I reviewed this question and marked the post as a comment, not an answer. That left this comment automatically:

This is really a comment, not an answer to the question. Please use "add comment" to leave feedback for the author.

In response, the user commented:

nope, file_exists is absolutely ok to use to find out if a directory exists. maybe i should have phrased my answer a bit different, but it's by no means a comment and i won't change it after more than two years.

To which I replied:

That was a canned response from the review tool looking at low quality posts. Whether correct or not, there is very little detail provided and very much appears to be a comment. With additional detail (compare to the accepted answer), this will likely not be flagged for review. -- See also this canned response: While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes.

Note: While I used the automated comment about link-only answers, that was poor judgement on my part. This question has nothing to do with link-only answers.

Is this the proper course of action on my part? Should I probe better for the answerer to improve their post? I don't have the expertise to improve the post directly, considering it may be a valid answer, though still low quality in its present state.


While in the process of creating this question, another user made a similar comment on this answer. Perhaps I am providing incorrect reviews?


Here's another response to one of my reviews...


To avoid too much chit-chat on SO proper, I've removed my automated comments, and any applicable responses to them, from the questions linked to above.

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    I would say they are answers, even if they are poor ones. The authors should address them. But I'm not sure they are comments. Not everything that's short is a comment. (No matter how much I dislike answers like that) – Bart Aug 22 '12 at 19:58
  • @Bart Fair enough if it is a valid answer. Should I be marking these as Not Sure, then? I feel like there should be some push to improve the post, but in the review, I often see code that I am not familiar enough to elaborate on/edit myself. – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:00
  • 2
    Honestly, I don't really know. (And I'm personally not a big fan of the new review tools) I have had a hard time myself deciding what to do about answers like this and have often ignored them. Perhaps someone has a nice solution for them. – Bart Aug 22 '12 at 20:01
  • @Bart To add to that, I often see real answers, especially very simple ones such as those linked to here, that are posted as comments. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing that. – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:02
  • To be fair, almost all the other answers say exactly the same thing. Plus it's an extremely trivial question to begin with.... maybe it should be closevoted instead? – Pekka Aug 22 '12 at 20:30
  • @Gaffi For what it's worth, I would stop including the "link only" canned message. While I get what you're saying, in the context you're applying it to it only serves to confuse. – Bart Aug 22 '12 at 20:33
  • @Bart Yeah, I can cut that out. I'll probably hold off on reviews for a while as well. I appear to be making a few enemies today... – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:40
  • 1
    That's a pretty old question. I'd have just flagged and let a mod take a look rather than poking the user after all this time. In this case it's not a great answer, but it is an answer all the same. – Kev Aug 22 '12 at 20:41
  • Haha, don't worry about the "enemies". Just learn from it and keep on reviewing. We need all the help we can get. If you're not sure there is always the "not sure" button. ;) – Bart Aug 22 '12 at 20:42
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    @Kev As much as I don't think the probing was necessary, it was the automated comment that prompted this whole thing in the first place. – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:43
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    @Gaffi: just use a magical downvote wand. People fear those more than they fear your review. – user7116 Aug 22 '12 at 20:46
  • @gnat How does the "link-only-answers" tag apply? You might be confused by the OP referring to them, but it's not what this question was ultimately about. – Bart Aug 22 '12 at 21:11
  • @gnat Yeah, that's not really applicable here. I used that as a (very) poor reference to the automated commenting system. – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 21:12
  • thanks @Bart, Gaffi - upon re-checking the updated question text I agree about tag not being applicable – gnat Aug 22 '12 at 21:14
  • @Kev I thought the team was saving recommended deletion reasons for data analysis purposes. Maybe it would be better in the general case to select the most appropriate comment, and then manually delete unnecessary ones? – Pops Aug 22 '12 at 21:29

The canned comments weren't really intended to handle every situation. In particular, the "should be a comment" wasn't intended to address very short or lackluster answers.

In some cases, a short answer is perfectly appropriate. In others, they should be deleted, or down-voted, or have specific technical concerns raised in the comments - but in all of these cases, encouraging the author to post a comment instead is the wrong way to go: a bad answer will generally also make for a poor comment.

With this in mind, we're making two changes to the canned comment screen:

  • Additional whitespace below the "No comment" option, to emphasize it a bit (also changing the text to "No comment needed").

  • A slightly different wording for the "Should be a comment" option, to emphasize its intended use for commentary.

