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When someone posts an answer that's really a comment, mods can move it to the comments.

But when someone posts a comment that is essentially a complete answer (and no further answer is likely to be forthcoming) about all we can do to get the answer to be an answer on the question is say "please post that as an answer".

Should mods be given the ability to go the other way, making answers-in-comments into actual answers (simultaneously deleting the comment)?

[Note that this is not the same thing as Add a “convert-comment-to-answer” button which is about commenters making their own comments into answers, nor is it the same as Mark a comment as an answer (which is about askers making comments that answer their questions into answers, and which the previous one should not be marked as a duplicate of since they're asking quite distinct things); it's fairly obvious that those two questions could have very different answers to each other, and both could have very different answers to this question, which is about moderators converting comments to answers. Different questions, requiring different sorts of answers.]

If the original poster of the comment has some strong reason to not want it as an answer they are still able to delete the answer, of course, but the comment would (and generally should) remain deleted in that case.

  • @200_success Not only had I already linked to that in my answer, I already explained very clearly why it's not a duplicate – Glen_b Feb 1 '16 at 7:29
  • This one has a clear "Give diamond-mods the ability to change a comment to an answer" request, so 100% dupe. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Feb 1 '16 at 8:51
  • @ShadowWizard Thanks, yes, that one is a duplicate. – Glen_b Feb 1 '16 at 10:36
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As a moderator on two sites, I do not see any need or have any desire for a tool such as this which could potentially reward a user who only comments when we want them to be answering questions.

I would encourage all users who see "comments that answer questions" not finding their way into an answer to write an answer that:

  • starts by saying "As per comment(s) by @...:"
  • quotes the relevant comment(s)
  • adds any extra value that they can to the answer

I normally only do this after a few days but I would have no issue with it being done sooner than that because we want to encourage answers in answers not answers in comments.

If a user is worried about getting reputation points for what is effectively someone else's incomplete work to answer then they can make such answers Community Wiki.

However, I know that if I were putting my heart into writing comments, and then later noticing that someone else was getting points for taking the time to complete my answers, then I would be much more likely to write an answer rather than just leaving a comment next time.

Conversely, converting a comment to an answer could expose its poster to downvotes they thought they were immune from by commenting. If I, or another user, quotes their comment in an answer then we assume that risk.

  • I already encourage this. Users are (perhaps unsurprisingly) reluctant. So this leaves more unanswered questions, more answers in comments and a lot more typing for me (a click is so much faster). Are we really so focused on not allowing a poster of an answer in comments to get any reward that all those other aspects can go hang? That seems almost perverse. On the other hand, getting a reward for a properly posted answer may actually encourage them to post an answer next time (especially if you don't do it every time; after all we can still delete a comment if they're doing it often) – Glen_b Feb 1 '16 at 6:10
  • @Glen_b In this instance I think the "stick" of seeing someone else cherry-pick the reward is more likely to lead to a behaviour change than offering the "carrot" of publishing their comments as answers for them. – PolyGeo Feb 1 '16 at 6:19
  • Perhaps you missed me saying "Users are reluctant" -- I know, I have asked, encouraged, cajoled.A stick almost nobody on our site will use is not a stick at all (this may be related to the relatively academic tone of the site). I do it myself now and then but I won't do all of them, it's entirely too self-serving for a moderator. – Glen_b Feb 1 '16 at 7:26
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    @Glen_b I think of Comments as being Personal Communications with content that users have already signed over to the Stack Exchange network, so I feel comfortable publishing valuable ones as answers when they choose not to or neglect doing so. – PolyGeo Feb 1 '16 at 7:57
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    Keep in mind that converting a comment to an answer doesn't necessarily reward the poster. A comment that contains a bad idea can't be downvoted; the only recourse for regular users is to leave their own rebuttal comments, which can lead to undesirable epic comment threads on a question. Converting a comment that contains a bad idea lets it be downvoted, which lets the general disapproval be expressed with less noise, and in a way that leaves a negative reputation impact that the poster deserved. – 200_success Feb 1 '16 at 8:21
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Case study: Code Review

As a moderator on Code Review, where we take the distinction between comments and answers seriously, I'll describe how we handle answers that are inappropriately posted as comments.

Our premise is that comments on questions should be used primarily for helping the question's author to improve the question. Examples of good comments:

  • "Please post more code"
  • "What is this code meant to be used for, anyway?"
  • "Is this Python 2 or Python 3?"
  • "Umm… I don't think that this code works at all. Until you fix it, it's broken code and therefore off-topic for Code Review."

In contrast, answers should critique the code in the question. It doesn't matter how trivial the suggestion is. Even if you just want to say, "You seem to have used 8-space tabs. The standard indentation for Python is 4 spaces" — that's an answer, because whitespace is subject to review like any other aspect of the code.

The distinction has rather serious consequences. If someone posts the indentation remark as a comment, and that observation doesn't appear in any answer yet, then the question's author may reindent the code in the question and flag the comment as obsolete. On the other hand, if it appears as an answer, then the code in the question must not be reindented, as doing so would invalidate the answer.

Given that background, how do we currently handle remarks that should be answers but are inappropriately posted as comments?

  • One option for moderators is to delete the comment. Let's just clear the way for someone else to answer the question properly and earn the reputation for it.
  • We can post a comment urging the commenter to write an answer.
  • If the observation in a comment is particularly valuable, and the commenter does not upgrade it to an answer in a reasonable amount of time, anyone can steal the idea and post it in an answer, possibly as Community Wiki.

If moderators had the ability to convert comments to answers on Code Review, would I use it? I think so. It achieves the goal more efficiently than the procedures above. Is such a feature essential? Maybe not. We've learned to get by without it.

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