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I've been seeing a lot of comment action lately that is somewhere between misguided and utterly superfluous. I grant the comment feature is a hard one to get used to¹ —particularly for those coming in from discussion forums— but I also see people that have been around a long time still sending mixed messages through their example. I think we could probably compose some guidelines for comments covering several issues that would be more specific to our site than the help page and easier to direct people toward than finding issue specific meta posts.

When should the comment feature be used and when should it be avoided?

¹ Which is one reason it's a privilege earned after some participation.

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Unlike the voting system (which is anonymous and mainly useful as a signal to other site visitors) the comment system is a feedback mechanism that can help the post author make a better post.

Comments…

  • should suggest some action in response to the feedback. Don’t leave people hanging, give them something to do that can make your comment obsoleted.

    ✗ This question is so broad it would take a thesis to answer.

    ✔ This question needs a narrower scope. Please edit in which specific theological tradition you are interested in.

  • may explain something about the site that might not have been discovered yet by the OP.

    ✔ You can make your post easier to read by dividing it into paragraphs using a blank line between each paragraph.

  • should focus on the content of the post rather than the personality behind it.

    ✗ This is the third time you’ve asked about denomination X, what’s your beef with them anyway?

    ✔ Can you include some background on where this question came from? Are these direct quotes from a minister?

Comments on questions…

  • may ask for clarification about what is being asked or the scope of the question.

  • should help the OP along the road to a clear question that will elicit the answer they are looking for.

    ✔ This question is related to the topic of X, you might look at for ideas on how to more narrowly frame this question.

  • should not answer the question. Don’t. Just don’t. If you know the answer to the question, post it as an answer.

    ✗ The simple answer to this question is…

  • should not dish out spiritual advice. See: But can't I just say one thing?

  • may link to other resources such as related questions on the site but may not link to things expected to substitute for an answer the question.

    ✗ Did you even read Wikipedia: ‹Article›?

    ✔ Related question on our sister site: ‹Question›.

Comments on answers…

  • may ask for clarification about how a point answers the question if it isn’t clear.

  • may ask the answer to further explain some aspect of the question not originally addressed.

  • may correct factual details that can be reasonably corrected by the author without changing the substance of the answer.

  • may inform the author that they missed something about the scope of a question (or that a question was edited) that they should take into account in their post.

  • should not provide alternatives to a completely wrong answer. If an answer is just wrong and you feel the need to set the record straight, vote it down and then hit up that answer form and submit a better entry.

  • should not explain how the beliefs described in an aswer are wrong theologically. If they wrongly represent the theological tradition asked about in the scope of the question that’s one thing, but if they are just flat out wrong then stay away from that comment link.

  • I wasn't sure where this was going when I started (and I'm out of time now) but I'm thinking maybe we should split this up into 1 point per answer and vote on the most useful bits and wording, then assemble them into a single meta post that we could tag as faq. Thoughts? – Caleb Aug 11 '16 at 17:56
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    I like it. One thing that is "missing" (on purpose?) is simple welcoming comments on new users' posts that are on-topic without edits. Also, maybe not worth mentioning, is using comments to alert people who have answered a question that has since been edited. – Nathaniel Aug 11 '16 at 18:44
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    @Nathaniel Welcome comments are not a clear cut issue in my estimation and I left them out on purpose. Sometimes they are alright (especially when combined with tips on site usage tailored to the post) but often they are just noise. Your second example would make a great clear cut example of when a comment is called for. – Caleb Aug 11 '16 at 19:13
  • Re: welcome comments, that was what I thought. I need to at least do a better job of cleaning up after myself on those, until/if it's decided that they should simply be avoided. – Nathaniel Aug 11 '16 at 19:28
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    I actually like having all of the reasons in one post. Adding and/or removing specific reasons can be discussed in the comments, and having it this way means it's a useful reference. – El'endia Starman Aug 11 '16 at 20:26
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    Is asking for clarification on a Question not permissible? I only see it in the "on answers" part. I suppose it is helping along the OP, but it is nothing like the example you give for that point. Maybe we just need a couple other examples on that to show the range? – Joshua Aug 12 '16 at 1:20
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    @Joshua Yes of course! That was purely an oversight on my part. I changed the organization of this post a couple times and didn't realize that item had ended up under the question section only. I'm all up for other examples that set a clear pattern too; this mostly left off because I ran out of time. – Caleb Aug 12 '16 at 16:13
  • Caleb, why "may not link to things expected to substitute for an answer the question"? I'm not seeing a clear rationale for that. – Matt Gutting Aug 22 '16 at 13:45
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    @MattGutting I may not have worded that clearly, but the idea behind that one is the same as SO's no LMGTFY policy. We want to encourage actually answering questions rather than just pointing people off to somewhere else where thy might find an answer (e.g. Wikipedia, a book, somebody's blog, etc.). It's not t hat the answers don't exist elsewhere and those things could be useful, its that it would be more useful if people did the research and composed an actual answer. If we allow comments that half-answer questions it ends up discouraging actual answers. – Caleb Aug 22 '16 at 14:05
  • Makes sense. What about "This question is too broad as it stands, perhaps you should read the Wikipedia article and edit the question to address any remaining issues"? – Matt Gutting Aug 22 '16 at 16:41
  • @MattGutting I'm totally fine with those kind of comments. If the question is directly answered by the Wikipedia article or it would take a whole book to answer then those resources are a better format and the question shouldn't be left open. If the question can be fixed and the op needs to do some research to fix it, pointing them to something they can reference to better frame their question is totally cool in my book. – Caleb Aug 22 '16 at 16:55

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