Vote up or down on the question to show agreement or disagreement with the idea. Even better, let me hear your reasoning in an answer. :)

Stack Exchange: "Answers belong only in answer boxes."
ELU: "Yeah, right." ¹

I hate to see countless okayish questions covfefeying around, even though most of them are already answered in the comments. Blame the completionist paralysis I grew up with.

I often resort to posting a CW answer copying an impressive answer from the comments, so that the question gets some sort of closure (sense of resolution, that is) because I'm often quite sure it's futile expecting a comment-answerer to post an actual answer, or that it's annoying to beg someone to post an answer.

Should we rethink this? Should we encourage users to post partial answers as CW themselves instead of having users like me doing it for them?

I don't know why I suggested CW. It just came to my mind to make it an indicator that the said user is not willing to defend that answer, and has left it there for the community to do with it as they see fit.

A downside I see is if the answer is terrible and yet if the OP accepts it, it prevents the Roomba from dancing on it.


I wasn't referring to single-word random shots at answering something. I'm referring to actual answers with some sort of explanation minus the citations and proofs. Such answers in comments often get dozens of upvotes, yet those questions remain orphaned or abandoned. Many expert users here avoid posting them in the answer box fearing that they'll have to defend their answer. Surely, we don't care about the brownie points these days, but saving these answers in the answer boxes will help preserve good information, albeit lacking citations.

Off the top of my head, some such expert users are FF, EA, DB, ML, JL, TC, M, C, NVZ (lol, me). We could probably try answering them in a CW is what I'm suggesting, as long as it is a meaningful partial answer.

  • Vote up or down on the question to show agreement or disagreement with the idea. Even better, let me hear your reasoning in an answer. :) – NVZ Sep 4 '17 at 20:09
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    Vote here if you think it's an interesting idea but you want to keep your options open :P (this counts as a +1 for this comment) – marcellothearcane Sep 4 '17 at 20:32
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    Some questions just don't seem to merit the effort to create a good answer. So replying with a hint or reference or simple one word answer or opinion is a reasonable response. It's always been a reasonable reaction for someone else to make a real answer out of it. – Mitch Sep 4 '17 at 22:34
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    Some High Rep users give a brief answer in comments and leave it with a note that 'whoever wants the rep can write this up', which seldom happens. I certainly don't take that up because even thought I'd not mind more rep, I'd like it to be for my contributions, not for doing secretarial on someone else's, but I am willing to do some 'civic duty'. So if people are dropping answers that way, using the comment to remind people about CW might be more productive. (I'm so unfamiliar with it it took me a while to work out what CW stood for, then had to look it up to remind myself what it was. – Spagirl Sep 5 '17 at 15:48
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    Snap judgment: no. It is hard enough to spread the gospel about answers having research and citations. To rephrase your question: Should we encourage the Dutch boy to remove his finger from the leak in the dike? – ab2 Sep 6 '17 at 0:38

If the "comment" is better as an answer, encourage the user to make it so. If it's only a hint of an answer, as mine often are, then it's fair game for another user to flesh out, and get the rep for. Same if it is an answer and the user won't make it so, other users can, and get the rep for it. No need to use CW in either case, take the rep for writing the answer, even if it's based on a comment that won't become an answer. If the comment really is the answer, you can give credit to the user in the answer, but still accept the rep for doing the work.

In all cases, if the answer really is floating around in the comments, it needs to be made into an answer, for the OP and for the community. Avoiding the Roomba is a nice side benefit.


This is a not well developed answer because it is late in my time zone. Two reasons for writing what I once called an "embryonic answer" in a comment:

(1) It is late in one's time zone and one simply cannot spare the time -- or keep one's eyes open -- to write a well researched answer. And tomorrow will be busy. So why not postpone answering until one does have the time? We now go to (2).

(2) For some (not all) questions, there is a stage where something like brainstorming goes on. Possibilities are tossed out in comments, people read the comments and someone's brain goes "click!" and an answer emerges. Face-to-face meetings often have a brainstorming stage, before the participants settle down to propose serious solutions. This preliminary stage would be impossible if everyone had to submit a fully researched answer at the outset. Each person would have too much invested in his answer to consider tearing it up and going off on a tangent inspired by a couple of words of comment from a stranger.

This can be summed up in one word: cross-pollination. Cut off cross pollination ruthlessly, and you don't get the best flowers (answers).

