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I often answer easy questions with just a comment, for many of the same reasons mentioned in this thread. On another StackExchange site which I'm active on, this practice is fairly common, especially for questions that probably have little value for anyone besides the OP.

However, I recently noticed on Area 51 that Engineering only gets an "okay" rating for percentage of questions answered and number of answers per question. This provides more motivation for properly answering questions (aside from the bit of rep one would earn from an answer). My question is, in the interest of improving the stats for this beta site, should I be more diligent about properly answering questions (even if the answer is trivial)? Should I go so far as to revisit old threads and move comment-answers to proper answers? The only reason I hesitate is that some answers would literally be only one or two sentences long.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is a lot of wisdom in these answers. I didn't mean to imply that I want to fudge or game the stats; I'm just considering how pedantic I should be with the question/answer model. Between the three answers currently posted, I think I got my answer. $\endgroup$ – Carlton Oct 27 '15 at 17:20
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First, I want to note that I agree with almost everything in Glen's answer. But I think there's merit in focusing on a different aspect of your question.

You should, in general, refrain from answering questions in the comments. Comments are intended to request clarification or suggest corrections. They are not answers. Answers can be edited by other users, they can be individually responded to, and they hold up better over time.

If enough comments are made on a question in a short period of time, you comment-answer may almost immediately be hidden. There's no way for the community to "check" comments through voting. There are only two options, upvoting and flagging for deletion. You can't downvote a bad comment-answer, and asking the mods to determine if something is incorrect enough to be deleted is unfair and not how SE is supposed to work.

Answering a question with a one sentence answer usually is an indicator that either the answer should be expounded upon or the question needs to be improved. However, there are certainly going to be cases where an answer can completely and correctly address a good question with only a couple sentences. This doesn't mean that it shouldn't be posted as an answer, it just means that you answer will be short. But then your short answer can be reviewed and voted on by the community, it can be accepted by the asker, and it will be preserved for future people who have the same question.

Remember, while we certainly are aiming to answer individual people's questions as they come to us, one of the overall goals of each community is to create a lasting resource preserving the Wisdom of the Ancients.

As for whether or not you should go back and turn your comment-answers into full answers? I think that's up to you. If you can expand on your short answer, do so. If someone else wrote an answer that you can't add to or improve upon, then it's probably not necessary for that question. Doing it simply for the purpose of driving up our answer:question ratio isn't a good idea though. Those stats aren't something for us to compete against. Now that beta sites can exist in perpetuity, there's no reason to fudge the stats to make us look ready for graduation. That really benefits no one.

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    $\begingroup$ "Answers can be edited by other users, they can be individually responded to, and they hold up better over time" – More importantly, answers can be downvoted if they're wrong or unhelpful. (Yeah, you mention this later, but it's worth repeating. Downvote downvote downvote!) $\endgroup$ – Air Oct 28 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ "You can't downvote a bad comment-answer" Didn't I say that? $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Oct 28 '15 at 15:58
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Single sentence answers aren't all that useful.


See what I did there?

Okay, despite my lame attempts at being clever, I don't think that trawling through old questions and providing simple answers is a good idea. There's a couple of reasons as to why.

  • We (the site / the community) are looking for high quality answers that explain Why and not just a simple What or How. One or two sentence answers generally don't do justice to answering Why.

  • What you're suggesting is really just a variant of "gaming the stats." And while that may appear to work in the short term, it will ultimately backfire.

    • The (likely) low quality answers this produces won't attract the additional experts we need for the site to grow. On the contrary, they'll likely see the low quality answers and will actively choose not to become part of the community.
    • The (likely) low quality answers will also damage the site reputation with the broader community. People with good questions will stop asking them here because they are concerned that they'll only get a mediocre answer and it will be a waste of their time.
    • The ultimate goal of gaming the statistics is to help guarantee the site will graduate, right? Unfortunately, low quality answers won't convince StackExchange Community Moderators. They've seen that game be played before and they know where it heads. (Answer: Nowhere good)
  • Simple answers are meaningless unless it's already understood how to arrive at that answer. Consider this question about Thevenin equivalent voltage. What if Eric's answer merely said "The Thevenin equivalent is 11 V" as an answer? That sort of answer would be completely meaningless to the OP of the question as they wouldn't understand how to come up with that number.
    Likewise, most homework questions already present what the answer should be. Simple answers won't help the askers understand the conceptual portion behind their question.

  • If you come across a question that begs for a simple one or two sentence answer and can't be edited to focus on the conceptual aspects, then that's a sign that the question should be closed. And in that case, if you have close vote privileges, you should vote to close. If you don't have those privileges, you should flag the question for moderator attention and request it to be closed. Sometimes there are bad questions or questions that just don't fit the StackExchange Q&A format.


Well that was a fun trip down killjoy lane, but what should we be doing instead in order to promote the site?

Go ahead and trawl through old questions and answers. As you're reviewing the old posts, do what good netizens of StackExchange are expected to do:

  • If you see a good question or answer, vote it up.
  • If you see a bad post, vote it down.
  • If you see something that should be closed, vote or flag accordingly.
  • If you see something needing editorial help, go ahead and edit.
  • If you see something wrong but don't know how to fix it, flag for moderator help. That's what the diamond janitorial crew is here for.
  • If you can provide a better, high quality answer than what's there - then please answer!
  • If you think a question is really interesting, promote it with your Twitter / Facebook / whatever social media account(s).
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    $\begingroup$ Who are you and what have you done with Glen? I don't see a single mention of comments being second-class citizens in this post! $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Oct 27 '15 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ TL;DR - Bad (short) answers go in comments; good (long) answers go in answers. Did I get that right? $\endgroup$ – hazzey Oct 27 '15 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @hazzey - I think that's a pretty good summary. $\endgroup$ – user16 Oct 27 '15 at 18:00
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I think that's fine if the question really only warrants a one or two sentence answer. I think it's OK to post it as an answer even if someone may eventually provide a better and more through answer - there's no shame in providing a good answer that isn't the best answer.


For example, here is a two sentence answer that properly answers the (good) question which specifically doesn't require much context. The answerer provided the required information, and deserves reputation in exchange even if it didn't take a lot of time. If this answer was only a comment they would not have received any reputation and it would look like the question was still unanswered.

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