There is an astonishing amount of answers in comments here. Some of them gathered around 20 to 50 upvotes, and clearly provide a partial or full answer - and that isn't what the stack is for!

What got me started was this full and correct answer in comments that has since become obsolete (and deleted as of around 2018-10-03 17:50): What got me started: Answers in comments.

I find the two answers in comments rude. I flagged them repeatedly because they are showing a "My answer is above the Voting system". They are still there. They are obsolete. They break the guideline on comments that they shall not provide (patial) answers. They are answers in comments which game the system (quality control).

And there are Many More Examples - Questions in Strory ID that don't have answers but tons of answer attempts in the comments. One unanswered one is here:

Lots of Answer attempts in the comments

One could have tried it with an answer and then discuss the merits of these answers on the actual answer, not having to rely on the not QCed comments.

Same problem here:

another "Answer attempts" in comments case

WHY shouldn't we?!

Comments don't have any Quality Control but only upvotes. One can't show that an comment is wrong or comment on it he way one could on an answer. One can't improve on it. One can't correct it. Or add reasoning that was missingfrom a bad answer.

Comments are meant to give a hint to the right direction or request clarification, they are not meant to replace answers or answer attempts. But this happens, especially in the . Indeed, most questions in story-identification only have a single answer that was weeded out via the comments first. This is not how the stack is supposed to work based on the help files.

An answer attempt, even a wrong one, warrants an answer on its own! A wrong answer can be discussed why it is not the right answer on its own.

A different thing arises: these comments often become obsolete and then create distracting space between the question and the answers.

Do you want to know more?

The Main Meta site has some dozen discussions about answers in comments, and they all lead to the same thing: "DON'T do it!" For example

Then there is the general help center (shared among all stacks), which tells us:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

(emphasis added)

Other stacks have a very hard stance on answers in comments. For example the RPG.SE has a zero-tolerance policy towards it, and even made a Q&A on it. Or two. Or ten.

Other sites, like Math, drive a slightly less harsh course, but even there, it is not accepted.

What this is not:

This is not a question why people answer in comments, it ismeant to remind people tha answering in comments is not the way to go.

The edge between comment and answer here is wider than on other stacks, but Answers in comments are still outside of how the stack works: you can't downvote a comment.

Do your Part!

Now I ask of you: DO YOUR PART! Join Mobile Answer-as-Comment-Hunters Now! Burn the heretic; Kill the mutant; Purge the unclean. Go forth and hoist the flags of the inquisition, mount the flags on the sinner's contents. Turn their contents into answers and earn the Karma they don't want if you like, but credit where credit is due!

Make the SF&F.SE a better place today! For a cleaner future of the stack!

Fun Fact

Everybody started to derail and in some parts discuss in comments on this, which is again not what comments are for as of help file. The discussion moved to chat.

