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Sometimes users leave comments on questions that are essentially a short answer to the question. What is wrong with answering a question in the comment section? Is it ever appropriate to leave an answer in the comments?

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Answers to questions should be posted as an answer, not a comment.

What is wrong with answering a question in the comment section?

Stack Exchange websites are sites focused on questions and answers. They have a lot of community features that make them better than other types of sites:

  1. Questions and answers can be edited (improved) later, either by the original poster or anyone else that has an improvement.

  2. Questions and answers can be upvoted and downvoted by users, ensuring that the best information is at the top.

  3. Users can ask questions about the answers, asking for clarification or refuting information, by leaving a comment for a specific answer.

  4. Reputation can be earned for good posts, and lost for bad posts.

  5. Answers are essentially permanent; they are generally only deleted by a moderator if they are not appropriate for the question. Even after they are deleted, they are still visible on the site for high rep users and can be undeleted if necessary.

  6. The person who asked the question can select the answer they thought was the most helpful and accept it.

  7. When a new answer is posted, the question is bumped to the top of the front page, notifying everyone about the new answer and inviting community moderation.

Posting an answer in the comments breaks all of these features:

  1. Comments cannot be edited by anyone, even the user who left the comment.

  2. Comments cannot be downvoted and are sorted by post date, not by score.

  3. Although you can leave a response for a commenter, comments are not truly threaded, and you can't leave a comment on a comment.

  4. Reputation is not changed for good or bad comments.

  5. Comments are intended to be temporary. If there get to be too many comments, moderators will sometimes delete all the comments or move them to chat. My understanding is that moderators have a "Purge Comments" button, which tells you how easy it is for comments to be deleted.

  6. Comments cannot be accepted by the OP as the best answer.

  7. New comments do not bump the question, which means that comments get less attention than new answers.

It can be tempting when you see a new question that doesn't have any comments yet to leave a one-sentence answer as the top comment. That way, you get your opinion in early, your post will always be first at the top of the page, and you don't have to worry about anyone downvoting your "answer." But that is not how this site is supposed to work, and doesn't leave your "answer" open to the community moderation features.

Is it ever appropriate to leave an answer in the comments?

Sometimes people think that a one-sentence answer is too short to be posted as an answer. If you are saying so little in your answer that it is too short to be posted as an answer, you should ask yourself if there is any value in posting it at all. If you are essentially leaving an opinion without providing any justification for that opinion, perhaps you should upvote a different answer instead of posting your own. If you don't have time to post a better answer, then wait until you do have time. On the other hand, perhaps the question is simple enough that a short answer is enough; if so, post it as an answer.

Occasionally, you might ask the question asker for clarification, and in the process stumble upon the answer in the comments. At that point, you should write an answer and post it as an answer. Here is an example of a time that I did this on a different SE site.

What if I'm not sure if my answer is correct, and I'm only speculating?

If you aren't sure of your answer, it is even more critical that you post it as an answer, not a comment. The reason is that you need to allow your possible answer (which may or may not be correct) to be moderated by the community. Other users should be able to vote it up or down and to leave comments explaining why it is or is not correct.

