My opinion on that subject is that answered questions are better than non-answered questions regardless of the question's quality. If the question is "bad" enough then it should be closed; but the only time an answer is actually inappropriate is when it is (a) wrong (b) the question is unclear and likely to be edited or (c) you are unsure of your own answer.
Downvotes handle (a) just fine and comments are appropriate for (b) and (c).
This question doesn't intend to rehash old ground, but instead is focused on the moderators' recent efforts regarding answers in comments:
Avoid answers in comments. We get it: standards for comments are low, they get an undeserved privileged position on the page above answers, and they cannot be community edited or peer reviewed. But this discourages people from posting actual answers and defeats the core answer ranking process. A better place to post an answer is in the answer box. See: “Privileges - comment everywhere”, “Is SE enforcing ‘no answers in comments’?”. – MetaEd♦ Feb 1 at 17:43
Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, by not being editable by the community for improvement, and by not having a visible edit history.. Comments are to be used only for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – tchrist♦ Jan 28 at 23:08
On the other hand, I also see moderators posting what looks like answers in comments, such as this:
Here's my question: what standards are the moderators using to determine whether a comment is deemed to be an 'answer'?
When mods deem a comment to be an answer, they sometimes delete the comment. This is a moderator action, so my question is directed to moderators rather than the community as a whole. I accept that comments are treated as ephemeral constructs, and there's no suggestion of the abuse of mod powers here. It would be nice, though, to have the moderators articulate what constitutes 'answers' in comments.
I don't expect a quantitatively precise answer, but "I know it when I see it" is too generic for an answer to this meta question. I'd like to see guidelines such as:
- it's okay (or not okay) to state generic principles in comments;
- it's okay (or not okay) to offer unsupported guesses or hypotheses in comments;
- it's okay (or not okay) to offer personal perspectives like "this phrasing sounds fine/awkward to me" or "people in my area (AmE/BrE/AuE/...) actually do speak like that".
In the past, I used the rule of thumb that only supported answers go into answer boxes; anything else is a comment. This keeps the quality of the repository high.
With my recent awareness of moderators' distaste for answers in comments coupled interestingly with greater tolerance for lower standards applied to answer answers than I'd have previously been comfortable with, I've tried to cooperate. Occasionally, I'd post as an answer something I might have used a comment for before, or I might start a comment but discard it altogether without posting an answer at all. I don't think this improves either the community or the repository, but I'm not sure how else to comply with the no-answers-in-comments policy when I don't have the time or the inclination, or both, to more extensively research a question.
Then I saw several instances of what look to me like 'answers' posted by moderators in comments.
I'm not sure where the lines are drawn anymore on this topic, so some guidelines from the moderators would be helpful.
Alternatively, a move to only-good-answers-in-answers would suit me just fine, with comments quietly moved to chat at the whim of any moderator - or even deleted after due consideration. This helps to engage the community and to promote higher quality in answers. Not needing to weigh the absolute or relative 'answeriness' of their own and others' comments makes it a touch easier for mods. It's also easy to explain: only good answers go into answers; everything else goes into comments. Comments can disappear, but while they're up they're fair game to be incorporated into anyone's answers or community wikis.