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One of the common comment flags I get is for posting partial or incomplete answers in the comments section.

I, honestly think there's value in allowing this. Sometimes it is possible to provide valuable insight, even when you don't have the knowledge or time to provide a proper answer.

That being said, I'm willing to abide by what the community thinks.

Do we want moderators deleting comments because they are a partial answer to the question?

  • As much as would like to upvote this question, seeing its current score, for "bringing it up", I still hesitate as for my taste you present it a bit too far on the "I'd like that" side. I fully see that there might be "valuable insight in comments", but I think we really should have that "valuable insight" in answers. Could you rephrase to make this less like "I think we should do this"? – LаngLаngС Oct 5 at 20:41
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    @LangLangC for many people(me included), If they don't have enough time or knowledge to write something good enough to be an answer, and they can't share what little they might know in comments, they will opt to not write anything at all. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Oct 5 at 23:51
  • @LangLangC On another note, go ahead and vote however you want. There's no reason to be afraid to vote differently than others have voted. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Oct 5 at 23:53
  • That's different from attempting to answer. Something like: answerers may want to consider <this link> or <this law> when looking into the subject matter is different from writing a stand alone statement. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Oct 6 at 2:05
  • It is a +1 for bringing it up, despite my concerns: that we should not allow answers-in-comments below left standing for long. If they do have value, they need to be transferred to the answer-box. – LаngLаngС Oct 6 at 13:04
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    Perhaps the downvotes are metaSO-style disagreement with the proposition in the title? So, the low score means that people think we should not allow posting of answers in comments. That’s how I interpreted it, as otherwise the disconnect between the question and answer scores don’t really make sense – divibisan Oct 7 at 1:32
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No.

Comments lack the facilities to support proper answers. There are significant size and formatting constraints, no (public) revision history, and, quite importantly, comments cannot be downvoted.

Partial answers, on the other hand, are okay. I don't see why we should use comments for them, just post them as regular answers.

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    Posting controversial answers in comments specifically to avoid downvotes is a common abuse of the commenting system. If we allowed partial answers in comments, I have no idea how we would be able to distinguish those that were posted in good faith from those that were not. – yannis Oct 3 at 21:45
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    Like said. And: Shouldn't we call explicitly and specifically for others to take ('good faith') comment-answers, turning them into a 'proper answer', and specifically declare source attribution low prio optional? And only while it lasts, meaning once a flag is raised or mod spots them to destroy those comments on sight? Seems the only deterrent is to have comment-answerers see to have this tidbit vanish and others getting rep? – LаngLаngС Oct 4 at 13:05
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    @LangLangC I agree: if you make a comment, you're putting that idea out there. You can't get upset if someone else turns it into a real answer. If you cared, you should have written it as an answer! – divibisan Oct 4 at 14:54
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I concur with the idea that (semi-)answers in comments are evil rather than good.

The only goal for comments must be improving the post — Question or Answer, respectively.
Everything else is just noise that harms readability and, essentially, contradicts the Stack Exchange niche market: a place for quality questions and quality answers, with the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio.

In some cases (semi-)answers in comments deter others from contributing full answers. The logic is simple: I know the answer, I want to post it as a full-featured Answer, but then I see someone's Comment that hints toward a solution, then I hesitate to post my own Answer because I don't want look like I'm stealing someone else's ideas.

This answer at RPG.SE is worth posting here completely:

You should not answer in comments. Not partial answers, not full answers. Not "leads on" an answer. Not "I would answer but I'm tired/just woke up/am drunk so I'll just say this..." These will be deleted. Answer in answers.

Answering in comments does the following things.

  1. It bypasses question closes. They're closed for a reason.
  2. It provides an answer that can't be marked as an answer for future people's knowledge.
  3. It contributes to long comment debates as you can comment on an answer, but it's unclear what you're commenting on in a comment thread.
  4. It is "cheating" by locking your answer to the top. Answers with higher votes/accepted answers should go to the top to indicate their quality. Bypassing that by sticking your answer in a comment on the question is unacceptable.
  5. It bypasses all our quality control mechanisms: we can't downvote your "answer", edit it, or comment on it to request clarification or improvements. Answers also bump a question to the top so that people will scrutinize the answer; comments don't do this.

