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Recently, there has been some users who post a significant amount of things in the comments to questions of low-quality questions. To me what they put in the comments is really a full solution of the question.

This is frustrating for those that were asking the OP for more context of the question or were giving nudges to a solution by themselves without giving out the complete solution. It's also an issue because this seems like it's a loophole in closing questions.

I saw a case today where a full solution was posted in the comments after the question was already closed as off-topic. There was another case where a detailed solution spanning two comments to a low-quality question was closed as off-topic afterwards.

Should there be some ways to enforce the comments of off-topic questions? I am not entirely sure what the purpose of these users are; it's clearly not for reputations as they're not posting answers. Otherwise there's no point in closing questions because people will just type their solution in the comments after it being closed.

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    $\begingroup$ You can certainly flag any user's comment if you have noticed a pattern, who is answering in comments, for moderator attention citing the Enforcement of Quality Standards. The same enforcement applies to answers and comments that answer. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 24 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ Your second paragraph tells that you are trying to use the website as a virtual classroom. However, look at it. It is not designed for that. It is designed to establish relations Question-Answers, Topics-Questions. It is also designed to be a collaboration and it is the intention of the owners to make as many people as possible be able to participate. The EQS was redacted by part of the users of the website and some of its aspects were injected by users who never understood that this website simply cannot work as a virtual classroom. Well you get frustrated when you try to go against reality. $\endgroup$
    – plop
    Jun 24 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ I have been part of this collaboration since before it was founded. What is that, 20 years? I have seen loads of versions of "what have you tried" comments posted on questions. They almost never prevent an answerable question, that someone can figure out, from getting connected to an answer one way or another. $\endgroup$
    – plop
    Jun 24 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes it is unclear that I have answered the question at the time I wrote the comment because I was in fact only trying to clarify the question. (“Did you mean this trivial thing? Because Counterexample”. “Oh, yes I did! Thank you!” ) would you suggest I stop doing this to clarify questions? I could have put a longer comment to signal what minor variations would have made a good (or even open) question but I think that would be too enthusiastic on my end $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ yes @CalvinKhor did answer one of my question like that... Socratic dialogue as a tool of teaching is very underrated $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ @CalvinKhor Asking for clarification, or asking a user to pin down an ambiguous expression, etc., is perfectly fine. We encourage users to assist in this way, and it would also be helpful to suggest to the asker to edit their post to include their answers to your question. And if they have an "aha" moment after a comment exchange with you, encourage them to post an answer to their question.Those kind of comments are encouraged! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 25 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the confirmation amWhy and @Adil :) That is a good suggestion. Sometimes though, I guess the OP would also agree that the question wasn't "great", so I leave it for roomba as in Xander's answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 26 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ Aren't comments where you would make suggestions/clarifications to improve a question? Seems wrong to cut off the only avenue for re-opening. $\endgroup$
    – Randall
    Jun 26 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Randall I guess you're right. It's just that the abuse of comments for closed questions seem to be more rife than legitimate comments. Do you have an idea for an alternative mechanism that might work? $\endgroup$
    – daruma
    Jun 26 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ "am not entirely sure what the purpose of these users are; it's clearly not for reputations as they're not posting answers." It seems likely that they are just trying to help whoever asked the question. $\endgroup$
    – littleO
    Jul 6 at 8:04
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I think that fewer people will write an answer in the comments because of the lack of reputation gain, so closing a question still does have a purpose. Also, closed questions often get deleted by the roomba faster, so there's that too.

