The comment length here is such that it corresponds to what normally is a long paragraph in usual written communications.

In some situations, it is more natural to write two short paragraphs, or one bigger paragraph followed by a short conclusion on another line.

Implementing this would be very helpful. So far, to achieve this effect, I had resorted to inserting a blank MathJaX line inside the comment. It works, but the spacing created is way too big.

Please end this continuing bother and misery and allow newlines inside comments. It would allow much better formatted comments in certain situation.

People keep hitting enter key while typing comments, and the reason is that it is very natural sometimes to break a long comment into two paragraphs. Not only that the "comment" box works like an HTML textarea, but also it is true that it is natural to insert multiple paragraphs in this textarea.

So please try to incorporate this feature. This would also alleviate a lot of ongoing friction, and gratuitous humiliation meted out to particular users on this account.

If there are others feeling the same way, please try to post other similar feature-requests. Perhaps the higher-ups might change the mind when there is enough demand. This or that particular request might get ignored in the past; but it is worthwhile if it is done in the end.

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    $\begingroup$ If others feel the same way they should vote up this feature request, not post other requests with the same content. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ To keep in line with meta.stackexchange.com/questions/197/…, I'm marking this [status-declined]. $\endgroup$
    – kennytm
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @KennyTM: that link is informative (thanks) but it would be good to keep the [status] indicator open for longer in the hope that the SE developers can give definitive accept/decline/defer status updates. Earlier request denials don't mean that the same request, or a similar request for different reasons, will not be considered now. Variants of the feature-request, not necessarily covered earlier, appear in the answers, and [declined] cuts that discussion process short. If the SE developers see more user input before deciding it may change the decisions in some cases. $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @T..: You make it sounds like it is impossible to change a status on meta.SO, which is simply not true. If you have a new reason, you could always add a post to the original request (and thus also bumps it). If the SE team stands firm on the decision, having a new duplicated request won't make it come either. $\endgroup$
    – kennytm
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @KennyTM: I didn't say it is impossible. Just that, after providing the link to the older meta.SO discussion of a similar (and [status-declined] ) feature request, leaving the status indicator open for a while will tend to keep the whole discussion more open, and exchange more information -- suggestions, votes, complaints, etc -- between users and SE developers. It is not impossible, just less likely that any given user or developer will participate (as much or at all) in a feature-request Q&A if they see [status-declined] next to the Q. $\endgroup$
    – T..
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:37

4 Answers 4


I believe that this conflict between the Math.SE community and the SO overlords (we have had puzzlement, confrontation, petitioning, and exasperation) regarding the commenting system stems from an inherent difference between the two camps' conception of what the purpose of the commenting system is.

According to the SO design philosophy (or usage guide-- whatever it is that the FAQ represents), the purpose of comments is to identify ambiguous portions of questions (with the hope that the OP will make the question more precise), and also to identify errors, i.e. reasons to downvote, an existing answer.

It is my impression that Math.SE users that find the enter-key behavior in comments odious do so because they expect (or wish) for the comments they leave to have substantive content, i.e. they wish that the comments function not simply to identify errors or ambiguities in questions and answers, but to enrich the content of said questions and answers by providing further detail and perspective. This, if I read the FAQ correctly, is morally a misuse of the commenting system: it seems that by design of the SO software (of the SO overlords), any substantive addition to the site ought to be in the form of either a newly-posed answer or an edit to an existing one.

Now I may be misinterpreting the FAQ (English being my second language and all and this being the internet), but I believe that the larger question then becomes a private question, namely, whether the discussion of mathematics that the SO platform provides (as outlined in the FAQ) is a platform under which you yourself wish to discuss mathematics.

My personal belief is that the moral misuse of the commenting system by Math.SE to leave substantive comments (as opposed to the technical misuse of leaving multi-line comments) is something inherent to the discussion of mathematics owing to the high density of information inherent in mathematical statements (that is, what qualifies as a 'simple' clarification does not simultaneously qualify as a 'short' clarification because of the levels of abstraction that have to be identified and navigated through).

In any case, I believe that making the comment-box behave like a chat-box (which is exactly the reasoning behind the new behavior) is detrimental to the quality of the comments (on any .SE, not just Math.) exactly because until it reduces them to chat and hence to insubstantial contributions to the content of the discussion. More importantly, the moral requirement that substantive contributions be in the form of full-blown answers imposes a linear structure on all contributions, and life, or at least mathematics, is too interconnected for any one answer to effectively (and artificially) arrange all relevant information in a beginning-middle-end form (a phenomenon not unrelated to why it's so difficult to write a good textbook or even learn mathematics in the first place); there will always be strands of an answer of significant interest that are worthy of being addressed but simply do not cohere, expositionally, with all the other information in the answer, thus rendering editing infeasible.

For these reasons, I believe that the implicit policy of what comments ought to be like, which I take to be the one documented in the FAQ and which is the one that underlies the soundness (in the eyes of SO overlords) of having the enter-key submit comments, is fundamentally flawed and antithetical to the goal of .SE sites to function as effective Q&A forums. Furthermore, it is the implicit policy about what comments ought to be that I perceive as the reason behind the recent discord here at Meta.Math.SE.

