5

As I already said here, if we want to better define our stance on answers in comments, this has to be a community effort. We have to clarify how we react to users posting comments as answers, how, if, and when they should be flagged, and when we want to delete them. I therefore do not think that one meta question suffices to establish a well-rounded policy on this that most of us can get behind. Therefore I will split this process into multiple questions, the first of which is:

Which kinds of answers in comments (if any) do we want to keep?

Procedure

  • There are plenty of collections of general arguments against answers in comments. Please have a look at least one of them to make an informed decision:

  • Post answers outlining a single type of comment that you want to keep. Types can be based on context, e.g., “comments answering questions that were not closed for shopping”. Provide a rationale, with some examples, why these should be allowed. Define your rationale as clearly as possible so we can build a practical policy around this.

  • Upvote answers you agree with; downvote answers you disagree with.

  • Answers that have a score of 5 and at least twice as many upvotes as downvotes will be considered community consensus (rule stolen from here). If any other answers have a positive score, we will decide how to proceed on a per-case basis.

  • Do not post a blanket answer that no answers in comments should be accepted. Such answers will be deleted without warning. The proper way to obtain this outcome is if no answer reaches the threshold for acceptance. (This is to prevent a self-contradictory outcome.) You can post a blanket answer that all answers in comments are fine, but you better have very good arguments.

What this is not about

Whatever the outcome of this question is, it will not be suddenly in effect. We still will have to decide about implementation issues such as:

  • How should answers in comments be flagged?
  • How should moderators handle these flags?
  • How do we react to users answering in the comments?
  • How do we deal with old answers in comments?

While it is good to keep such practical concerns in mind when suggesting exceptions, this question is only about setting the goal.

  • (1) I know that moderators are able to delete every comment on a post. Are they able to delete single comments? (2) Do moderators have the ability to convert comments into answers, as if the original commenter posted the answer? Or would the closest we can get be "I'm posting as an answer the comment provided by [commenter]: ..." – Teepeemm Oct 11 at 14:39
  • @Teepeemm: 1) Yes, we are able to delete single comments. 2) No, we cannot convert a comment into an answer (only the other way round). – Wrzlprmft Oct 11 at 14:42
  • @Wrzlprmft Yes, you can - as can other members. You can just do an answer post as a community Wiki, and preface it with "XYZ noted in a comment:" They do it all the time on other SE sites. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 1 at 3:06
7

We should keep high-quality answers-as-comments on closed questions when there is little overlap between the answers and the comments. In such cases, we can offer advice to the OP even if their question is not a good fit for our format.

Note the caveats:

  • High-quality. Since there is no opportunity to downvote comments, this proposal does not extend to low-quality answers-as-comments.
  • Little overlap between comments and answers. If the comment is already covered by an answer, the comment is essentially a "super upvote," which is not constructive.
  • 1
    I somewhat disagree with your example (last paragraph). If somebody can assess the situation to the extent that they can provide a useful answer that is not speculative or misleading (and without coincidentally knowing the OP via other means), the question should not be closed for depending on individual factors to begin with. The entire point of that close reason is that we need to make assumptions to answer, which can be harmful if the assumptions are incorrect. – Wrzlprmft Oct 11 at 19:43
  • However, I agree in general that it is a good idea to keep comments like “Only you supervisor can answer this because […]” that essentially boil down the admittedly broad FAQ for closing for depending on individual factors for the asker. – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 at 9:41
  • @Wrzlprmft - I had understood that close reason also included questions that "could not generalize to others." For example, people post questions all the time where they post their stats and ask for advice on grad school admissions -- we could answer these without making assumptions, but most of them get closed for individual factors. Still -- I acknowledge your point and will just remove the example altogether, I think the proposal is clear without it. – cag51 Oct 12 at 19:53
  • advice on grad school admissions -- we could answer these without making assumptions – Can we? We can make a somewhat educated guess, but at the end of the day we may be still be wrong about it. It’s like somebody asking whether it’s okay to hand in a PhD thesis typeset in Papyrus. The best guess is “no”, but it may still work in some places. – Wrzlprmft Oct 12 at 20:22
  • 2
    This merely rewards off-topic questions and thus encourages more of them. It also expressly permits people to post answers that bypass the peer review system. I fail to see why anyone would want this. – Lightness Races with Monica Oct 21 at 23:58
2

Generic, brief comment answers should be kept, including but not limited to those on questions that are otherwise closed for off-topic/too-specific reasons

Examples would be general advice to seek some sort of professional counselling/therapy/mental health services, and advice that someone should ask their advisor/supervisor/mentor/PI.

These are general enough that they are unlikely to require down votes, and fit many situations that are otherwise not appropriate or not solvable questions for SE.

  • I would agree if it weren't for the "not limited to" clause. If the question is not solvable, it should be closed. If it is solvable and one feels that "ask your advisor" is the best solution, then that should be an answer. There's nothing wrong with 2-sentence answers, some of them get hundreds of upvotes. – cag51 Oct 12 at 19:58
  • 1
    @cag51: If the best answer to a question is “ask your supervisor” (and nothing else), it should be closed for depending on individual factors. One of the reasons we have this close reason is to this kind of answer being repeated over and over. From another point of view, we could comment instead: “Have you asked your advisor?” as a request for clarification, and only consider answering if that did not solve the problem. – Wrzlprmft Oct 13 at 8:55
  • Agree -- I did say a 2-sentence answer, not a 3-word answer :-) But there could be (and are) many well-received answers that say "this is perfectly normal; you should discuss this with your supervisor. In particular, bring up X." I find this preferable to writing "ask your supervisor" as a comment. – cag51 Oct 13 at 14:44
  • @cag51 Indeed, I mostly intended this answer for situations where I think the question should be closed. In that case, although I'm suggesting the comment is an answer, the reason I'm defending it is that I think of it more as explaining the close vote (i.e., I'm voting to close because this question is too specific to your circumstances and therefore you need to ask your advisor instead). The main reason I wouldn't limit it is because there can be disagreement about whether a question should be closed or not. – Bryan Krause Oct 14 at 18:12
  • 1
    Thanks for clarifying -- yes, I agree any exemption that applies "to closed questions" will have to have some sort of grace period for open questions that may become closed. – cag51 Oct 14 at 18:41
-1

Do nothing. Answers in comments are not a problem that needs solving.

  • "Do not post a blanket answer that no answers in comments should be accepted." I do not advocate "accepting" them, whatever that means. Doing nothing does not mean approving putting answers in comments. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 15 at 5:49
-5

We should keep high-quality answers-as-comments when they are posted to old, inactive questions and do not overlap with existing answers. I am referring to answers-in-comments that are much younger than the question they answer.

We should still encourage the OP (or someone else) to convert the comments to an answer. But since the question is inactive and most of the answer-posting and voting is likely finished, the cost of deleting a valuable comment is usually higher than the cost of allowing answers-in-comments.

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