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    If the person doesn't feel their reply merits an answer post instead of the comment, then its up to them. If anyone feels the comment is a good answer, then it can be converted to a full answer, but that shouldn't be the first knee jerk reaction. There is enough half baked and cluttering crap that passes for answers on the sites, I don't want to contribute any more to that mess. That's just me. – GµårÐïåñ May 27 '16 at 18:57
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    @GµårÐïåñ If a post is half-baked and cluttering, it doesn't belong in the comments, either. The problem is that you can't downvote a bad comment. – Ben Miller May 27 '16 at 18:59
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    I never said my answer was cluttering or half baked, just concise in favor of the fact that I have put way more detailed information out there that can be read instead, don't feel like repeating myself but a short concise answer gets the OP on their way and won't clutter with a bunch of answers. There is a place for answers and there is a place for comments, and I think that's up to the person. That's why during the "flagging" process there is a : "this is not answer and belongs as a comment" for a reason, not everything rises to the level of an "answer" posting. – GµårÐïåñ May 27 '16 at 19:01
  • @GµårÐïåñ To be clear, I didn't call your answer/comment half-baked or cluttering, either. On the contrary, I think it should be an answer. But it is an inappropriate comment, for the reasons I stated above. Just my opinion, of course. Feel free to post a new answer to this meta question if you disagree. – Ben Miller May 27 '16 at 19:06
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    I saw the original comment and I also felt "this doesn't need any editing, it's a good answer as is." And I also understand the odd situation when someone doesn't wish to post an answer, feeling their own comment doesn't live up to their own standards of good answer. Forgive me for the wishy-washy coment. – JoeTaxpayer May 27 '16 at 21:28
  • I will take issue with "its up to them". Stack Exchange in general does not allow for this; the original poster of a question, answer, or comment does not merit any special consideration as to whether their answer or comment is appropriate. An answer is an answer and a comment is a comment. C.f. the expectation that a user not roll back edits on their posts that improve the post, even if they disagree with those edits. – Joe May 31 '16 at 19:01
  • @BenMiller Yes, moderators have a "purge comments" button-of-sorts. It's actually a dialog of options, similar to the flag or vote-to-close dialog, but the functionality is there and works like you think it does (assuming that it hasn't been radically changed in the last few months). There's also "move comments to chat" right next to the "purge comments" option. Source: I had a diamond on Worldbuilding until February of this year, and on Amateur Radio for some time before that. – a CVn Aug 18 '16 at 17:16
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EDIT - We have an example in the wild that raises an issue tied to this question. Friend was brainwashed with MLM-/ponzi investment scam. What can I do? had a comment -

Go to the police. This is fraud and is illegal. Sure, this will hurt your friend but better now then when he starts abusing of his position to fraud even more people...

Which another, new, member copied and posted as an answer. Another member flagged it to the mod's attention. Ganesh and I discussed it, and agreed that if the answer is simply a copied comment, it should have attribution to the comment author. If it's turned into an edited, expanded, comprehensive answer, attribution may not be as big a concern. Is this approach satisfactory?


For sake of my 'answer', let's assume I agree, and start with No (as I agree with your concern).

The real question may be, "How should we handle comments that are really answers?" Right? Else, we simply agree with you, but have no consensus how to handle this.

The option for a mod to "convert to answer" doesn't exist, we do not have that option as we do for "answers that are really comments," that we just flip to a comment on the OP question. The implication here, is that a flag on such a comment is really a request to delete it.

Another option is that a member take the ball and run with it, copying the content, and hopefully adding a bit to it, to make it a good answer.

Third choice is for a further comment to prompt the OP to change it to an answer himself. This is what I typically do, and more often than not, it happens.

My concern is the gray area. One example offered in another answer was a link-only answer. That answer would be voted down as link-only, or converted to comment. But here, it seems that some would consider it too-good-for-comment. Which then will just lead to more discussion on something that I haven't seen as a major issue, yet.

Update - I wrote myself a macro for a comment reply for this issue -

Fill in member name - this comment is "too good to be a comment" - please consider deleting it, and write it as a full answer to the question. See the meta question Should answers be left in the comments? for more details.

I just used it at Rent at $1500/month in Toronto or Mortgage even with ≥ 5% interest? and the OP complied. (The example in the wild is now deleted)

Please comment below if you have any advice to improve this line.

  • "Another option is that a member take the ball and run with it, copying the content, and hopefully adding a bit to it, to make it a good answer. Third choice is for a further comment to prompt the OP to change it to an answer himself. This is what I typically do, and more often than not, it happens.." I have done the first a few times (mostly on other SE sites) but only when the writer of the comment has (usually by inaction) declined the suggestion to convert the comment into an answer. I have always made sure to check the "Community wiki" box so that I don't earn reputation from the answer – Dilip Sarwate Jun 9 '16 at 16:10
  • The dilemma you describe is exactly why I wrote this question: to discourage people from doing it in the first place. What often happens is that someone leaves a controversial answer in the comments. It might get some upvotes, but of course, no downvotes, and generates some discussion. All of a sudden, the comment space that is supposed to be left for communicating to the OP is now on a side discussion about this "answer." – Ben Miller Jun 15 '16 at 21:53
  • And the mods are then required to be the judge as to whether or not the "answer" is bad enough to be deleted, based on its content. Mods, in my opinion, should not be put into a position where they are required to be the sole judge of whether or not an answer is correct. I don't know if we need a zero-tolerance policy like Joe's answer or not, but certainly an occasional "no answers in the comments" reminder and a pointer to this meta question are warranted. – Ben Miller Jun 15 '16 at 21:56
  • I like your macro reply, but keep in mind that an answer/comment could also be "too bad." The "good" answer/comments aren't as much of a problem as the bad ones, or at least, the controversial ones, because they can only get upvotes and not downvotes. If you ran into an answer/comment that offers questionable advice, would you still leave this reply, or would you do something different? – Ben Miller Jun 20 '16 at 20:15
  • Thx. Yes, the macro was just for prompting the good commenter. I haven't given the flip side enough thought. A bad-answer-as-comment should probably just be deleted, and not encouraged to be expanded into a bad answer. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 20 '16 at 20:42
  • The other thing I have done is to answer with "Community Wiki" so I don't get any "points" for the answer. Here's an example of what I've done in the past: money.stackexchange.com/questions/62392/… – Alex B Aug 1 '16 at 17:41
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See past discussion.

