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I am noticing a bunch of older questions stuck in the Unanswered queue that have an acceptable answer posted as a comment instead of an answer. For the first few I found I just copied the answer into a real answer and submitted it.

But what I really want to do is flag the comment to somehow get converted into an answer. I don't suppose such a thing is possible?


The greater question is whether to allow future comments that are really answers. In my opinion, there is little excuse to post a perfectly complete answer in a comment. It means the asker cannot select it as accepted and it somewhat acts like a dodge around the reputation system we already have in place for answers.

Instead of inundating the mods with really bizarre and controversial flags, let's have a talk about it.

  • Related: #3629 & #2653, both of which discuss feelings on the answers-in-a-comment matter. (By the way, did I just commit the faux pas in question?) ;^) – J.R. Oct 7 '13 at 21:20
  • I think most of those answers are wasting time on explaining why people do this. I don't really care why people do this. I care about how to (a) handle comments that do this and (b) handle old questions that stick around in Unanswered questions as a result of people doing this. – MrHen Oct 7 '13 at 21:54
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    @Mr. Hen - Fair enough; that's why I said "related" and not "a duplicate of." (Incidentally, I'm not sure if I'd say those answers are "wasting time", but I understand and can appreciate how you're hoping this discussion moves in a new direction.) – J.R. Oct 7 '13 at 23:24
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    I think most of the answers-as-comment examples are because the commenter doesn't have the time or maybe the inclination to post a complete, reasoned and sourced answer. Much like this comment. If you want to expand on the comment to provide an answer, feel free: it's all CC-BY-SA. – Andrew Leach Oct 8 '13 at 7:37
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    Flagging a comment for a -mod- to change it to an answer? 1 - Why do you want your parents to take care of it when you can already? 2 - Why so intrusive? Let people use the system the way they feel, especially when it isn't abusing it. Since comments aren't considered 'real', then the entire unanswered question could be removed without any real loss to the community. – Mitch Oct 9 '13 at 18:40
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    The reputation system is stupid and rewards nonsense. So why not dodge it? – Robusto Oct 9 '13 at 21:51
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    @Robusto: If the reputation is nonsense, why care? Post answers where the content really belongs: In answers. – MrHen Feb 9 '15 at 16:46
  • @MrHen: Glad to see you're Johnny-on-the-spot after only 16 months. ^_^\ – Robusto Feb 9 '15 at 16:49
  • @Robusto: Eh, someone commented on something and I thought, "Gee, I haven't poked Robusto in some time." ;) – MrHen Feb 9 '15 at 17:03
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OP has effectively raised two "feature requests" here...

1: Can we have a "flag" option for Please convert this comment into an answer?
2: Should ELU disallow the posting of answers as comments?

As regards #1, this seems a bit unnecessary to me. Any user can cut & paste the relevant comment into an answer (and make it Community Wiki, and/or attribute the original commenter).

And I strongly disagree with #2. People often have sound reasons for "answering" in comments, and it seems a bit "imperious" for others to overrule their judgement. More to the point, how on earth would one "police" a rule saying you can't "answer" in comments? Who decides whether any given text constitutes a comment or an answer?

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    #1 isn't so much unnecessary as I am asking how to do this. I don't personally mind copy/pasting answers out of comments into answers if that is what the community condones. – MrHen Oct 8 '13 at 17:40
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    @MrHen: I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I personally have no objection to anyone copy/pasting my comments as answers - and I've said as much on several occasions. Obviously I appreciate it if my original comment is acknowledged in the answer, but it's not always as clear-cut as that. Someone might combine things from multiple comments, or significantly expand on the content of a single comment. If I see an attribution that's usually "good", but this doesn't imply that not seeing attribution makes me feel bad. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all that. – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '13 at 18:01
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    I agree. I'm retired from answering questions, but sometimes I want to make comments. Why should that be outlawed? It's a matter of personal choice. Also, the nature of comments is to be terse (enforced by character limit on SE sites), and terse answers aren't always sufficiently detailed. – Robusto Oct 9 '13 at 21:47
  • @Robusto: Absolutely. I have the general impression most of your comments these days are more focussed on [constructive] criticism of the questions themselves, but it's obviously entirely up to you whether you "comment" or "answer". Having said that, if it were possible to persuade you to change your position, I'd much rather see you posting comments on ELL than answers on ELU. We do sometimes struggle to abstract the general from the particular there, and your comments on ELU are often helpful in that respect. – FumbleFingers Oct 9 '13 at 22:16
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    ELU already disallows the posting of answers as comments. We just conveniently ignore that fact a lot. – MetaEd Oct 10 '13 at 2:55
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    @MετάEd: ELU already disallows the posting of comments as answers, and mods have often converted such "answers" to comments in the past. But I've no recollection of ever seeing a mod convert a comment to an answer, or publicly take issue with anyone for not posting "correctly". Can you provide any evidence for what looks to me like your opinion, not an explicit site dictat? I think it would be extremely contentious, to say the least. Also, as I said in my answer, it would be totally unenforceable, so if there is any such ruling it needs to be rescinded forthwith. – FumbleFingers Oct 10 '13 at 16:07
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    @FumbleFingers The comment policy is not my opinion. It is published here: english.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment. It is no more unenforceable than any other content policy, such as that answers should not contain new questions. – MetaEd Oct 10 '13 at 16:59
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    @MetaEd: All I can see there is Comments are not recommended for ... Answering a question. That's a helluva long way from ELU already disallows the posting of comments as answers. I don't have any problem with that "recommendation" (which is primarily aimed at explaining to newcomers how the site normally functions). But it's hardly "disallowing" anything in the sense that all SO sites forbid users to harass, threaten, stalk or abuse any person or party – FumbleFingers Oct 10 '13 at 17:28
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I do answer a question in a comment if I think the question is marginal and worthy of closing. I consider this a kindness and an expediency. Kindness because I'm giving the benefit of my knowledge, expediency because I don't have to write a dissertation on the subject.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, and I think this is why so many here still gnash their teeth over this issue.

