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I'm not sure if this is commonplace, but from what I see, a lot of questions have a lot of good answers...that are in the comments sections. From what I can tell, it seems the majority of these "answers" are usually posted by users with low reputation, or at least new to the site.

What can we (at the very least, I) can do to actually help new users through this?

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Seeing as everyone can answer, but for commenting you need reputation, I can only assume people who answer in comments do so on purpose, after having learned the two are different. Point being - I believe you are coming at this from the wrong starting point - that people don't know the difference. –  Oded May 27 '13 at 21:19
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I quite often use a comment to answer questions if I am using a phone or tablet as it is much easier with no formatting to worry about. I may also answer a question I know will be closed with a comment. Also it would be cool if all answers to this where comments :) –  vascowhite May 27 '13 at 21:24
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Or high rep users who afaict look down on the question too much to just answer it. –  AAA May 27 '13 at 21:26
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Sometimes when I know a partial answer to a question, I use a comment to provide it. If I know that my "answer" is incomplete I don't like to enter it as an answer. –  Monolo May 27 '13 at 22:00
    
I use comments when I have a good idea on how to answer the question, but don't have the ability or time to verify that it would work. Maybe someone else will read the comment and expand on it. –  Patashu May 27 '13 at 22:45
    
Related reading from The Workplace. –  enderland May 28 '13 at 1:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

People post answers as comments because answers take more work and are commmitments.

  1. Answer stubs that would be poor full answers as they would require fuller explanation - but are useful enough the commenter wants to contribute it. Note that an answer requires maintenance whereas comments can be lazy and one-off. In practice, you can leave a comment and vanish - but if your answer is wrong you have to fend off your downvotes and work on it.
  2. Hints that turn out to be complete answers after the OP says "that was it, thanks!"

So... how can we get people to spend more of their time answering SO questions? Well, I certainly wouldn't want them to stop leaving helpful comments because the only option remaining was doing even more work than sharing their quick and useful observation.

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Comments are less intimidating. If you post an answer, you should be sure your solution will (or should) work. Posting a comment, you can say - try this, I'm not sure if it will help but it could.

Actually, it's the question of self-confidence. The best solution is, when you see a comment which qualifies as answer, to post your comment addressed to the author, that this comment is actually an answer, and he/she should post it as answer. After a few times they should learn to trust more in their competences.

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