When answering a question, I've noticed that sometimes a sleuth will answer in the comment section with a complete answer, as opposed to with a formal answer. Are there any reasons to do this, and what should happen when a question appears unanswered when in fact the person asking the question has already left a satisfied customer?

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If you think a comment below a question is a proper answer you can ask the user to expand it into one. It sometimes works and produces great answers (score 26 in the linked example). –  bitmask Jan 29 '13 at 9:05
    
So what do we do if the author won't expand it? Answer the question 'stealing' the author's answer? With credit given to the original author this would be okay in my book, at least. Is there a general consensus on this? –  LarissaGodzilla Jul 4 '13 at 13:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

What @luser said in their answer is a very frequent use case. There are a couple others as well:

  1. Some of us feel that an answer ideally should include references, preferably to original material, when possible. When you know what the answer should be, but can't back it up with a quote ATM, you post as a comment instead (I've done that).

  2. A second use case is when the answer is so trivial and pithy that you feel the need to state it, but worry that - as an answer - people will downvote it BECAUSE they would mistake pithiness and conciseness with smart-alec-ness and poor quality. This way you express the correct information without incurring either the rep loss of downvotes, or more importantly the side effect of your answer being disregarded by future readers due to said downvotes.

    As an aside, I have more frequently seen in such cases that the original worry is baseless, and when OP of the comment or someone else posts the comment as an answer, it does NOT get downvoted and frequently upvoted :)

  3. When the question itself is of somewhat poor quality, and the user doesn't feel it warranted to bother spending time writing up an awe some answer.

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No. 1 is a big one for me. If I can't properly cite my information as an answer, I'm far more inclined to leave whatever info I have as a comment rather than an answer. –  Slytherincess Jan 20 '13 at 3:27
    
I do #1 all the time, especially to questions of #3 –  SSumner Jan 22 '13 at 15:15
    
This basically sums it up. I do all 3 of those all the time. Often it's a combo. In response to your aside in point #2, if I personally wouldn't vote for a comment of mine, I'm not partial to posting it as an answer. If there was a badge for having X-number of accepted answers with a score of 2 or lower, maybe I'd reconsider my actions. –  Gorchestopher H Jan 24 '13 at 1:06
    
...or if the user is really gunning for the pundit badge? –  berry120 Jan 24 '13 at 1:25
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Suggest edit from 'awe some' to 'awesome'. –  Andrew Thompson Jan 24 '13 at 2:01
    
I do all of these as well, though no. 1 far more frequently than the other two (and more often on SO rather than here). If I don't have access to source material, can't remember where to find the quote I'm thinking of, or simply don't have the time right then to write a full answer, then I'm more likely to leave a comment rather than not responding at all. –  Anthony Grist Jan 24 '13 at 11:06

I've seen the same thing and I suspect the sleuth in question simply doesn't feel their information to be substantial enough to occupy that big answer box. But he or she offers the clue in the hope that it may assist a potential answerer who can "fill it out."

I've done this.

Or it may be a lack of certainty in the answer. Just not sure enough.

If it's your own question, you can invite the commentator "make this an answer so I can accept it." But be careful. I did this once, and then a short time later bigger better answers showed up, and I did not keep my promise. :(

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I've it too, usually when I have just a hint, but not a full answer –  Izkata Jan 19 '13 at 8:29

What should happen when a question appears unanswered when in fact the person asking the question has already left a satisfied customer?

Make a Community Wiki answer out of the comment? Assuming the commenter doesn't seem to be turning their comment into an answer themselves, that is...

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I feel this answer is the only one that answers the interesting question: What to do with those 'half-answers', so I don't get the downvotes (+1). –  LarissaGodzilla Jul 4 '13 at 13:14

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