From my understanding, the current way to deal with this would be

  1. Leave a polite comment pointing them to the Enforcement of Quality Standards and asking them not to give hints/answers to low-quality questions.
  2. If a user consistently keeps commenting the answers, then flag one of their comments for moderator attention.
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Sorry! I didn't intend to come off as dismissive about it. I definitely see a bunch of answers in comments (to both low and high quality questions), so I agree it's a real problem. I just meant that closing low-quality questions is still a worthy goal. $\endgroup$ Jun 24 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeEarnest What you describe is not showing off, it's just helping, albeit not necessarily the best way. AAMOF, I quite often post hints in comments, whether the question is closed or not. Motivation? Well, I do not always agree with the question being closed in the first place (yes, it happens). But above all I consider receiving a hint is still an incentive to actually do some work on the question, which is the best I can hope, from a student. I always found that a hint is better than a full answer. But I know opinions differ about this, here. $\endgroup$ Jun 24 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @daruma Did it occur to you, and others mentionning this, that we are not necessarily here to get more reputation points? The only interest I have in those points is the site features they enable. The rest is an unnecessary burden. $\endgroup$ Jun 24 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ The entire premise of the EoQS is that it is not helpful for students overall to receive answers, nor answers in comments, as it enables them to find others to do their thinking, their learning, for them, so when they do not have you all in their pocket, they'll crash and burn. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 24 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ Also, @Daruma, many, are answering in comments in protest, to make a point that "no one is ever gonna stop them from giving freebie answers... You are right to be concerned. Answering in comments in flaggable so they become deletable. What Jean and Mike speak of, Jean-Claude in particular, many are doing it to show off, period. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 24 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy There is something fundamentally dishonest with the current rule. 1/ the site is supposed to be a reference, that is give good answers to as many questions as possible. Fine. 2/ We shall only answer a question if enough work is shown. So the guy will get a full answer, but he has worked on it after all, maybe he deserves it. Fine. 3/ Oh, but wait, what if another student passing by gets an answer for free? Once an answer is here, it's for anyone, forever. Even for those who don't even bother to try. I agree it's not good to give a full answer for free. But that's what we are doing. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon I understand your point, and I almost agree. But really the problem is your (1). Actually, even giving a full answer to someone who has tried and failed should be a problem: when a teacher is giving homework, it's also to evaluate his students - not their searching skills. The site cannot exist if we consider only what's best for students. So I prefer to give hints, and when a question is interesting for me (to improve or maintain my skills), I give an answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon It's a question of point of view: the site shouldn't even try to consider students questions as special. And in some way, it does not. But, if the goal is to have a good reference site, it doesn't matter at all that the OP has tried anything. What counts in the long run is how interesting/reusable/general the question is, and how well it is stated. The OP's efforts are then totally irrelevant. By trying to do something special about students, we are changing the site's intent, and IMO, failing. But this is only my opinion, and I don't expect it's shared by many here. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut I suppose that was the role that context was supposed to play. I recall a Lord_Farin answer : they say that source and motivation should be the OP's contribution to context, and the attempt should come third, as a saving grace more than anything. So yes, you are correct : but it will take a sea of change to sort out the whole attempt circus, because the first thing you see on a low-quality post is either a template message or a version of "what have you tried?" Hopefully a shift to this prioritization of context can be beneficial to teachers. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut Poor one-line PSQs, tend to lead to short AWE (answers without explanations, void of text. Those do not a good resource make. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 25 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut ( 1) While I think that there are folk on the site who see the quality standards as a kind of gatekeeping to prevent cheating, that is certainly not my view of things. The quality standards are about maintaining the quality of this site as a searchable database. It is nigh certain that students are using Math SE to cheat, but that isn't something that we can (or, frankly, should) try to adjudicate. Rather, the quality standards exist to ensure that questions are fully formed, that they are searchable, and that they are likely to be of use to future askers. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 25 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ (3) I agree that the asker's attempts are irrelevant in the vast majority of cases. I really wish that we could get past the idea that "context" = "attempt". Personally, I don't think that "attempts" provide very good context---generally, they just contribute noise. There are much better ways of providing context: give a source, provide some motivation, explain which tools might be relevant, state related definitions, etc. I would be more than happy to remove "show an attempt" as a form of context, but there is a vocal contingent here which seems to want to retain it. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 25 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon I agree with the sentiment from other comments that EoQS is a heavy handed approach that does not really solve any problem. I would just add that it is also inherently and hopelessly incongruent. Marking a question as a duplicate, for example, is practiced and encouraged by the very same EoQS promoters. Though, of course, it provides instant gratification to the OP, regardless of the quality of the question. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Jun 25 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut to put it bluntly, the problem is not that the rule is dishonest, it is that your understanding of it seems to be incomplete. A main problem with PSQs and alike is that there scope is are poorly defined. The attempt can provide a clue what the actual issue is. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 25 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut I'm not sure that everyone, including the moderators, needs to agree on "what the intent of the rule really is", in the sense that the "no homework" and "good quality questions" camps have a lot in common. These camps can bicker, sure, but I don't think focusing on the "intent" of the rule is helpful, and I do not expect the moderators to have a single motivation for it. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jun 26 at 9:40
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The SE network generally discourages folk from posting answers in comments. If you want to answer a question, post an answer. This ensures that answers are easier to find via search. Thus, per Meta SE policy, don't post answers in comments. Answers in comments should be flagged and deleted.

