I may have fallen into a bad habit. A few questions get asked that don't require much thought or analysis to answer. Often the answer is "ask your advisor" or "contact that journal". The OP needs some help but the question is anything but earth-shattering.

I've been "answering" quite a few of these in comments lately and would like advice on the validity. A one sentence "formal answer" to such questions seems like overkill.

Here is an example of such a question, though this one may be a the limit of where a real "answer" could be given.

Some of the questions of this kind are personal and may have little value for a future reader. Not all are like that. And many of these sorts of questions seem to be coming from new users.

So, assuming that there isn't really much to say and the "answer" is very short, is it really fine to answer in comments for such things. The alternative might be to just ignore the question or close it, leaving the OP unsatisfied and needy.

Moreover, there doesn't seem to be a really appropriate listed "reason to close" for many of these.

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    Perhaps a bad habit, but also a sign of burnout over bad questions. Oh, wait, what did I just do???
    – Jon Custer
    May 5, 2020 at 14:23
  • academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4604/63475 I made an argument here that these short answer comments should be kept, but the voting from the community on it was pretty much even plus/minus. I had in mind the situation when a question should also be closed, as I mentioned in a comment, and maybe the answer would have been better received if I had - in that case I think of such comment as explaining a close vote (eg, "I'm voting to close this question because it's too dependent on your individual circumstances, this is a question you should direct to your advisor.")
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    May 6, 2020 at 15:52

3 Answers 3


Moreover, there doesn't seem to be a really appropriate listed "reason to close" for many of these.

The questions you describe are exactly what the close reason strongly depends on individual factors is made for. One of the reasons we have this close reason is because we got tired of one-line answers like you describe. Another is that we do not want somebody to come along who think that they can answer this question, which may be misleading. To quote from the new usage guideline:

Answers to this question […] would primarily consist of: “It depends on X.”

I do not think that closing such questions is not at odds with helping the asker. If a question gets closed with that reason, the asker already gets guidance nudging them in the right direction, but of course this is somewhat broad. I see no harm in leaving a specific comment along the lines of:

Sorry, but we cannot possibly answer that question. You have to ask your advisor or somebody who knows them very well.

This was one of the cases were we agreed that answers in comments are okay.

Regarding the specific example, you posted, I am somewhat undecided whether it falls into this category. We have some information to make an educated guess here (as opposed to just a guess), but then it is still a guess.

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    The example question might appear to "strongly depend on individual factors" if you're unfamiliar with UK hiring practices. But I think most likely someone who knows how UK hiring will work will realize this is standard in the UK. Asker didn't realize it's a regional custom. May 7, 2020 at 5:20

Unfortunately, even though you've seen that question a million times, the user is asking for the first time. The overly brief "don't walk, run" style comments, while cute and good for upvotes, frequently don't give the context needed by the OP. I agree with Jon that this is probably a sign of burnout. Take some time off from those questions and focus on the meatier ones.

This is assuming the user is posting in good faith; if they're not, all bets are off.

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    Unfortunately, if new users don't get some feedback they get frustrated. It doesn't seem very welcoming.
    – Buffy
    May 5, 2020 at 21:48
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    Not sure why you say that. We have a pretty good answer rate; good questions will likely get responses. You just don't have to be the one to provide it.
    – eykanal
    May 6, 2020 at 0:28

If a question has a short, trivial answer, the question makes sense, and the question is on topic, then I strongly encourage you to post a short, trivial answer.

There are a great many answers on this site which include lots of irrelevant details. Your short, trivial answer is better than those answers.

No harm is caused by answering off-topic questions, or by answering questions that have little value. It does not matter if you post these answers as comments or answers.

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    I disagree with the last paragraph. Answering questions that should be closed sets precedence and my escalate through the broken-window effect. As for low-quality questions that should not be closed, I see no reason to answer them in the comments.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    May 7, 2020 at 9:04
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    "Answering questions that should be closed sets precedence" @Wrzlprmft I don't understand. I vote to close questions that already have answers all the time. Shopping questions are often in that category. The answers have zero effect on my close vote. May 7, 2020 at 9:07
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    "As for low-quality questions that should not be closed, I see no reason to answer them in the comments" I agree. May 7, 2020 at 9:08
  • Of course, I previously said that I didn't think moderators needed to spend their time deleting answers posted as comments. If you are a moderator and spend a lot of time doing that, you might feel it's a big waste to post things as comments. if you're me and don't think that deleting those comments is worthwhile, then it's a small issue. May 7, 2020 at 9:10
  • The answers have zero effect on my close vote. – As long as you refer to the existence of answers (and do not ignore them completely as they may potentially solve unclarities, etc.), I do not dispute that. It’s inevitable that questions that should be closed get answers. However, it’s quite different to recommend answering closeworthy questions when you identify them as such. The same applies for posting comment answers to low-quality questions.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    May 7, 2020 at 9:14
  • @Wrzlprmft I do not recommend either of those things. I think we agree. May 7, 2020 at 9:21
  • I do not recommend either of those things. – But that’s how at least I understand your last sentence.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    May 7, 2020 at 10:11
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    @Wrzlprmft I do not see how "it does not matter" can possibly be interpreted as a recommendation instead of ambivalence. May 7, 2020 at 10:37
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    There is little difference. Before we discuss semantics, imagine a reader who wants to figure out how to act. If they go by your post, there is little difference between you ambivalently recommending comments and answers or saying “it does not matter”. By not advising against the bad™ alternative, you are practically encouraging it. Also, “it does not matter” contrasts with you agreeing (as far as I can tell) that there are negative aspects to one of the alternatives.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    May 8, 2020 at 6:25
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    @Wrzlprmft "By not advising against the bad™ alternative, you are practically encouraging it." This is a preposterous claim. I'm sure you can think of ludicrous implications. "contrasts with you agreeing (as far as I can tell) that there are negative aspects" You imagined that. Most things on this stack exchange have neither postive nor negative aspects, and I neither encourage nor discourage them. May 8, 2020 at 7:57

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