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I noticed on another QA post here that someone mentioned that as a rule of thumb they keep comments short, and anything longer than short goes in an answer. A few times, I've asked for more information in comments, usually because I didn't know if I had an answer, or if I or anyone had enough information for a good answer.

I'm afraid that my comments are making things more cluttered while giving the impression of a sotto voce conversation, as opposed to an out-loud one which would be more encouraging or welcoming, if not necessarily more helpful. Not to mention that I'm sure there is some standard way to do this which I have not discovered yet.

Is is it worse to ask too many questions or use too many words in comments, or to start an answer that is asking questions instead of giving answers? There may be a better way to ask this question, so please answer the hypothetical better question if that seems to satisfy my intention for asking (bonus extra meta).

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If you find yourself using two comments and doing the "continued.." hack then you're probably right.

But in general:

  • answers should be answers to the question
  • comments on answers are for clarifications, minor followups, and meta-discussion of the answer itself

Certainly you shouldn't ask major new questions in comments.

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    And then, in triage mode (before any decent answers have been committed) I would guess comments should generally be used to gather additional info (e.g., technical context for the issue). My guess is that if I'm running out of characters for a comment of that sort, I'm just doing it wrong. I probably need to be less ambitious in the comment instead of resorting to a question. My imaginary counter-example would be something that would be better served with the more flexible formatting of the 'answer'. For instance, [continued...] – belacqua Jan 24 '11 at 6:06
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    [...ironic continuation continues here] for instance, if some helpful pre-testing would involve typing in several commands to review their output, or a few links with some initial diagnostic step. The cramped comment section might be less desirable then? And that's a pretty marginal case, I recognize. – belacqua Jan 24 '11 at 6:09
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    @jgbelacqua tl;dr – Jeff Atwood Jan 24 '11 at 6:22
  • atwood -- rofl. – belacqua Jan 24 '11 at 6:24
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    Oh, come on -- no one is amused by my abuse of comment space to continue a discussion on not abusing comment space? Attempted meta-joke gone bad. Ha. – belacqua Jan 25 '11 at 0:33
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In addition to Jeff's response I try to use links to prexisting questions in comments to nudge people in the right direction.

For example I got sick of asking people for debugging information in every comment so I made a question and now just leave a comment and link them here: I have a hardware detection problem, what logs do I need to look into?

Also, as a whole we could all do a better job going back into old answers and cleaning up (deleting) old comments that made sense while trying to work out the problem with the person and instead now just clutter and confuse the answer.

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    ah, good point on cleaning out old and obsolete comments. Hadn't thought of doing that. – belacqua Jan 24 '11 at 15:52

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