(Sorry, me again.)

I understand that it is not preferred on SE sites to post an answer in comments. I also recognize that it is often done anyway when someone knows the answer and doesn't want to take the time to post an answer with "canonical" references.

That doesn't mean it's a good idea to do this here, especially on a new site where answers - good answers - are important.

However, is it better to down vote or close without explaining why one is doing so?

On this question, someone was asking a question which I knew I was going to both close-vote (I don't believe we should be a consulting service for private product development) and down vote (the question did not show any research effort; it is not useful.)

This is the scenario I pictured that prompted the explanation I gave in this comment.

  • Me: down vote and close vote for reason X. Leave no comment.
  • OP (or another user with a different opinion): Why the anonymous down vote? How can I improve my answers without feedback? or:
  • OP: Why the close vote? This isn't X at all. It's very non-X. All I'm asking for is a specific set of symptoms of heart attacks.
  • another user: I don't think this is too X either.

This reflects my dread of comment-annoyance. I learned very early on in SE not to ask for explanations of down votes or close votes. I also learned that when I give them, it often results in unpleasantness. (I made a meta post on EL&U early on in my SE experience. My opinion hasn't changed.)

Although, to my shame, I have been guilty of them myself on more than one occasion, I usually avoid comment wars like the plague. They bring out the worst in many people, myself included. I also think it detracts from the professionalism of the site, and causes unnecessary drama. But that's a personal opinion.

If I don't want to answer a question (for whatever reason) that I know I'm going to vote to close, on some sites (like EL&U) it is common to give a quick, helpful answer so the OP - who might be a contributor someday - doesn't go away mad.

Not to worry, I will try to make my behavior fit a site's culture and rules. I would like to understand, though, what the harm is in commenting on an answer that I strongly suspect is going to be closed. Is it because it discourages someone from answering? Also, anyone who has an idea on comment wars and sundries and how to avoid them (just let it be, or, if out-of-line, flag a mod is my usual stance), please feel free to share.


  • 1
    As a note, due to the extended discussion in comments, I flagged this for moderator attention to get a more official answer.
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:25
  • @JohnP - That's fine. :-) Mods do get notified of every new meta question, though. As a mod myself, I like to see what the community thinks of something. That's the reason for the post. As I said very clearly, I am willing to follow site culture/recommendations. Apr 22, 2015 at 22:30
  • Ah. Did not know that. Thanks for the "insider" info. :)
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:31
  • 1
    Stack Overflow is notorious for answers in comments. I suspect it has something to do with the technical nature--typically there's an answer wrapped in follow-up questions soliciting more information on the question in order to increase confidence in the actual answer, if that makes any sense.
    – Shon
    Jun 18, 2015 at 20:25

3 Answers 3


If I don't want to answer a question (for whatever reason) that I know I'm going to vote to close […] what the harm is in commenting on an answer that I strongly suspect is going to be closed?

The problem is that posting answers in the comments section embraces the worst of both worlds — on the one hand, you (the community) decided the question doesn't belong and are closing it from further participation. On the other hand, you are then posting a comment/answer below the question which is un-vetted, immutable, and isn't subject to any of the sorting or checks that are designed to avoid just that.

I understand that you are just trying to help — I actually have little doubt that the information you provided was correct — but if you believe you should be able to post an answer without all that pesky community vetting stuff, then you also have to believe that everyone else on this site should be able to do the same. People imitate what they see, and when folks find this site through search, they're never going to understand the nuanced difference between a properly-curated answer and one that was "just a comment."

Comments do not have the features of a proper "answer." Maybe the Moderators feel qualified to judge whether answers posted in this manner are all correct, valuable, and complete enough to stand as the answer to that post — but I think it's more intellectually honest to say this is not the way we curate content and we should not allow these types of unsorted answers at all… especially on a site that allows free and open posting to a site about health.

  • Fair enough. These are good points; health.se is different enough from other sites that this makes a lot of sense. Apr 23, 2015 at 17:51
  • But sporadically, here and there, I see an answer starts with "as said in X's comment". A comment may not a good place to answer, but if it guides a next person to evaporate it, it still be worth, right? Or we can make it a wiki answer, as user139 said below?
    – Ooker
    Sep 29, 2015 at 18:05
  • @Ooker Unfortunately, all comments occupy some of the most valuable real estate on the site (right there below the question). So as these sort-of-answer comments sit there very conspicuously below the post, how is the random internet traveler supposed to understand the nuance between a "real" answer (one voted and vetted/edited by the community) and one created through incidental ramblings of one individual? Yes, sometimes those comments are correct, but if we believe it's okay for anyone to inject an "answer" a the top unchecked, why bother with the SE system of voting/editing at all? Sep 29, 2015 at 18:38
  • I'm not object that it's not good to answer in a comment. I just ask that if there is any better way to solve the unvotable problem while leaving a room for people to give a quick answer. Is making it a wiki answer acceptable?
    – Ooker
    Sep 29, 2015 at 18:52
  • @Ooker Using the wiki setting to forgo reputation earnings (or down-votes) is possible... but it is highly discouraged. There are limited use cases where wiki is still used to allow more edting, but using wiki as a means of denying or forgoing the reputation system is something we deprecated a long time ago. See The Future of Community Wiki. Sep 29, 2015 at 19:02
  • but I'm not asking about reputation, I'm asking about the ability of voting. I don't find any line in the blog agrees with your objection about making an answer in comment becomes a wiki answer. I find this, instead: "The intent of community wiki in answers is to help share the burden of solving a question. An incomplete "seed" answer is a stepping stone to a complete solution with help from others; an incomplete question is a hindrance and an obstacle to getting a solution as no one understands the inquiry."
    – Ooker
    Sep 29, 2015 at 19:27
  • @Ooker The wiki principles of Stack Exchange make it desirable to edit an answer to improve and keep it relevant. But that's a far cry from posting a stub of an incomplete answer hoping others will simply fill in the blanks later. If a post isn't a complete effort to answer the question within the framework and quality conventions of the site, it should be flagged as "not an answer" and removed. Posting stubs with instructions to "put your answer here" will only discourage others from posting more complete solutions of their own. Sorry about the confusion Sep 30, 2015 at 16:30

