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Meta only requires a reputation of 1 in order to add comments to a question, however most other require 50 or more. As someone pretty new to using Stack Exchange, I find it frustrating because there are a lot of questions which require clarification.

I find lots of questions where I have lots of knowledge, but I need to ask clarifying questions to properly answer their question. It doesn't feel right for me to put that in an answer, but makes sense to do so as a comment to their question.

What is the best practice for obtaining clarifying information when unable to post a comment?

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You're right. Asking for clarification in an answer would not be the correct use of the system.

Your first activity should be to stick to the basic (but most-essential) features of the site — asking and responding to questions (without the commentary). That way, you'll start by earning a bit of reputation.

Reputation is a rough measurement of how accustomed you've become to using the features of the site. With a bit of use, you can quickly unlock some features like leaving comments. Comments are there help improve the post, but inexperienced users are just as likely to turn comments into mini chat rooms and discussion forums. That's why we ask that you gain a bit of experience with the site before using some of these features.

At 50 reputation, you'll be able to add comments. Once you earn 200 reputation, you'll be able to bring that "experience" to other sites with the 100 reputation bonus you receive automatically.

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    Ok, this is what I thought. I must say though, I see people answer questions in the comments section all the time, which also seems like incorrect use of the commenting feature. – dissolved Oct 28 '11 at 22:41
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    @dissolved: it is an incorrect use of the feature. So kudos on noticing that - with a bit of luck, by the time you can comment, you'll be intimately familiar with all the ways you shouldn't comment. Which is the point. – Shog9 Oct 28 '11 at 22:46
  • @dissolved Yes, that's just as big a problem. Answers-as-comments should be flagged for moderator attention... once you have enough reputation. – Robert Cartaino Oct 28 '11 at 22:53
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The best thing to do is concentrate on gaining at least 200 reputation on one Stack Exchange site so that you'll get the 100 point association bonus on all sites. Then you'll be able to ask clarifying comments anywhere.

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    Sure... I get that, but seems a chicken and the egg problem. Of course the other way to gain a bunch of reputation is to ask a bunch of questions, which I suspect many do. That seems counter productive to the community unless the questions are really good questions. – dissolved Oct 28 '11 at 22:40

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