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So, per Stack Overflow rules, comments are really something that are supposed to be discouraged in many circumstances that we use them. They are "sticky notes" designed to suggest improvements to an answer, and most importantly, are not indexed by Google. And, as we all know, if it's not googleable, it's irrelevant :)

In theory, we're not supposed to be using them to answer - but let's face it, sometimes an answer doesn't really deserve to be scored as one. Or, sometimes we want to take the coward's way out, and leave the information, but not take the dread -2s that mess up our nice round zeros and fives...

Sometimes there is valuable input to be made that is more than a comment, but less than a full answer. For example, if a question is missing a step to get it to an answerable level, it's useful to post it.

Today, this happened twice to me:

  1. According to theistic evolutionists, at what point did humans evolve enough to be considered special to God? - the question begged for a greater fleshing out of the age of accountability - but I had neither the full answer, nor a desire to edit a good standalone question too far from OP's intent.

  2. https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/15099/does-any-other-faith-besides-catholicism-dogmatically-assert-a-kind-of-time-trav - here again, I feel like I added value by bringing in a discussion of the communion of the saints and its understanding - but I'm not sure that I actually had the ability to conclusively answer across denominations.

My question (and this is fuzzy), then is this: Are partial answers - or answers that move the question forward but explicitly don't answer it - desirable? Put another way - if I want to be lazy, is it better to contribute something less than an answer, or keep my [mouth | fingers] shut?

What should one do in a situation where the important info can be added, but that in and of itself is not the end state of the question?

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    One note of caution: we don't want to be come the home of helpful, but not really, answers. Good answers take time and research. Hopefully nobody will be expecting immediate (but partial) answers to their eternal questions. – Jon Ericson Mar 20 '13 at 20:00
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An answer should be complete.

  1. The site does not have a way of posting drafts of answers. This seems intentional.
  2. It does not scale down. A partial answer by an experienced member might look passable, but if everyone started posting them the site would be a mess. We would be setting a bad example.
  3. People who see your non-answer might assume that the question has been answered, or that some relevant point has already been made, and opt not to answer. In cases where there are no other answers, it takes the question out of the Unanswered Questions pile, which is not nice.

If input has not yet been shortened down to a comment, or expanded up to an answer, then it is not yet valuable enough to keep around. Of course, if a short or insufficiently-detailed answer is given, it might still be expanded at a later time. But it should still count as an answer when it is first posted.

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    To add to point #1: the site actually supports saving draft answers so that one may work on an answer and come back later to finish and publish it. – Jon Ericson Mar 20 '13 at 23:27
  • @jon how many times have you came back to a page and been surprised to see you had half written an answer? – Peter Turner Mar 21 '13 at 2:06
  • @PeterTurner: More than a few times. (Though, to be fair, it's more common on Biblical Hermeneutics where answers can take even longer to compose.) – Jon Ericson Mar 21 '13 at 11:03
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Yeah, too much of this site is based on answering quick and being completely right off the mark. I'm not sure that's how theology works and I don't think St. Thomas Aquinas ever had that problem.

My opinion is, if no one will die (spiritually or physically) as a result of a partial answer, I think you might as well write what you're thinking right away.

If they -1 you, that's OK, you'll make it up later after you edit the answer. The only really annoying thing is convincing someone to delete their useless comment.

Either way, in the end you can look back and say "it's just so much straw".

  • Do moderators here not delete useless comments when they are brought to their attention via a flag? That would surprise me. – Jon Ericson Mar 20 '13 at 20:01
  • @jon I just didn't think we'd want to intentionally set out to annoy them – Peter Turner Mar 20 '13 at 20:20
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    Feel free to flag comments as obsolete if the content of the answer they comment on has substantially changed. Particularly if you have also pinged the comment op and gotten more feedback but they haven't removed their original comment, we're happy to do that sort of cleanup. – Caleb Mar 20 '13 at 23:12
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You could ask another question that your comment directly answers, and put a comment linking to that question on the original question. You then have a post that is helpful to both the OP and people who are searching for an answer to the question you asked. Others who wanted to add similar comments have a question where their answers will be on topic.

Using your first example, you could ask a question like "What is the age of accountability?" You could then post an answer that elaborates on the age of accountability, and post a comment on the original question like "This question might be helpful" that links to your question.

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