I'm a new user to Gardening & Landscaping and I'm confused by "comments" and "answers" -- what is the difference between the two?

  • When should I post a comment and when should I post an answer?
  • Why was my answer converted to a comment and why was I encouraged to post my comment as an answer?
  • How does the chat system fit in with both of these?
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2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

The two can often be misleading and confusing, especially for those more familiar with traditional forums with sequential replies. I hope that the following examples will make it clear as to what should be posted as comment and what should be an answer. Consider the following sample question:

Why won't my plant X grow despite fertilizing it?

I have plant X growing in a pot and it was growing well. However, in the past few months, it hasn't grown much even though I water it regularly and fertilize it on schedule. What could have possibly gone wrong?


When should I post a comment and when should I post an answer?

Why should they be that way?

The first four responses are clearly asking for more information and don't answer the question. Although the first response has the correct idea for an answer, it stills fall short. This could be a preliminary comment for confirmation, while you compose your main answer.

The next four responses are what we'd like to see on this site. They are to the point, precise and informative. #5 and #6 are answers that complement each other (one has a well explained diagnosis and the other makes a crucial point: prune in winter). If they happened to both be in one answer, then great! If not, do not hesitate to edit your answer to include the information or at the very least, give a shout out and link to the other answer.

Response #7 references an earlier answer (could also be an external link), but provides a crucial summary so as to make the answer self sufficient. This is important for two reasons: having the summary helps in the case of link rot (i.e., external links are dead because their site shut down) and to not have to make people click through a whole bunch of links just to get to the answer. They can proceed if they like what they see. Remember, in all these cases, you should cite the source(s) that you quoted (it is a good practice to make it explicit that you're quoting yourself).

Response #8 is the sort of answer that has an answer in mind, but is unsure about one aspect that relies on missing information. It tries to answer the question, but at the same time asks for clarification on a different point. Typically, this plays out in the following manner: OP leaves a comment addressing the clarification sought in the answer and the answerer updates their answer accordingly. This works best when both the OP and answerer are prudent about responding and updating their respective posts and cleaning up the comment mess.

The last two responses are incomplete and show very little effort from the part of the answerer. True, it is tempting to just leave a link and walk off as in #9. However, remember that the answers that you're leaving are not just for the person who asked the question, but for practically anyone who visits that page. For the reasons I laid out above, such answers should be improved to bring it to a similar quality as #5-#8. If you're not willing do that, then it probably is a good idea to not post that link in the first place. #10, while technically the solution to the question, gives no indication or explanation as to why that is the solution.

Why was my answer converted to a comment and why was I encouraged to post my comment as an answer?

Often when your responses belong to #1-#4, they don't answer the question and the moderators move the answer to the comments, where they belong (till the OP responds/updates their question). At times, when the answer is good, but falls a little short of being a great answer, moderators might nudge you to improve on certain sections or provide a little more info on the topic.

Perhaps the most contentious of all, are responses #9 and #10. These are quite tricky as they do in fact answer the question, but not in the way that is considered a good answer. Moderators generally try to encourage users to expand on them or quote relevant parts. Beyond this, there is nothing much that can be done other than let the votes speak for itself. However, one exception is when the simple link response posted contains a link to another answer on the same site. In this case, it should almost always be a comment. This is to avoid people writing one mega answer and carrying it around to all similar questions and posting it for additional rep for no effort. Note that you can still structure the answer as #7 and that's perfectly fine!

Ok great! So when should I use chat?

If you need to have extended discussions with the OP in order to get things clarified or to work out a solution, then you should consider using the chat instead of a back-n-forth in the comments. This way you can talk to your heart's content and still leave the question clutter free. You can also collaboratively work on an answer before writing it up.

Chat is an informal environment where pretty much anything is allowed and the only moderation done is for spam and offensive content. You can discuss off-topic questions, alternate endings for the Star Wars trilogy or exchange pleasantries.

Hope this little guide helped clear some of the confusion that has been floating around on this topic.

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+1 Great guide, thanks. I'd propose that, if you're going to post #9 with an internal link that answers the present question, you should probably cast a Close-As-Duplicate vote using the link as the duplicate. –  bstpierre Aug 2 '11 at 15:27
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Sometimes it feels (to me) more appropriate to comment instead of answer when what I've got to say is relevant but not a direct answer. Based on your answer here these might belong in chat; my feeling is that they add to the information on the page. Compare my (slightly off topic) comment on this late-sown carrots question versus my chat comment on this tree roots question. The former is more accessible than the latter. Thoughts? –  bstpierre Aug 2 '11 at 17:45
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You're right, comments are the perfect place to put relevant info that are not a direct answer. I think both of them are good comments to the question. The SE team would prefer that it not be the case, but I must disagree with them, because 1) it's not part of OP's question, 2) it's not an answer 3) it doesn't really belong in a chat because it gets lost in the sea of other chats. –  Lorem Ipsum Aug 2 '11 at 17:58
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+1 First class guide! Thanks. I share your own and bstpierre's views regarding comments; this is an issue on which, if necessary, we must stand firm. –  Mancuniensis Aug 3 '11 at 0:36

Note: Its important to understand why users post answers as comments and why it's a problem. So I'm including this answer to provide a bit of background and context to this discussion.


Some users don't understand the difference between an answer and a comment. The comment text box is the first thing you see after the question, so it's a nice convenient place to simply start typing. Comments even look somewhat like a traditional forum, so it's easy to fall back into those bad habits of interjecting whatever random thoughts come to mind about the topic at hand.

But more often than not, those users simply don't have the time, the complete story, or simply do not have the inclination to post a full answer — so comments offer the path of least resistance. I can understand their desire to offer what little help they can, but the problem is that they're not helping the system by spreading little bits and pieces of the solution wherever they please.

That's a forum problem. We don't do that here.

Comments were designed to simply ask for clarification about the original question. Comments are such a light-weight mechanism, that putting useful information in there can actually be somewhat harmful:

  • Comments cannot be properly vetted (voted on for correctness).
  • The information in comments is not editable by the community.
  • Comments are not easily searchable. When users are looking for your content, they are less likely to come here to find it.
  • When users see that a question has been answered in comments, they are less likely to contribute proper answers.
  • Questions with comment-based answers remain marked as "unanswered" by the system, so that does not bode well for the community.

When someone asks a question, members of the community are supposed to propose answers. Others vote on those answers so, very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer. Answers-as-comments breaks that entire structure.

Discussions in comments are no better than any bulletin board system on the Internet. Every time a new user comes along, they have to read through the initial post, then all the noise in the comments to get the whole story. You end up with valuable bits of the solution scattered among a bunch of noise and conversation. That's a condition we work very hard to prevent on these sites: The Chat Room/Forum Problem.

I understand the urge to interject "just one more interesting piece of advice" when you have something terribly interesting to say. The problem is that other users will emulate what they see on the site and soon a lot of problem-solving goes into the comments.

Every comment that does not belong adds one more broken piece to the site.

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Thanks for illuminating the psychology and UX behind why it happens. –  bstpierre Aug 7 '11 at 3:28

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