In principle you are correct, answers belong in answers.

In practice there will always be disagreement whether something is a comment or answer, with no reliable line between them. Reality is fractal; human behavior more so.

If you really think a comment should be an answer, you are free to turn it into one by quoting it in an answer of your own (properly credited, preferably). If it isn't worth your effort to do so, it isn't worth complaining about; accept that the world is imperfect and let it go.

(I should also point out that the short responses you say should be Answers often draw complaints about "that should have been a comment." Unless you want people to stop contributing entirely, there is no perfect solution here. It's working well enough. Let it work.)

  • Agreed. There are also times when someone is not very sure and would tend to leave a comment more to help the OP and other who know the subject. There were time when I have requested someone to post his comment as answer and it was accepted. There were one or two occasions when someone asked me to change my comment to an answer that i did. So I guess its working fine. – Dheer May 30 '16 at 8:52
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A comment that is clearly an answer should be deleted, full stop. Comments are not appropriate locations to give answers. Answering questions in the comments is harmful for the site; it ends up with questions that go unanswered, and it ends up with people thinking the site should work more like a forum.

A comment that gives the appearance of an answer but might be understood not to be sufficient for an answer... also should be deleted, if it's just answering the question and not clarifying the question. Comments are for clarifying the question.

So, for example, here:

Q. How can I do my taxes online?

C. The IRS has a page to help you out, www.doyourtaxesonline.com.

That's an answer, and should be deleted.

Q. How can I do my taxes online?

C. Have you seen www.doyourtaxesonline.com?

That's not helping clarify the question - it's more-or-less an answer. Whack.

Q. How can I do my taxes online?

C. Are you looking for something like www.doyourtaxesonline.com?

That's potentially clarifying, so it's fine - but I'd remove it once the clarification is received, and the comment poster has a chance to post it as an answer if that is indeed what they're looking for. This is what I'd consider a 'borderline' case.

Q. How can I do my taxes online?

C. What country are you in?

That's clearly a clarifying comment, and should stay until the clarification is received and then be subject to removal, as with any other now-irrelevant comment.


I imagine the point is clear: I support keeping comments as clean as possible. If they're clarifying something with the OP, they should be kept until that clarification is received. If they're chatting, answering, maybe-answering, or anything else, they should be removed whenever a mod is around who feels like removing them (or moving them to chat if appropriate).

