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Why do some people post comments that are actually answers to the question? Wouldn't posting an answer be better?

  • 17
    Because some answers are really more like comments. Or is it that some comments are kind of answers, too? – Telemachus Jul 10 '09 at 12:12
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    I've been asking myself the same question, but with a twist: what about questions with no answers at all, but which have a valid answer in a comment. This is annoying as the question will stay "unanswered" - what's the correct behaviour to adopt here? Should the OP repost the comment as answer after some time, or should he ask the commenter to do so? Should a third party do that? – Joubarc Jun 21 '10 at 12:16
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    Because they are afraid of downvotes :-) (or don't have the pundit badge yet :-)) – Tomas Jan 5 '14 at 13:58
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    Let me try to answer this: A comment does not have to be that well formatted or contain a lot of explanation, and can even be a guess happens to be right. Writing an answer takes more effort, and once there is an answer in the comment nobody will repost it as answer. – Samuel Kirschner Nov 6 '17 at 17:36
  • @SamuelKirschner I find that if someone posts a comment with the answer, it's equally likely to not have an answer using it for the same reason. I agree that there is a disinclination towards repetitive answers, even when they add significantly to the other answer. Editing only helps so much. I think there ought to be a way to mark an answer as a follow-up to an existing answer. – Bacon Bits Jun 28 at 19:10
  • Because these 1337 h4x0r5 do not want the rep for it – bobobobo Oct 23 at 7:43

10 Answers 10

101

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.

  • 14
    -1. This is precisely what a comment should be (that, or, a request for a clarification on the question). Ironically, this answer IMO is less correct than the "comment-answers" above. – bobobobo Mar 4 '13 at 22:11
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    I completely agree with @bobobobo. This does not answer the question at all. The question asks why people leave comments, and this answer is about why I leave a comment instead of an answer. Not sure how it got so many upvotes. – Amal Murali Jul 16 '13 at 21:45
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    Simply rephrasing a little, this is an answer to "Why do some people post comments in comments?" – sancho.s Reinstate Monica Nov 14 '13 at 2:10
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    So funny that the commenters don't seem to want to "get" how "personal quality standards" are an important factor. The point is, if you can think my comment is "the answer", by definition it doesn't live up to my quality standard. (With very very rare exceptions) – sehe May 26 '14 at 21:04
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    @AmalMurali Am I missing something? How can anyone provide an answer for the actions of other people? This answer is explaining why they do it, and presumably why others do as well. This is a perfect answer. – ert Mar 18 '16 at 2:43
  • also cc @bobobobo – ert Mar 18 '16 at 2:43
  • @bobobobo Comments are for clarifications, not answering. – philipxy Oct 21 at 0:34
  • @philipxy Yes, comments are for questions about the question, or for giving little hints & tips or links when that you don't think qualify as a full answer. Rather than bury your brain-nugget, you instead wish to share it with the world as a comment. I gave this -1 because the question really tries to ask "why do people give the full answer (when the answer is short and simple) in a comment instead of posting a complete answer where they can earn rep for it". I provided the answer in a comment, of course. – bobobobo Oct 23 at 8:15
105

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.

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.

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    I often do this too. I don't always have time to actually look up what I'm saying. – mmyers Jan 20 '10 at 14:13
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    This must be avoided in my opinion. When you are wrong, there is no way to downvote your comment. In addition, the comment (which may be wrong) will be visible above the real answers. – Emil Vikström Mar 5 '13 at 7:47
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    @EmilVikström if they're wrong, comment on it. Like you just have ;) – Iain May 14 '13 at 20:55
  • @EmilVikström I think this is not necessarily a bad practice as long as the commenter does not say it in a definite tone, e.g. doing this WILL fix your problem. In fact, this can be helpful when there's no correct answer provided – even if the comment is wrong, as long as someone points out that it is wrong, it gives visitors on the page one less thing to try. :) – Thomas Hsieh Apr 14 '15 at 14:42
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    Sometimes, you can use comments as a risk-free way to see if your answer will work. It's disappointing to type a 20-line answer and the answer be rejected by the OP. – boxspah May 1 '15 at 23:51
  • If you realize a comment is wrong then delete it. If it would fowl a chain of follow on comments then post another comment retracting it. There is nothing wrong with demonstrating your ability to learn. – candied_orange Sep 8 '15 at 16:05
57

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.

Alternatively I'll post "have you tried ...?" comments. Someone posts a question saying they want to know how to parse XML, so I'll say "Have you tried XSLT/XPath?" with a link to a resource explaining it. You could call that an answer, but from my point of view it's just a verbose link.