  • 10
    This comes up every now and then. Whilst answers in comments are discouraged here we generally don’t mind them. In some cases it’s even not a problem: not enough time to make a comment into an answer, just use the comment and let someone else make it an answer. Think you know a story I’d but can’t match it completely: comment, may or may not be correct and can help others. We’re just more lenient on them here. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 3 '18 at 6:59
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    @TheLethalCarrot Can you post a link to meta post that came to the conclusion that "here we generally don’t mind them [answers in comments]"? Because it's written in black and white in the rules of SE that answering in comments really isn't OK, for a good number of reasons too long to list in a single comment – Mithrandir24601 Oct 3 '18 at 7:15
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    @TheLethalCarrot the stacks have different rigidity stances, but overall: "It is not OK". – Trish Oct 3 '18 at 7:17
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    @TheLethalCarrot - not really? It means "flag and delete this, because they don't work with the way the system works (and the system was designed for them not to work)". SE is meant to be a repository of useful questions and answers, not a collection of questions, half-answers, and full answers. – Mithical Oct 3 '18 at 7:30
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    Firstly, comments do not game the reputation system. They "game" the quality control system (if they have to game a system). A comment doesn't give you any rep, and therefore is no benefit if you actually intend to earn some rep. While it also means you can't be downvoted and lose rep, it requires 5 downvotes to each upvote, something quite easy to overcome if you were intending to game the system... – Edlothiad Oct 3 '18 at 7:42
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    Now while they may "game" the quality control system. It's very rare on site, to see a question have 0 net score but double digit votes going each way. Most comments under 10 upvotes are usually ignored, and in long comment chains low voted comments are hidden. This therefore really doesn't game the quality control system. Furthermore, the though that one can provide an "excellent" answer in under 560 characters is outrageous, I could hardly frame my comment in three times as many, we strive for the best content and a comment never provides such. – Edlothiad Oct 3 '18 at 7:43
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    Finally, "But they could provide an answer?", is a ridiculous sentiment to presume someone always has time to answer. Some people have real life taking them away and what to help the fellow users on the site get to the answer as quickly as possible for the Original Asker. By posting a comment with an answer/partial answer, they can be the stepping stone for someone else to post an excellent answer. Are you now going to claim that they're gaming someone else's reputation? – Edlothiad Oct 3 '18 at 7:44
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    @Trish - Well, the alternative is that they don't say anything and then their useful stub of an idea is lost. – Valorum Oct 3 '18 at 8:07
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    @Trish I'd rather some useful insight information can be said as a comment for a starting point for someone else than miss out on that information altogether. Also starting point with no evidence is not an answer, it's some relevant information to help the OP and answerers – TheLethalCarrot Oct 3 '18 at 8:12
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    @Trish You may wish to spend some time learning the culture of a site before diving in head first proposing change in such a drastic manner. SE policy may set out general guidance and rules but some, such as how to use comments, can be shaped by how the community feels they want to use them. Here we don't mind them. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 3 '18 at 15:22
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    So is this a reminder on not to answer in comments or a post disguised as that because you'd like the comments you link deleted? – TheLethalCarrot Oct 3 '18 at 16:00
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    @TheLethalCarrot - There doesn't seem to be anything in the that would merit flagging them repeatedly for moderator attention. Maybe I'm missing something... – Valorum Oct 3 '18 at 16:09
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    You said it yourself: Comments are meant to give a hint to the right direction or request clarification. That's what a 'partial answer in a comment' is; a nudge in the right direction. – Möoz Oct 4 '18 at 0:51
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    Comments don't have any Quality Control but only upvotes You may be unfamiliar, but in this community, we have an excellent history of comment control. Mostly centred on the fact that the community understands how we use comments, and moderators look to be doing an excellent job of keeping comments in check. Therefore, in lieu of a good example of how this is a real problem on this site, other than that they don't follow the letter of the law, I don't see why we need to make any changes. – Möoz Oct 4 '18 at 0:58
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    With every edit made to this question I'm seeing less and less of a problem with the way the site currently operates. – ibid Oct 7 '18 at 4:12

I think there's another part of the help center information on comments that deserves to be in bold face. You emphasized a when not to point, but there is a when to point above it:

  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post

Each stack has some autonomy in how they decide to enforce certain rules, and which guidelines they hold to higher or lower standards. Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange has a history of realizing that some users are aware of or have better access to the niche information of our different geekeries and nerddoms. Or recognizing that not everyone always has the time or expertise to know if the information they have is truly relevant, or if the OP has seen it before or not. There's a myriad of other justifications, which commentary here and on other posts has brought up.

So, there tends to be more "relevant but minor" or "transient" information available under our posts. We don't necessarily consider those to be answers. And that doesn't mean that our posts want for real answers, or that our site quality suffers because of it. We have a high number of questions per day for a non-technical stack, an active user base, and some of the highest reputation users on the network.

When looking at comments, then, I'd suggest evaluating whether or not we consider the information within minor or not. Although we already have a soft policy of allowing certain answering within comments, I'd argue that we don't really allow full-stop answers, but we do weight the idea of "relevant but minor" information a bit higher than other stacks.

Even in the example question/comment, it seems that analysis there was more of an English analysis, which didn't seem to be the point of the question. The comment also didn't stop there being not only a large number of answers, but one with over 100 upvotes(!) and a large bounty. And comments on some of those answers were definitely done "properly", asking for or providing clarification. None of the concerns about potential harm to the experience of commenting or answering or voting really seem to have held up.

It's difficult to build a full model to analyze whether that holds up true in all cases, but in my experience it holds true much more often than not. Adding extra information in comments has not been a detriment to our site. It has not robbed anyone of reputation, cheated the voting or review systems. On the contrary, I have found that others have used that information to successfully write their own answers or improve them, myself included (I admit to confirmation bias there, but there are other community members that have indicated the same).

  • 7
    I think you raise a good point. I suspect a fair amount of my own commenting on other people's Questions (or suggested Answers) starts with me thinking: "That reminds me of something interesting which others might like to know about" -- but the "something interesting" is a side issue that would have no business being presented as "The Ultimate Answer to the original Question!" It may be relevant to the topic at hand, but it is not a direct answer. So I post it as a quick little comment, instead of trying to pretend it should be seriously considered for "acceptance" as the best answer. – Lorendiac Oct 4 '18 at 1:33
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    Given that ours is one of the few sites that have managed to make Story-ID questions work (and noting that other sites that have failed to make them work are those that more stringently control "answers" in comments), demanding that we radically overhaul how we treat comments seems like it could be a big change for the worse. – Valorum Oct 4 '18 at 13:41

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