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This is kind of a public service announcement, but I've seen a recent spike in people using comments, rather than answers, to actually answer questions. Please refrain from that activity and, if I might suggest, have a review of the comment everywhere privilege information to see what you should be using comments for (and also what not).

In the meanwhile, if you're wondering where your comment as an answer might have disappeared to... Ping me in chat so that I can enable it long enough for you to make it an actual answer. It's worth remembering that partial answers are okay, there's a reason the site allows for more than one.

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Note: this post is written from the context of SE sites in general, and may or may not apply to my activity on pets.SE specifically. In particular, questions on SE sites for math, chemistry, and programming have clearly "correct" answers much more than those about pets, psychology, or even advanced physics.


I might answer in a comment if any of the following are true:

  • I'm not sure my answer is right
  • my answer is speculative, e.g., "based on statement x from your question, it seems logical that inference y", but I have no reference or experience to cite
  • my answer is very incomplete, e.g., "only when it's raining" is the full text of my comment
  • my answer is too narrow for the question, e.g., "well, if specific situation q is true, then answer p" when question obviously includes other situations too

If and when I do this, though, it's because the question interests me enough that I feel compelled to offer what little I have at the moment. It might be a seed for someone else to turn into an answer (either because I don't have enough to offer without research, or because I want to let someone else get the rep for turning my drive-by comment into a good answer), or if I check back later and nobody has done so, I may decide to turn it into an answer myself.

Another possible situation is a question from a beginner in the topic at hand, such that the answer is either common knowledge among non-beginners even if they aren't experts, or is extremely easy to find (http://bfy.tw/1EYM) - I might "drop a hint" in a comment for someone else to pick up and build an answer from.

  • Most of the reasons I see you list are to really test the waters and avoid the down votes. You'll note that in the link I provided, none of those are listed as a reason to comment. :) In any event, the way I would tackle that is to note that my answer is a start and that I will be adding to it. Or, alternately, take the feedback for a soft answer and fix it. People will undo down votes if the problems are fixed. Not always, but that's the game. :D – John Cavan Aug 11 '15 at 0:18
  • You are right; while these are situations in which I might place an answer candidate in a comment, that doesn't necessarily mean they're valid reasons to do so. I'll edit the post to reflect that point when I get some time to do so. – Dan Henderson Aug 11 '15 at 12:24
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    This is the answer. People post comments because they are not sure if their answer is right or not. People also post comments because of @JohnCavan and other users requesting citations of answers when they don't know/don't want to give them. In fact, I often feel hesitant to answer a question - even if I know the answer- because I feel it will be rejected for lack of citation. – rlb.usa Aug 11 '15 at 23:02
  • @rlb.usa if the answer is right, it'll get upvotes. If the answer is wrong, it'll get downvotes. That's the function of SE voting system. You don't have to KNOW if the answer is right or wrong, the community will sort it out. There are lots of highly scoring/accepted unsourced answers on this site. That's a particularly good example b/c my answer didn't include everything, so Beofett's additional answer filled it out! – Zaralynda Aug 12 '15 at 1:54
  • @rlb.usa - I seldom post notice, but when I do it's because the claims are usually contrary to commonly held views or evidence and are typically initiated by flags from other community members. A post notice is like a comment, it's basically a way of letting you know that something a bit more detailed is needed to really make the case without necessarily identifying a specific moderator or Stack Exchange employee as the source. You don't actually have to do anything and sufficient community support agreeing with your response can be enough to clear that notice. – John Cavan Aug 12 '15 at 3:20
  • @rlb.usa - As an additional note, post notices are not rejections. For very short answers, the system itself will flag the answer as being very low quality. There's an implication there... Basically, it implies that the SE general view is that short, one-liners, are often low quality. I can't speak for all of the moderators, but for me, at least, I often clear those flags unless I really do think it's low quality. – John Cavan Aug 12 '15 at 12:08
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I'll often post a suggestion in the comments when my suggestion is valid but I don't see enough info in the original question to know if it will answer that person's question - I figure the OP will tell me if my comment is close enough to warrant an answer.

