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People answer questions, I offer my answer, and other people answer after me. Some of these answers, I've found, have mistaken the question or have some critical flaw. Is it proper etiquette to critique these answers (at a basic level) in their comments?

I feel bad because it might give off the impression me saying "Hey everyone, my answer is right and yours are all messed up!".

On the other hand, it would increase the quality of all answers.

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4 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

It's absolutely proper, and I would even say it's your responsibility. SO is all about getting the best answers to questions, and constructive criticism via comments is the path to that goal.

That said, you should always be polite. Leading off with "This answer sucks, and here's why..." isn't going to go over well. I don't take offense when I get a constructive critique of an answer I've given. It can only help me to make my answer better.

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Agreed, but make sure you're correct that they have a critical flaw. It can be quite embarrassing to critique someone's apparent failure to address the question, only to find out that they actually were more right than you were in the first place. –  Grace Note Jun 28 '10 at 20:00
    
@Grace: In that case, a follow-up comment saying something to the effect of "My bad" is usually fine. You can even suggest deleting both your comment and their response in order to remove the "comment noise". As embarrassing as it may be, it's still a learning experience. ;) –  gnostradamus Jun 28 '10 at 20:02
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I like those sorts of exchanges best, because everyone comes out learning something, especially those who didn't expect they still had things to learn. :) –  Ether Jun 28 '10 at 20:22
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We're supposed to explain why we think the answer sucks now? Sheesh, why don't I just mow your lawn and patch up your roof while I'm being your slave? –  Aarobot Jun 28 '10 at 21:16
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@Grace Note: That's why I prefer to phrase it as a question along the lines of "Did you mean"/"Are you sure"/"What happens when". Gets a better answer and avoids the drama. –  György Andrasek Jun 28 '10 at 21:33
    
@Grace: Good call, I've been on both sides of that one! –  John Rudy Jun 28 '10 at 21:38
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I try not to criticize answers that are not as right as mine (that is, I trust to the crowd to sort mine above those pretty good answers), but will post comments on other answers that are really deficient in some way (sometime in lieu of a downvote, and occasionally as well as a downvote if they are actively harmful).

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I feel bad because it might give off the impression me saying "Hey everyone, my answer is right and yours are all messed up!".

If it's true, go ahead and say it. Better to call them on it than to sit quietly and let one of you be wrong and misleading... If you see multiple answers making the same mistake, it's not necessarily worthwhile to comment on them all though, and in that situation you may even want to edit your own answer to address the common misconception.

You should also down-vote incorrect answers. That way they'll rank lower and avoid misleading future readers, even if the authors don't respond to your criticism.

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@Justin L.: yup, I think it is, you just commented on my StackOverflow tshirt post ( Never got a shirt; too late? ), and I was fine with you commenting on my post and letting me know that the link wasn't working at the moment...

so...In my opinion, YES! It makes the Trilogy sites cleaner, more accurate, and more community-oriented...

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