewBarber Perhaps when to accept would be more appropriate. –  Tibor Sep 5 '12 at 16:24
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@Tibor Absolutely not. When to accept is wholly their own choice, and no one should educate (ie. pressure) them about that. –  Andrew's a Unitato Sep 5 '12 at 16:25
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@AndrewBarber When to accept as in "in which circumstances does the community at large find it suitable to accept". –  Tibor Sep 5 '12 at 16:26
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It's not "the community's" decision, @Tibor. That's kinda the whole point. The Community can up-vote. –  Shog9 Sep 5 '12 at 16:27
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Related: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/109773/… –  Chichiray Sep 5 '12 at 16:30
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@Shog9 Ugh. I did not mean that community should decide whether to accept, that rests indeed solely on the user. However, as I understand it, accepting is encouraged. New users should understand the circumstances in which other users usually accept even if they ultimately decide against it. That's what I wanted to say. –  Tibor Sep 5 '12 at 16:33
    
@Tibor: ok, that makes more sense. But I still agree with Andrew here - once someone's demonstrated that they're aware of this, there's no need to call it out; they can find the documentation and discussions on its use easily enough if they care. –  Shog9 Sep 5 '12 at 16:42
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5 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Intent is key here: are you honestly trying to educate the OP about accepting answers, or simply pressure them into accepting your answer?

You can easily check to see if a user knows how to use the "accept" feature - have they ever accepted anything? Being very new to the site is also a good indicator that they're still learning how things work; someone who's been here for years, has answered many questions of his own, and accumulated thousands of rep points probably already knows how things work.

If not, making them aware of this feature can be helpful - but try to include some guidance about how and when they should use it. Don't say, "accept my answer" - that doesn't teach them anything, other than that you want your answer accepted.

If a particular answer is helpful in solving your problem, mark it as "accepted" by clicking the little checkmark next to it. If your questions are receiving unhelpful answers, clarify what you're looking for or leave constructive comments on the answers explaining how they fall short.

Something like that - posted once on one question from a user who hasn't previously used "accept" and whom you have reason to believe has gained some benefit from answers to his question - is fine. Note that it provides specific guidance as to when accepting an answer is appropriate - and that there's no specific mention of your answer, of accept rate, or of reputation.

Repeated comments on multiple questions from users who are already using the Accept feature, or which seem to be more focused on coercion and less on education, will be deleted on sight.

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Thanks, that sounds reasonable. I will use this approach from now on. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 16:14
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This is similar to my approach as well. Note that of course, we'll gladly handle any "obsolete" flags on such comments after the fact, as they're then not really needed anymore. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 5 '12 at 16:15
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Accepting answers is optional. It's nice, sure, but it's not required. Look at your accept rate here: will you like it if I badger you to accept this answer, should it remain the only one, because your accept rate is so low?

Whether you genuinely believe that your answer should be accepted for the better of the community, and that your comment is helping to educate the user, for most of us these comments come off as noise and/or rep-whoring.

There are a lot of reasons why the OP shouldn't accept your answer simply because you asked/told him/her to. Maybe it didn't actually solve their problem. It's also quite possible there are better answers in the making; maybe they are waiting a sufficient period before believing there's only one answer and you nailed it.

I think it's actually a worse problem when inferior answers are accepted early, especially when the OP has been pressured into doing so. Since accepted answers are subsequently largely ignored, this can actually prevent a better solution from being posted.

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I am fully aware of the fact that the user is not obliged to accept any answer. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:15
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So why should you make them feel obligated to accept your answer? –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 5 '12 at 13:15
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My question was "How to educate a new user about how to accept answers?", not "How to ask a user to accept my answer". –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:17
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Well how do you determine that a user needs this education? As I explained, there may be valid reasons why they haven't accepted your answer. Only one of them is ignorance. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 5 '12 at 13:18
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BTW: You did bring forward a few good points. In the future, I will only post a general comment about accepting an answer to the question if the OP didn't accept an answer after 24 hours and I am of the opinion that at least one of the provided answers does indeed answer his question. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:19
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@DanielHilgarth Your question might be about how to educate users to accept answers, but it was spurned from your comment activity that encourages users to accept your answer. You've already answered your question; doing so in the comments is noise, so you shouldn't use the comments in the first place. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:26
    
@DanielHilgarth There isn't nothing that forces users to accept an answer before 24 hours; they could accept an answer between 20 days, or not accept one at all. –  kiamlaluno Sep 5 '12 at 13:51
    
@kiamlaluno: I know that and that's not the point. Nobody wants to force anyone to do anything. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:55
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@DanielHilgarth You wrote, "I will only post a general comment about accepting an answer to the question if the OP didn't accept an answer after 24 hours." There is no need to do it if the OP doesn't accept an answer after 24 hours. –  kiamlaluno Sep 5 '12 at 14:33
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I'd consider the question you linked to be a duplicate of this:

Is it appropriate to comment on people's accept rate?

While speaking specifically about accept rate, I consider it to be the canonical reference about commenting to users about how the site works, instead of focusing on the question.

The fact of the matter is that a user doesn't want to accept an answer or upvote, they are still completely welcome on Stack Overflow. There is nothing that states that they have to participate in the gamification elements of the site.

That said, taking your statement (emphasis mine):

with the moderator casperOne about a comment to one of my own answers asking the user to accept my answer

That's the problem with your comment as your campaigning for the acceptance of your answer.

Also note these other comments from you:

@JohnB: Great! What was the final solution? Oh and please don't forget to accept my answer by clicking the check mark to the left of it.

@tesicg: You are welcome :-) Please don't forget to accept my answer by clicking the checkmark to the left of it.