[removes moderator hat]

That being said, my opinion follows:

If a question is poorly received and has no answers, it can be automatically deleted. So if one must answer a low-quality question, then it is my opinion that it is preferable to post that answer in the comments, rather than to post an answer. In many such cases, everyone walks away happy: the asker has an answer to their question, the answerer gets the dopamine hit of helping out another person, and the question is eventually deleted and doesn't clutter up the database.

In summary:

  • Don't post answers to low quality questions.
  • Seriously. Don't post answers to low quality questions.
  • If you must post an answer, do so in the comments.

[puts moderator hat back on]

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    $\begingroup$ I don't particularly agree with your second point. No one "must do anything", unless someone is holding a gun to ones head. In that case, to save ones life, sure, post an answer in the comments. Unfortunately, there are a handful of users trying to sabotage the EoQS by posting answers in comments, even after the question has been closed. So I've got mixed feelings on the second point (mod hat off), but for the most part, thanks for posting!! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 24 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ This seems to completely contradict the point of EOQS. The entire point of closure is that these questions should not be answered here, at all, even if they're almost guaranteed to to be deleted. Letting answers-in-comments slide defeats that purpose and sabotages the EOQS. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    Jun 24 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting point about quality standards vs site quality. It feels a bit like letter and spirit of the law. In the long run, what matters most is the site quality: good questions, good answers. In my opinion, we tend to close too quickly, and to delete too slowly. But maybe it's just an impression. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ Really surprised about the first paragraph. On not-low-quality questions, this site has a very strong tradition of answers in comments. So much that I have seen moderators do it from time to time, and in any case no enforcement whatsoever has ever existed (on sister sites it is common to see "no answers in comments" comments, while no such thing happens in MSE). $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij The point was that such questions should not be answered. However, if a user is compelled to answer a question (which they shouldn't, but some people can't seem to help themselves), I think it is better to answer in the comments, as this won't prevent a question from being automatically deleted. Again, the first point is "Don't answer low quality questions." The second point is "If you decide to ignore the first point, please do so in a way that makes cleanup easier." $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 25 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut Honestly, I feel somewhat differently. I think that we should be faster to close, but slower to delete (indeed, if we are faster to close, then automatic deletion, which can take longer, can be more effective). If we are fast to close, we give the asker time to improve their question before several (possibly irrelevant) answers are posted. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 25 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Xander Of course, in the case of sufferers with Answering OCD, I agree it is better, when the compulsion exceeds their control, to answer only in comments. But I'd add that if that happens too frequently, they need to seek treatment for their OCD. Just like if someone has a compulsion to steak naked in public, there will be consequences, and I'd hope the intervention would first be mandated treatment for their OCD. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 25 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be better just to remove the whole "if you have to answer then..." bit. True though it may be, it's probably better left unsaid. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jun 25 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ If someone who asks a PSQ has their question solved in the comments, then doesn't that encourage them to post more PSQs? $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Jun 25 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @joe Yes. But it is easier to clean up a bad question with an answer in the comments than a bad question with an answer posted as an answer. Y'all seem to want something black-and-white, and I am trying to present something with a little bit of nuance. There are relative badnesses here: it is worse to answer a bad question with an answer than with a comment. Neither behaviour is really appropriate, but one is clearly worse than the other. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 26 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: It would be better to shoplift than to conduct an armed robbery, but it would be strange to say "if you must steal from someone, then shoplift". You're right that it would be better for someone to answer in the comments than to post a full answer, but I fear that this dilutes the message that PSQs should not be answered at all. I don't necessarily disagree with you—I just share user1729's view that these things are better left unsaid. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Jun 26 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe I disagree with you regarding things being left unsaid. As we seem to have reached an impasse, I will bow out of the conversation, now. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 26 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: Okay. I'd just like you to know that I respect your opinion and I am generally supportive of the actions that you have taken as a moderator to improve this site. Please don't let polite disagreement from me obscure this fact. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Jun 26 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ I am sorry, @Martin. I was too familiar with the comment thread and original post to understand who wrote what, when. And honestly, I will delete my comment to you, because I really have no problem with it, after thinking about it. Thanks for your reply! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 27 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy: fair enough, I've deleted my reply, too. $\endgroup$ Jun 27 at 19:17

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