The fact remains, though: not all questions on this site deserve (or can even use) a thorough answer. Here's one:

I'll handed off to him VS. I'll hand it off to him from movie 'Spotlight'

To which I commented:

That is obviously a typo. The verb form is always infinitive when used with a modal auxiliary. "Handed" is almost certainly a mishearing or mistyping of "hand it" in that context.

That is the answer, right there, but the question was so lacking in usefulness to the site that it certainly didn't deserve its own space as an uppercase "Answer" ...

  • There's an additional value in providing a basic answer as a comment for a LQ question: the system automatically deletes many abandoned, unanswered questions, whereas posting a basic comment as an answer risks that LQ post remaining in our library forever (if no one ever cleans these up years down the track). Examples of answer-type comments to LQ questions: this, this, this. – Chappo Mar 2 at 0:40
  • I call this the "feel-sorry factor". – Lambie Mar 2 at 20:46
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I guess I am not surprised that no one bothered to answer the question I actually asked... but it sounds like there is no comment-to-answer flag and no official StackExchange tool to do this. So the answer to this question is, "No, there is no way to do this aside from copying the comment manually and posting it as an answer."

  • You may want to ask this on meta.SO since this sound like a platform-wide issue. And if it is not a platform-wide issue then it is simply a local behavior that you disagree with. – Mitch Oct 9 '13 at 21:43
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    It is a platform wide issue. But I don't really care about what other communities say because all I care about are EL&U's thoughts on the subject. – MrHen Oct 9 '13 at 22:14
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    On meta.SO: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/49563/… – Mathieu K. Feb 8 '15 at 6:04
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    @Mitch - It might be platform wide, but it's more pronounced on ELU. – aparente001 Mar 3 at 7:03
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I would love to see EL&U adopt a conversion tool for transforming valid answers that appear in comments beneath a question into votable answers.

Although I'm obviously not as dedicated as MrHen has been to moving questions out of the Unanswered Questions queue, I have spent enough time among the questions in that queue to recognize that it is often clogged with items that are satisfactorily answered either in a comment or in an answer based on a comment, but that no one cares to vote up (and off the queue).

I have recast a number of question-answering comments as answers (with attribution to the original commenter), but very few of the resulting answers have been voted up. Giving my recast answers the benefit of the doubt, I suspect that two factors are at play here:

  1. The question is of marginal interest to most readers/voters on the site, or it falls into a category (such as requests for prescriptive style advice) that they don't want to encourage others to ask about or answer.

  2. Readers/voters don't like the idea of rewarding someone for performing the simple act of transforming someone else's valid (but obvious) answer from a comment to an answer.

With regard to item #2, I don't especially want to be rewarded with points; I just want to clear some of the weeds from the Unanswered Questions queue. But I understand the general reluctance to view something as obvious as a restatement of a comment to be point-worthy.

Elsewhere I have suggested allowing questions to be closed for the reason "Answered in Comments" (see my second answer to General Reference = general clairvoyance? and my comment beneath the OP's question in Hold-Reason Suggestion: "More Research Desired" (MRD))—but that suggestion hasn't gained much support, and I'm less enthusiastic about it myself, seeing that it would drop potentially useful Q&A's from the site's searchable results.

Here's another possibility: Why not permit users who have established the necessary level of trustworthiness—by accumulating, say, 10,000 points, or 15,000, 20,000 points—submit answers that are really just conversions of comments) as a community entity called something like "From the Comments" and then (if they wish) upvote that answer as themselves?

In other words, suppose that user "CaptainMarvelous" has provided a perfectly serviceable answer to a question, but his answer has appeared as a comment, not an answer. I come along and want to convert it into an answer for voting, but I don't want it to bear the stigma of being my "original" submission (which it isn't); so I submit it under the user identity "From the Comments." Having done so, I (and anyone else who wants to) can upvote (or downvote) the answer, just as though it were someone else's answer (which it is).

To ensure that this arrangement serves only the narrow purpose for which it exists (that is, the purpose of moving good answers from the comments to the answers, and thereby reducing the number of questions that linger indefinitely in the limbo of the Unanswered Questions queue), we could add several prerequisites to the system. For example, we might require that the question must have lingered in the Unanswered Questions queue for at least 30 days, that the comment to be converted must have attracted at least 2 (or 3 or 5) upvotes in order to qualify for conversion into an answer, that the converted answer must reproduce the original comment verbatim, and that the person performing the conversion must have earned a specified number of points (10,000, 15,000, or 20,000, say) in order to have access to the "From the Comments" user ID.

This approach offers several potential benefits:

  1. The original commenter, who obviously didn't want the exposure to upvotes and downvotes that comes with submitting an answer as an answer, is insulated from numerical censure or reward.

  2. The fact that legitimate answers posted as comments may eventually become full-fledged answers may impel more answerers to cut to the chase and, in the future, submit their answers as answers in the first place.

  3. The person converting the comment to an answer won't look like a self-serving point grubber, since all upvote points will go to the institutional entity "From the Comments."

  4. Unlike with "Closed: Answered in Comments," questions that may have some long-term value in the EL&U archives will remain open and therefore accessible to search.

  5. The Unanswered Questions queue will have fewer items in it, and the questions that it does have will truly be as-yet unanswered ones.

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