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This is a question to be answered by wannabe moderators (per Announcing a Pro Tempore election).

There has been many questions where I find an answer exists in the comments, but because nobody answered the question with a summary, an answer does not exist. As mentioned before, that's not a good idea. A big one in unanswered is over 2 years old, with no comments from the asker for the same time. Another one just came up today. My theory is these are generated due to our community asking questions requesting clarification on a design. In Engineering, we typically mentally come up with a design and submit it back to the end user. This is reviewed, discussed in a dialogue to solve a problem, until both sides agree and the design proceeds as intended. Hence, my belief is that we mimic this behavior on this site. You may have different theories to the cause. Regardless, many of these seem to be decent questions that shouldn't be removed as mentioned in the post 3 years ago. In your opinion, does this seem normal for Engineering, and should be kept the same? As a bonus, if you want it to change, how (if anything) would you propose to change it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes I am guilty for posting low quality questions and they were on topic but enough of the same people down voted me into a perpetual banned state. Even if it is a good question after 6 months of waiting it only takes 1 or 2 of the same people to send me right back to a excessively long question ban. There must be less severe punishments for this. $\endgroup$ – user4139 Sep 4 '18 at 1:53
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I think such "answer comments" are par for the course on this site, precisely for the reason you gave: the comments are actually "asking questions requesting clarification on a design". The questions are just posed in the form of "would X work in this case?"

I'd go as far as to say that questions which receive that sort of comment and then go unreplied by the OP should perhaps be closed as "Unclear", since we as a community don't understand the OP's situation well enough to give a valuable answer.

Keeping such responses as comments has two main advantages in my view:


"Answer comments" aggregate all information under the question

I much prefer having these in comments than answers precisely because the user might then have to comment on the answers saying "sorry, but actually that won't work in this case because of Y".

The OP will then have to either remember or be reminded to edit their question with that clarification. And given the volume of new users we have here, they frequently "forget" to do so, in which case future potential answerers then have to read through the comments under both the question and all other answers to get the full picture of the OP's situation.

By having such things as simple comments under the question, everything is more or less tidy in one place, easy for everyone to see.


"Answer comments" are likely low-quality answers

Putting such things as answers also has the problem that is doesn't fit Glen's summary of what the site is looking for in answers:

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.

Answers which have to be couched in terms of "X might work in this case" (precisely because the answerer doesn't entirely understand the OP's situation) will have a hard time stating Why, just What.

Answerers may therefore feel disincentivized from answering or commenting at all precisely because such answers would be relatively low-quality. Especially since the higher standard for answers make users feel the need to invest more time on them, time which risks being completely wasted if the OP comments "that won't work in my case because X".

Users are far more comfortable merely asking "would Y work?" and waiting for a reply from the OP. If the OP agrees, then the answerer can flesh out a high-quality answer which not only states that Y works in this case, but also Why it works.


Now, there may be some instances where a user sees a question and comes up with a potential solution, but doesn't feel like they have a full grasp of the OP's needs. However, it seems hard to fathom (or very unlikely) that their solution won't be satisfactory.

In that case, I'd certainly recommend skipping the "would X work" comment and moving straight to an answer. However, the point at which the user is willing to risk the time investment is subjective and not something I'd be comfortable determining.

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    $\begingroup$ "simple comments under the question, everything is more or less tidy in one place". No! A lengthy comment chain with hidden nuggets of information about the question is very untidy and very annoying to parse thru. The signal to noise ratio in comments is exceedingly low. All information pertinent to the question belongs only in the body of the question. If the question (disregarding comments, they are never content) isn't clear, it must be closed as unclear. This doesn't address what to do about comments. It is only a response to your one assertion that was quoted. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Sep 3 '18 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ @OlinLathrop: Agreed that having all information in the body is best. But having additional information under the question is (imo) obviously better than having it distributed under the answers (other than info relevant only to that one answer, of course), even though it is unquestionably worse than having it in the body. $\endgroup$ – Wasabi Sep 4 '18 at 3:04

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