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I often run into "answers" on the Stack Exchange sites that are really comments or replies. The phrase "This is not a message board" is accurate, but maybe a little harsh. I know about flagging and use it, but should I leave a comment or suggestion about this? Is there a user interface problem to solve here? It was always clear to me that this was not a discussion board, but maybe not clear to newbies, or maybe they're just coming in from Google and don't ever learn of the site's governing principles.

So what do I do as a user to improve this?

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1  
Download "Reading Comprehension 101" into their brains. They can't read and think this new fangled site calls comments and replies answers. –  random Apr 7 '11 at 0:42
    
@random♦: Oh, they can read all right. It's the thinking that challenges them. –  Piskvor Apr 7 '11 at 9:26
    
@Pan Piskvor Troglodytes: How does one read without thinking? –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 7 '11 at 9:56
    
@BoltClock: Baffles me, but the living proof abounds. DMA, perhaps? –  Piskvor Apr 7 '11 at 10:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If the user is new (< 50 reputation) and posted a non-answer to a question that wasn't their own, then there is no sense in trying to teach them anything at all, since they don't have the comment privilege and thus can't even see the comment link.

Just flag it as "not an answer" and a moderator will convert it to a comment (or delete it).

If they have sufficient reputation to comment, or are "answering" their own question, then just point them to the above link and ask them to please post a comment next time and only use the answer box if they are directly answering the question.

Is there a UI problem? No, not really, I don't think so. There's a paradigm problem; 30+ years of BBSes and discussion forums have rotted people's brains and the very concept of a pure Q&A site is completely foreign to them. Treat it as a social problem and deal with it on a case-by-case basis; that's how real-life communities inculcate their community standards too.

There already is one type of protection, namely that answers detected by the system as "low quality" (which 90% of the time have the smell of a comment) will forward that user to the How to Answer page. At least, it does on the trilogy; maybe it's disabled on the newer Stack Exchanges.

Beyond that, I don't think it's productive for the system to browbeat users for their answers (or non-answers as the case may be). There's no foolproof way for the system to detect non-answers and the wording above the answer box (Your Answer) is pretty clear already. People won't read what you put in front of them, unfortunately, and sometimes it takes a couple of downvotes and/or flags to knock some sense into them.

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2  
see my answer as well. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 7 '11 at 9:02

Please note that all users can see their own deleted answers when viewing questions, and they now look like this:

Note the new text we added:

Why was your post deleted? See the faq

This now links to an improved faq section on deletions.

There is also a new, forced popup on focus of answer box for <100 rep users:

Your Answer

Thanks for contributing an answer to Stack Overflow!

This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, so please make sure you answer the question.

Provide details and share your research. Avoid statements based solely on opinion; only make statements you can back up with an appropriate reference, or personal experiences.

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4  
Good idea!​​​​​​​​​ –  YOU Apr 7 '11 at 9:07
    
Yep, I remembered I did view-source, and find name attribute and add #name in address bar to get workaround before. –  YOU Apr 7 '11 at 9:12
    
Does this link work across the board? I tried it on Stack Overflow and MSO (with the anchor) and didn't see anything, nor do I see anything at all in there about deletions... –  Aarobot Apr 8 '11 at 0:18
    
@aaro I am adding a /faq#deletion now, will be deployed later and linked from 404 (for this case) and the answer link. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 9 '11 at 21:09

Not wanting to flog a dead donkey, but I do think this is on-topic here:

This question - Can we agree on a review 'policy'? - and the associated Pro-forma comments user script.

Screenshot

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