The long and short of it is, every part of how how the site functions, all of which have lengthy justification as being part of the process of SE - rep, answers, accepts, edits, etc - is obviated by using comments for answers. So every good goal of all that functionality is nullified by this practice.

Now, "but the hapless questioner could use that info!" In nearly all cases someone posts the same information in a (much more comprehensive) answer. Or take the time yourself to write a real answer. We don't like crappy questions or crappy answers, and we'd rather not have the Q or A than to have one that doesn't meet site quality (hence closes/deletes, part of the standard SE functionality). If you don't care enough to write a real answer don't, the likelihood that you're the only person in the world/on the site that knows that bit of info is very small.

While users are welcome to steal the info in the comments to generate answers of their own, that will not slow the pace of dealing with the answers-in-comments via flagging and deletion.


Do we want moderators deleting comments because they are a partial answer to the question?

I would suggest some obvious steps:

  • ask the author of the comment to post the comprehensive Answer; a diamond Moderator's encouragement could help some people who are otherwise hesitant;
  • if a semi-answer indeed contains a valuable gem of information, invest your own time to post it as a Comm-Wiki Answer;
  • in all cases, remove the comment afterwards;
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We already tolerate too much remarks in answers. Answers which advocate a point of view, regardless of whether they are sourced or not, can simply cherry pick facts which put too much weight on the irrelevant. At the very least, the downvotes, which we don't see enough of, on these pure-advocacy answers are still possible. There is no way to downvote snide remarks which attract upvotes from those who enjoy them.

What we should do, however, is make it clear that we do tolerate partial answers. Answers which may not fully explain a topic, but which provide a clear direction in which a topic can be researched, should be welcomed. If fuller answers show up, the authors of the partial answers should be encouraged to remove their own answers.

Also if the answers on the site can be posted in comments, then the authors would be incentivized to do so because comments can't be downvoted. This would create a site where the moderators are free to shape opinions (by arbitrary deletion of answers) rather than a site where the moderators' sole mandate is to shape the quality of content.

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    To add to that, answers when deleted can still be reviewed by many users (everyone with over 2000 rep) so there's more accountability compared to deleted comments which can only be accessed by moderators. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Oct 5 at 11:36
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    Why should previous "partial answers" be encouraged to be removed? First come, first served? Some users abandon ship after a while (like, now, en mass), some are just not around when another A gets posted. Most of the time, newer As may be fuller, but even they do not include everything, ahev s slightly different perspective. Etc. Just let OP for answer decide that on own terms. Am totally against that one sentence. And: Remove the "delete partials" and I concur to the rest. – LаngLаngС Oct 5 at 20:46
  • @LangLangC because if a full answer needs to cover topics A,B and C and a partial answer covers topic A, then, when a new answer which covers all three topics arrives, the answer which only covered topics A is just noise. The author should not be required to answer, but should be encouraged. The site exists for the purpose of gathering useful answers to questions -- not for the sake of those who would provide the answers. – grovkin Oct 5 at 21:44
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    Yo. A full answer does need that. But it is then also waaay too long for average voter on SE to even follow. (U believe ME!) If answer B fully absorbs contents of A, in all nuances, then A seems superficial, and OP of A knows that? Or agrees? We just now see on ME that the system can handle 50 answers… Other than a very small reminder, like you suggested, there should be 0 encouragement to delete earlier answers based on later answer just because later does what earlier did as well? We just want to encourage answers, not in any way deleting them? – LаngLаngС Oct 5 at 21:55
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    @LangLangC yeah, I don't really have a strong attachment to having a big axe hanging over partial answers. It's a minor point relative to the point that we should actually be allowing partial answers. – grovkin Oct 5 at 22:08
  • My guess: pointing out to posters that ack'ing "that the following is" (for site-policy resaons__no answers in comments) "just partial answer" (allowing that much meta comm; OR: leaving it out is fine as well!) would be: much gained? Upvote-worthy in any case if (content correct &) exceeding the char-limit for comments? (And really what should be flagged as "answer disguised as comment"?) – LаngLаngС Oct 5 at 22:14

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