To me, it's an answer if I'm supplying real information that I generated on my own, or aggregated on my own. If it's just a link it's not an answer. Your opinions may differ, but that's how I see it.

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    +1 for refusing to answer a question you voted to close. It's annoying to see people answering and closing. It just makes no sense. – gnostradamus Jul 10 '09 at 16:24
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    @gnovice: I disagree, when the questions is good on its own merits, but in the wrong place (either the wrong trilogy site or just doesn't belong on the trilogy at all), I will do both. 'Cause I'm friendly like that. – dmckee Jun 29 '10 at 17:27
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    @dmckee: I consider a question that's going to be migrated as an exception to what I said above, since you're not really closing it, just moving it (i.e. it's still open somewhere). – gnostradamus Jun 29 '10 at 17:42
27

Comments cannot be downvoted. For unclear questions, if the question is clarified or other people interpret the question differently then people might downvote an answer that does not answer their interpretation of the question. 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.

Hopfully avoiding downvotes is not politically incorrect or else I should have posted this as a comment. :(

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    @mark4o - voted down for fear of losing rep j/k ;-) – Nathan Koop Jul 10 '09 at 17:46
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    downvotes are -2 points, upvotes are +10 you can please 20% of the respondants and displease 80% and still come out ahead. – Jasen Feb 21 '18 at 2:49
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There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people answering in comments...

I'll do it sometimes if I have a suggestion that doesn't really seem like a complete answer, if the length and formatting restrictions of a comment allow it.

Sometimes, I just don't want to bother writing up a good answer, so I'll use the comment to post a hint, in the hope that it'll prompt someone else to go to the trouble of researching and fleshing it out.

Others have noted that they'll use comments to provide answers to inappropriate questions. I'll usually still post an answer in that case, but mark it CW... however, this can upset some people, and I'm not entirely sure whether it works to encourage other CW answers (ok), or just encourage other answers (not ok). So I'll occasionally post my answer as a comment then as well.

  • 1
    If you don't want to bother writing a "good answer" perhaps your time would be better spent in any of the review queues. There is always good, simple, meaningful work to be done there (and you can spend as much or as little time there as you like). – mickmackusa May 27 '17 at 14:49
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    Heh... No review queues existed when I wrote this answer, @mickmackusa. – Shog9 May 30 '17 at 22:43
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One possibility is that someone wanted to answer a question which was closed while they were preparing the answer, so they posted a comment instead.

7

Occasionally it's not obvious when your response should be an answer or a comment. I have sometimes commented on questions, and it's turned into a discussion that results in an answer. YMMMV :-)

5

Because very often that "answer" isn't really an answer, but more like a hint or a suggestion. Which might be enough for some OPs, while not for others (and yeah, for some anything less than gif-me-teh-codez isn't).

Also, it's expected that answers are more profound and elaborated. For example one-liners are subject to deletion even if they actually answer the question.

  • 4
    I've looked high and low for something to substantiate this claim. I see this in one form or another over and over again, "it's not complicated enough to be an answer." Where is the profound/elaborate/LoC minimum for answers specified on Stack Exchange? – user1717828 May 26 '15 at 5:09
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If I vote to close a question because it's not appropriate for SO, etc., but it is a question that I know the answer to, I will often add the answer as a comment to be helpful but not encourage other answers.

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.

3

One reason that was made explicit on Chinese Stack Exchange is the following (emphasis added):

Just being allowed to comment already is a great favor. Besides some users are afraid their answers will be marked down, which means their score will go down. In fact there seem to be some powerful users who will miss no opportunity to take revenge on other users and mark their answers down. For this reason these users restrict themselves to writing comments.有用户认为,仅仅被允许撰写评论本身就是十分多么大的恩惠。 此外有用户害怕其答案很可能会受到扣分,导致得分会被减少的。好像有些力量大的用户总是伺机向别的用户报仇而使其答案受到扣分。‌​因此后者就限制自己只是提供评论而不是任何‌​答案。 – user6065 Oct 14 at 15:49

In other words, there appears to be infighting in some Stack Exchange communities, so people who are afraid of downvotes write comments instead of regular answers.

  • 1
    Then this is a symptom of a greater problem to be addressed by moderators. If the moderators have the ability to correct this situation and don't, then the moderators should be replaced. If moderators cannot fix the issue of serial downvoting / bullying because of software constraints, then the software is poorly designed. – mickmackusa May 27 '17 at 14:56

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