All of these are urging the person to use the site, yes, but you're also doing it to your benefit. It's one thing to ask "how can I educate a user on how the site works", it's another to do it to inflate your rep.

This one in particular is my favorite:

@user1447851: No problem. I upvoted your question, so you got some reputation. :-) Accepting my answer using the checkmark to the left will give you another two rep.

Basically, you're trying to inflate your rep by making it seem like you're doing the user a favor in getting them two more rep. Nice work.

That said, comments are not the place to inform users how to use the site. They are certainly not the place to encourage users to perform actions to inflate your reputation.

If you truly want to encourage users how to use the site, do so in a neutral way, and don't do it in the comments.

If they have contact information in their profile, feel free to contact them through there. However, I wouldn't take that as an invitation to spam them about it.

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Don't forget that great many newbies are simply not aware of the accepting answer option. So why not let them know once of that feature? If they ignore this it's all good, I won't ask again but still, I think that comment like "If this was helpful you can mark as accepted" is more helpful in the long run. I won't say it more than once to the same user and won't nudge, and inviting the user to chat seems like huge overkill. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 13:26
    
@ShaWizDowArd: Thanks. Finally someone who thinks the same way. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:28
    
@casperOne: "rep-whoring", and "inflating rep" sounds like rep is something bad. Why have it in the first place if it is not allowed to get its reward for a good answer? I know that this reward is not worth anything etc. but still it shows me that the work I put into the answer was appreciated. A Q&A website without people delivering quality answers is dead. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:29
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@ShaWizDowArd In the way that you've phrased it, it's just rep-whoring. And we have no way of saying "this person is a newbie"; we simply don't know how much they know, and how much they're using all the mechanisms of the site. That said, what exactly is it helping? Accepting answers really benefits people answering and not the site in the long run, it's part of the game to get people to deliver quality content. Yes, you could leave a nice neutral comment in light of all of this, but it's still noise, and we get a ton of it on Stack Overflow. That ultimately is a stain on the site. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:29
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Sorry but I disagree. I think that having tons of questions without accepted answer just because the OP have no clue such thing is possible is more harm than one small comment. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 13:31
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@DanielHilgarth The general premise is that you should be concerned about the quality of the content first and reputation second. Granted, everyone turns it on it's ear, but they do one to get the other. Commenting to get rep isn't helping improve the quality of the site anywhere. Short answer: the quality of your post should stand on it's own, the community at Stack Overflow will reward you if you stick by providing quality content. Adding comments for an extra 15 rep just cheapens the other great content on the page and makes the person look petty and obsessed with reputation. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:32
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"don't do it in the comments....Chat would be the best place". How exactly are you supposed to invite a user to chat or mention anything about an accept rate out of comments? –  Lix Sep 5 '12 at 13:32
    
@casperOne: That's just not true. SO is so immensly huge that great answers to questions that are hard to understand (because of the topic) or that are a bit narrow don't receive much attention and as such little rep. The exposure is just too small. –  Daniel Hilgarth Sep 5 '12 at 13:34
    
@ShaWizDowArd Let's say you add one comment for the tons of questions. Who's going to clean them up? That's the crux of the problem right there. If the comments were cleaned up appropriately, then it wouldn't be such an issue, but that's not the case. People will comment and may get a user to improve, and then the comments are still there. Now multiply that by multiple people who will leave multiple comments to this effect. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:34
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@casperOne how exactly we can invite other users to chat without leaving a comment? –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 13:42
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@ShaWizDowArd Removed the chat recommendation, as it's not viable. You shouldn't be leaving comments for this, period. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:51
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@casper is this the official decision of the team? (ban posting comments unless they are 100% relevant to the post) –  Shadow Wizard Sep 5 '12 at 13:55
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if comments are not the place to inform users about using the site, then where should this be done? –  Lix Sep 5 '12 at 13:55
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@DanielHilgarth Given that the reputation for accepted answers can't be removed, we have no way of validating that. Also, if you truly want your answer to be accepted regardless of rep, if reputation is truly not that important to you, then I'd dare recommend that you mark your answers community wiki; but given that community wiki is dead (don't do this), we can't validate how sincere you are with that statement. Point is, even if you want the check mark, you're focusing on the wrong thing. Focus on the quality of the content, nothing more. Everything else is secondary. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 13:55
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@DanielHilgarth I'm not questioning your integrity, you're showing an excessive concern for things that are not the primary concern of Stack Exchange, which is to provide quality content. Comments of this sort do not help promote quality content. And it's not my notion of noise, it's what's codified in the FAQ which you referenced in your question. If that was truly the case, then it would be codified in the FAQ, but it's not, nor is there a plan to change that. –  casperOne Sep 5 '12 at 14:03
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Accepting answers is optional, and there isn't any restriction on when it should be accepted. I could wait 20 days before accepting an answer, hoping to have a better answer, or an answer that really explains in detail what I am asking.

A comment about accepting an answer could make sense in few cases, but for sure you should not remind a user who is a 10K user in some Stack Exchange site that answers can be accepted, nor should you do it to get your answer accepted the same day you answered. It would probably make sense if it were done on a site in private beta phase, where 99% of the users are new to Stack Exchange sites. Even in this case, I would find preferable if the comment is written from a user who didn't answer.
As another example, you could comment about accepting the answer if the OP comments saying your answer was helpful for him, but you should consider users cannot accept an answer before X hours. (At least that is true for low reputation users.) Yet, it should not be something that is repeated more than once for the same user, and not to every user who doesn't accept your answer.

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I would ask the OP if your answer helped him/her with their problem and if there is anything more they need for this question. That gets the discussion moving towards getting them the complete answer they need and having you be the one that provides it.

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