Got to go now. Fingers aren't obeying my brain. t

  • Good points. Fair enough. I would've answered the same if I were in your place and you in mine. But then again, I was hoping for a change, and expecting some users to at least consider posting the partial answer and later expand it. – NVZ Sep 22 '17 at 18:37
  • @NVZ PRO to posting partial answers as CW -- no one can gain rep from a half-assed answer but it is there for the record and may be better than no answer. CON -- the CW answer preempts someone else from writing a complete answer that is similar to the CW answer, even though she may have independently thought of it and is willing to do the work to turn it into a complete answer. How would we address the CON? – ab2 Sep 22 '17 at 19:06
  • The CON, I suppose, stays the same whether the partial answer exists in a CW or in a comment. Most users, including myself, when seeing answers in comments, feel "Meh, why bother writing an answer; it's already given in the comments." I don't see how the CW-PA harms anything. If anything, the CW helps the content get peer-reviewed. – NVZ Sep 22 '17 at 19:10
  • @NVZ But it is understood that expanding someone else's comment into your own answer is OK -- not even bad manners. (Best to acknowledge the commenter's contribution, though.) I am sure I have done so at least once myself, and if I have a good embryonic answer that I don't have time to develop, I will say in the comment that anyone can use it. Would the same hold for a CW comment-oid answer? – ab2 Sep 22 '17 at 19:14
  • I'd say, since a CW by itself implies a disassociation from any reward or even credit (perhaps), I think it's fair to use the info from the CW to fill up a real answer by another user. But at the same time, the peer-review will show whether or not the CW answer is incorrect. Comments won't have that layer of peer-review. – NVZ Sep 22 '17 at 19:19
  • If I may, any reason you deleted your recent posts? – NVZ Sep 23 '17 at 17:55
  • I didn't think they were very good. I reconsidered and undeleted the earlier one -- as for the later one, with the dialogue between you and me, it didn't seem to add much, but I will undelete it if you want. (I'm trying to do too many things at once and am frazzled.) – ab2 Sep 23 '17 at 18:47
  • Also, I noticed that your answer on IPS meta is missing. Having second thoughts about posting it there, eh? :) – NVZ Sep 23 '17 at 18:50

Partial answers are preferable to answers posing as comments.

You have already identified the common reason (other than lack of time, which is surely temporary) why some members post answers in the comments section:

Many expert users here avoid posting them in the answer box fearing that they'll have to defend their answer.

This is the other recent ELU meta question on this topic that OP has so subtly referenced with a tiny footnote:

Is SE enforcing "no answers in comments"?

This extract from the truly excellent, highly upvoted and accepted answer by @Meta Ed is very pertinent here:

There is no new initiative to eliminate answers in comment. They have always been discouraged.

The purpose of Stack Exchange is to get expert, peer-reviewed answers to good questions out on search engines for the benefit of the asker and anyone else with a similar question. Answers in comments cannot be downvoted. Lacking full peer review, they are are really not so helpful to the author as you might think (...)

Comments are truly local and transient. So an answer in comment might never help anybody else. This is why Robert Cartaino objected to the answers in comment on the post you linked.

The unsuitability of writing answers as comments has been well explained all over Stack Exchange and especially well recently by Director of Community Development @Robert Cartaino while dealing strictly with several instances on Interpersonal.SE where OP @NVZ is a top user and (unofficial but very helpful) community moderator:

<comments removed> If you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the feature to properly vet whatever you say here so without activity like proper voting and wiki-style editing of content, answering here defeats the purpose of having this Stack Exchange site. – Robert Cartaino♦ Aug 3 at 13:43

Related meta threads on IPS.SE:



Please note I am referencing these threads here not because I think that the way comments are treated at IPS.SE is somehow directly related to ELU, but simply because IPS is the only other SE site where I am really active, after ELU, and because I understood that all those points about posting answers as comments are equally applicable to all SE sites though we seem to have evolved our own conventions about it here at ELU.

The main point that was made in those discussions is that an answer posted as a comment cannot be properly peer-reviewed, and can also disappear anytime. Robert Cartaino deleted many such comments on IPS.SE with full justification and thus educated that community to write answers as answers and not as comments. So I myself never post answers as comments anywhere on the SE network.

Moreover I have requested many members to write up their comments as answers while reminding them that a comment that reads like an answer can get deleted, and most of them graciously re-posted the comment as a well-developed answer, especially on Interpersonal.SE and Politics.SE but also here on ELU.

In short, SE says that posting an answer as a comment should not be tolerated, and I think it is implicit that senior members at ELU can claim no exemption to this network-wide recommendation.

Some ELU members' reasoning that "some questions are going to be closed and do not deserve a proper answer but we are willing to help OP by writing a brief answer as an explanatory comment" is even more perplexing. I just cannot understand that logic. Don't ask me to discuss this further here but many senior members have reacted thus while explaining why they posted a comment answering an apparently close-worthy question.

@NVZ's suggestion to post your 'idea' or 'unreferenced answer' as a community wiki is certainly well-made and we should seriously consider doing that when we are tempted to leave an answer in a comment.

But if a member cannot be bothered, then moderators should not hesitate to delete that answer posing as a comment.

