I have seen many cases, every time exact answers are posting via comments instead of answers. So I would like to get clarification, is that the encouraged way here?

I have seen at Stack Exchange traffic portal that unix.stackexchange.com has 77% questions answered and its better than other infamous sites like Ask Ubuntu and Stack Overflow.

Please encourage answering questions by posting answers instead of comments.

NOTE: All my thoughts are very clear and to make unix.stackexchange.com as a better place (of course it's already). I am not writing this to point anyone out intentionally.

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    When commenting, I am often phone bound, or doing some debugging/trial via comments, or have limited time and cannot provide a full answer, or do think the question/answer itself is not worth the investment to write a formal answer. Other people´s reasons should not be very different from mine. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 16:10
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    @RuiFRibeiro Please see my answer for why this is harmful. (And note that we're having this conversation up here as an example of the problem.)
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 13:16
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    Related meta.serverfault.com/a/1931/180142
    – Braiam
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 15:07
  • Because otherwise people had one less reason to do downvotes, as self-answering your questions seems to be very frowned upon.
    – sjas
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 12:26
  • @sjas I didnt get you. Please explain clearly
    – Raja G
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 15:50
  • From what I experienced, it is not worth the time to post solutions to your own problems, as they tend to receive downvotes mostly. People seem to think that you are a 'gold digger' for reputation points or something. I beg your pardon for my sarcasm in my last comment, I should have made that clearer.
    – sjas
    Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 19:51

4 Answers 4


You're always encouraged to answer questions as actual answers and not simply as comments. But it's really up to the individual users of the site to put in whatever effort they are most comfortable with.

I would encourage you, or anyone that may come across this situation, to look at these comments as an opportunity to write them up as more complete answers yourself. I would ask the user who provided the comment first before doing so, but I've found most everyone here to be very encouraging to others, with respect to having others take their comments and convert them into formal answers.

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    So in this process do we have to take permission from user who wrote the answer as comment ?
    – Raja G
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 4:40
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    @Raja - I would as a courtesy to the commenters. But as I said, most users of this site, I would expect, would be perfectly fine if someone were to do so.
    – slm Mod
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 5:52
  • Alright I will follow as you said, and thanks for editing my post. It's more meaningful now.
    – Raja G
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 5:55
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    If they wanted the reputation award for themselves, they have an "answer" button too.
    – Sobrique
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 10:08
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    When posting someone else’s comment as an answer, you can make it a community wiki so that you don’t feel like "stealing" the answer.
    – WilQu
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 10:37
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    It's clear this issue splits people, and it looks like it's a reasonably even split. But for me, the collaborative element of Stackexchange is crucial, and answers, half-answers, ideas, theories and out-of-the-box wild theories as comments are all critical. Sometimes I have an idea that'll solve the problem if my assumptions are correct, but I ask to confirm them first, and sometimes I'll ask if my assumptions are correct by posting a comment with the suggested solution and if it works, I'll write it up as answer. I think it's a valuable tool in the process. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 11:11
  • That sounds like a good idea. Sometimes I'll offer a comment that needs fleshing out. I may not have time, but want to try and help the OP. I've had several say that work's for me, make it an answer. After obliging, the experts chime in and poke holes in the answer (not POSIX, not my shell, etc). Now I often comment first, answer later, if at all.
    – bsd
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 21:37
  • @EightBitTony I don't see that as a problem; you're using the comments to clarify the question and work towards a better (actual) answer.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 14:11
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    FWIW, I don't see it as all that evenly split. This top-voted answer is against comments as answers, but soft on it. My answer (second voted up, currently), is the hard-line don't-do-it. And the third — with many fewer votes — is still just "it's okay in some very particular situations". There's no "yes this is fine" answer at all.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 14:13

I am very opposed to answers as comments.

Using the comments robs us of the ability to vote up or down or suggest edits, and basically defeats the functioning of the Stack Exchange engine. And since comments on the question go above real answers, it's a way to get in a first word, which is unfair to the real answers.

I've seen many people say "But, I did that because I didn't have a complete or real answer". That's actually worse! Now these lower-quality partial answers come above the real ones, can't be voted on properly, and can't be improved.

Answer-comments also push down comments which might be used to get clarification and improve the question itself, so they distract from the actual intended purpose of comments to questions.

If you have a good, succinct answer, please put it in the answer section. If you know that your comment is an incomplete answer, it's probably best to think about how to round it out. Or maybe just let someone else answer. Or, if you really can't resist, think about coming back later after someone else answers and deleting your comment so it doesn't distract. Maybe it could even fit as an edit to another answer, or a comment to an answer, which is less harmful since at least the answer comes first.

Some of this answer was lifted from my post over at Photo SE, Short answers as comments — please resist the urge