Revised comment text

(with the optional "You can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post." bit added as-needed based on the post author's reputation)

| improve this answer | |
  • Should be visible in the next build. – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 21:29
  • This looks much better for me for these cases! – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 21:39
  • It is true that encouraging users to post a comment instead of a bad answer is not correct, but it is also true that not all the requests for clarification should be posted as comments. If users are asking clarification for their own case, then that is probably a different question, provided they can make clear in what the new question is different from the old question. This is much better, but there will always be users who give a different interpretation to the comment. – kiamlaluno Aug 22 '12 at 22:08
  • There is a different canned message specifically for "asking a question in an answer", @kiamlaluno. Really, none of these are meant to be exhaustive, and none of them are meant to be used for any and all situations that might possibly overlap slightly - if you don't feel strongly that an answer should be deleted, then you probably shouldn't be posting any of them. – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 23:09
  • Yes, but the user to which the comment is directed doesn't know there is a comment specific for writing a question as an answer. :) My comment was simply to say that I like positive changes in those canned comments, but I would not like to see you (impersonal you) going crazy to find a comment that is understood from all the users in the same way; that is probably impossible. – kiamlaluno Aug 22 '12 at 23:14
  • Oh, no, that wouldn't be good, @kiam. My goal here is first and foremost to make the usage clear to the person posting it -regardless of the comment, regardless of the situation, anyone posting these should understand the meaning and be willing to respond to questions or disagreements from the author, without resorting to, "hey, these are canned messages, I'm just the messenger". – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 23:17
  • Oh, you are aiming a different group of users. :) I agree, replying with "that is a canned message, and that is the best I could choose for your answer" is not a good reply. – kiamlaluno Aug 22 '12 at 23:23
  • @kiamlaluno In my own defense, that was not really the point I was trying to make with my comments. This is: "Whether correct or not, there is very little detail provided and [this] very much appears to be a comment. With additional detail (compare to the accepted answer), this will likely not be flagged for review.", which (minus one minor edit) is verbatim from the comment I posted. – Gaffi Aug 23 '12 at 13:05

There has always been that grey line with answers like these. Yes, they are low quality and yes, they could be improved. But technically, they do answer the question, even in such a short form.

In this specific case:

It's quite hard to tell. The body of the question itself already accurately detects if it exists and is a directory, yet is asking how to tell if it's a directory. From the accepted answer, I'm gathering he just wanted a way to make the directory if it doesn't exist so he didn't have to repeat code. If that's the case, these answers are probably completely irrelevant.

I would also argue that those answers are incorrect. file_exists() may work for directories as well, but it will also return a false positive if it's just a file that looks like a directory. In that case, the rest of his code would fail.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Correct answer or not, was my dialog appropriate? If the answer is correct, should I be pushing them to improve it (or should I improve on my own if I know better)? – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:27
  • Like I said, it's a grey area. Some people say yes, some say no. If it technically answers the question, then they don't have to improve it, and if they've stated they don't want to improve it, then there's nothing you can really do about it unless other users who have the ability to vote for deletion feel the same way as you and take that path. Your second example looks like an adequate answer to me. I can't personally think of anything that could be added to that answer that wouldn't just be clutter. – animuson Aug 22 '12 at 20:31
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    @Gaffi, in this particular case I would've clicked "looks good" in the review screen, but perhaps first opened the entire question in a separate tab - as animuson notes, several of the answers there are both short AND misleading - adding a specific comment ("this can lead to errors if a file with the same name exists") and down-voting would benefit future readers by demonstrating how this (not uncommon) approach fails. Keep in mind, the review page is great for handling common low-quality and non-answers, but once you're digging into the technical aspects of a question you want the full page. – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 20:44
  • @Shog9 As good advice as that is, I'm no PHP dev. I'd rather say Not Sure and leave it to someone else then. – Gaffi Aug 22 '12 at 20:46
  • 2
    @Gaffi: that's also perfectly appropriate. – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 20:46
  • @Shog9: I guess I'm confused as to why using Link Only/Should Be Comment from the review screen for these is inappropriate? I don't know that I would have done any different from Gaffi. They all look low quality... – user7116 Aug 22 '12 at 21:10
  • @sixlettervariables: see my answer. There was no link in the answer he linked to, so that one's completely inappropriate (in the other, similar answer, it does make some sense). – Shog9 Aug 22 '12 at 21:28
  • @Shog9: I definitely enjoy the change. And fair enough about the specifically linked answer (I had based my comment on the others in the question). – user7116 Aug 22 '12 at 22:26
  • 1
    @Gaffi: I think an important question to ask yourself when reviewing low quality posts is "What could I add to this post to improve it?" If that answer is "nothing" then you should be selecting Looks Good and if the answer is "I don't know" then you should probably be selecting Not Sure. If you can think of something, by all means write a custom comment and explain that. – animuson Aug 23 '12 at 2:40

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