There are quite a large number of Meta.ELU questions about answers in comments, but none which definitively settles community opinion, mainly because they are rather old now, but also because they don't canvass votes on all possibilities (and thus generally only gain answer/opinion votes from users who are particularly exercised).

Currently, one user is systematically flagging answers in comments despite there being no clear consensus. As these are custom flags, they fall to moderators to deal with and there are currently over 60 flags outstanding.

Since there is no clear consensus, it would be better to use the standard "No longer required" flag, because if other users think the same way then the comment will be deleted by the system (once the minimum number of flags has been reached).

Without a clear consensus reached in Meta.ELU, moderators may well simply decline these custom flags as there is no reason for moderator action. I'd like to present the opportunity for even the un-exercised to express that opinion by voting for the status quo if that's OK with them.

So: what should the site's attitude be to answers in comments? Answers on a postcard in the answer box, please. I've come up with a few options which you can vote on; feel free to add more.

The options are not necessarily mutually exclusive, so you can vote up more than one.

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    Is this expected to be ELU specific or a cross-site situation? – Mitch Apr 2 at 0:51
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    I feel that this discussion is not producing anything applicable. None of the answers suggests a clear policy of: 1) what shall be flagged and how 2) how shall moderators deal with these flags (if they get to see them). – Wrzlprmft Apr 3 at 9:45
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    @Mitch the content of ELU Meta relates to ELU only. It's extremely unlikely that you'd ever get all sites agreeing with the same comment policy. For example, on IPS, answers in comments are deleted by default, regardless of anything else, including whether the question is closed or not. – Catija Apr 5 at 14:19
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    @Catija wow. harsh. – Mitch Apr 5 at 14:31
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    @Mitch it's only harsh because you're used to this site. Half answers on a site about Interpersonal Skills often do more harm than good. They take up space and get higher precedence than even accepted answers because they appear before all answers. They don't deserve that favorable treatment. Someone was too lazy to actually write a fully fleshed answer on a site where the average number of answers per question is 5+. We don't need that. – Catija Apr 5 at 14:37
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    @Catija haha, no, I get it. On ELU, answers in comments are usually for poor writing advice/thesaurus lookup questions that should be closed. – Mitch Apr 5 at 14:49
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    In my view votes on this question can neither be regarded as a binding poll, nor a weapon to intimidate any moderator who is applying the current unequivocally clear Stack Exchange policy on comments in answers. If you or other moderators wish to change the latter policy, approach the administrators of SE for approval and obtain clear confirmation in the removal of the injunction from the comment box. Failing this, if moderators intend to disregard the injunction, please make an announcement so that those of us who view such behaviour as unacceptable can make a formal complaint to SE. – David Apr 19 at 10:20
  • @David One aspect of this question is that it might show that a case could be made to vary the standard policy. Or it may not. But it's a necessary precursor to "approaching the administrators of SE", if the result shows that that is required. – Andrew Leach Apr 19 at 16:40
  • If your name is Hot Licks, keep 'em coming. Otherwise don't get pissed off when they get deleted. – Mazura Apr 19 at 23:12
  • After twenty days the result seems apparent. When will voting be closed? – Willtech Apr 20 at 9:11
  • I'm new to this, and I don't really understand yet how scoring works, but I was wondering if answering questions in the comment section was done purposefully by some people just to maintain their high reputation number (or whatever it's specifically called)...because comments don't affect that number, do they? – KannE Apr 21 at 15:07
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    @KannE This is the principal objection (see MetaEd's answer to this discussion). Comments can be upvoted but that doesn't affect rep score. Comments cannot be downvoted, so a poor answer in a comment can only be flagged rather than attracting more appropriate opprobrium. – Andrew Leach Apr 21 at 15:11
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    Thanks so much for answering my question. I tried to read the whole War-and-Peace-sized discussion on this...but it's Saturday. Well, given my very limited understanding, the solution to this problem seems clear and simple to me--just do like eBay does (or did)--give all votes a one-year expiration date...so all have opportunities to redeem themselves, and no one can just sit on his or her high horse...forever? – KannE Apr 21 at 15:43
  • @KannE In my experience, it's more often the other way around: the "answer-comment" to a question that's bound for closure and deletion is obvious enough that it could still rack up some up-votes along the way if posted in the answer box (enough up-votes to counter-balance the negative points of the occasional "you shouldn't answer bad questions" down-votes), so the answer-commenter is likely foregoing some easy rep. That doesn't mean the situation you describe never happens, but I don't think it's the norm here. – 1006a Apr 30 at 14:53
  • That's interesting; I've never thought of that. I would never downvote an answer just because I thought the question was a "bad" one. Some people think a question is "bad" if they simply don't understand it; for example, placing a hold ("unclear") on an idiom just because they've never heard it before...which, of course, is the nature of idioms, not everyone gets to hear them. Perhaps idioms are "off-topic" (I'll have to look that up.), but it would still be a fallacy to mark one as such if the asker didn't realize that the phrase or sentence was one when he/she posed the question. – KannE Apr 30 at 18:00

