It's sometimes tempting to put short answers into the comments section of a question, rather than putting them as answers. Stack Exchange site guidance discourages this. Instead, please post answers in the answer section, where you can later edit typos, make improvements, and get upvotes.

Using the comments 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 — even if you didn't mean it that way.

Comment-answers also push down comments which might be used to get clarification and improve the question itself — which is the intended purpose of comments to questions. (See again the guidance linked above.)

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.)

I have mixed thoughts on comments like "Here's a youtube video on this subject", or "Google for foo and you'll see..." That's often pragmatically helpful, which is good, but... We're pretty strict about not allowing these as answers, but having those same things as comments doesn't solve the problems noted above. (Why does this get page-position priority over full answers? What if the video is pulled or moved and no one bit a mod can edit to fix?) I think it's really better to take the time to provide at least a brief real answer along with the link.

The main exception is when the question is clearly going to be closed (and as something other than a duplicate). In that case, comments can help the user and are really better than full answers (because answer on off-topic questions encourage more of the same). Should we encourge / allow comments with helpful advice to questions we know will be closed?

On several other SE sites where I participate, comments are regularly deleted by the mods en masse even if they're helpful. I like that we don't tend to do that here, but it does mean we should be more careful of starting messiness. I know I'm guilty of all of this myself sometimes so I'm not on a high horse or anything. It's something we can all do to improve the quality of our Q&A archive.

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    I agree with you. I have a light touch with comments here, but on the other site I moderate, we kill them regularly. Having said that, I have become more aggressive in shutting down conversations in comments. – John Cavan Jan 10 '15 at 15:18
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    I also agree with what's said here. We can be more aggressive with deleting comments that are not helpful. I have been myself lately, deleting both comments and comment-like answers that just don't need to be. – jrista Jan 11 '15 at 21:13
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    Shouldn't the two comments above mine be answers by your logic? Lol – dpollitt Jan 12 '15 at 1:40
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    @dpollitt Meta is kind of like the evil mirror universe of Stack Exchange. – mattdm Jan 14 '15 at 21:03
  • Like this? meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/4612/… – D. Lambert Jan 14 '15 at 21:24
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    @dpollitt - LOL, touché! Meta is different though. – John Cavan Jan 15 '15 at 3:19
  • @dpollitt Shouldn't that be asked in a new question instead of asking it in the comments to an existing one? :-) – Michael C Nov 13 '16 at 22:04
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    I commonly browse the HNQ list on my phone. This does make my experience bias, but, anecdotally, I have seen a large increase in the habit of answering in the comments vs answering in the answer box. Wether this is selection bias or not, I don't know, but it frustrates me on sites enough that I will comment @ people telling them to stop - even if I'm never active there. – Tim Dec 6 '17 at 4:14
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    @benrudgers It's not just the upvoting and downvoting. It's a whole thread that happens above the answers. That's unfair to the actual answers. – mattdm Dec 11 '17 at 23:38
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    @benrudgers Better writing pushed below a bunch of possibly unhelpful chitchat is not making the internet better. – mattdm Dec 11 '17 at 23:49
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    @benrudgers In those cases, I would suggest a comment that says "This is an interesting topic but doesn't fit the Q&A format. Let's take this to chat instead." – mattdm Dec 12 '17 at 0:18
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    @benrudgers See also photo.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4797/… – mattdm Dec 12 '17 at 0:19
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    @benrudgers Please see: Short answers as comments — please resist the urge and this answer to it – Michael C Dec 12 '17 at 1:59
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    @mattdm Aww man, I miss the old title already. =( You're moving my cheese. You're peeing in my warm spot. =) – scottbb Mod Dec 15 '17 at 5:03
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    @mattdm No, no. I was just taking advantage of the alt-reality rules of comments in Meta. =) 100% behind making this a good as it can be. – scottbb Mod Dec 15 '17 at 13:50

When someone insists on continually answering question after question in the comments to the question it comes across to me this way:

I'm too important to be expected to submit an answer and have the community decide where in the pecking order of multiple answers it should fall. My answers should always be at the top of the page, regardless of how the other users in the community view said answers, and should be sheltered from review and correction by the rest of the community.

Such an attitude goes against the fundamental spirit of the stack exchange network in which community opinion is one of the most important mechanisms used for separating the figurative "wheat" from the "chaff".

Early on during my membership here I admit I was guilty at times of answering questions with short comments. I have since made a conscious effort to resist the urge. On occasion, when coming across a question to which I made such a comment in the past, I have even rewritten the comment as an answer and then deleted the comment.

There are times when it is difficult to ask a question for clarification from the OP without essentially answering the question. The OP may ask something vague such as, "Why did my picture turn out totally black?" Without any additional information it would be impossible to answer the question with a single succinct answer as there are many possible causes. One might make a comment that asks the OP, "Did you remember to remove the lens cap?" The OP might respond, "Oh! Silly me! That was it." In such a case the comment requesting a clarification from the OP has answered the question.

But there are many cases beyond such a request for clarification that are obvious attempts to answer the question in the comment section so that it can't be ranked, downvoted, or edited by the community at large. Often these "comments" are so long as to require bridging them over multiple comments at or close to the maximum allowable length!

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    I'm new to PhotoSE but not to SE as a whole. I was about to do exactly that - post a quick comment as a 'answer' - but decided to check Meta for how this particular stack would like to see it. I refrained from commenting after seeing this. TYVM. – Tetsujin Nov 13 '16 at 21:27
  • The motivation you ascribe to those who answer in comments applies at best to a very tiny fraction of cases. The far more obvious and common is "I only have a quick point to make, and don't have time or feel like writing it up at answer-level quality. The result would just get downvoted to oblivion, so I'll write it as a comment, and people can take it for what they think it's worth." – Olin Lathrop Dec 15 '17 at 12:30

I have to admit that I have occasionally abused comments (can't really remember which SE sites) for one of these reasons:

  1. I'm too lazy to write a comprehensive answer, or don't have much time at the moment.

  2. It would take more research or other real work (as apposed to just putting in words something already in my brain) than I feel like bothering with, and I know that the level I do want to answer at would make a crappy answer that may get downvoted.

