I have noticed a couple of questions over the last few days that are answered in the comments and never receive a proper answer and therefore stay in the "unanswered" section forever. One example, of many, is this one. I think this should somehow be avoided to reduce number of unanswered questions in stats. Any thoughts?
You are right and I'm as guilty as anyone of doing this. I think this comes down to the fact that ultimately, while the S.E. system is important since it is what structures the site and helps to make it as useful as possible, that form is nothing without content and hence people's priority is naturally the latter.
Put another way, if someone has a quick solution or suggestion and doesn't want to bother with a formal answer, and/or the solution requires a bit of back and forth discussion eliciting things from the O.P. (original post(er)), then this is what happens.
Ideally, the solution to this is either:
- The person who made the suggestion takes 5 minutes to post an answer, and hopes that the O.P. or someone else will play the game and accept and/or upvote.
- The person who asked the question, for posterity and as a gesture of appreciation for the system that helped them solve their problem, writes and answer along the lines of "Thanks to foobar's suggestion in comments, I was able to solve my problem this way..". Etc.
Anyone else is always welcome to formalize an answer too, and if you do a decent job you should be able to garner at least one upvote, since as per "What Else You Can Do" at the end of my answer here, I'm going to try and pay more attention to the
active tab, which is where freshly answered questions will appear even if the questions are old.
I am a little late to the party but I've noticed the behaviour lately in some of the more avid users too. So that might warrant to give the issue some more attention.
You're right that providing answers using comments is the wrong way and defeats the system of StackExchange. It prevents the rating of an "answer" by means of up and down votes and makes it impossible for the OP to mark the valid answer as accepted.
Lets rehash what comments are / are not for (see here):
When should I comment?
You should submit a comment if you want to:
- Request clarification from the author;
- Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
- Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).
When shouldn't I comment?
Comments are not recommended for any of the following:
- Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
- Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
- Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
- Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
- Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
- Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.
Comments are not for answering a question and should preferably not be used for "small" or "incomplete" answers. Please note that comments are subject to deletion without notification. See here:
When should comments be deleted?
Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever: Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it is subject to deletion. In reality, many obsolete or chatty comments remain untouched due to the high volume of comments posted, but this does not mean that they can't or shouldn't be deleted in the future.
I think that this line of thought could (could!) even be extended to comments that hint or provide a solution which is then posted by another user as an answer, who by the way will earn the reputation instead.
So while there are (seemingly valid) reasons to provide comments instead of answers - and many of us are guilty of doing it at one point or the other, as Goldilocks' answer points out - always check if your comment does one of the three things: request clarification, leave constructive criticism to guide user, or provide just minor or transient information. If not, consider making it a full fledged answer instead (unless of course it is not an answer at all).
And as a final side note: if you consider a question worthy to provide an answer for it, why not also give it an upvote?
One issue is that "Answers" which are brief (even if this is actually a complete answer) are often "converted to comments".
Unless you are prepared to write your magnum opus it is easier just to comment, hopefully this will help the questioner.
I "commented" on the question you referenced, but in reality it should have been closed as off topic or unclear, as it has little to do with the Pi, and was unanswerable given the information supplied.
I often comment in these cases to warn of the dangers to the Pi (or in some cases the user, where mains power is involved).
PS I just noticed that this question was old, and pushed up by the late "answer".