My comment on this question was one of those: if the OP is in an apartment block or renting my comment probably wouldn't be a valid answer, but if they own a house with enough of a yard, it is valid.

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    It's worth noting that partial answers, identified as such, are perfectly reasonable answers. Basically, there's no harm in addendum answers that create more completeness to the overall response to the questioner. – John Cavan Aug 12 '15 at 12:02
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I wrote this answer to try and set an example for answers that are acceptable when the author isn't sure of the answer.

In writing the answer, I started with my guess as to the reason for the behavior, and then explained what circumstances led me to think that may be true (cereals get stale and my cats who eat wet food don't exhibit this behavior).

We (the mods) often put post notices on short, unexplained answers. If I had written (as we often see)

The food is stale and the cat wants fresher food.

I would totally expect one of the other mods to put a post notice (and which post notice gets used is not exactly a scientific process). We usually give at least couple of days with a post notice before deleting such posts.

The goal is to improve the state of knowledge about pets. Single line answers don't do that, but well thought out answers, even if wrong, can get someone thinking and they may come up with the right answer.

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For reference: If you shoot down one of my comments, I am unlikely to make the effort to recover it in order to turn it into an answer. If you give me time to think about whether I can make it into something I consider an adequate answer -- or for someone else to post my thought as an answer; I'm not that picky -- you are far more likely to get the answer you want.

You need to decide whether you care more about discouraging something you consider sub-optimal or encouraging the optimal. The current bias in this area is toward the former, and is not fully compatible with the latter.

Your area, your decision. If that means some of my ideas get discarded, I can live with that; if I was sure they were keepers I'd have made them Answers to begin with.

  • I'll reiterate my comment to Kate: partial answers, identified as such, have value. I'm pretty much convinced that most are avoiding the answer mechanism because of either down votes or post notices. I've encouraged my fellow mods (was plural until recently) to be less aggressive with the post notices. We're not a scientific treatise site and I, for one, do not expect references to a bunch of studies, especially for generally accepted knowledge. Nevertheless, comments used to avoid answers are very likely to get deleted, the help describes the purpose of comments, please respect it. – John Cavan Sep 14 '15 at 2:05
  • As an aside, I noticed you seem to have been the target of a serial down voter (not me). Given the run, I expect the system will sort it out soon. Unfortunately, not much I can do from a moderator standpoint, we can't see voting activity for users. – John Cavan Sep 14 '15 at 2:08
  • @johncavan: I can't speak for others, but I ___ignore____ the point system. In my case, at least, your assumptions are completely orthogonal to my behavior. And the serial downvoter, while a minor nuisance, has Not. A. Damned. Thing. to do with any of my recent actions, where recent is over a year. I submit that you are trying to fix the wrong problem, if indeed there is a significant problem at all. – keshlam Sep 14 '15 at 2:08
  • You can believe that, but if SE wanted comments to be answers, they would have said as such. Comments are there to help the person add clarity to questions or answers and are intended to short-lived. Here's a good SE explanation for where I'm going with this... meta.gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/201/… – John Cavan Sep 14 '15 at 2:13
  • There's nothing optimal about comments. Only mods can see deleted comments, but this is not the case for answers. The behaviour I'm trying to work on is one that many sites across the network are wrestling with. – John Cavan Sep 14 '15 at 2:18
  • I understand the rationalle. I disagree with how you're trying to achieve it; I've seen more effective/more productive approaches in other Areas. Your ball, your rules, do what you feel you must, and if that means you discard some of my thoughts so be it... but I think being overly strict is doing more net harm than good. One can guide without being draconean. – keshlam Sep 14 '15 at 2:20
  • Since I usually wait several says before deleting "answerments" (thank you Tim Post for the concept), I don't think I'm being all that strict about it and almost all the recent ones have stemmed from flags by other users on the site. It's not like I spend my time looking for comments to delete... – John Cavan Sep 14 '15 at 2:24
  • Whate'er. I believe some space needs to be allowed for out-of-stream brainstorming. If you don't, I agree that we disagree. – keshlam Sep 14 '15 at 2:28

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