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    I have to say, I don't think Interpersonal Skills is necessarily a good model for us, or most other SE sites. The answerers there are by-and-large not experts (I question whether it would even be legal/ethical for actual experts, as in licensed therapists and mediators, to participate), and the answers are by-and-large not supported by anything other than the posters' "common sense" or anecdotal experience. And yet, bad advice there can often have fairly significant consequences if taken, far beyond just sounding slightly unlettered. So the problem of "not peer reviewed" is much more urgent. – 1006a Sep 7 '17 at 22:21
  • Yes indeed @1006a, and you are well aware, being a contributor at IPS.SE yourself, but I was simply quoting those threads because IPS is the only other SE site where I am really active, after ELU. I however understood that all those points about posting answers as comments are apparently applicable to all SE sites though we seem to have evolved our own conventions about it here at ELU. I have now edited this comment into my answer. Many thanks for 'forcing the clarification' which removes any possible confusion when it is read by the next user! – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 22:32
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    And so if the mods take your advice and delete partial answers in comments, the question is ... left without even partial answers? How does that improve the state of affairs? Saying the answer to the problem that "comments are at risk of deletion" is "to delete those comments with prejudice" doesn't seem that helpful. – Dan Bron Sep 7 '17 at 22:40
  • I hope you do not disagree with the 'network wisdom' that answers should not be posted as comments? It is so recommended for several good reasons that we don't need to discuss here. Somebody asks a question; somebody posts an answer as a comment. Later the whole comment section may get deleted or moved to chat. How does that help the question or future readers? Meanwhile people keep doing this and think it's OK. Moderators deleting answers posted as comments is necessary simply to discourage the practice of posting answers as comments, @Dan Bron. Signal: write an answer not this comment. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 22:43
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    @EnglishStudent It helps precisely because if there's an partial answer in he comments but no answer posted which covers the same ground, then at least OP has a partial answer, which is better than nothing. Clearly in such situations no one is motivated to post an actual answer (or they would have!), so remove the comment removed the only assistance that OP or those who come after will receive. It's a net negative. Of course such comments are at risk of deletion, and that's a risk undertaken with eyes open by commentors, but mandating that all such comments is deliberate damage. – Dan Bron Sep 7 '17 at 22:48
  • As I said, it is the only way to make those users write answers rather than a 'partial answer' as a comment, @Dan Bron. What is stopping them? We could consider being somewhat less harsh on answers if that's a deterrent. Helping OP is not the only aim of SE: we need answers to benefit future readers. It is not my personal opinion but a network recommendation whose wisdom I happened to understand. If moderators here are not convinced they need not delete answers posing as comments. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 22:51
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    @EnglishStudent Reality check: deleting all comment-answers will not delete the reasons people leave comment-answers in the first place, including insufficient time, insufficient knowledge, or insufficient motivation. If you stop people from comment-answering that will not result in them answer-answering. So all you'll do is prevent useful if incomplete information from being posted at all, which leaves everyone poorer. And you keep citing "network policy" but you seem to overlook the fact that nowhere is "delete all comment answers" enforced. So what policy? – Dan Bron Sep 7 '17 at 22:55
  • The policy is "don't post answers as comments." This is not network policy? A moderator at ELU (don't remember who) himself reminded users in July that comments is not the place to post an answer. But deleting them is not mandatory. We don't need to do it either, @Dan Bron, if the moderators are convinced that retaining them will be more beneficial. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 23:32
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    @EnglishStudent Ok, so "it's policy". So then why do you have to post an answer reminding the mods that "it's policy" and encouraging them to enforce this policy? An unenforced rule is not a rule at all, and the fact that it's not enforced in itself tells you something. It tells you that the enforcers, the mods, see less value in enforcing this "policy" than in not enforcing it. In other words: these comments add value. If people don't like them, they are welcome to promote comments to answers themselves, but of course they won't. – Dan Bron Sep 7 '17 at 23:43
  • This matter is open for discussion. Let's see what others say, @Dan Bron.Meanwhile thanks for the link: "In law, desuetude (...) is a doctrine that causes statutes, similar legislation or legal principles to lapse and become unenforceable by a long habit of non-enforcement or lapse of time (...) It is the legal doctrine that long and continued non-use of a law renders it invalid, at least in the sense that courts will no longer tolerate punishing its transgressors." I should like to hear from some moderators here! – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 23:48
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    Here is one good reason for posting an answer as a comment. The question is a very low quality question, but the OP clearly needs help. (His Q isn't worth sending to ELL.) I'll give the OP what he wants in a brief comment and immediately VTC. What would be the point of my writing an essay on a triviality? Or should I just ignore anyone who can't write a Q up to my standards? Or maybe I should post a snarky comment? ES, I'm getting ready for a trip and can't enter into a discussion about this. – ab2 Sep 8 '17 at 0:51
  • Point well made and noted -- it's really the only excusable reason to post an answer as a comment -- no need for discussion and thanks @ab2! – English Student Sep 8 '17 at 0:53

Some answers posted as comments summarize succinctly the entire issue, and are worthy of the answer box without any further documentation. Why not simply promote these to answers? Would the original commentator object, assuming credit is properly assigned? Certainly there are brief answers from the sorts of people NVZ identifies by initials who often offer wisdom that deserves some permanence.

  • This is a good suggestion @Xanne but maybe not all users would agree. Once it is promoted to an answer the succint good reply becomes exposed to criticism for lack of references, etc. Senior members at ELU pride themselves on top quality well referenced answers so the member would have to spend a lot of time bringing the promoted answer up to their own exacting standards. Again, many such answers are posted in comments when the member feels that 'this is a bad question that needs to be voted closed and deleted but let me just give OP the right answer first' -- so helpful it is, I should think! – English Student Sep 12 '17 at 16:12

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