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    You've actually changed my opinion of "short rough answers as comments." Excellent points.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 22:32
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    I feel like the most ambiguity on this topics comes from a comment that turns into an answer. When possibly probing for more info, trying to figure out what they've tried out. (ex. question: I'm having problem with my website comment: Have you tried restarting apache? reply: thanks, that fixed it. In a scneario like this it makes most sense to follow up with an answer, either by the commenter or original asker. I feel if a comment happens upon the correct answer it can be fine to leave it, but an answer should be added as well.
    – Centimane
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 15:47
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    @Dave Yeah, that case is... the least bad. :) I'd still prefer for the comments to be cleaned up, though, at least after the fact.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 16:42
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    Dunno, I like to comment when I'm giving vague or uncertain answers to avoid downvotes in case I'm off. The reason this is good is because stack exchange has this shitty system in place that locks you from asking questions if you've received too many downvotes. Would you rather I not post at all when I only have a vague idea of an answer?
    – Cestarian
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 3:40
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    @Cestarian Yes! If you don't know what you are talking about, don't answer. You aren't helping by guessing. You can call this all the swear words you want, but it's still true. If you are consistently getting enough downvotes, you're either not thinking about what you are posting or are actually not qualified to make this kind of call.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 3:51
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    I'm sorry that feels condescending, but the goal of the site is to help people with clear answers they can trust. Putting uncertain answers which can't be edited or voted down above the real answers is not helping at that goal, and doing it explicitly to avoid downvotes is gaming the system.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 10:56
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    @Cestarian You specifically said that you want to post these uncertain answers in a way that avoids triggering the site's protective features if the community finds them unhelpful. That's gaming the system.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 14:14
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    I covered that, but I'll repeat: Comments are for clarifying and improving the question or answer being commented on. Answers are for answers. It matters because the entire goal of the site is to present clear-cut questions and direct answers without distracting baggage. By adding noise, you're reducing the signal.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 16:12
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    Yeah, Stack Exchange isn't ideal for interactive troubleshooting. My suggestion is to focus comments on clarifying questions and ask for the details to be added to the question, not a back and forth in comments — and then erase them and provide an answer. If the questioner doesn't return, vote to close as unclear. I don't see any need to provide guesses as comments as part of this process — if there's enough that your diagnostic process might be useful to some future viewers, make it an answer.
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 10:01
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    @EightBitTony Can you explain why you can't do that with answers?
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 13:47
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    "But, I did that because I didn't have a complete or real answer". That's actually worse! Now these lower-quality partial answers come above the real ones, can't be voted on properly, and can't be improved. The comments aren't all loaded by default, nor do I bother to read them half the time. However, if there aren't any good answers, it can be helpful if someone said "I'd guess the problem has something to do with foo". Would it be ideal if they rounded that out? Sure! But help is help, and if the options are "some help" v. "all or nothing", I'm accepting "some help" every time. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 20:17
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    If a full answer takes 20 minutes to write, and a quick comment that provides 90% of the information necessary to solve the problem takes 30 seconds, instituting a policy against such comments wouldn't result in a larger number of helpful answers, it'd just result in a smaller number of helpful comments. Because most of the people who would leave a 30-second comment aren't going to write a 20-minute answer. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 20:19
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    @ParthianShot That seems irrelevant to the issue here. If you can give a 90% answer in 30 seconds, you can write it in the space marked "answers".
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 16:37
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    I find this really important. We have a Q&A model for a reason. Let's not break that model out of laziness. If you don't have time to write an answer, don't! Let somebody else do it. meta.stackexchange.com/q/247446/155739 Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 22:26
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    thought to say, I find it annoying that everybody expects some long formal answer with step-by-step instructions for babies. I think that one should be greatful even for an answer with 3 words that gets you going. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:20

I believe there are legit reasons to provide an answer (or sometimes a hint) in a comment if:

  • the question should not be answered (it's silly, duplicate, off-topic etc.) and either
  • the question lacks basic understanding but is asked in good faith and deserves at least a hint, or
  • the question asks about something dangerous and a quick warning is in order

This way, the question can still be safely deleted, but the OP gets at least some reward for their effort. And if he's about to do something dangerous, he gets warned quickly (this applies more to EE.SE, where people ask things like "I'm trying to connect this circuit to 220 Volts", and you instantly see they shouldn't, but I can imagine similar cases relevant to U&L).

Additionally, it also happened to me to see a question I didn't know the answer for, see the comments, google around and finally post a complete answer based on someone else's comment. I don't see anything wrong with this practice, and nobody ever told me that I've stolen their answer, so I don't agree that comments discourage real answers to be posted. On the contrary, if the author of the comment didn't write it, the OP wouldn't probably get a full answer at all, or at least not as quickly.

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    I definitely understand the impulse, because we're here to help, but if the question is bad (silly, duplicate, etc.), doesn't answering anyway (in a comment or otherwise) just encourage the behavior? ("I know this isn't supposed to be allowed, but I get what I want when I do it, so I'll keep it up.")
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 14:15
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    I often can tell between lazy and clueless. It's bad to encourage the former, but the latter sometimes deserves some guidance, even if the question itself is of little interest to others and should be removed. I agree with you that posting answers in comments should not be done in cases where regular answers are in order, but I don't see the problem with someone providing a quick hint in a comment and someone else elaborating that hint in an answer. The comment itself may be removed afterwards, especially if it is misleading or obsolete. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 14:47

I agree with this point. I'm actually wondering, given that:

  • We can flag questions as "not really a question" (a.k.a. "unclear what you're asking")
  • We can mark answers as "Please ask this as a separate question"
  • We can mark answers as "Please use comments for this"

And a typically seen response to questions given in comments is:

  • "Please ask this as a new question rather than posting it in comments",

So why, then, don't we have the ability to flag a comment as "this should be posted as an answer"?

Just mathematically, there are three things—questions, comments, answers. That gives 6 ways you can mix things up by confusing one for another.

  • Whether a non-question is a comment or an "answer", it gets marked the same ("unclear what you're asking"), which takes care of 2 out of 6.
  • Answers that aren't answers are either comments or questions (the same question or a different one) and get handled either way.
  • Comments that are actually answers are the 1/6th of the possible mixups and the only one that we don't have clear-cut community agreement on how to handle.

If you have even a partial answer, post it with the button marked "Post Your Answer.

That way we can use votes, suggested edits, comment on your answer, link to it semi-permanently; it will be indexed properly for search engines; etc., etc., etc.

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