  • I will note that realistically, I don't expect people to behave this way initially 100% - I certainly use comments for things I really shouldn't from time to time, as does everyone; that's human nature. But I don't at all mind my inappropriate comments being deleted, and often do delete my own comments when I realize they are inappropriate (or, more often, when they've served their purpose). – Joe May 31 '16 at 19:13
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    And yet "The IRS has a page to help you out, www.doyourtaxesonline.com" is basically a link-only answer. Many would suggest it be converted to comment. Others would say "could you offer some text, as this is link-only." This is a tough one, and the examples prove it. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 1 '16 at 1:26
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    Not minding when comments are deleted is different from setting a policy that has to be enforced by a few moderators. We need to relax our crackdowns against short answers if we're going to try to police comments on any more than the "hot" questions that attract long side-conversations. – Nathan L Jun 1 '16 at 12:39
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    @JoeTaxpayer Well, sure, it's also not a good answer - but that's part of the point. Something may be both not a good answer and not a comment. – Joe Jun 1 '16 at 12:42
  • @NathanL I don't see why we can't have good answers and use comments appropriately. – Joe Jun 1 '16 at 12:43
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    I don't think that comments that could be answers should be deleted until the information is included in an answer (whether by the commenter or someone else). Once that's done, they're obsolete. Until that's done, they're helpful information that could be used to improve the Q&A. – Ganesh Sittampalam Jun 1 '16 at 20:22
  • @GaneshSittampalam I don't mind waiting a bit, but what I don't want to see is comments like this hang around because nobody ever chooses to put them in an answer. It also encourages question askers to get their answer from comments and then leave - meaning the real answers never get the attention they need. The faster answer-comments are nuked, the better for the whole site. – Joe Jun 1 '16 at 21:03
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    If you think a comment should be an answer, feel free to quote/copy it into an answer. If it isn't worth your effort to do so, it isn't worth getting irate over. Lead by setting an example, not by complaining. – keshlam Jun 2 '16 at 12:21
  • @keshlam The problem isn't so much a good answer in the comments, it is more when there is a bad answer in the comments. It can't be downvoted. No one will copy it into an answer if they don't agree with it. It can't be downvoted. The mods are then forced to be the judge of its correctness and decide whether or not it should be deleted or kept. – Ben Miller Jun 15 '16 at 22:02
  • And you distrust the moderators because...? – keshlam Jun 15 '16 at 22:07
  • @keshlam I don't distrust them, it's just not in their job description to delete answers they don't agree with. – Ben Miller Jun 15 '16 at 22:11
  • It's not the design of StackExchange that moderators should be expected to, or forced to, decide the correctness of a comment or answer or anything else. That is precisely the point of what I suggest here: moderators should feel free to remove them automatically without needing to judge their correctness. Answers can be voted on. Comments cannot. Sure, anyone who sees such a comment should feel free to make an answer from it - but that doesn't impact the deletion of the comment. – Joe Jun 15 '16 at 22:12
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    Right. So if they are automatically removed, the bad comments are no longer a problem. I'm sorry, I really don't see much that needs fixing here. – keshlam Jun 15 '16 at 22:15
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The incentive already exists to leave an answer rather than a comment. Comments can get upvotes but no points are awarded. Similarly comments cannot get downvotes. Would a downvoted comment have sufficient penalty if there are no points deducted?

Comments can be deleted without moderator attention if 3 (+ the number of upvotes) users flag them, that's lower than the threshold for close votes. The problem with an effort to enforce this rule is that unless multiple users are flagging comments all the time, this falls on the moderators. Unless there are enough users committed to policing comments, then we won't likely see progress here.

I agree with others who have mentioned that the line between a good answer and a helpful comment is pretty fuzzy, and I don't agree that comment answers are terribly harmful. I think a good answer with upvotes deters other answers more than a comment answer does. At least a comment answer can point a user in the right direction even if it doesn't take the time to fully explain why.

All that said, given the lower value of comments on stackexchange, deleting comments will probably hurt less feelings than deleting answers and closing questions.

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    Exactly. In my opinion, flagging should be for something that has a level of urgency. Spam should be flagged. When a member calls another member a stupid #$^7*)#$ I don't mind a flag. A "this is not an answer, but should be a comment" is ok, as I typically agree and move it. But keep in mind, we don't have the power to convert comments to answers, so in effect a flag is a request to delete a comment. Because it's too good for its own good. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 2 '16 at 0:58
  • You do have that ability; you just don't have automation or a way to give the points to the original author. Not everyone cares about points, and if we have posted as a comment that can be considered permission for someone else to claim them. (I would appreciate being credited by name, but I don't insist on that either.). If folks really think automation is needed, I'm sure someone can write a Greasemonkey script to implement that... heck, if there's serious interest I'll take a swing at that myself. – keshlam Jun 2 '16 at 12:27
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    I intended to hint that the lack of automation was an implication that there was no strong need site-wide for it. I suppose one can copy and expand on the answer and basically take credit, but I was thinking more of the conversion, same as the other direction. I didn't really think this practice was so widespread, although I know I occasionally write "you can turn this into a great answer" – JoeTaxpayer Jun 2 '16 at 15:14

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