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On our site (economics.SE) we discourage (via downvoting) people from writing answers to questions that look off-topic to avoid providing incentives to write such questions in the first place (see also Should I downvote valid answers to off-topic questions). But we now find that people willfully circumvent this by posting answers to off-topic questions as comments.

Is there a network-wide consensus about how we should handle comments that answer off-topic questions? For example, should we be flagging these comments for deletion by a moderator?

  • At times comments are posted before the question is closed and the commentator is aware that the question will possibly be closed. At least this way there is no upvoting for an excellent answer. – Ken Graham May 4 '17 at 12:27
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    related: Should one advise on off-topic questions? – gnat May 5 '17 at 17:50
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That policy would be up to the community itself. There is no network-wide policy regarding that here, although we all agree it should be fixed.

Steps to follow:

  • Raise a post on your per-site meta explaining the situation and look for consensus how to deal with such cases. Flagging and getting those comments removed is an option (Not constructive I would say).

  • Act accordingly to what the consensus is. Do not engage yourself with users violating, let the moderators handle it. Usually you will end up in a useless fight with such users.

  • "although we all agree it should be fixed" ...do we? – Cai May 4 '17 at 13:44
  • If you want quality, yes. And all users here want quality. These are the smart people :) @Cai – Patrick Hofman May 4 '17 at 13:44
  • Well sure, we all want quality, and I can see in theory why it's not good... but I've not actually seen it be a problem (I'm sure I've probably done it myself at some point). I can't really agree it needs fixing without first seeing it as a problem. – Cai May 4 '17 at 13:50
  • It is on SO in my opinion. Dup closed questions get answered in comments for example. – Patrick Hofman May 4 '17 at 13:51
  • @Cai The problem we have on economics.SE is a deluge of undergraduates asking unedited homework questions that drown-out more interesting content. We have decided that these questions are off-topic without evidence of individual effort to solve the problem. If these questions receive answers (in the comments or elsewhere) then it only creates an incentive for more of them to be posted in the future. – Ubiquitous May 5 '17 at 11:39
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    @Ubiquitous sure, I can understand that. I wasn't saying it isn't a problem, I was mostly just being pedantic. – Cai May 5 '17 at 12:05
  • @PatrickHofman Ah, I was like you once; the dreams, the idealism, the faith in meta's ability to affect community policy. But the reality is, in the past 14 days only 28 users seen Economics main visited the meta, and this is not atypical, Economics is actually one of the more active metas in terms of % users. Only site mechanic changes can really change this type of thing. Don't get me wrong, I greatly value community attitudes and metas, but the metas are small bubbles. – Jason C May 5 '17 at 13:39
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Typically, I tend to let them be.

Enough closed questions from a user is a self solving problem - question bans. People who comment are clearly trying to be helpful, and I appreciate that to an extent. If that encourages more questions and more closures, the users asking the questions won't be able to any more.

Personally I wouldn't particularly care either way. I'd probably not care enough to flag as a regular user, and as a mod I'd favour deleting them, but I'd probably consider deferring a decision for just a bit.

Other than that, Patrick's covered the obvious, asking on your on site meta, and following what the community favours.

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I've been active on ELU.SE for 4 years or so. There, most senior users help out new askers with quick, unsupported, yet very helpful answers in the comments section.

This practice means:

  • Asker gets some partial answer to help them do some research on their own.
  • Asker is unable to mark anything as "accepted", so the roomba can eventually delete the question later.
  • Other users may get a better understanding of the situation and prevents them from writing an answer to gain rep from such basic questions.

A few people definitely disagree with the practice, but I'm sure so far it has not been a major issue.

So, the answer to your question is, it depends on each SE community's culture.

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