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Recently I've noticed a pattern of users answering questions by way of comments. Generally this is followed by downvoting the question itself and eventually the question gets closed.

Is that considered "good form"? I fail to see how that provides an actual answer and it ends up in questions without answers, but with comments.

Commenting is fine, don't get me wrong. But I feel it produces poor answers... usually one-liners, and things can become fragmented when a user deletes their comment, which was at one point referenced in another user's comment on that comment.

If it is bad form, how do we combat/flag these cases?

UPDATED: Based on the comment by @jenayah new information came to light, which I feel is very relevant to my question, in highlighting the primary issues with using comments as answers.

In a related question, the following anti-patterns come to light.

Most often I do this when I have some input to give that I think is helpful, but I don't have the time/care to write a detailed answer that meets my personal quality standards. Rather than an incomplete answer or not helping at all, I'll leave a comment to point them in the right direction.

If I vote to close a question, I refuse to answer it as well. But sometimes I will give some input in the form of a comment. Occasionally such a comment from me will be a real answer.

Sometimes I'll put in a half-answer in the comments when I'm really not sure if I'm right or not, hoping that somebody can confirm what I'm saying. Then I'll go off and research the answer, and by the time I get back somebody else has confirmed what I said in a real answer, so I'll vote them up, or if nobody has, I'll answer myself.

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people answering in comments...

Other times, like when my answer is really a joke and the question isn't CW, I'll choose to answer with a comment so that it isn't confused with a real answer to the question.

I'm really just trying to spur a quick correct answer, and not put down something as an answer if I'm not sure it's right.

Also someone may be afraid of losing rep from an answer that may not be what people want to hear if the truth is unpopular or politically incorrect.

Those are some of the answers to the question "Why do some people answer in comments?" which perfectly demonstrate the flaws in using comments to answer questions.

Ironically, those where the top upvoted answers, and the reputation generated essentially rewarded such behaviors

By definition, comments are intended to be employed as:

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

When shouldn't I comment? Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;

  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);

  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, upvote it and pay it forward;

  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, downvote (and provide or upvote a better answer if appropriate);

  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;

  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

Side Note: My question is about how I as a member of the community can help combat the anti-pattern of "comment-as-answer" behavior, not why or when comments should be used, as such, I don't think it is [duplicate], it's a different question.

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    Depends on the question and answer. (: What you deem as an answer I may view as a hint toward fixing the problem on your own.
    – Kevin B
    Jul 10, 2020 at 17:47
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    There is a significant difference between an answer (something in a comment that addresses the question in a short and subjective way) and an Answer (a long explanation, that's a separate entity and which has objective validity). Many times, answers make very poor examples of Answers, even though they are still useful. Would you rather that somebody stay completely silent, not offering any help, rather than provide a useful comment? Jul 10, 2020 at 17:53
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    @jenayah, That actually is a very salient link. While it does not answer the question, on if it considered good form, it does demonstrate clearly the issues with leveraging comments, as "answers"... I'm gonna update my Question shortly... thanks. Jul 10, 2020 at 17:59
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    @JasonBassford I think I would prefer that actually. The site is not supposed to be used like a help desk, it's supposed to be a well-maintained repository of knowledge. To be that, you have to set your end goal at generating high-quality Answers (not answers) that can be quality controlled by the community. Comments are not that and can never be that. Jul 10, 2020 at 18:22

1 Answer 1

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No, you shouldn't answer using comments

Comments are not for answering the question. They are, as laid out in the comment everywhere privilege, for when you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

That's it.

Further, the same document also outlines cases that comments should not be used for, including:

Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);

So, no. Comments should explicitly not be used for answering.

Comments are not designed to hold answers and answering with them short-circuits site quality controls:

To quote from a meta on RPG.se:

Answering in comments does the following things.

  1. It bypasses question closes. They're closed for a reason.
  2. It provides an answer that can't be marked as an answer for future people's knowledge.
  3. It contributes to long comment debates as you can comment on an answer, but it's unclear what you're commenting on in a comment thread.
  4. It is "cheating" by locking your answer to the top. Answers with higher votes/accepted answers should go to the top to indicate their quality. Bypassing that by sticking your answer in a comment on the question is unacceptable.
  5. It bypasses all our quality control mechanisms: we can't downvote your "answer", edit it, or comment on it to request clarification or improvements. Answers also bump a question to the top so that people will scrutinize the answer; comments don't do this.
  6. It gets in the way of people who are busy using comments correctly to improve the question.

The long and short of it is, every part of how the site functions, all of which have lengthy justification as being part of the process of SE - rep, answers, accepts, edits, votes, etc. - is obviated by using comments for answers. So every good goal of all that functionality is nullified by this practice.

Not every site follows this, but I do strongly believe that it is bad practice for any site on the network to do it and that it actually negatively impacts the sites that allow it.1

The solution to comment-answers

The way we handle comment-answers on RPG.se is we encourage all community members to flag them as "No longer needed" or as "Something else" with message that says "comment answer". They are then promptly deleted by diamond moderators.

Note that this practice may vary site-to-site, but I think it is the most straightforward way to deal with them, and it has worked well for us.


1 - Admittedly, on big sites like SO, this would be extremely hard to implement now that the practice is fairly entrained.

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  • Awesome, that answers the first part of my question, any insight as to part two, outlined in my newly updated question? Jul 10, 2020 at 18:23
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    @rexfordkelly does the last sentence address that? I can try to make it more clear as well. Jul 10, 2020 at 18:23
  • got it, Flag them as "no-longer-needed", that's pretty simple. Can it be flagged as "comments-as-answers-are-not-accepted" or "improper-use-of-comments" Jul 10, 2020 at 18:28
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    @rexfordkelly: You can also use a custom flag message indeed! Just select "something else" from the flag menu and write in a message with any explanation you think is needed. Jul 10, 2020 at 18:30
  • But a non-Answer answer comment can "Add relevant but minor or transient information".
    – philipxy
    Jul 12, 2020 at 18:25
  • Well, if it's trying to solve the problem then it's an attempt at an answer and belongs in the answer section. If it's adding minor information not working towards a solution, then it can go as a comment. Jul 12, 2020 at 18:27

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