That should fall upon the shoulders of the moderation team, as well as a community that actively flags comments that are chatty, serve no purpose or are warring.

Here are some example comments from a very active, very respected mod on an established site:

Ahem. Take this to [site] Chat or edit this comments in, please. @xxxxxxx if you find yourself needing more than one comment, you need zero comments.

xxxxxx, comments are not for extended discussion. You have needed multiple multiple-comment responses on this answer, which suggests a poorly formed question. Comments are for clarification requests. If you feel like chatting with someone, invite them.

Please do not argue in comments. Take it to [site] Chat if you must.

Don't answer in comments.

So if we have an active community flagging disruptive comments, and active moderators policing, then it should be a very limited problem.

As far as the answering if "you know it will be closed", if you know it will or should be put on hold, then you should treat it as such. If you think it's worthy of an answer, then go ahead and answer. If a question gets put on hold, any answers already there remain.

If you think it will be downvoted but deserves an answer, go ahead and answer. They even have a badge for that. :)


If you don't want post an answer, you don't have to. If you want to comment that is perfectly fine as well. If your comment is truly answer worthy, your peers, health.SE users, can @ping you to request you make your comment an answer. If you decline, well that is what the community wiki can be used for. Another user can turn your comments into a community wiki answer allowing anyone to expand on your answer/comment since ownership is revoked. If a community mod complains, oh well there is no rule against you taken the approach you did.

I can think of math where this is a problem though but it is done in an entirely different manner. However, in that case, users are commenting answers when the post is already closed as a way to circumvent not being able to provide an answer. Since your aren't trying to circumvent closure to provide an answer, I see no foul play.

Moreover, an official anongoodnurse answer means potential rep points. If you are willing to forgo that to add general knowledge, I would think it would be worse to prevent the spread of knowledge since it wasn't in an answer box.

  • @JohnP that depends there are comments on SO from when the site started still under questions and answers. Also, anyone can turn comments into a CW answer if they so please. We do this all the time on math if we feel it is appropriate.
    – user139
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:26
  • 1
    @JohnP every person has free will though. If they don't want to make it an answer, who is I or you or anyone to force them to? I am all about people making their own choices, and if someone wants to leave a comment, that is their decision. Anongoodnurse leaves answers so it isn't like all she does is comment answers. Until there is a rule that says you will be suspended for doing so, we should allow everyone make their own choice.
    – user139
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:35
  • 1
    @JohnP - doesn't the commenter have a choice to not post an answer with connonical references? I think this answer is helpful to me. I am happy for anyone to pick up a comment (I also feel this way on other sites) and turn it into an answer. The fact is, though, that the question is now closed, and cannot be answered, as I suspected it would be, and there are no annoyed comments in the thread, no "why was this closed?" type comments, and no meta question asking why either. That's good in my book. Apr 22, 2015 at 21:35
  • @anongoodnurse - They do have an option, but it is likely to be deleted. Answering in comments defeats the entire voting premise, because if it is wrong or bad, it cannot be downvoted. It can only be flagged.
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:56
  • @JohnP there are 100s of SE mods maybe a thousand. We don't have to follow one mod's suggestion as they are the most righteous; moreover, anongoodnurse can do as she pleases as long as she isn't disrespectful or violating rules.
    – user139
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:13
  • @JohnP - please note I am more than willing to stop answering in comments. My question is, "is it better to down vote or close without explaining why one is doing so?" Please, I am not trying to pit myself against a moderator or a community. I'm not sure your comments are discussing the concept. May I presume that your answer is: answer or don't, but don't answer in comments? Apr 22, 2015 at 22:17
  • @JohnP you see the most upvoted answer to you first link. If you don't post an answer, someone else may take the rep. If the person doesn't care, then they have nothing to fear.
    – user139
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:18
  • @JohnP you are way off topic. Where do I recommend plagiarism? You are bent on one agenda and fail to see what is going on so I am done with our discussion.
    – user139
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:20
  • @dustin - I did read that. You're cherry picking. All I'm doing is attempting to explain the SE stance that you shouldn't answer in comments. If you think that means I'm unfit to be a moderator, not much I can do about that.
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:24

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