15

Often, users leave educational comments on questions and answers.

What I mean are comments like:

  • "This answer should be a comment. Please consider reading this post about the difference."

  • "Hi, Welcome to StackOverflow, this sort of question is usually frowned upon in this site. Please read the FAQ"

  • "Welcome to Stack Overflow. If these answers have helped you, please consider accepting one."

  • "Please don't answer questions by help vampires" (I've seen one of these today)


What all these have in common is that they do not directly relate to the technical issue in question but rather to how this site works.

I talked to Gordon and I understand from him that at least for the comment-answer case, for some mods these might cause a problem (who might prefer users flagging the answers)

Should users leave such comments or should they flag the question/answer? What other options do we have?

Related:

Note: I don't mean comments that ask for clarification on what is being asked, or code, or such an example.

  • 11
    I think it's better to explain the situation than to just downvote/flag and walk away. – iConnor Jun 17 '13 at 7:38
  • 8
    'these usually cause a problem for mods' ... Really? Evidence? Never heard it before. – Grant Thomas Jun 17 '13 at 7:48
  • 3
  • 1
    @BenjaminGruenbaum That's a very very small sample; if I had the time I could probably easily pull out a couple of contrasting statements from other mods - that is, to urge leaving feedback. Don't think that makes this a "usual" thing. – Grant Thomas Jun 17 '13 at 8:01
  • @GrantThomas I've based my question on a discussion we've had today in chat where I talked to Gordon and he said that, and I asked if it's established on meta. Part of the reason this question is here is because I want a concencus on this and I'd love to hear what other mods think too. He used the plural term "mod lifes" and knowing Gordon is a very trustworthy individual I assume he means at least him and one other mod. I agree that the phrasing is problematic and I'll edit it to better suit what I meant, thanks. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 17 '13 at 8:06
  • @BenjaminGruenbaum I wasn't accurate when I said mod lifes. It's not like there was any discussion about this among moderators that I know of. Educational comments make my reviewing more tedious (and I assume it does for other mods). – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 8:45
  • Very well. I changed it to some mods. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 17 '13 at 9:05
18

They (at least the first three) are helpful for new users for as long as they are needed, but they don't need to stick around forever. If you see such comments that were posted weeks, months or years ago you can flag for them to be harmlessly removed, but it's perfectly fine to post them in the first place.

In fact, reviewers are given the option to leave certain canned comments to this effect. The first example you have is a common example (although it's not always used properly).

  • 1
    And flag those comments as obsolete. – hims056 Jun 17 '13 at 7:40
  • Just to clarify, in your opinion as a mod the first type ("This answer should be a comment...") is not problematic, moreover educational comments in general do not make your life miserable? – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 17 '13 at 8:10
  • 2
    @Benjamin Gruenbaum: "This answer should be a comment" is unnecessary and unhelpful if the answerer can't even comment in the first place - but besides that we have no problem with these comments being posted, or flagged as obsolete. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 17 '13 at 8:13
  • I don't want to come off as rude here, but when you say "we" who are you speaking for? At least from Gordon's messages on chat, it seems like there is no concensus here. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 17 '13 at 8:16
  • 6
    @BenjaminGruenbaum there is no consensus :) – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 8:16
  • I've tried to stay objective for the sake of the debate here. This is closest to my personal opinion and it seems like this is what the community agrees with the most as well. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jun 18 '13 at 14:09
10

Citing this excellent answer to a related question:

If people are posting curt, unhelpful comments that don't explain anything, then these just need to be flagged for removal. However, if those comments are intended to guide new users, then it's possible that even the drive by user from Google may learn something. In that case, those comments are like gold.

5

I agree with all the pro-education opinions voiced here, both as a mod (on cooking) and a member of the community. I fully understand that most users who need education are one-off users, who are going to ignore whatever we do, but it's important to keep in mind that there are people out there who, like you, are intelligent and want to do the right thing. Those are the people these comments are for, and we're doing them a disservice and making our site hostile if we don't help them out.

I would rather handle a hundred flagged obsolete comments (it's easy!) than scare off one user who might've made a valuable contribution to the site. The first goal is to make the site better; making mods' lives a little bit easier comes in second.

