This is related to Should we discourage people that delete their question after they receive an answer?, and to the AskUbuntu Meta question Please stop posting half answers and dumb advice as comments. It's a combination of the two.

This evening I've had two instances of questions being deleted, literally from beneath my fingertips, as I was typing my answers. The reason? An answer was given as a comment, and the user withdrew the question immediately upon seeing it. It was a pity that this happened, not just because I had spent some time writing an answer, but since in one of the cases, the user left with a piece of code that was still wrong in more ways than what the question and comment-answer addressed.

Could we (me included) stop giving actual answers in comments, please?

  • It is infuriatingly annoying to have the "this question has been deleted" thing pop up when you've spent 10 minutes typing away trying to explain what's wrong, what they should be doing, and why, just because someone casually says "do this: ..." in a comment.

  • Comments are for comments. Answers are for answers.

    • If you have the answer, type it up.
    • If you don't have the time to do that, then you don't have the answer.
  • If you are dying to leave a witty comment about an issue in the code that may resolve the question in a wonderful puff of smoke, then write it up as an answer, or hold that thought and come back later when the question no longer can be deleted (>1 answers, or an answer with an upvote, or one accepted answer).

  • Answers are peer reviewed, edited, upvoted and downvoted, referred to by other answers, and read by many people. The same goes for questions. Comments, not so much. This means that good answers generally provide more context to the issue in the question as well as a higher quality (in terms of both exposition and of correctness) than what comments do. This is what this site is about: providing good answers to questions related to Unix and Linux, so that the person asking, and others, may benefit and learn something.

I know that writing an answer instead of a comments is no cure for users deleting their questions (unless the answer is good enough to get an immediate upvote), but it would make it more probable that the question may get enough undeletion votes to be resurrected. AFAIK, there is no undeletion review queue, but the more "reputable" people frequenting the chat could possibly help out with this, and a moderator would probably be able to track down the deleted question, especially if you wrote an answer to it that you think was worth rescuing.

Sorry, no real question here other than "could we write real answers instead of comments, please?"


If you don't have the time to do that, then you don't have the answer.

Correct. So leaving a comment may be an acceptable approach.

I mention this because I have been chastised for leaving an "answer" as a comment. There are a couple of reasons why I do this:

  1. There isn't sufficient detail in the question for me to be sure that my answer will, in fact, address their issue. The comment can both elicit more information and, if my assumption proves correct, prove the basis for a more detailed response as an answer.

  2. The question is part of an obvious pattern (pretty much anything in , for example). Dropping the answer as a comment is unlikely to dissuade the avalanche of answers that will likely follow, and if the question is deleted it is similarly unlikely that the site loses anything of value.

I also fundamentally disagree with the premise, that the people answering--even if in the comments--are the problem, or even part of it. What you are objecting to is people who selfishly abuse the goodwill of the community with no intention of reciprocating by contributing back to the commons.

Those of us who are contributing should be free to do that, whether it be commenting, editing, reviewing or whatever.

  • 3
    Is there a penalty for people deleting their questions? I generally encourage people who ask if they should delete their question, to leave their questions up ("there is no stupid question..."), but nothing can be done if the question just disappears. I'm not sure how to discourage question deletions (and there are some questions that should be deleted, but few enough to be left to moderators perhaps): perhaps some sort of graduated penalty? – NickD Oct 9 '17 at 19:19
  • @Nick Users who keep to delete their question, especially when questions have a negative score, will be blocked from asking further questions. – kiamlaluno Oct 15 '17 at 18:15
  • Yes, a comment that seems an answer is sometime a way to get more information back from the OP, and try to understand what the OP means. Users who comment to get information back from the OP should not be punished – kiamlaluno Oct 15 '17 at 18:18
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    Answers in comments (a) don't get the question off the unanswered questions list; (b) discourage anyone else from writing an answer; (c) aren't effectively voted on, since they can't be downvoted. At least when I see someone has already answered in a comment, I don't post a fleshed out version of it as an answer like I would have otherwise (instead I normally comment to ask the person who left the comment to please convert his/her comment in to an answer). – derobert Oct 17 '17 at 17:08
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    @derobert b) is demonstrably false. Look through the number of questions where an answer is first posted as a comment. c) is irrelevant, and a) perturbs me not at all. – jasonwryan Oct 17 '17 at 17:15

Resisting the temptation to answer this in a comment... But yes, please, let’s write answers instead of comments (of course the users most likely to answer questions in comments are unlikely to read this).

