What is the correct way to deal with someone who posts an answer largely echoing material put forward in a previous 'comment' (possibly because the 'commenter' wanted to help the questioner, but felt the question not quite appropriate for ELU)?

  • Hugely related, and probably a duplicate: Answer reposts someone else's comment – Andrew Leach Jan 20 '15 at 18:31
  • Certainly, Andrew: I couldn't find it. Not that I think there's a satisfactory answer there. Sometimes, the 'we post things in comments that we consider too elementary etc to merit an "answer" ' instruction then gets abused by others; this does the site's prestige no favours. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 20 '15 at 23:03
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    As far as I know, comments are not proper answers ( can be deleted by users or mods anytime etc. ) so if you prefer to post a comment instead of an answer for whatever reason ( there are users who do that quite often) you are just giving other users food for thought..and I think they are right to post an answer if they think that the material in the comments is good. Why don't you post it as an answer yourself??? In any case answers unlike comments can be downvoted. – user66974 Jan 21 '15 at 7:37
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    @Josh61 It wasn't specifically a comment of mine I was exercised about. I post answers where (1) I feel I'm able to do so usefully (2) They're merited in my opinion. As regards quoting from earlier comments, as Reg Dwight has said:'[W]e write stuff in comments that is too obvious to qualify for an answer. [eg if a word has already been suggested in an SWR question]' – – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '15 at 10:58
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    @EdwinAshworth - I was not referring to you specifically. My impressionn is that comments are often misused (we already talked about that) and used to give answers..which in my opinion should not. – user66974 Jan 21 '15 at 11:00
  • @EdwinAshworth - I felt kind of guilty when I read your question because, as a new user, I have on (I believe) 2 occasions, posted answers (and, if I am remembering correctly, 1 of those mirrored a suggestion left by you in comment) only to find--after the fact, mind you--that my posted answer was akin to a comment that had been posted--before my answer, but which I hadn't seen. Sometimes I'm so busy and rush to post an don't take the time to check all the comments. Please understand that this was unintentional and I was quite disappointed as I want 2 be first with the best answer when I can. – user98990 Jan 27 '15 at 8:18
  • @Little Eva The persons I'm referring to come back with a 'So what!?' rather than an 'I feel kind of guilty'. I'm sure we've all made unintentional copies. Keep posting! – Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 '15 at 16:41
  • @EdwinAshworth - Thank you sir. Glad you made contact, was a bit anxious when I hadn't hard from you. I'm far too vain to purposely plagiarize. Don't know if that's good or bad. Been busy last couple days with some paying legal work - be back soon. :-) – user98990 Jan 30 '15 at 7:29
  • @Little Eva My computer is even more finicky than the English language (perhaps that's an exaggeration). If I go absent, it's usually a computer problem or a holiday (when my wife bans the topic of grammar: unnatural cruelty). PS You're inviting serial downvoting just by admitting you're in the legal profession. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 '15 at 9:42
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    I know! @EdwinAshworth - I feel like downvoting myself whenever it strikes me afresh. – user98990 Jan 30 '15 at 12:47

I do sometimes restate as a formal answer the answer that a commenter has provided in response to a simple question, but I generally try to observe three points of protocol in doing so:

  1. I focus my efforts on questions that I find in the Unanswered Questions queue. Any question that already has an answer with a net positive vote score will not appear in that queue.

  2. I wait several weeks before offering such a restatement. This ensures that I'm answering a question that isn't on the verge of being closed, but instead shows signs of lingering indefinitely in the Unanswered Questions queue, taking up space there.

  3. I give explicit credit to the commenter who provided the dispositive answer to the question.

Truth to tell, the answers in most such cases don't redound to the credit of either the commenter or me because they are obvious and elementary. But perhaps seeing an actual answer to the question will encourage another reader not to ask the same one (assuming that such readers search for such questions and answers before posting the same question). Or perhaps someone will upvote the obvious answer, and we'll have one less piece of dead weight in the queue. Or perhaps, as is usually the case, nothing will happen—but at least we will have a formal answer to the question in place.

Interesting and challenging questions do sometimes lurk in the nether reaches of the Unanswered Questions queue. And I think it's a shame that those questions are surrounded by a mid-Pacific Gyre of dull and incoherent questions that repel any but the most dedicated question answerer from seeking them out. I don't have a solution to the problem of what to do with the junk besides to try to retire it, but I do think that the Unanswered Questions queue is well worth inspecting regularly in hopes of spotting an interesting question that somehow went unanswered (or unupvoted) on its first descent through the EL&U main page.

  • I'd like to see your 'three points of protocol' adopted as site policy. Most gracious and reasonable. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 21 '15 at 11:01
  • Only in relation to 3), I don't mean to be critical, but having explicit references to members inside content doesn't make sense to me. I don't see such references in wikipedia content for instance. Imho the encyclopedic nature of the content precludes such an approach, plus handles can change over time. Thank you. – user98955 Jan 21 '15 at 12:45
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    @Amphiteóth: Usernames do change, and comments do disappear (under various circumstances)—and either of these factors can render a reference to, say, "Susan's comment above" meaningless as a practical pathway to the original source in question. Nevertheless, insofar as it declares the source I used, identifying the commenter feels no different to me than citing (and linking to) a book I may have used as my source: The link may go away, and the book may be unfindable, but it is still a true naming of my source. and to that extent (I think) has value as a form of documentation/acknowledgment. – Sven Yargs Jan 21 '15 at 19:15
  • Thank you for explaining; I find the logic compelling. But for a long time I have had a somewhat different opinion but solely about the comment linking. I may write an answer accordingly. Thanks! – user98955 Jan 21 '15 at 21:30
  • How about posting a comment suggesting that the original commenter repost it as an answer? I usually try that before posting the answer myself, unless I think I can fill in more details and explain the solution better. – Barmar Jan 28 '15 at 21:36

As Josh61 noted, comments are comments. Answers are answers. If you think your reply will answer the users question, take a few seconds to find a link to a reliable source and post it as an answer. I believe comments are for clarification and further discussion, not for answering the users question. Any time you do that, it's fair game and you are running the risk of someone hijacking your content. Yes, the answerer should reference your comment if they are directly copying it, but there are no rules saying that "if a commenter got to it first, you can't use it as an answer," and it should stay that way.

Basically, if your answer is an answer, post it as one.

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    This does not accord with 'Sometimes, we post things in "comments" that we consider too elementary etc to merit an "answer" ' instruction I cited. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 '15 at 18:05
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    Well I'm expressing my opinion that I don't believe that should ever be the case. If you can answer a question, do so. If you think something is off-topic or GR, vote/flag to close - don't bother answering it. If you want to help the asker by answering with a comment while voting to close, it shouldn't matter if your answer gets copied because the question will be closed anyway. – Chase Sandmann Jan 29 '15 at 18:10

I'm going to go with: Not starting a fight over nothing by making condescending comments on perfectly legitimate answers and in doing so derailing an actual conversation that was taking place.

Refer yourself to Andrew Leach's comment for a duplicate meta question which contains overwhelming support for my stance.

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    Would that be 'The answer is not a copy-and-paste of [an obvious key element of] the comment; if it were, I would expect the user to give credit to the user who wrote the comment.'? Refer yourself to the courtesies usually observed in answers on ELU. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 20 '15 at 23:22
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    This doesn’t answer or even remotely address the question. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 22 '15 at 17:05

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