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I'm noticing that more often than not, across all the communities that I interact with, people will answer a question via a comment rather than by posting an answer.

Is there a tracked metric for the answer-in-answer-post versus answer-in-comment ratio?

What motivates people to choose answer in a comment?

Would communities be better served if people chose to answer in an answer post more often?

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    Well, as I do here now: I post "answer" as comment when it's: 1) not full (the case here), or 2) not official enough on meta site, or, 3) not sure about it. Dec 21, 2023 at 9:20
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    – philipxy
    Dec 21, 2023 at 12:52

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  • How could there be a metric? How would the system decide whether a comment was an answer rather than something other than an answer?

  • People generally answer in comments if they are unsure - the question is unclear or their confidence in the answer is low. Or maybe they only know part of the answer.

  • Answering as an answer is always better if you actually know the answer - maybe you only know part of it though or you're not sure. If the question poster clarifies their question, or confirms that your comment is on the right lines for their problem, you can delete your comment and write an answer instead.

Unclear questions should just be closed as unclear, rather than people guessing answers in comments. Unclear questions aren't really helpful to the site because if you come across one when you're searching you won't know whether it's the problem you want solved or not.

Some people though, try to be helpful to the question asker by guessing at a solution even though they should probably try to prioritise being helpful to everyone by getting the question closed till it's clear what it is about.

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  • I imagine that the ratio could be estimated with reasonable accuracy by statistical sampling or by using machine learning techniques. It sounds like you're saying there is (or ought to be) a certain etiquette that sometimes involves answering by comment first.
    – phil1008
    Dec 21, 2023 at 10:52
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    No, I'm telling you why people answer in comments. Most of the time they probably shouldn't, they should just close the question. I've edited my answer to make that clearer. Dec 21, 2023 at 11:02
  • they should probably try to prioritise being helpful to everyone by getting the question closed till it's clear what it is about. - I can tell you for certain that some do both. Dec 21, 2023 at 14:31
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    "No, I'm telling you why people answer in comments." With respect, I think you are wrong. Most answers I see in comments nowadays come from people who recognize that there is a problem with the question (and that it should be closed, even if they don't personally have close-vote privileges), but still want to try to be helpful. Personally, when I dupe-hammer things, I often leave something like a stub answer in the comment to explain why the duplicate is a duplicate (e.g. "the problem is X at line Y; please see the linked duplicate for an explanation of why X is a problem"). Dec 22, 2023 at 18:15
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    " even though they should probably try to prioritise being helpful to everyone by getting the question closed till it's clear what it is about." - just because it's clear doesn't mean it shouldn't be closed. For example, it could clearly be a typo, in which case the question should be closed and almost certainly isn't salvageable, but it would still be useful to OP to highlight the typo. Dec 22, 2023 at 18:18

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