I answered a question and my answer was: (pick one)
- Converted to a comment
- Added to my question as an edit
Why was this? Why was my answer not acceptable?
What is the definition of an acceptable answer on Stack Exchange?
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The following is a slight modification of my post on meta.gardening. Consider an example question:
How can I foo the bar in X?
I'm trying to foo the bar using qux. However, I get an error message
<error>. What am I doing incorrectly?
|If your response is:||then it should be:||Corrective action||Flag as NaA|
|1. Can you post your code?||comment on the question||If you wrote an answer, delete it and leave a comment instead. If you don't have 50 rep, please wait until you do.||Yes|
|2. Have you fooed the baz?||"||"||Yes|
|3. What version of X are you using?||"||"||Yes|
|4. I've had the same problem since version X.1||"||"||Yes|
|5. You missed a comma, which is causing the error||"||Flag question as "Off-Topic, Fix my Typo."||No|
|6. This was discussed in this question and answer [internal link]||"||Flag to close as duplicate.||Yes|
|7. The accepted answer is incorrect or no longer accurate.||comment on the answer||Write a better answer of your own or notify the answerer.||No|
|8. You cannot do that in X because it doesn't support Y.||an answer||Link to documentation if possible.||No|
|9. This is what you're doing incorrectly. [Explain]. Here's how it should be done [code]||"||"||No|
|10. Try this: [code]||"||Improve the answer. Explain why you think that's the solution. If it's a code only answer, edit it to explain.||No|
|11. This is the problem: [Explain]. In a related answer/blog post, I/they discuss blah [link] which might be of interest||"||If it's an external link, it helps to document the key points here so that the crux of the post is available even if the link goes down. Do it yourself or leave a comment for the OP.||No|
|12. See here: [external link]||be heavily improved||The answer must be improved as described above, else it will be deleted. Downvote if link doesn't relate to the question. Write a new answer with details and then flag as Not an Answer. Custom flag if the link is broken.||Depends|
|13. I've tried these solutions and it doesn't work on [operating system]. How should I modify the solution to make it work?||a new question||If you have 75+ rep, consider placing a bounty to seek a better answer. If not (or if it's different enough), ask a new question.||Yes|
|14. Thanks man, this worked!!1!||deleted||Glad it worked, but seriously, just upvote it if you have the reputation.||Yes|
|15. Sir, I am having a similar project this is due tomorrow. Can you please send me the code for your project at [email]||deleted with extreme prejudice||Do not encourage these users to ask new questions— they're most likely going to be closed.||Yes|
The first three responses are clearly asking for more information and don't answer the question. Fourth is merely a "me too" statement – adds nothing of value. If the only problem with the code is OP's clumsiness or if it's a dupe, they should be closed as off-topic or as a duplicate respectively. If the former, the question should also be deleted (either by a mod or by 10k+ users). While #7 is helpful, it still doesn't answer the question. It is good practice to let the OP know that things have changed. If they don't respond, downvote and either move on or write a better answer if you know.
Responses #8,9 and 11 are what we'd like to see on this site. They are to the point, precise and informative. If you're referencing an earlier answer (could also be an external link), provide a crucial summary so as to make the answer self sufficient. This is important for two reasons: having the summary helps in the case of link rot (i.e., external links are dead because their site shut down) and to not have to make people click through a whole bunch of links just to get to the answer. They can proceed if they like what they see. It always helps to link to the relevant documentation/authoritative sources (quoting the important information) in your answers. Remember, in all these cases, you should cite the source(s) that you quoted (it is a good practice to make it explicit that you're quoting yourself). Feel free to edit them in an answer (not yours) if the OP hasn't done so, for after all, this is a collaboratively edited site.
Responses #10 and #12 are curt, and perhaps the most contentious of all. These are quite tricky as they do in fact answer the question, but not in a way that is considered a good answer. Moderators and frequent users generally try to encourage these users to expand on them or quote relevant parts. True, it is tempting to just leave a link and walk off as in #12. However, remember that the answers that you're leaving are not just for the person who asked the question, but for practically anyone who visits that page. If you're not willing do that, then it probably is a good idea to not post that link in the first place. #10, while technically the solution to the question, gives no indication or explanation as to why that is the solution. Beyond this, there is nothing much that can be done other than let the votes speak for itself. If you flag these as "not an answer", you better be prepared for your flag to be declined. The only time it's acceptable to bring these to a moderator's attention is if the link is dead and there's nothing to indicate what might've been there (e.g. there is no archived version on Wayback Machine).
Responses #13–15 are self explanatory, but please, do not encourage users who post #15 to ask questions here.
When your responses belong to #1-#7, they don't answer the question. Sometimes, moderators may move the answer to the comments, where they belong (till the OP responds/updates their question). At times, when the answer is good, but falls a little short of being a great answer, moderators might nudge you to improve on certain sections or provide a little more info on the topic.
As for why answers/good info in comments is a bad idea, see this post by Robert Cartaino:
Comments were designed to simply ask for clarification about the original question. Comments are such a light-weight mechanism, that putting useful information in there can actually be somewhat harmful:
- Comments cannot be properly vetted (voted on for correctness).
- The information in comments is not editable by the community.
- Comments are not easily searchable. When users are looking for your content, they are less likely to come here to find it.
- When users see that a question has been answered in comments, they are less likely to contribute proper answers.
- Questions with comment-based answers remain marked as "unanswered" by the system, so that does not bode well for the community.
When someone asks a question, members of the community are supposed to propose answers. Others vote on those answers so, very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer. Answers-as-comments breaks that entire structure.
Discussions in comments are no better than any bulletin board system on the Internet. Every time a new user comes along, they have to read through the initial post, then all the noise in the comments to get the whole story. You end up with valuable bits of the solution scattered among a bunch of noise and conversation. That's a condition we work very hard to prevent on these sites: The Chat Room/Forum Problem.
Do not post answers with the intention of getting them converted into comments. It only takes 50 reputation (i.e. five post upvotes) to post comments yourself. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to cast a vote or flag rather than post a comment. Also, many answers are reviewed by normal community members rather than moderators, who do not have the power to do so. Finally, even if your answer is converted to a comment, the original answer will be considered "deleted" and may count towards an answer ban! See here for more options: Why do I need 50 reputation to comment? What can I do instead?
If you need to have extended discussions with the OP in order to get things clarified or to work out a solution, then you should consider using the chat instead of a back-n-forth in the comments. This way you can talk to your heart's content and still leave the question clutter free. You can also collaboratively work on an answer before writing it up.
Chat is an informal environment where pretty much anything is allowed and the only moderation done is for spam and offensive content. You can discuss off-topic questions, alternate endings for the Star Wars trilogy or exchange pleasantries.
Hope this little guide helped clear some of the confusion that has been floating around on this topic.