  3. I have a link-only answer and don't feel like elaborating, probably because I think it's a dumb question and the OP should have been able to find the linked reference easily himself.

  4. The OP is being a moron, and deserves to be publicly embarassed for asking such a stupid question. However, I know that a answer like that would get downvoted.

So, a comment for something a comment isn't really meant for is just a sneaky way of using the mechanics of the system to get away with something it doesn't really want you doing.

So how does this answer the question? On one hand, this argues for comments should be aggressively policed. On the other hand, I won't be able to get away with some things anymore. However, since it would prevent everyone else from utilizing the same abuses I do (it's OK for me to do it, but I really don't want everyone else doing it), this answser is in support of being more strict with comments. Go ahead and delete them when they aren't for the intended purpose.

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    +1 for honesty! – mattdm Nov 28 '15 at 21:52
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    Gotta love #4 :-) . A few sites, like Physics.SE allow us to close on the basis of total lack of effort prior to posting; yet on other sites even suggesting (politely) LMGTFY gets you in trouble. – Carl Witthoft Jun 13 '16 at 19:25

In a number of SE forums I'm increasingly likely to comment than to answer. The alternative may be to not answer at all. If moderators in a given forum (as noted by others) make a policy of destroying value by deleting useful comments, that's a problem that the site's owners need to address if they care about it.

Answers that seek to be useful rather than pretty are too often treated badly by the community and/or moderators. People who say things like "I'll upvote this answer if you reformat it entirely / phrase it in ways which suit me / change the paragraph or list structure / .... " seem to feel they are offering an inducement. They're not.

The main value I see in 'rep'is that it gives people some indication that one's answers may be valid and or useful if there is some doubt - ie "authority fallacy" fodder :-).

Effort spent prettying to keep the nay-sayers at bay can be better spent providing useful input where it seems apposite to add it.

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    I don't think I've ever heard that on any of the sites I've participated on. The only time I can think of seeing down voting with formatting given as a reason was when it was a valid answer but was all one long run on paragraph with no breaks at all and grammatical issues that made it hard to actually get the info out. Maybe I've just been really lucky or maybe it is something about my writing style, but I've never seen this problem. – AJ Henderson Mod Oct 15 '15 at 5:06
  • @AJHenderson - I'm liable to be worse than most. I'm "verbose" at the best of times. Sometimes circumstances may lead me to want to convey things but not to spend time prettifying them. The aim isn't to make a 'pig's ear' out of the post but others may see it that way. Som seem to equate comprehensibility with format and tidiness. While there is some correlation I can manage what seems on later inspection to be a fairly cogent post which is criticised (or even derided :-) ) by some. This is more on the EE site. – Russell McMahon Oct 15 '15 at 14:43
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    ah, makes sense. I tend to be verbose as well in a lot of cases, but then again, it may be something specific to EE. I don't mean to detract from your point, but was simply trying to highlight I think that in the situation you describe, the problem is that users are possibly too aggressively pursuing looks over content, resulting in a larger problem of driving people to post answers as comments. The site owners are the source of wanting to avoid answers in comments and treating comments as second class citizens. – AJ Henderson Mod Oct 15 '15 at 14:48
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    If the environment of a site is such that a user would rather post a comment than an answer, then either the site is too aggressively anti-helpful or the answerer really shouldn't be answering in the first place. It could come down on either side, but answering as comments really isn't the answer to that problem. Dealing with the underlying issue (which ever one it is) is far preferable. – AJ Henderson Mod Oct 15 '15 at 14:50
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    @AJHenderson Example follows. | "Should" is such a strong word :-). My aim (especially in EE) is to be as helpful as I can with the time I choose to use. Sometimes that's a reference class article - sometimes its a comment or a "data dump. Those who dislike the latter can be persistent. | One old post came to mind This answer of mine - re solar garbage compactors attracted very substantial acrimonious comment. Comments have been deleted I see BUT the +4 = +7-3 .... – Russell McMahon Oct 16 '15 at 4:44
  • .... is hardly what you'd expect for 7 screens of competent relevant technical material. I added more, in part to address various comments but they just keep on whining once they start. Looking at it now it's not obvious what their problems were. I made the most major additions about a week after the original post. It still has 3 downvotes. Whatever – Russell McMahon Oct 16 '15 at 4:48
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    This.... mainly seems like a rant about something on other stack exchange sites. – mattdm Nov 19 '15 at 2:00
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    Your answers usually have good content, but you do tend to ramble. I can see why some downvote that. Why not just write concisely? It would take less words and less time. And by the way, I checked, and I actually upvoted your solar garbage compactor answer on EE.SE. Even though I thought is was unnecessarily long, I thought the good content outweighed that. – Olin Lathrop Nov 28 '15 at 22:20

Can't mods convert a comment to an answer? (I know it can be done the other way around.)

I certainly hope that "helpful" comments are not completely deleted even if they are answers. On many SE sites high-rep users will put "easy" answers in comments. For the reasons given in the OP I would prefer they didn't, but having them in comments is better than not having them at all.

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    Unfortunately, converting a comment to an answer is not a moderator ability. An alternative is to make a community wiki answer which doesn't give rep and can be edited by anyone. Can't move the comment in to a wiki answer for licensing (attribution) reasons, but it is a better option for those who want to answer, but don't want rep from it. – AJ Henderson Mod Oct 10 '15 at 18:41

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