This is probably included in the “peer reviewed” part of your question, I think it’s worth expanding on: comments are not peer reviewed, and I see lots of wildly incorrect comments which end up getting upvoted somehow with no easy way to react (a response in a long list of comments is pretty much invisible, especially in reaction to an upvoted comment). A good rule of thumb for comments relates to the reasons they can be flagged for deletion (offensive, obsolete, or in need of moderator attention; this doesn’t explicitly include “utterly bonkers”): basically, only write a comment if there’s a clear path to its removal, i.e., you’re asking for or providing further information which will result in an edit to the question or answer, and the removal of the comment (either by its author, or by a moderator after someone flags it as obsolete). Note that this also applies to “further information”-style comments; I tend to comment as a suggestion of extra information the author might want to include, in cases where I don’t feel comfortable just editing the question or answer. (See this answer for a recent example. I think the information is relevant and useful, it’s just not obvious to me how to include it verbatim in the answer without making the answer harder to read.)

As pointed out by Eliah Kagan in the chatroom, this is all just a re-hash of the help page explaining comments.

I also think in general we should all get used to editing questions and answers more, if necessary explaining the “why” in the change description; I certainly found it enlightening the first few times Gilles and Stéphane edited one of my answers for me, instead of either commenting on it or adding their own answer. The whole point is to get the right answer to affected users (plural, not just the OP), in the safest way possible, and the most “educating” way possible (without drowning the reader in detail); reputation points and badges don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. (That’s much easier for high-rep users to say obviously, but if you’re active enough on the site to be editing questions, reading Meta and generally thinking of janitorial duties, reputation will follow.)

Finally, it would also be great if we could review our questions, answers and comments every once in a while, and merge any relevant comments, flag them as obsolete, and delete our own obsolete comments. If you’re afraid deleting your own comment will make the surrounding ones harder to review, don’t be, flag the surrounding comments: moderators can see deleted comments, and they’ll take the whole context into account when reviewing flags (most of the time).


I would add this a comment but....

I have a general rule:

If a question is worth typing up an answer, then it is likely worth an up vote.

So I will often up vote a question before I provide an answer. Don't know that it will slow down deletions, but it can not hurt.

  • 1
    I know for a fact you can delete your own upvoted answer. I'm pretty sure that you can delete your own upvoted question as well, provided that no one has supplied an upvoted answer. (If you want to be certain about this, search on meta.stackexchange.com.) – Wildcard Oct 7 '17 at 5:14
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    @Wildcard, yes but I assume the OP is less likely to delete a positive scoring question. So, if I am going to upvote the question, I start there. – Stephen Rauch Oct 7 '17 at 5:32
  • +1. This also addresses one problem I have with the OP suggestion: posting the same content as answer rather than comment will not do anything to discourage the deletion of the question by its author. – Nemo Feb 14 '18 at 19:46

IMO, the comments are a valuable part of the ecosystem and of helping users.

Making comments is a part of the game and the interactive process of interacting with the OP and community at large to define and refine the process of writing a proper answer.

The comments also allow for people without time or when mobile at that particular moment to add their opinion or point others in the direction of the answer, and/or as an anchor to come back to a particular question later on.

Proper answers also take a significant investment in time to write, and comments are a way to weed out some of the questions that for varied reasons might not warrant that kind of attention, while still pointing the OP in some direction.

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    I sometimes answer or hint in a comment instead of posting an answer on beginner questions where there's so much confusion that it's unlikely to have any future value. I'd rather the OP delete their question than have it clutter up people's search results. – Peter Cordes Oct 8 '17 at 21:31

Overall agreed. However, here is a case where it is appropriate:

When the "answer" is to point out the typo in the code in the question that is causing it not to work.

This should be accompanied by a flag "off topic for describing a problem that cannot be reproduced, or which went away when a typo was fixed."

I did this just now:

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    I noticed. I wrote an answer to the same question describing what was wrong, how to write it in an idiomatic awk way and also mentioned why the { print $0 } could be left out. Is a misunderstanding of how the test for equality works in awk a "typo"? – Kusalananda Oct 8 '17 at 8:21
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    @Kusalananda: This kind of answers not only solving the problem, but teaching the OP a better use of tools is highly valuable for the OP! It could also be to some others, but they won't get attracted to it by the original question. So see it this way: You are investing your time almost only for the OP; if he is deleting his question before you can post, he didn't deserve your good answer anyhow. – Philippos Oct 9 '17 at 12:22

On other, larger, more antagonistic sites, they are doing this, because downvoted questions can't be deleted even by their owners.

It is an evil thing in the StackExchange, they are fighting this evil by deleting their questions while they can. If the question has an upvoted answer, or multiple answers, it can't be deleted even by its owner any more.

An alternate solution for the problem is using a secondary account only for questions.

However, the Unix SE is a friendly site and I can't see the reason, why would it be needed here.

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