Let's say there is a question:

What can a rainbow unicorn do?

And there's an answer:

It can live in the 5th dimension

Is it a problem if I post an answer starting with "I don't know the answer to the question; however, I'd like to respond to the answer about living in the 5th dimension."?

I see some benefits for this rather than making it as a chain of comments:

  • Better formatting and unlimited length
  • Voting
  • More attention and discussion

I've seen many upvoted answers that state explicitly that they are just long comments to the questions. I also think sometimes the responding idea is important to be considered, and thus should be given an equal opportunity to be considered as the responded idea. I think this opportunity can only be equal when it has the same position, i.e. be an answer. I think while in general it is not recommended to put comments into answers, there are cases where the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

However, this raises two questions:

  1. Who gets to decide that the benefit outweighs the disadvantage? Different people have different views. The person about to answer may find it necessary if they think the existing answer has a bad analysis yet receives a good amount of upvotes because it sounds good. But even when we assume good faith, that is just only one point of view. What if the person who actually has a bad analysis is themselves?* It would be chaos if everyone started posting answers to comments.

    (*My own response to this is that if their analysis is bad, then it would be downvoted.)

  2. What about a response to a response? I think one way to solve this is only permit one level of response as answer. Response of response should only be in comment or chat.

It would be easy to say that we just should leave comments in the comment section, because that's what it's for. But as I mentioned earlier, there seems to be cases where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Any thoughts?

  • 13
    A posted answer needs to answer OP's question. End of story. – n8te Dec 25 '20 at 10:36
  • which I explained why it isn't the end of story – Ooker Dec 25 '20 at 11:00
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    The "benefit outweights the badness" is irrelevant. This isn't a forum. Rules here aren't to be circumvented based on something's usefulness. – n8te Dec 25 '20 at 11:03
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    The not an answer flag says: "This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question." – n8te Dec 25 '20 at 11:13
  • I understand this is not a forum, but can you explain why rules cannot be circumvented if there are compelling and beneficial reasons to do so? There are not-answer answers in SE, and no one seems to care about flagging them. Even mods participate in. – Ooker Dec 25 '20 at 12:00
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    You can choose to "answer" the OP's question or expand on a topic that's mentioned in someone else's answer. I've seen users do this on ELL when it helps to clarify the context, and helps the OP understand how and why it is connected to their original question. But on technical sites such as SO and Mathematics, where answers can be actually tested, I don't see the utility in following a different tangent. It's digressing from the main point. But it's up to you, just be prepared for some users to disagree with your approach. P.S I would include real examples, preferably recent ones. – Mari-Lou A Dec 25 '20 at 12:34
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    If you want to share a useful nugget about living in the fifth dimension, post a self-answered Q&A "What does living in the fifth dimension mean?". – StoryTeller - Unslander Monica Dec 25 '20 at 12:55
  • @Mari-LouA I think if the response aligns with the existing answer, such as expanding or clarifying a point of it, then in a sense the response is also an answer to the question itself. However, in case the response disagrees with an existing answer, then it can goes on explaining why the answer is wrong, without really answering the question – Ooker Dec 25 '20 at 13:11
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    This is the wrong meta to ask this type of question, you're better off asking in one of the smaller metas such as politics, or medical sciences. The mantra is, and always has been on Stack Exchange, one question and one answer. Be on topic, be focused, be relevant. Then include details and supporting evidence to make the answer stronger. – Mari-Lou A Dec 25 '20 at 13:23
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    I typically downvote any answer that “responds” to another answer, I do so because, an answer should answer the question. We are not a forum, an answer isn’t a reply to a forum topic, and I don’t see any value in any answers that refers to another question (unless you use it as a way to explain a topic typically it’s an answer to another question). – Ramhound Dec 26 '20 at 1:30
  • @Ramhound Reacting or refering other answers is okay and not a down reason. The requirement is that it should, at least partially, answer the question on the top. Even an answer like "Answer X does not work, because [...]. Instead you can do this: [...]" is okay - then the voters decide, which one is more useful. – peterh Dec 27 '20 at 14:37
  • @peterh-ReinstateMonica - If an answer is submitted, and the only thing it says is "go read this answer ..", and it's basically just a landing page. I don't consider land page answers to be helpful. Quora and Yahoo Answers have landing page answers, in other words, they allow answers that just link to Google search results. Furthermore, we are not a forum, so submitting a response to another answer isn't an answer. – Ramhound Dec 27 '20 at 19:10
  • @Ramhound Somehow I can't see any "landing paged-ness", for example, in my this answer. Your example is specifically about the link-only answers and not about mentioning/reacting other answers in general. – peterh Dec 27 '20 at 19:35

It can respond to another answer, but you still need to give at least a partial answer to the question.

Thus, answering like this is okay:

My experience about @X's answer (link) is negative, although I used a newer version of (...). Instead, what I did is (explanation), and now it works.


This answer is not okay, because it is a comment:

@X's answer does not work.

The important thing is that the main focus of the answer should be at least a partial answer to the question on the top.

Users starting with

It is not an answer, but...

have typically two options:

  1. Yes, it is an (at least partial) answer. These users typically think that giving a step-by-step guide is a requirement; the requirement is that at least a part of the question on the top should be answered. Users can get the supportive comment and editing out the "not an answer" part (superficial future reviewers might flag it for deletion without enough thinking on the details).

  2. It is really not an answer. Some personalised advice, particularly in the case of newbies is still helpful, anyways flag as NAA (or for mod comment conversion if it is worthwhile).

Who decides: mostly, the reviewers. I would say that about 80% of the cases are obvious (in the VLQ queue). For the border cases, this is why it requires 2k (or 1k on beta) the VLQ queue.

Posting answer in comments: I do this if I am not sure or if I would flag my answer as VLQ/NAA. Because comments are second-grade citizens, if I write a bad comment, it will be at most deleted. I think the reason of others is the same.

If you are the OP, and one or more comment has actually the worth of an answer, then you could ask the commenter(s) to do it for an upvote and accept. If they remain inactive, you can summarize them in a self-answer (example1, example2). This is not forbidden, although you should mention your source(s) to avoid plagiarism.

  • In your opinion, is this "answer" worth to be an answer? I merely consists tips and tricks to save future readers time, and a person experience on the method, rather actually giving insight to answer the question – Ooker Dec 27 '20 at 14:08
  • @Ooker I think it is a partial answer. Partial answers are okay. With your answer together, I think the whole content is okay. I had not voted it up, particularly if I find it as an occasional google visitor. The Android sources on the net are mostly terrible and this seriously endangers even the open source concept on the long-term. I think fixing the Android SE could be a "crystallization point" for the future. Now the site seems for me nearly dead, fixing it could help a lot. – peterh Dec 27 '20 at 15:07

There has recently been a discussion on Stack Overflow: Is an answer that only addresses other answers not an answer?

The consensus of the most upvoted answer is:

"Not an Answer" is the wrong flag in any case. "Not an answer" is for things like "I have the same problem, any solution?"

If you're casting a moderator flag, the implication is that you want a moderator to take action on this particular answer, rather than leaving it to the community. The only reasonable response that a moderator can take to a "not an answer" flag is to delete the answer.

So the question you have to ask yourself is, "does this answer harm the site enough that it must be forcibly removed by a moderator?" I would argue that it doesn't.

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