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Officially, short answers in comments are not allowed. I actually do this quite a lot because:

  • You can help someone out when you don't have time for a full answer.
  • The length of full answers can cause people to over-complicate or suggest extremely risk-adverse approaches.
  • A lot of questions are dupes, but it's quite hard to find them using search. I may not want to answer a dupe question, but can stretch to a quick comment.
  • Sometimes people respond better to a quick sentence that gives them some phrases to look up, rather than a self-contained answer that spells everything out.
  • While I'm prepared to offer general advice appropriate to their situation, fully understanding a question's unique situation feels more like doing consultancy.

This seems to be pretty common as well. Actually, shout out to schroeder who often leaves really helpful comments, especially on questions that can be easily Google'd (and others do too!)

Can we just skip the "don't short answer in comments" rule. Even if it's general SE policy, comment policy seems to be devolved to individual sites.

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  • I think comments are great for partial answers: "Have you tried..." / "Sounds like it could be ..." / "It's definately not..." – Anders Dec 19 '19 at 11:59
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    And yeah, I just posted that answer as a comment, I just realised. – Anders Dec 19 '19 at 11:59
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I see 3 problems with your proposal:

  1. The danger is that someone won't post an actual answer because it is already contained in a well-written comment. Or when someone says the same thing, it is seen as plagiarism.

  2. Comments cannot be downvoted, which means that comments then have to be responded to when the commenter is wrong or unhelpful, which can end up in a long thread. Answers help to separate the threads.

  3. Comments cannot be accepted, which means that subsequent visitors have to decypher comment threads.

I only "answer" in comments in order to:

  1. Trigger a response to see if my approach is what they are looking for (and often I will delete my comment and convert it into an answer). It's a "strawman" approach.
  2. Provide quick help when the question is off-topic. Off-topic questions without answers get cleaned up. If I submit an answer, and it gets upvoted, the system won't clean it up. It's my way of helping without polluting the question pool.

Instead, we should just be more tolerant of short answers. They accomplish the same thing as a comment but have the benefits above. Post a quick answer and come back later to flesh it out. We typically don't quickly delete correct answers that just need fleshing out. I've been experimenting with really short answers recently.

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  • 2
    Nice one Schroeder, I will try short answers and see how we go – paj28 Dec 16 '19 at 23:16
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    When I come across a question with an answer in comments and 0 Answers, I have no shame about doing an answer with "As @user said in comments, ...". – Mike Ounsworth Dec 19 '19 at 21:55
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I am a relatively new user to stackexchange in general and my opinion is that actual answers are better than comment answers in more than just one way. Although good information can come from comments, it doesn't fully answer the question as you said and if the question-asker follows up with that comment it can be ambiguous whether or not the question was resolved. Most of the time where I see an answer in the comment no actual answer is made.

For new users it can also feel weird seeing a good number of answers in comments, but not being able to participate at all. Maybe participation could be fostered by having comments be the lower barrier to entry before giving an answer, but for other reasons stackexchange just doesn't work that way.

In general, comments aren't made for discussion in part because there aren't threaded replies. Trying to track answers through the comments is almost similar to a forum-post where the answers are out of order and harder to track. Stackexchange was built to avoid scenarios like these!

Sometimes people respond better to a quick sentence that gives them some phrases to look up, rather than a self-contained answer that spells everything out.

As you mention here, a quick sentence to give them some phrases to look up is how comments should be used (from what I've read). Making comments to clarify the question and let the user do their own research is a good use of comments.

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  • Understood, thanks, I will do short answers in future instead of contents – paj28 Dec 16 '19 at 23:47
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I have to admit I am absolutely guilty of this.

The reason why I do it is because my answers usually tend to be a bit longer, and I like to put in references for my claims. Of course, I'm sure you will find plenty of answers of mine that are short and have no references, but in general that's what I do.

But sometimes I don't have the time. Sometimes I'm on my phone, or just busy. I still try to help, and that's when I write a quick comment like "Did you already try...?"


Is it problematic? Yes, it suffers from all the problems schroeder mentioned before. I still think it's worth it to sometimes to give OP at least some information rather than writing a full paragraph on it.

A short, helpful comment is worth more than a long, detailled answer that I didn't bother to write.

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