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I frequently come upon comments to answers that are submitted as answers, instead of comments. In other words, someone (typically someone new to Stack Overflow) wants to comment on an answer, but instead ends up creating another answer, which is actually intended as a comment (the reputation needed to comment may be an inadvertent cause of this).

In this situation, what should a typical SO user like me do? Should we flag it as "requires moderator attention"? So far, I've just left comments on them, saying that they themselves should be comments.

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possible duplicate of Correct action for non-answers by new users –  badp Sep 29 '10 at 6:40
    
Possible solution: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/35175/… –  Jon Seigel Oct 2 '10 at 15:24
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9 Answers 9

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Don't forget that newcomers cannot post comments; you need a minimum reputation to be able to post comments. For people whose reputation (at the time the comment was made!) was low enough, the 'answer instead of comment' is all they can do. There is no cause to chide them.

For people with enough reputation to post comments, then you can suggest that the 'answer' should be a comment - by adding a comment yourself. By the time you're aware of the nuances, you usually have enough reputation to comment.

Sometimes, though, the 'comment' would be so much longer than the 600-character limit that an answer is not an unreasonable way to address the issues you see in another answer. If that were the case, I'd probably leave a comment in the original answer, pointing to the expanded 'comment-as-answer'. If what you say will fit into a comment, a comment is better.

Did you know that the reputations needed for commenting on Meta are different from those on SO? I didn't. On Meta, anyone can comment - the reputation needed is 1. On SO, the reputation needed for leaving comments is 50. That's not hard to reach, but it does take a bit of time.

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Yes, I completely agree. Thank you! –  Maxim Zaslavsky Sep 13 '09 at 7:01
    
So, it is ok then to post an answer if the comments you're going to leave are more than 600 chars and you need to include code and stuff? –  skimania Jun 16 '10 at 20:58
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@skimania: since you have minimal control over comment formatting, and blocks of multiple 600-character comments are hard to read, then yes - if you need to say that much, an answer is probably the appropriate option. But, be aware, an answer commenting on another answer will not necessarily be shown close to the other answer. An answer commenting on the question will have to fend for itself, as it were. The person asking the question should almost invariably edit the question (possibly using a horizontal rule to separate the new comments from what was there before). –  Jonathan Leffler Jun 18 '10 at 6:14
    
Note that the rules have changed since this was posted. People can leave comments to answers to their own questions, and to their own answers. And people can edit their own questions. –  Jonathan Leffler Jun 14 '11 at 17:36
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I usually leave a comment pointing out the proper etiquette. If/when they respond, it's usually, "Oh, sorry, my bad" and they do their best to fix it. It might help get the question cleaned up if you flag it for moderator attention, but I'd much rather have a few ugly questions and teach someone how to do better in the future.

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We already do this, for ALL users on questions they own.

Note:

  1. The standard answer editor does NOT appear by default for post owners. Instead there is a single "Answer Your Question" button.

  2. Clicking the "Answer Your Question" button nags you:

    Are you sure you want to answer your own question? If you're responding to answers left on your question, use the comments link under each answer

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I think it's important to establish what should be done if someone clicks OK anyway, despite the nag. Perhaps some sort of a template comment, reminding the user of the purpose of answers. I think a downvote is too harsh. –  Christopher Parker Jun 19 '10 at 0:16
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If they look like questions, then tell the author to post a question.
If they look like superfluous noise, then tell the author to STFU.
Otherwise, treat them like answers - up-vote if helpful, down-vote if unhelpful.

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-1: Something can be helpful as a comment, but of small value as an answer –  Casebash Feb 17 '10 at 22:38
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-1: Sorry, but can't support STFU under any reasonable circumstances. That's what moderator flags are for. –  Robert Harvey Feb 22 '10 at 17:58
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@Robert: you could probably be more polite if brevity wasn't desired. –  Shog9 Feb 22 '10 at 18:26
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In reference to a new user asking his/her own question:

They can edit the original question and add an additional information section. I try and leave a comment to the OP that this would be a better solution then adding an "answer".

The low rep OP can leave comments on their own questions, just not other people's questions.

In reference to a new user answering other questions:

It only takes 50 reputation points to comment. You are given the privilege of commenting once you have been on the site for some time and learned some of the rules and procedures.

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I agree. Yes, commenting is a privilege which is obtained after you learn the rules, but new users are skipping this and are just commenting by creating "answers". I think we need to somehow reinforce that commenting is a privilege. –  Maxim Zaslavsky Oct 28 '09 at 23:45
    
What do you guys think of downvoting comments that appear as answers? If so, what message should we add to avoid discouraging them too much –  Casebash Feb 17 '10 at 22:40
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I think that, if everyone is so dead set against people, newbies included, posting comments as answers, then maybe the minimum rep for posting comments should be set to 1 on SO, as it is here. If you're dead set on the idea that commenting is a privilege that requires a certain amount of minimum rep, then you can't avoid newbies posting comments as answers, since they don't have sufficient rep to post comments as comments. The two concepts are mutually exclusive when applied to that group of users. –  RobH Feb 23 '10 at 3:20
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I think that it'd help if there were some quick video tutorials that highlight functionality and some of the dos and donts of the sites. Some of the best sites I've been to lately have integrated video tutorials into the registration process or right at the end so as soon as your account is ready, you can quickly learn how to use the site.

Idea posted here.

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One problem with comments is that code in comments is not formatted so you cannot add a comment with sample code in a readable way. One scenario is a minor change to something proposed.

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If you ever want to play with some formatting: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3122/formatting-sandbox - Code in comments are formatted. You just have to add in the backtick ` –  random Sep 13 '09 at 8:11
    
But it is hidden. No visible indication and preview. Just "Add Comment". It even removes new lines. –  Thomas Jung Sep 13 '09 at 17:42
    
Links in comments don't work. All sorts of formatting that I'd like to use in comments doesn't work. –  ErikE Feb 22 '10 at 18:05
    
I think I've actually seen working links in a couple of comments, but I don't know how that was accomplished. –  RobH Feb 23 '10 at 3:12
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Like this ([Like this](http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/21549/comments-incorrectly-submitt‌​ed-as-an-answer-instead-what-should-we-do/21570#21570)) –  Christopher Parker Jun 19 '10 at 0:10
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In the following case, I had to put a comment as an answer, because it needed some actual working code to point out the flaw in the question:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1627945/in-perl-how-do-you-access-a-value-from-a-reference-in-an-array-of-hashrefs/1628033#1628033

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Put a "Post your Comment" button right next to the "Post your Answer" button and act accordingly depending on which button is pushed. See if that helps.

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Doesn' address the issue of new users not knowing the difference between an answer or a comment, or not wanting to know. –  random Oct 28 '09 at 1:58
    
Actually, I think it does. Having a second button there will make them aware that there's a difference, IMO. I thought it didn't completely address the issue of whether they are used properly, but a second button would clue them in. I don't think it's the killer solution, but I do think it addresses the issue of pointing out a distinction. –  George Sisco Oct 28 '09 at 12:43
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