I have noticed the following comment left pretty much verbatim, and it bothers me:

This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post.

I'm not a moderator, I have no access to anything above the most basic review queues, so I don't know if this a quick response available at higher reputation levels.

But leaving it on new new users' posts doesn't seem terribly helpful. Why suggest to leave a comment when they can't leave a comment?

To be constructive here, a possible solution would be to offer two separate answers depending on the rep level of the poster, with new users getting a slightly more helpful version that does not suggest leaving a comment.

Meta.SE comments: here

  • 1
    Sure, but what is your alternative? Is the wording above wrong or just not as diplomatic as you'd like? People are not supposed to put in a comment in the answer box. Why do we tell people to drive on one side of the road? You can drive on either.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:23
  • 6
    @Mitch the wording there is fine, but it's not geared to new users. it tells the users "you should have posted this as a comment", but for new users, there is no "add a comment" link anywhere. talk about frustrating!
    – Erich
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:29
  • 1
    This also matches my feeling, that is is not necessarily right to ban new users from commenting. I can only speak for myself, but when I started out here I would rather have written one or two comments first and then put up the courage to actually write an answer to something. Comments feel smaller and it feels much better to not get any up vote or reply to a comment than to be told (or just to think yourself) that your answer or question is not relevant because you are not sure how things are handled on this specific SE.
    – skymningen
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:34
  • 4
    Erick, @skymninge: the point to the SE design (not just ELU) is to stop the flood of idiotic writings by non-serious visitors. For something not idiotic by a new visitor who is serious, it is very frustrating, but the site design is to prevent one-off visitors from influencing the site. The site is engineered to not have an 'add a comment' link for people with low rep. So maybe the message needs to say additionally something about that. If that is what you think then add that to your suggestion (and add the tag 'feature request')
    – Mitch
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 13:10
  • @Mitch: But as they are in fact allowed to write answers, there is nothing to stop them writing something idiotic. And I still think a bad/spam answer is worse than a bad/spam comment. For example, you could write comments first without earning reputation, but earn reputation (to later write questions and answers) by upvotes to those comments.
    – skymningen
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 13:12
  • 2
    @Mitch i agree completely, but telling people "this should have been a comment" is unhelpful if they can't add comments. and i want to do that politely in such a way that they are not scared off and we're not perceived as pedantic curmudgeons.
    – Erich
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 13:16
  • 1
    Erick, @skymninge: I am not against your suggestion, just trying to explain. I changed this to a feature request. I also suggest that you see if it has been discussed already on meta.SE
    – Mitch
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 13:47
  • @erich I think it is helpful because now they know what is appropriate for an answer and what would be more appropriate as a comment--something they clearly didn't know before. If new users never learn how to use the site, then they won't develop into serious contributors.
    – Nicole
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 15:02
  • 2
    @Erich and Skyminge: I can't remember now how my rep developed, I think I started with a seriously good answer on Travel, and commented only afterwards. But I really appreciate you saying that it's dumb and insulting to tell someone to do X without giving him somewhere in which to do X. Another thing: until the high-reppers desist from putting their own answers in Comments, do they actually possess the moral authority to teach newbies the difference?
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 16:21
  • 1
    @DavidPugh I am someone who might be accused of putting answers in comments, but that is a false equivalence. answers put in a comment is very different from comments put in answers. Comments are considered deletable at whim, answers not.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 19:57
  • @Mitch: I thought the author could delete both comments and answers?
    – David Pugh
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 20:37
  • @DavidPugh sure they both can, but comments are easily deleted by mods and there are all sorts of behavioral attitudes differentiating answers and comments, making the comments mostly ignorable. I'm not the one you should be arguing with, you should be arguing with the designers of SE, and on meta.SE.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 21:26
  • 1
    @skymninge "it is not necessarily right to ban new users from commenting" Newcomers aren't banned, they have to demonstrate that they can be trusted. But I do feel the 50 points rep is a little too high. 25 rep sounds more reasonable. And I still think a bad/spam answer is worse than a bad/spam comment..
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 11:19
  • Not too sure I'd agree with you there. Idiotic answers are easily spotted and can either be downvoted (which you can't do with comments); or edited and improved on; flagged; or in the end, deleted. Imagine a single user leaving ten comments in ten different posts, all totally unrelated—a nightmare! Now imagine if that were ten users doing the same thing.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 11:20
  • @Mitch *sure they both can, but comments are easily deleted by mods and there are all sorts of behavioral attitudes differentiating answers and comments, answers are easily deleted by a single mod, and sometimes these answers have gained a wide consensus from the community. I have seen privileges being abused, which I find difficult to justify.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 11:28

2 Answers 2


I don't fully agree with the premise of the Question, that "we tell users to comment when they don't have sufficient rep to do so". It clearly states the limitations on Commenting, as a privilege to be earned via reputation building.

One can argue that this restriction is undesirable for policy reasons, but that is a different discussion, one that has been held on Meta.SE as well as many Community Meta sites. If new users are motivated at all to earn this privilege by participation in constructive ways, that aspect of the templated text is serving a useful and encouraging purpose.

There are some corner cases where "comments-as-answers" are worthy of being transformed (by a Moderator) into actual Comments (one can and should flag for Moderator attention in those rare cases). But often the posts that get deleted with an explanation that it isn't an answer but (possibly) a comment instead are simply failed efforts at providing useful answers.

Thus the primary message of the templated text is giving the OP a sense of which way they have failed in using the Answer box on this site.

Further this particular message is only a template, and an optional one from a list of several available to a Reviewer. That is, the No Comment option is the default, and since the message is posted as a Comment under the Reviewer's username, it is editable for an interval of time after posting, and it can be deleted by them at any time.

  • 1
    just to clarify, i'm not arguing for new users to be able to comment from the start. i think the restriction is spot-on. but the template is a one-size-fits-all solution where some wiggle room is necessary imho. new users don't immediately understand the difference between comments and answers when they are only shown an answer button. i agree the current template is informative, and in this sense it is motivating to acquire rep. on the other hand, for users who think they are answering, a link to How to Answer might be more appropriate.
    – Erich
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 0:20
  • @erich: I agree with you that in many cases a link to How to Answer or the Help Center FAQ generally is a better response, and I frequently use that when it seems the user was actually trying to answer a Question. I added a little about the Reviewer's options to my Answer.
    – hardmath
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 20:32
  • 3
    Occasionally, even "Not An Answer"-flagged answers are converted to comments by moderators, particularly if they make a point not already covered.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 20:28
  • @AndrewLeach and occasionally a high upvoted answer is deleted without any explanation.(Not any of mine, but I've seen it happening to others)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 11:32

Firstly, yes that text is a templated response available from the review queue. It is worded the same way on all the sites that I can see.

I have seen quite often on sites like SuperUser that new users will post an answer along the lines of "Have you tried...?". This is clearly something that should be in a comment. In these cases the template response is appropriate and guides users to the help centre.

The reputation threshold for comments has been discussed here. It tries to teach new users the difference between a comment and an answer on the SE system.

It is true that the Not An Answer close reason is sometimes used too enthusiastically. It is also true that the wording may be confusing to a new user.

The template texts do get changed from time to time. Perhaps you could suggest an improvement. Meta.SE may be a better place to do that.

  • 1
    if anything, i think the system should offer an alternative response if the poster has < 50 rep. i also haven't noticed other sites having the same problem we do over here; most new users here should actually be posting on ell. (though, math overflow may have a similar problem with math.se.)
    – Erich
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 12:43

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