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Short answers to GR (General Reference) questions should not be converted to comments. The best way to deal with a short answer to a GR question is the usual way: close the GR question, and ultimately delete the question if it does not improve.

An answer of mine was deleted and converted to a comment. The answer was a couple of words and a link to EtymOnline.com. Apparently the rationale was that the answer was “barely more than a link to an external site”. This is one of the reasons given in the FAQ for why an answer might be deleted. (FAQ#deletion)

The practical problem: deleting short answers to GR questions can leave answered questions on the unanswered queue.

The editorial problem: the sole test for whether to remove an answer is whether it “fundamentally answer[s] the question” (FAQ#deletion). If it does, it is always a mistake to close it. The reasons given in the FAQ are helpful, but should not be applied blindly. We explicitly acknowledge in the FAQ that some questions can “be definitively and permanently answered by a single link”: that is our definition of a GR question. (FAQ#close)

It is especially wrong to convert a valid answer to a comment. We discourage users from posting comments which answer a question; we tell them to “post an actual answer”. (privileges/comment) We should not make editorial choices which do exactly the opposite.

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    Your answer wasn't an answer, though. Link only answers aren't answers--even if it remains in the queue. – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 17:35
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    The definition of a GR question is a question that can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link. That means link-only answers are answers – at least when the question is GR. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 17:37
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    What about link rot? GR doesn't make that okay. – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 17:39
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    Link rot can invalidate a link-only answer, certainly; but, by that time that can ever occur, surely the GR question has been either fixed or closed and deleted. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 17:40
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    If by then the question has been fixed, why post it at all? Not every GR question needs an answer--especially if you already voted to close it. – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 17:41
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    Not sure what you mean. A link-only answer has value when posted: surely there is no question of not posting it. Not only does it get the Q off the unanswered queue but quite possibly it actually helps the OP …. Later, either the question will get deleted or the answer might become invalid, but that can be fixed if it occurs. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 17:46
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    If you agree your answer became invalid, why are you saying it shouldn't have been deleted? – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 18:00
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    Not sure where you get that impression. I do not agree my answer became invalid. It definitively and permanently answers the question, in my opinion, and should have stood as an answer. But my answer does nothing more than serve to illustrate. Rather than beat it to death, I'm more interested in your reaction to the general point. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 18:11
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    Your answer was like pointing to Google: it didn't definitively answer the question, just provided a resource. – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 20:01
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    You're addressing the example, not the general point. If an answer could be improved, it should be downvoted, not converted to a comment. Or if an answer is extremely low quality, it should be deleted, not converted to a comment. Answers (when they are in fact answers, regardless of what you think of my example) should not be converted to comments. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 20:10
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    Your answer was flagged as Not an Answer--and it wasn't. Your answer did not have a specific link that could claim to answer the question. Thus, it wasn't an answer and was converted to comment by Reg. – simchona Dec 5 '12 at 20:12
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    A link is not an answer, wherever it appears; a link you post is merely a pointer to an answer, just like the link which points to a Exact Duplicate. It is what is at the other end of the link which “definitively and permanently answer[s]” the question. – StoneyB Dec 5 '12 at 20:25
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    @StoneyB If that is so, then there are no GR questions, sort of by definition … – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 20:54
  • Pish! Likewise Pshaw! Lawyering! "Answered by a single link" is slovenly writing, to be sure; but a link has two ends, with your post at one end and the answer at the other. – StoneyB Dec 5 '12 at 21:09
  • I asked a Meta question from the opposite point of view. The answers bear review. – Andrew Leach Dec 7 '12 at 17:23
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Answers are for on-topic questions. You should not answer in the comments of an on-topic question. It is true that link only answers are frowned upon for many reasons.

General reference questions are expressly off-topic. It is also true that "the definition of a GR question is a question that can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link." It was suggested in this meta post that we should require the "single link" that provided the definitive and permanent answer in the comments when the person who thought it was general reference cast their close vote.

So, that said:

  1. General reference questions are off-topic.
  2. Off-topic questions should be closed and not answered.
  3. Posting a comment with the link that justifies the general reference close reason is appropriate and welcomed.

In summary: don't answer questions that you think should be closed, but comments are OK.

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    If we have a policy that contradicts the FAQ, the policy is ill considered (or maybe we need to fix the FAQ). The FAQ strongly discourages answers in comments. I see your point: a link-only answer and a comment explaining a GR closevote might bear close resemblance to one another. But they're different: a GR question might even have both, and both might even be posted by the same individual. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 18:18
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    The policy doesn't contradict the FAQ. You shouldn't answer questions that you believe should be closed. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 5 '12 at 18:20
  • I do not believe we have an editorial policy that a person shouldn't answer questions just because he believes the question should be closed. Or if we do, we don't enforce it. We never, as far as I know, delete answers just because a question should be closed. We sometimes close questions basically for repair without necessarily invalidating any of the answers and certainly without deleting them. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 18:29
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    We do have a policy about it. It should be enforced, but these Meta things are always gray. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 5 '12 at 18:32
  • They are! #333 to be precise. I don't think your linked meta is relevant: it is about answers to OT questions, not GR questions, and asks whether answers should be downvoted because, in effect, any answer to an OT question is also OT. Furthermore, policy is either what management decides, or what is published in the FAQ or some other "official" site document (such as the privilege guidelines). Meta Q&A is helpful for developing consensus but doesn't set policy. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 18:44
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    GR questions are off-topic questions by definition. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 5 '12 at 19:02
  • The other meta you posted is specifically asking about questions which should be closed with the close reason of OT. FF made the same point there: he thought it might make sense to downvote answers when OT was the best close reason, but not necessarily for any other close reason. Furthermore there was no consensus that it should be done at all. There were plenty of votes for Cerb's point that an OT question might get a good, on-topic answer. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 19:16
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    "We already have the closing system for dealing with off-topic questions; no other tools should be abused for that purpose." Cerb's comment from the most highly upvoted answer to the meta question you linked to. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 19:18
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    Cerb also thinks we should answer all questions ever, regardless of topicality. I think that doing so encourages off-topic questions and is confusing to newbies. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 5 '12 at 19:35
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    If you disagree with the highest voted answer on the meta that you say sets policy, then I think you have implicitly conceded that metas don't set policy. And I think at best we can say editors disagree on whether valid answers should be deleted on OT questions. – MetaEd Dec 5 '12 at 20:00
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I think there is a misunderstanding here: Questions closed as General Reference are not questions that can be answered with a link; they are questions for which there is nothing to say apart what already said from a specific resource.
I could answer them without giving a link, but what I would say is not different from what said in a dictionary, and for that reason, the question, and its answers, would not be much helpful for future readers.

An answer that is merely a link is not considered an answer, and for that reason it could be deleted.
The fact a question could be closed as GR is not an excuse to write an answer that is merely a link. What would you do if the question is re-opened because somebody doesn't consider it a GR? Would you delete the answer you gave because the question is not GR anymore? I guess you would undelete it, if the question is successively closed as GR from another group of five users.

There is just a case when an answer containing just a link is not deleted: When the question is asking for links. In that case, the question should be deleted, not the single answers.
Clearly, when an answer has been flagged as not an answer, and who handles the flag doesn't check what the question is asking, it could happen the answer is deleted, and not the question.
Moderators are supposed to check the flagged post, not the question containing that post, though; if a user is flagging an answer for something that is wrong in the question, the used flag should be more explicit.

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