Finally, I just have to say: of course you're supposed to leave comments for things like this. That's the built-in method of communication we have. And as the comment privilege page says, "Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer" - the fact that sometimes mods are the ones who have to make the "temporary" bit happen shouldn't be too surprising. So sure, we could talk about letting community moderation pick up some of the work, but don't stop leaving comments and helping users just because it means a mod has to click on a little x sometimes.

  • -1 because 1. deleting a noise answer without explanation is not hostility. 2. those users really interested in learning why their post was deleted will either repost (then you can still leave a comment) or ask on MSO, where we will help them out. 3. handling obsolete comments is not at all related to the issue I brought up with the queue. 4. flag handling is an essential part of making the site better 5. most of these comments are redundant and only add to the noise – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 16:34
  • 3
    @Gordon If a new user shows up, posts something reasonable which gets deleted (e.g. a well-written answer that just doesn't fit the question), then it is definitely hostile to them to simply delete the answer. They spent time writing something good, and we simply say "no, deleted, nothing you can do about it." If they're really motivated, sure, they may go start reading the help, find meta, and so on. But half the time, they're going to say "these people are jerks" and not ever post again. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 17:05
  • and why would something reasonable get deleted? An answer "not fitting the question" is by definition not useful, so it's not reasonable and should be downvoted. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 17:15
  • 3
    @Gordon I see tons of well-written posts which are either asking a new question or answering something that wasn't asked. I'd rather us be helpful, and tell those users why we're deleting their post. I want them to come back and contribute. Same goes for closing questions, letting people know they can write comments instead (if they have the rep), and everything else. Real people who are making a real effort to do the right thing don't always know the right thing to do. But we can help them, and we should. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 17:19
  • We are a site for professional and enthusiast programmers and that mission statement shapes my decisions on this site. If a user cannot figure out the very basic way Stack Overflow works, chances are he or she is not part of our target audience. That doesn't mean he or she may not be on the site. But it does mean that they cannot expect us to help them to get at that level. Besides, with 16 mods and SO's 50-100 flags per hour the idea of doing so is really a pipe dream. Inclusion and education is all fine and well, but there should be a baseline imo. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 17:45
  • @Gordon All the more reason to encourage users to post these educational comments, so you don't have to! You know, the whole community moderation philosophy? That's why the review queues already do some of that. Again, the solution to "too many flags" is having the community help handle things, not taking away a positive aspect of the site. Also: AutoReviewComments – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 18:05
  • On the contrary. It's all the more reason to discourage them. Our mission statement should unite and enable our users to take action. And if we agree that we should have a baseline, then that means "educate all the people" is not an option. At least not when it impairs activities that are helping with our statement. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 18:21
  • 1
    Maybe we should really introduce some sort of decaying comment type that never show up on moderators' radars and go away after a week or so – Pëkka Jun 17 '13 at 19:11
  • 1
    @Pekka웃 I really wish the discussion wouldn't be so focused on my particular technical issue with the "should have been a comment" posts. That issue can be easily fixed. The much more interesting question is whether educational comments in general are good for Stack Overflow. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 19:22
  • 1
    @Gordon We're talking about everything, not just "should have been a comment." I'm saying that for anything where our actions don't have an obvious explanation (e.g. downvoting, deleting, even closing), educational comments are the way we have to communicate explanations - and that of course it's good to explain things. And Pekka is trying to suggest one way to address noise issues for all kinds of comments, not just "should have been a comment". – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 19:30
  • @Jefromi no one argued against leaving explanation where explanation is due. In fact, that's what I said an hour ago. It's the due part that is apparently subject to debate. And we can argue about what makes an educational comment really educational. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Gordon Okay, I'm surprised this needs saying, but I'll clarify: explanation is due when someone clearly doesn't understand something about the site, and we can help. The examples given in the question are contrived, but we're talking about anything from "upvote, don't say thanks" to "comment don't answer" to "here's how you accept" to "here's why this is too broad, and what you could ask instead" and just about anything else you can think of. Sure, a lot of them should be temporary, as advertised, but that doesn't mean they're bad. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 20:20
  • @Jefromi no, they are not contrived. I see plenty of them each day with more or less exactly the same phrasing. My answer explains why these are not that useful. And no, explanation is not due when someone blatantly fails to understand how the site works. Just because education is "the good and popular thing" and everyone loves you when you do, it doesn't mean we should ignore our standards and not expect a minimum understanding from users. Having standards is not a bad thing. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 21:00
-7

