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I recently asked a question author to add information from answers (posted as comments) to "request for clarification"-type comments also into the original question.

The negative feedback to this comment made me wonder if we have ever "formally" established that the comment section should not be used to add this kind of clarification replies. The Help center section on how to ask a question does not mention how to reply to requests for clarification, nor does the page on the comment function state that clarifying details concerning the original question should not (or at least not solely) be added as a comment. I also have not yet found a canonical meta Q&A that clarifies this.

So - is there a StackExchange online resource to which we can refer users so they understand the expected way to address clarification requests?

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  • For the system to work, they should answer in a comment, since that way the person asking for clarification gets a notification (though that's assuming they want to do something with the information personally). Also answering a question directly is kinda the polite thing to do. Then again, they should also edit the information in, so it's easier to find it. Double job. All new users are never going to do that well, so the ones in the know and who care get to do that anyway, at least occasionally. In this particular case, that comment about bullying seems quite out of place.
    – ilkkachu
    Sep 10 at 18:38
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    The (limited, imperfect) way I've found to deal with this is to always ask for an edit in my comments. So I'll say something like Please [edit] your question and.... The [edit] is rendered as edit, it becomes a link to the "Edit" button of the question. And then, since I have already mentioned they should edit in the first comment, I can repeat and say "Thank you, but please edit your question to add new information since comments are easy to miss, hard to read and can be deleted without warning". Having this rule explicitly stated somewhere would be a great help though!
    – terdon Mod
    Sep 12 at 15:59
  • @terdon That is also what I usually try to do when I notice this kind of "comment-flooding". Only the current situation made me wonder if there is actually a documented consensus that this is, indeed, the expected behavior (i.e. whether I have a "valid" reason for my comments).
    – AdminBee
    Sep 13 at 7:54
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    I found out it is actually explicitly mentioned in unix.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/create-posts. See "What happens after I ask a question?"
    – terdon Mod
    Sep 13 at 7:57
  • @terdon Ok, good catch! You may want to add this as an answer, as it directlly addresses the question I raised in the last phrase of my post. Still, it might be worthwile highlighting the sentence on clarification requests somewhat more prominently; I could imagine it is easy to miss as it's currently written.
    – AdminBee
    Sep 13 at 8:01
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    Easy to miss? It's almost designed not to be found! And not my catch, I mentioned this in the TL, the network-wide mod chat room, and someone else pointed it out.
    – terdon Mod
    Sep 13 at 8:11
  • @terdon =D=D=D=D=D (sorry, somewhat mixed my emojis up)
    – AdminBee
    Sep 13 at 8:14

2 Answers 2

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I also have not yet found a canonical meta Q&A that clarifies this.

Update: Based on @V2Blast's comment below, I've updated the Community How do comments work? FAQ to add an explicit statement that clarifies this.


Unfortunately, I have to agree with you:

  • Even in the canonical How do comments work? FAQ there's no (direct) mention of this. The closest is from the "When should comments be deleted?" section:

    Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever. Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it can be deleted.

    That seems to me to be an implicit statement, at least, that edits should be made to the post to include the new information. But it's not explicit, and it's buried in the "deletion" section ...

  • Nor is there a separate FAQ that I can see.

  • Nor is there even a faq-proposed, unless it is missing the comments tag.

The only question I've even found on MSE addressing this is https://meta.stackexchange.com/q/298658/902710, which is (oddly, IMHO) closed (and downvoted) as a duplicate of the canonical How do comments work? FAQ, even though it doesn't address that particular question.

That said, it seems to be so universally accepted as fact that I see questions like:

Possible approach

Is there a StackExchange online resource to which we can refer users so they understand the expected way to address clarification requests?

If we (the community) are in agreement that such a resource doesn't exist today in acceptable form, then perhaps the right question is, "Should there be ...?"

I would love to see the Comment FAQ updated to be more explicit. Something like:

They are not for:

  • The question author to provide additional information which may be needed to formulate an answer. Important information from the original author should be edited into the question instead.