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    $\begingroup$ Spot on! Perspicuous finding on one of the root causes! $\endgroup$
    – user1119
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ Your English is better than most native speakers. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 5:28

Even if the newlines aren't displayed, being able to enter them is useful when revising a post. I often type a paragraph, then type newlines into the middle of it to make "space" when I am rewrite sentences in the middle of the paragraph.

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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, this is the natural way of working for those of $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I think that the transition back and forth between text editors and comments here is very jarring. The lack of preview for comments is uncomfortable for a similar reason: I'm used to looking back and forth between the TeX code and a preview while I'm editing. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ And this is why simply disabling the enter key with a script is not really the solution we seek. $\endgroup$
    – JDH
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 5:03

@Jeff Attwood, I am following your advice and composing this as a competing answer, although I am not really answering the question itself, but rather your answer to it.

On this site, a large percentage of the traffic is caused by high school kids and students who want others to do their homework for them. Since I refuse to do so but still want to help, my answers usually consist of hints and I try to make the hints as light as possible. Since the fact that the student came here in the first place usually means that he is not willing to go and think about a problem for an hour or two, they usually come back within 5 minutes to ask for clarification or for a further hint or to say what they make of the hint. This back and forth of hints and responses continues until the OP solves the problem (or doesn't and instead gets it solved on some other website). It would be silly for the poster to put his responses into a separate answer to his own question. It would be equally silly to keep editing the question, because the questions are mostly clear from the beginning (after all they are just verbatim copies from their exercise sheet).

Until now, I hadn't realised that we were not supposed to use comments to discuss the answer under which they appear. I don't see how posting competing answers solves this issue, so I would like to ask you for advice on what to do (short of either solving the homework completely or not replying at all).

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    $\begingroup$ "we were not supposed to use comments to discuss the answer under which they appear" you are supposed to use comments to discuss the post, but if you 'need' more than 600 characters or multiple paragraphs to do so, you're exceeding the intended use case for comments. For example if you find Twitter's message size of 140 characters unnecessarily restrictive, that does not mean Twitter is doing it wrong. It means you are in the wrong place. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to me that the upshot of Jeff's argument here is that we should ban homework questions on this site, because the SE software is not set up to handle teaching. It's instead aimed at getting actual answers to questions, which is unethical and counterproductive for homework questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Noah I will be the last one to argue against such a ban (I think I managed to become an infamous anti-homework-campaigner on this site within a fairly short amount of time), but I am not sure if that's what Jeff meant. If that's indeed what he meant, then this should be pursued pro-actively, incorporated into the faq and communicated to the moderators. Such a policy will not implement itself. $\endgroup$
    – Alex B.
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 3:26

Comments are for short clarifications to the question or answer. At the point where you "need" paragraphs, you should probably be composing an alternative, competing answer or asking a different question.

Newlines are not rendered, nor ever intended to be rendered, in comments.

If you find yourself accidentally hitting enter while writing comments, there is a script that you can enable to prevent any unwanted comment submissions.


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    $\begingroup$ Since this is the opposite of the usual behavior of textareas, it would make more sense for the Greasemonkey script to make the return key submit the comment, and leave the default behavior in agreement with the usual conventions for textarea input. There is a huge difference between not rendering newlines in comments (which is fine) and submitting the comment whenever someone types one. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeff, mathematics, being arguably the most informationally dense mode of human communication, is much more susceptible to exhibiting non-linear phenomena which simply cannot be fully expressed in the linear form implicit in the prose form of questions and answers. The comment system can function as a method of enriching the discussion with substantive hypertext, and I believe is in fact used as such by the Math.SE community. Requiring (if only morally) that substantive contributions be in the form of questions and answers severely limits the usefulness of the SO platform to discussing math. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Vladimir: "Requiring ... contributions be in the form of questions and answers severely limits the usefulness of the SO platform to discussing math." The platform is designed for Q&A, not discussion, and intentionally so. $\endgroup$
    – Isaac
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Isaac: replace 'discussing math' with 'communicating maximally useful answers to mathematical questions'; see my actual answer in this thread for an explanation of what I mean by that. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ I do not think that this is a proper fix, but at least the user script works also with Firefox with Greasemonkey. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2010 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ This user script no longer seems to work. Is there an updated version? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2011 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @tsu ah, I thought I edited all my references to this script to the centralized stackapps scripts repository -- see my edit. If it does not work let me know. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ Does not seem to work. In fact, the user script on stackapps.com looks exactly the same as the one which was posted here before, so I cannot see why moving to stackapps.com should solve the problem at all. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi - We're doing some major JavaScript refactor on our side that broke this. An updated version of the script that compensates for the changes is now on the StackApps link in the answer above, give it a try :) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick: The new version of the user script works (on Firefox 4). Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 14:41

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