The main reason why I advised against educational comments is because they make my moderation somewhat more tedious (note that, except in the TL;DR I referred to me only when describing the problem). This is in particular about comments like "This should have been a comment" or "Please don't provide comments as answers". I have summarized the reasons how these are an impediment to flag handling at


As for "educational comments" in general:

The comment privilege page states, that

Comments are not recommended for […] Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

While that should already be sufficient to answer the question, let's ignore it and look at the suggested comments one by one:

"This answer should be a comment. Please consider reading this post about the difference."

If a post is a comment, flag it as NAA and maybe downvote it to indicate that it is not useful. Like explained above, leaving a comment forces mods to evaluate that comment before the post can be converted. The consequence is either a slow down of flag handling or converting the post only without evaluating or deleting the post altogether. In addition, I don't see these comments have any effect on the amount of this type of posts. They still come in and likely will forever.

Also, If they need to know why their post was deleted, they can ask on MSO. And you can educate them here then. Putting the comment is just anticipating the question. It doesn't solve the root cause, e.g. why they didn't understand that they should not do that in the first place.

Also, take into account that new users cannot comment. Telling them to do so is just pointless.

"Hi, Welcome to StackOverflow, this sort of question is usually frowned upon in this site. Please read the FAQ"

This is more or less what the OP will see when his questions gets put on on-hold anyway. Unless the comment includes a specific and more detailed explanation why the question is bad, putting the above is redundant. Especially if the question cannot be improved at all, which is usually the case with "questions that are frowned upon".

"Welcome to Stack Overflow. If these answers have helped you, please consider accepting one."

I sometimes put these (in a neutral phrasing) below questions. I always feel a little dirty when I do. It's not much different from when we complained about a user's Accept Rate back then. Also, IME, the OP reads those as "Accept my answer" and ignores the neutral phrasing, putting me in an unfair advantage over the other answers. Apart from that: it's not like we don't explain to users how asking and answering a question works.

"Please don't answer questions by help vampires"

Some people don't mind feeding them. And despite common belief, not feeding them will not stop them from coming. The only thing that helps is to strike the vampires down as they come, e.g. downvote, closevote, delete. That also takes care of any feeders.

In addition, when we talk about "educating" users, leaving any of the above is hardly educating. It's a reprimanding remark only since none of them give any reasoning as to the why. It just tells them that something is wrong. If you cannot be bothered to explain the why, at least put a link to an explaining post on Meta.

So much for these.


Also, let's not forget that we are a site for professional and enthusiast programmers. That mission statement shapes my decisions on this site. If a user cannot figure out the very basic way Stack Overflow works, chances are he or she is not part of our target audience.

I strongly believe in educating users and talking to them. However, after more than three years on this site, I somewhat start to doubt the effectiveness of users educating users. I used to leave all of the mentioned comments in the past. I can't say that these comments have had much visible effect.

That doesn't mean he or she may not be on the site. But it does mean that they cannot expect us to help them to get at that level. Besides, with 16 mods and SO's 50-100 flags per hour the idea of doing so is really a pipe dream. Inclusion and education is all fine and well, but there should be a baseline imo.

And if we agree that we should have a baseline, then that means "educate all the people" is not an option. At least not when it impairs activities that are helping with our statement