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, edit the post or suggest an edit

  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit an existing one)

  • Compliments or criticisms which do not add any new information to the post (e.g. "great answer", "this is bad", etc.); instead, upvote or downvote (and provide or upvote a better answer if appropriate) ...

But I feel a bit weird actually editing that into the Community Wiki myself. I'm just not sure how that works - I know it needs review, at least. Maybe a pointed in the edit comment to point back to this question?

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    "I would love to see the Comment FAQ updated to be more explicit." – That MSE post is a community-maintained FAQ... So if you want it changed, you should go ahead and make the change yourself! (Or at least suggest it yourself there.)
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Sep 12 at 20:13
  • @V2Blast Thanks - Done. It just seems odd to me that a community FAQ that is supposed to be canonical can be updated by just one lone peon like me ;-). But, nonetheless, done ... Sep 12 at 20:26
  • Worst-case scenario, your changes will get reverted by another community member if they feel the changes are inappropriate. But it looks good to me :)
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Sep 13 at 5:36
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A : HOW can anyone "understand whatever expected way" reading whatever "formally established" document "officially stating that authors shouldn't" use one in particular ?

I can accept, comply, obey... or any other verb of that lexical field but... understand ? Well ! Surely not !


B : Why should such a constraint be enforced by whatever official document ?

If evidence (such as the one that could produce the necessity to benefit from advanced editing facilities) is not enough to convince the author to re-edit the question then there is no reason for a priori & arbitrarily depriving this author (AND the commentator being replied to as well) from the unique advantage commenting offers :

Having the commentator being replied to advised that some message is awaiting in its inbox.

I must personally acknowledge that when I ask for more information about a question, I appreciate being advised when some answer (to my comment) has been posted.


C : We could also mention consequency. Because official statements must preserve consequency.
If, for some somber reason I ignore (and regret as much), anyone on SE needs more credit for commenting than for asking some question, it must consequently mean that... comments are more creditable than questions !
Then why should anyone resort to less creditable ways for answering ?

Of course this last argument is purely rhetorical. But it should be understood in the context of official documents.
You find it just absurd ? (me too) but... it is only logic. If what I wrote sounds absurd (like sounding absurd...;-) ) it must mean the first proposition (needing more credits to comment than to question) is absurd.


D : Ultimately, why should we need any additional arbitrary rule telling us what we should do ?
Can't we just expect contributors to learn by themself from their own experience how they can optimize their questions/answers ratio. (provided they care of course)

Provide tools, not policy !

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    I have to say that I find it odd that you rolled back my edits. Your answer has multiple issues in formatting, grammar, punctuation, and Markdown that I simply tried to help correct to make it more readable. Sep 8 at 17:35
  • @NotTheDr01ds : I sincerely apologize If my rollback hurted you in any way. I do acknowledge that my "contribution* exhibits many formatting issues as well as possibly grammatical errors. However, the point is that : Your edit had presented A/ as a quote when it is not actually in full and worse (IMHO) all what I had (intentionally) put in bold was reverted to normal. I of course started re-editing after our edit but, after several unsuccesful fiddlings found eaysier to simply rollback. I am getting old... and lazy.. please pardon me.
    – MC68020
    Sep 8 at 17:49
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    Well, I never said, "hurt" ;-). And yes, that first line was challenging, as you seem to be quoting portions of the original question but paraphrasing other parts. And I changed "strong" items (bold) to "emphasis" (italics), which would be more semantically appropriate for most of the words you bolded. Sep 8 at 18:59
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    Commenting is not the only way of providing notifications in the inbox. If you’re interested in a question, follow it and you’ll be notified if its author edits it, as well when a comment is added (which avoids missing comments not @-addressed to you). Sep 18 at 6:58
  • Regarding point C, post authors can comment on their own posts with no rep. Sep 18 at 7:35
  • Thanks @StephenKitt for the tip ! I'll learn from it since… you appropriately refrained from telling what I should do… which is the most important point I wanted to make here. ;-)
    – MC68020
    Sep 18 at 8:28

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