Option 3: Answers may be made in comments where the question is off-topic but we still wish to help the asker.

This seems to be standard practice; we try to be helpful.

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    I think this is only OK if it's still an English question. If the question is very off topic (e.g. programming questions) I don't want to see people answering anywhere. – Laurel Apr 2 at 4:38
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    This is the status quo and has always gotten community support. As long as the question is truly off-topic and therefore is clearly on track for deletion, it doesn't matter if there's a comment answer. – MetaEd Apr 2 at 17:52
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    @MetaEd If it's on track for deletion, it also doesn't matter if the answer is placed in the answer section. Examining that category of questions doesn't offer a compelling reason to allow or prohibit answers in comments. – Lawrence Apr 4 at 7:04
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    Off-topic questions should not really be answered, as to do so can easily encourage other poor questions. We try to close OT questions quickly so they can't be answered, but want to help the OP so they get the info they need and don't simply repost the question. – Andrew Leach Apr 4 at 7:21
  • Part of the problem with this is that it doesn’t distinguish “closed, won’t be reopened, and answerable” from questions that are on hold and may be edited to be brought on topic or questions that aren’t answerable either because they’re too broad, lack context, or are opinion based. The comment answer that was ok when it was made becomes not ok when the question is reopened. – ColleenV Apr 4 at 20:21
  • So it then becomes Option 6. Use the comment as the basis of an answer and/or flag it as No longer required. – Andrew Leach Apr 4 at 20:30
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    The major downside to this is when users answer questions that are off topic - for example, a proofreading question - in a comment... it tells them they can get an answer, they will just have their question closed. Doing so encourages them to continue asking these off-topic questions. If you're OK with that risk, go with it. But it's something to be aware of. – Catija Apr 5 at 14:23
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    @Catija I agree. There are limits though - if someone is generating too many poor quality questions, their IP gets question banned: meta.stackexchange.com/a/86998 It's a balance between being friendly to new users and not encouraging bad behavior. If I answer a closed question in a comment, I try to answer it after educating them about why their question was closed. I don't (intentionally) answer closed questions posted by users who should know better. – ColleenV Apr 5 at 17:02
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    This shouldn't be a numbered option. This is a special case. – Mathieu K. Apr 30 at 2:52

Option 6: Partial answers may appear in comments and may be used by anyone who wishes to post a complete answer, with the understanding that mods may still delete the comments at a whim, without notice.

This represents the least overhead in terms of 'extra rules everyone must know' because it pretty much stays true to the way Stack Exchange has been set up. The fewer 'special cases' to remember, the easier to follow the rules.

  • Commenters may contribute as comments anything less than whatever they deem to be a full answer (see below for more on this).
  • The community may use anything from comments in their own answers or wikis, preferably with attribution.
  • Everyone may 'vote' on comment deletion via the no longer needed flag (to ease the load on moderators, don't use a custom flag for this) - this is the comment section's equivalent of a down/close vote.
  • Moderators are free to do as they wish regarding comments. There is no obligation to remove comments or to preserve them. They can push comments to chat, delete them, create wikis, create answers, or leave them alone.

Permitting partial answers in comments straddles the following help page guidelines, going beyond past the first but stops short of the second.

  • (DO) Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated)
  • (DON'T) Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one)

It upholds the primary purpose of comments:

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer.

This option remains true to the intended nature of comments, promotes a friendly EL&U culture and strikes a good balance between the desire to be helpful and the desire to maintain a good database, with answers held to a high standard. As a bonus, encouraging the community to participate in comment moderation frees diamond mods to handle less routine matters.

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    I would change one small thing - partial answer-comments should be flagged for removal if they are controversial (not just "wrong"). If a partial answer posted under the question is generating a lot of back and forth in comments, it should be taken to chat or removed entirely in my opinion. Folks get caught up in the discussion under the question and never make it down to the answers (or bother writing answer because they're too busy debating their point). – ColleenV Apr 2 at 11:54
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    @ColleenV I'm comfortable with that. This would also be 'business as usual', no new rules to learn. I've edited my answer to incorporate your comment. – Lawrence Apr 2 at 12:55
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    This is basically saying "leave everything as before". One of the DVs is mine. – Mari-Lou A Apr 2 at 14:13
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    @Mari-LouA Option 6 specifically mentions partial answers. – Lawrence Apr 2 at 15:01
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    If comments can be deleted on a whim without any notice, how is that any different to what MetaEd and tchrist often do today? Maybe there should be an added caveat that mods cannot delete comments/answers unless it has been incorporated into a complete answer? – Mari-Lou A Apr 2 at 15:19
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    Then Dan Bron shall continue posting his perfectly valid, detailed comments arguing that they are not full answers, to his standards but compared to 80% of the answers posted are still better supported and organized. And BillJ is another user who posts complete "answers" to grammatical problems in comments. If he feels they are "partial" we're back to the drawing-board. – Mari-Lou A Apr 2 at 15:22
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    @Mari-LouA That's fine. Dan's (or anyone's) answers in comments might get deleted - which he shouldn't mind because he chose to not make them proper answers, or which prompts him to put future answers into the answer section next time. While they're up, anyone else can use the information - mods can delete them (others can flag for removal), but that's not compulsory. They'd use their own judgement about deletion; Dan (hopefully) avoids the hounding about answers in comments. – Lawrence Apr 2 at 15:30
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    I don’t think it matters whether the answer in the comment is partial or complete. The problem is that it is in a comment where it can not be properly collaborated on by the community. In addition to the problems with ranking answers in comments, you can’t edit them. Answers are expected to be able to be refined over time. Also the comment answer appears above both the highest scored and accepted answers. – ColleenV Apr 2 at 15:46
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    @JJJ All of the above. Currently, people take it on themselves to keep saying "Don't answer in comments" ... in comments, leaving more comments to deal with. I mentioned mod deletion (at mod discretion) and non-mod flagging (which automatically deletes after a certain number of flags). These are not additional obligations placed on the mod and non-mod community; they are 'natural' ways to deal with obsolete or useless comments. – Lawrence Apr 2 at 17:14
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    @Mari-LouA That's consistent with my proposal. The objective is to explicitly allow temporary but valuable contributions in comments, which EL&U has a lot of. As you point out, non-mods can collectively remove comments via a vote-by-flag mechanism. Using standard flags reduces unnecessary work for the mods, which I'm sure they'll welcome, though this is more a side-effect than a central objective of Option 6. – Lawrence Apr 2 at 17:47
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    This proposal is a departure from Option 3 that creates a greater burden on mods and encourages comments that subvert the peer review process. – MetaEd Apr 2 at 17:48
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    Lawrence and @Laurel, my point is that moderators should not have to deal with these flags. I really don't want it left to us, with or without custom flags. I want to give the community the justification to deal with answers in comments (if the consensus is that they need to be dealt with). – Andrew Leach Apr 2 at 20:37
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    Putting a priority on deleting answers in comments seems ... churlish. It's like you want to delete the one thing that has actual content to it. The great majority of comments aren't even attempting to be helpful. There should be a culture of deleting all comments except for those that are like answers. – Mitch Apr 3 at 17:31
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    @Mitch This meta is about answers in comments, hence an answer about the same. But yes, flag to delete those other kinds of comments as well. – Lawrence Apr 4 at 0:17
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    @Lawrence I think the disconnect is serious in cases where the comment-answer at the top is wrong because not everyone skips over them. Any incorrect comment-answer should be summarily deleted because exposing learners to incorrect information first, even if it's corrected afterwards, is simply bad pedagogy and harmful to the learning process. They're less harmful when they're correct, but the community can't vote down or edit them if they aren't, so putting answers into comments ends up actively harming the site. – snailboat Apr 7 at 18:23

I hope it will be helpful if I list the main problems with comment answers. Any proposed solution can be evaluated against them to see how it holds up.

Someone has helpfully numbered these problems for easy reference. The numbering is just for reference and does not imply an order of importance.

  1. Comment answers cannot be community edited or peer reviewed. They cannot be improved, they cannot be accepted. They can be upvoted, but that does not rank them, and they cannot be downvoted. Without this feedback, askers frequently are satisfied by the first comment answer they receive, and abandon the question, not that knowing the answer they got is actually controversial.

  2. To make matters worse, comment answers frequently lack substantiation or sourcing, that is, they are generally written to a lower standard of quality.

  3. Despite the above, comment answers get an undeserved privileged position on the page above even the best answers. This subverts the peer review process – it places unreviewed comment answers above the highest reviewed answers.

  4. Comment answers discourage actual answers. I have seen numerous comments by people who refuse to repost comments as answers because it would feel too much like rep farming or plagiarism.

  5. There is no simple mechanism for converting comments to answers. This makes work for reviewers.

  6. Questions with comment answers clog the Unanswered queue. Accepting an answer is how that queue gets cleared, and as I pointed out many askers just take away the first comment answer they get and abandon the question.

  7. The system presents new questions to users who have previously answered similar questions, based on their past answers. This feature is subverted when the users aren't posting actual answers.

  8. Last but not least, comment answers are a frequent practice of some high-rep users, despite repeated calls to end the practice by SE employees and community managers, which creates an impression that the regulars in our community flaunt the rules.

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    @JJJ Given that SE management strongly discourages comment answers, I doubt they'd give serious thought to coding a new SE feature to support it. – MetaEd Apr 2 at 19:53
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    -1. This doesn't address the OP's question, which is "what should the site's attitude be to answers in comments". I vote against leaving this answer up as a guide to evaluating the other answers. It presupposes that the OP's question should be answered a particular way when the OP has invited a wider range of opinions. – Lawrence Apr 4 at 9:44
  • Is accepting an answer the only way to get it out of the unanswered queue? I thought a positively scored answer was enough for a positively scored question. – ColleenV Apr 4 at 20:12
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    @ColleenV Yes. That's correct. Accepting an answer is irrelevant. All that matters is it have at least one answer and that answer is upvoted. – Catija Apr 5 at 13:49
  • @Catija Thanks! I finally found the link that explains it: stackoverflow.blog/2008/09/30/ok-now-define-answered – ColleenV Apr 5 at 16:54
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    While the points are valid to varrying degrees, they generally all assume the corrallary that "without 'answers' in comments, the same information(0r more) would be provided in an answer" - very often the answers given in comments feel incomplete - if I know an answer is not worthy of peer review, yet strongly believe it might be helpful to the OP or others with similar questions the comments are the only option. "There is a good answer below that directly answers your question but this would really be a better choice to express what you want in some situations" – Tom22 Apr 21 at 22:52
  • 3) 'undeserved privilege' could be addressed by having a "complete comments" toggle section beneath the answers ... which might be redundant when there are only a few comments but useful if mods ever chose to trim (and the choice to trim might be easier if one knew that the comments would be preserved, just moved) – Tom22 Apr 21 at 23:02
  • Yes, and the other day, you called me out for this, deleted my answer-under-a-comment and left the other people alone. So, there I was with two black marks against me, no comment of mine left in place, and the others merrily still there. Is that fair? Why not just delete all of them? – Lambie Jul 23 at 23:05
  • If you are referring to this question, I also deleted the other comment-answer that existed at that time. You were not singled out. Since then the entire remaining thread has been deleted (and moved to chat). – MetaEd Jul 23 at 23:26

I upvoted Andrew Leach's "Option 3" answer, but I wanted to go into more detail about the comment-deletion policy that I think makes the most sense.

I think there is a difference between the "temporary Post-It" ideal of what comments on Stack Exchange sites should be and how they actually function in practice, and I don't see as much value in trying to stick to the ideal as I see in allowing certain unofficial uses of comments that seem useful.

Another issue is that it's not necessarily a good idea for the moderators to take action just because something on the site isn't being used the way it theoretically should be. Theoretically, question closure is supposed to be a temporary state [except for duplicate questions]--but that doesn't mean that moderators should be expected to delete or reopen at a whim any old closed question that is flagged by a user.

I'm not entirely clear about what counts as "answering in the comments", and for this reason, I'm not in favor of the more absolute policies against this practice. Sometimes, people will posts links (either to other SE posts or to external resources) and a bit of explanation of why the link is relevant in a comment: I think these can be useful, and therefore should not be deleted, but don't necessarily meet the criteria for a full answer (or sometimes, if the external resource is a dictionary, the question may be off-topic, and in that case making an answer post makes it harder for the question to be closed and eventually deleted). I have posted comments like this myself.

I think comments like this that contain a link along with some explanation of why the link is relevant are usually valuable and I would not be in favor of moderators deleting them as a general policy. To give an example, here are two comments that were posted by Edwin Ashworth beneath a question, In terms of <single> or <plural> noun? How to tell?:

  • I think this post comes close to being a duplicate. But your example seems really to be about the non-count / count usages of 'structure' (and the like); you could equally well consider 'When talking about structure/structures ...'. – Edwin Ashworth 2018-04-01 14:52:34Z

  • ...your question is really about the ways structure/s are used, not about what people use after 'in terms of' (or 'when talking about'). / ODO gives helpful examples of abstract and concrete usages, going some way to differentiate count and mass usages. – Edwin Ashworth 2018-04-02 10:09:40Z

I think helpful information would be lost if these comments were deleted.

I also think that it is not very helpful to delete comments beneath closed questions. If a question is closed, then of course the author of the comment has no way to make an actual answer post. The closed status also indicates that the question should either be deleted (in which case the comments will automatically be deleted along with it) or improved and eventually reopened (and the comment might contain information that could help with efforts to improve the question).

In cases where an open question has unsourced comments that seem to try to answer the question, I would support a moderator (or any other user) re-posting the comment as an answer. Tchrist has done this with many of John Lawler's comments; for example:

In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

The meaning of grow that some might call a 'copula' is the sense of "growing to become" as in She grew tired. This is not the sense of grow in Babies grow quickly.

("Babies grow very quickly." In this sentence is "grow" a copula or a lexical verb?)

I definitely think this is better than just deleting a comment like this without warning.

So, to summarize, I would be in favor of moderators rejecting flags to delete:

  • comments that consist of some explanation along with a link to a related post or external resource

  • comments beneath closed questions

For comments posted beneath open questions that don't contain links or point to external references, I would be against moderators deleting them without any other action, but I think it may be worthwhile to post an answer based on the comment. However, it seems inefficient to use a flag to ask a moderator to do this, since any user can post an answer based on a comment. So I think the best course of action for someone who is irritated by the existence of such comments would be to post an answer based on the comment, and then flag the comment for deletion (I suppose the "no longer needed" flag would technically be accurate, but I'm not sure how well it would work in practice. My understanding is that comments that have been flagged with this reason are just presented to moderators without any context, so the moderator viewing such a flag might not have any idea that an answer based on the comment has been posted. I have sometimes used custom flags rather than the "no longer needed" flag so that I can give an explanation of why the comment is obsolete; in at least one case, after I raised a "no longer needed" flag that was declined I raised a custom flag that resulted in the deletion of the comment.) Or rather than converting the comment to an answer themselves, some people might prefer to first ask the author of the original answer-comment to post it as an answer.

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    I suppose I should add a word of clarification, since I am one of the most frequent offenders of the "don't answer in comments" proscription. I have committed many answers on many subjects, many of which -- too many, even for me -- are duplicates of things I've already said. I view Official Answers with all the reverence they deserve, as major productions. So I answer when I can within the confines of the comment genre, especially when it's something I've written about. Like sonnet or haiku or twitter, this imposes a useful limit. But I have no objection to being quoted in others' answers. – John Lawler Apr 23 at 18:18

Option 2: Answers which appear in comments should be "converted" to answers, either by being a CW post or encouraging the commenter to make an answer of their comment.

If we encourage the commenter to make an answer, there would need to be a time limit for that to happen, after which it's fair game for someone else to make an answer of it. And if the comment is actually a good answer, there's really no reason why it should be a CW answer, either.

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    Why does there need to be a time limit? – MetaEd Apr 2 at 17:54
  • Well, it seems good manners if nothing else to allow the user to make their comment into an answer. Option 6 would reduce this "notice time" to zero. – Andrew Leach Apr 2 at 18:02
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    Comments are fair game, always and immediately. I wrote this answer's quote in a comment. I was miffed it was deleted until I found it was obsolete because someone took it and ran with it. And it doesn't waste time attributing a paraphrased quote of a paraphrased quote from a movie to some guy on the internet. – Mazura Apr 14 at 15:26
  • This is two options. First option: converting the comment to a Community Wiki answer. Second option: waiting for the commenter to make it an answer instead of a comment. (I support the first but not the second; the second adds too many moving parts.) – Mathieu K. Apr 30 at 2:31
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    To the first option, I'd recommend adding the processes described in the second through fourth bullet points in the Option 3 answer ("The community may use anything from comments[...]" "Everyone may 'vote' on comment deletion[...]" and "Moderators are free to do as they wish regarding comments.") – Mathieu K. Apr 30 at 3:03

The question asks:

So: what should the site’s attitude be to answers in comments?

I think that “the site’s attitude” is of no consequence if it is contrary to Stack Exchange policy on this matter, as I have explained previously.

Let us be clear. There are certain rules that are within the jurisdiction of individual StackExchange sites — for example what subjects are off topic — and certain which are outside that jurisdiction as integral to the StackExchange model. The following message, which appears in the comment box of every StackExchange site, refers to a general policy which is outside the jurisdiction of the moderators of this site:

“Use comments to ask for more information or suggest improvements. Avoid answering questions in comments.”

Users who do not understand how this is integral to the Stack Exchange model are recommended to view the following video by one of the founders of Stack Exchange. If you don’t like this model, you should set up your own site or go elsewhere.

I have previously been admonished for commenting on ‘comments in answers’, and asked to flag such comments to the moderators instead. This I have been doing, so I may well be the user mentioned in the question. I have had no way of knowing which of the moderators have been disregarding flags that I have raised, but have been encouraged recently that at least one moderator — @MetaEd — has been responding to them according to the clear rules. However, I am now disturbed by what appears to be the attitude of the moderator who made this post, and, as I have stated in a comment to the question, I think that any disregard of these rules by the moderators would constitute abuse of this site.

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    If you think people on this site are committing abuses against the owners of Stack Exchange, you can notify Stack Exchange employees by using one of the contact options. But it seems pretty likely to me that Stack Exchange would express support for this site's entire team of moderators (and not just MetaEd, as you seem to imply might be the case). – sumelic Apr 19 at 5:48
  • @sumelic — Thank you for that information. I was vaguely aware of it from my previous involvement in this question, but regarded it as the option of last resort to be used if I had evidence that the moderators (not users) were ignoring my flags about answers in comments. Until now I have had no such evidence. The poster, a moderator, now says in one of his answers that the de facto status quo is to allow answers to remain in comments. I have requested an explicit statement from him that this is how he handles my flags. On the basis of his reply I will (in private) proceed as I think fit. – David Apr 19 at 8:36
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    @JJJ — I am not interested in "the site's" attitude to the regulations governing this Stack Exchange. If the jargon "No longer required" (where is this defined?) means that all answers in comments should be deleted, my answer is yes, of course. After all, I imagine I am the user mentioned in the original question. – David Apr 19 at 8:40
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    @Mari-LouA — Thanks. I thought there was a 'd' in it. Somehow my browser doesn't highlight misspellings, and I sometimes forget to do a manual check. (My spelling is poor, but I would never allow autocorrect to mangle my technical documents.) – David Apr 19 at 14:59

Option 4: No answers should appear in comments AT ALL and they should ALL be deleted with extreme prejudice.

This is the most draconian policy. If this ends up as the winner then it will absolutely license the community to use the "No longer required" flag and self-police answers-in-comments.

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    Some sites have this strict a policy (namely RPG and IPS), but I personally think it creates an incredibly stifling environment. (This direction would also cause a fair bit of work for moderators, since I can't image enough people flagging for much to be auto deleted.) – Laurel Apr 2 at 3:21
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    @Laurel - Since the net vote on this answer is very low, your comment will be invisible to some. Could you move or copy it up to the top? – aparente001 Apr 2 at 4:17
  • As a general principle, there is nothing that causes more discord and strife than unenforced "rules". Either get rid of the rule, or make sure it is always applied. – Steve Smith Jul 16 at 15:26

Option X: Require some significantly higher qualifications to comment on questions. Something like >1000 rep, and a particular badge (say, Commenter) that requires passing a little course and test that demonstrates that you do understand what comments are for, and what they are not for.

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    The critics of partial answers in comments will point out that it is our highest-rep users (mid-5 figures and higher) who are the most egregious offenders. – choster Jul 17 at 2:25
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    @choster: Then I guess my answer needs to be extended to allow for some kind of consequences for violation. Suspension of commenting privileges? – Steve Smith Jul 17 at 12:57

Option 1. We allow answers to remain in comments.

This is the de-facto status quo.

Note that this is likely to happen for old comments anyway, unless standard flags are used so the community can clear up comments-as-answers.

  • Could you clarify. Are you prepared to state explicitly that, as a moderator, you have ignored my flags of answers in comments on this basis, despite the clear pan-SE injunction in the comment box? – David Apr 19 at 8:36
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    @David No: I can't say anything about how I dealt with flags, yours or anyone else's, because once they're gone they're gone. One or two "answer in comment" flags might get dealt with; but the "no longer required" flag doesn't require special moderator attention and allows the community to police comments. Use that. Certainly a bunch of sixty custom flags is likely to get declined. – Andrew Leach Apr 19 at 16:28
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    ...and particularly when a large proportion of those custom flags are on comments which are over a year old. If you have the time to trawl through old comments, use the right flag. Moderators do not have an infinite amount of time to deal with custom flags where ordinary flags are available. – Andrew Leach Apr 19 at 16:43

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