  • 12
    The comment isn't for your benefit though, but for the user's. – Grant Thomas Jun 17 '13 at 8:46
  • 1
    @GrantThomas we can argue about the benefit of telling a user not able to comment yet to leave a comment instead. And like I said, converting the post to a comment already implies that the post should have been a comment. So I don't see that much value in telling them. But I definitely would prefer to improve the Review queue over not educating users. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 8:49
  • 9
    What kind of feedback does the user get when his answer is converted to a comment? – Old Checkmark Jun 17 '13 at 8:58
  • 3
    You are optimizing the wrong thing. If someone posts a curt answer, perhaps only a link, and gets a comment that it should be expanded, they might expand it. That would make the internet better. If later, after they haven't expanded it, a flag comes in to have the answer removed, I don't mind if removing it is a little harder - because with any luck a good fraction of the crappy answers never got flagged or removed, because they got improved. Keep those helpy comments rolling, I say. (A delay between commenting and flagging is also good - gives the user time to edit.) – Kate Gregory Jun 17 '13 at 12:27
  • 3
    @Gordon I appreciate it's difficult being a mod. But the number of people who learn from downvotes or question removal is surely much less than the number of people who learn from a comment telling them exactly what is wrong and what to do about it. I appreciate that adding a comment makes a cost to the mod. Perhaps if it's our own comment we should remove it before flagging. But I will not stop commenting and trying to help people get better at this. I am grateful someone is there to clean up after the people who do not get better despite my efforts. – Kate Gregory Jun 17 '13 at 13:47
  • 4
    @Gordon If the existance of helpful comments making a point of teaching new users how to use the site effectively is making your life as a mod harder because of the way the mod tools work then make a feature request to have the mod tools changed such that this isn't a problem (in whatever way you think that needs to be done), as opposed to telling people to stop making helpful and appropriate comments just because it slows down your moderation. – Servy Jun 17 '13 at 14:32
  • 7
    @Gordon If you think that a user will notice that an answer of theirs was deleted and converted to a comment you're a) assuming that they'll notice it. Many won't ever notice this, thus won't learn from it. b) May not notice that a comment was added, and only notice that the post was deleted. There won't be a reason given for the deletion, just a statement that it was deleted. c) Even if they do notice the comment added, I think you're overestimating the ability of a lot of users to draw the conclusion that they should have posted a comment; some might, but many won't. – Servy Jun 17 '13 at 14:43
  • 3
    @Gordon Well, first off, we can look at all of the people coming to meta asking why their post was deleted, when it was in fact converted to a comment by a mod. I've yet to see that happen relating to a post that a user commented on to explain that such an answer should instead be a comment. Even though some may learn this in response to the deletions, it could take several posts for that to happen, and it can also be a less positive experience for users to need to learn because their post is silently deleted without notification, as opposed to being told. – Servy Jun 17 '13 at 15:01
  • 4
    The point of posting the comment is allowing them to realize that it's a mistake, and that it's not how the site is supposed to function. It will prevent them from repeating the mistake, even if it won't prevent them from making it to begin with. When people post on MSO it's virtually always the same thing, "This answer was deleted, why?" there's rarely more to it. Either they don't get it at all, or they do; it's not common that they get most of it but are missing some small subtle point. – Servy Jun 17 '13 at 15:22
  • 4
    @Gordon As I've stated earlier, no, that's not the case. It's quite likely that the user won't realize their post was deleted. They get no notification. They might notice the change in rep, but many won't, and many won't have a change in rep as often such posts have 0 votes. – Servy Jun 17 '13 at 15:36
  • 5
    As a mod (on cooking), I strongly agree with what Servy, Kate, and Grant have said here. (And I don't think much of your "you're not a mod, you wouldn't understand" attitude.) Even if most of the time users just ignore all the feedback they get from the site, there's a few that listen, and those are the users we want to keep - so treating them brusquely in order to make our lives easier is definitely the wrong thing to do. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 15:47
  • 2
    @Gordon Not on my watch. I explain my decisions to users. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 15:57
  • 2
    If SO is too busy to give due care and attention then that again is yet another issue: get more help - don't let it compromise the quality, that's an excuse, really. – Grant Thomas Jun 17 '13 at 18:22
  • 2
    @GrantThomas giving "due care and attention" is not the same as "explaining all the decisions". Deleting or converting "what does the logfile say?" doesn't need explanation from a mod, nor an educational comment from a user. It should be self-evident that this is not an answer. It's the baseline we expect. You trust us to remove these posts and not to state the obvious. If you really expect us to leave justifications for every handled flag, then please request so on MSO and voice your concerns that the current practise compromises quality. – Gordon Jun 17 '13 at 18:37
  • 3
    Also, I'm fairly certain that "Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead." is referring to discussion (like this question), not a single statement about policy. Obviously if you want to tell someone that their answer should be a new question, you're not going to go post a question on meta to tell them. Commenting is the provided mechanism of communication here. – Cascabel Jun 17 '13 at 19:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .