Occasionally I am re-reading my answers in case I've overlooked something or left some misguiding misprint or something. What I noticed is that there are a couple of them where I was not entirely right or did not understand it well enough, then it has been explained in a discussion with somebody in comments to the answer, and I somehow assumed the thing is settled and left it as it was. That is, for somebody freshly reading the answer it will be necessary to also read several comments to clarify the matter.

Although I do not have time for it now, I certainly feel I have to do something about it. I mean, I must incorporate these clarifications in my answers.

In case such scenario is present in a noticeable percentage of answers I think this can lower overall quality of MO - after all if I understand correctly, its main goal is to become a Q&A type source of information for professional mathematicians, so if one systematically encounters flawed answers made good in comment discussions this would not be a proper Q&A style, no?

What I want to know is whether the majority shares the opinion that there is a problem here, if no - why, and if yes - are there means to direct attention of users to this problem?

Having typed this I looked at similar questions the system listed for me. There are closely related ones - Questions answered in a comment and "This question has been answered in the comments." but they concern questions left without answers because of comments rather than what I ask about.


1 Answer 1


As a rule the answer (and the same goes for questions) should be clear and correct on its own. Thus, corrections and clarifications in comments should usually be incorporated into the main post.

There can be some exceptions to this, for example somebody asking for a clarification of a step, where in retrospect it seems in the end the presentation in fact was clear enough, and perhaps very minor things.

On various other SE-sites the process would even be: comment, edit post, delete comment (either self-delete or 'obsolete'-flag). This is not very common on MO, though, and some might not like their comments being deleted (not me though). More generally, the theory the designers of the site have regarding comments is that they are mostly temporary notes and not part of the main content of the site, which is in the the posts (questions and answers). Of course, also on other sites not each comment is really temporary but the fact that it is intended like this informs the design.

Even if MO does not completely follow this model, it still runs on a design based on the idea that comments are not a place for permanently relevant information. For example, comments are not (at least not easily) searchable and are generally deemphasized (this is even more the case on some mobile versions than on full site).

Thus, I believe in general one should try to make sure important information is not only contained in a comment (even if one still preserves the comment).

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "Comments are considered ... in general ephemeral" : I disagree with this. It may be an opinion shared by many in the community, but I see them as a crucial part of the cooperative endeavor: rather than several answers referencing one another and creating a non-threaded unwieldy substitute for discussion, comments on MathOverflow are (I contend) a vital part of the collaborative process here. Even the social commentary provides a crucial element to the forum. Gerhard "Signatures Are Of Course Priceless" Paseman, 2015.10.19 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ cf many interesting answers by BCnrd in comments on the question itself - where would these be edited into? $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman the sentence you reference was in the paragraph that start on "On various other SE-sites[...]" and the description on status as "in general ephemeral" was intended to refer to their status on those (other) sites; another common way this is expressed is that one should think of comments as temporary post-it notes. As I acknowledged "MO does not fully follow this model" the point rests though that those that design the site and are thus in control how visible comments are do follow this idea, as it is their idea of what comments should be. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ The relevance for this for MO is that this has as a consequence that comments are "not very visible." They are not even very visible when one looks at the page in a normal way, but it is even worse on mobile especially on some browsers where it can be almost hard to access them. Further, quite relevant imo, comments are not searchable (in an easy way). I do not intend to try to change the culture regarding comments on MO, but the point rest that for various reasons they are not the best place for some important piece of information. Thus if possible it'd better to recordin post (too). $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts This example is quite strange in my opinion. Mostly they just should have been given as answers all along (which was repeatedly brought up at that time). And, you might recall that there is a standing policy that it is good practice or at least admissible to repost such comments as a CW answer. So to answer you question directly: usually in a to be created answer-post (in CW). $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @quid, I understand that you may mean (content of your comments) by (words in the paragraph). However, my reading of (words in paragraph) conveys something different. I would suggest a rewrite to improve clarity, e.g. "Comments on some of these other sites are considered ephemeral." I take your point about visibility of information, but I still think the current comment content on MathOverflow should NOT be considered ephemeral: quite the opposite. Gerhard "Opposite Is A Multivalued Operator" Paseman, 2015.10.20 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman I will try to clarify it later; I am quite busy right now, sorry. In the meantime I will enjoy the delicious irony of you asking me to rewrite the post. Is a comment not sufficient? ;D $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ It depends on how you want the text read, and how important that is to you. I leave that in your hands, since (for me) my initial comment seems to be clear. Gerhard "Understands The Importance Of Irony" Paseman, 2015.10.20 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 18:43

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