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I will often take a look at a question, realize that it's not one I'm likely to be able to answer - but still have something useful to offer in comments:

  • a guess at a possible answer (especially ones that depend on info not provided as yet), tied to a clarifying question;
  • a suggestion as to how to improve the question (include a query plan, table definition, whatever);
  • some of the general troubleshooting questions I'd ask in the same scenario.

Basically, something that may either help the OP, or may help provide enough information for someone else to come in and provide an answer.

Note: If a comment asking a question (and leaving a suggestion of an answer) gets a response that makes it an answer, I will enter it as such. The suggestion can be a part of the clarification process; by including what could be an answer, one can prompt the poster to clarifying what they're actually looking for.

However, questioners frequently assume (naturally) that I may have further insight based on the fact that I took time to comment. I don't want to clutter the comments by adding one saying, "Sorry, just trying to get things moving for you, I have no answer."

Is there any semi-official etiquette to follow (don't comment if you don't plan on following through if at all possible; go ahead and ask those starting comments, as the sooner there's useful data to answer a question the more likely someone will answer it)?

Yes, I worry far too much about this sort of thing

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    So tempted to write an answer here – Paul White Aug 16 '17 at 1:59
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    I don't have an answer for you at this point, sorry, but I'd like to remark that I would consider comments like this one to be worth posting as an answer. – Andriy M Aug 16 '17 at 8:46
  • @AndriyM - That was originally a response to a comment by Scott Hodgin; who changed his comment to an answer. His answer was fundamentally accurate, and posting another answer to quibble on terminology (or bringing up intra-query deadlocks, as I had at first) was more likely to confuse things than to be helpful I thought. (Like I said - I think too much about these things!) – RDFozz Aug 16 '17 at 15:33
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    If you trace it back, the problem was that two people wrote answers in comments. Honestly sometimes I think answer downvotes should be free and comments should cost 1 rep (refunded on deletion) ;-) – Paul White Aug 17 '17 at 2:30
  • I think it is some kind of shame to answer and get down votes, so you can give bad answers without getting downvotes. – 777Anon Aug 17 '17 at 20:37
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These two seem like pretty uncontroversial uses for a comment:

  • a suggestion as to how to improve the question (include a query plan, table definition, whatever);
  • some of the general troubleshooting questions I'd ask in the same scenario.

You can avoid getting involved in a comment discussion by explicitly asking the post author to update their post based on your feedback, rather than leaving you a comment in return. Especially for new users, this can be very helpful in familiarizing themselves with the way Q & A format works best.

If you have nothing more to add, simply say so: if you're going to leave a comment, make it the best comment you can! For extra credit, regularly review comments you have left (via your user page - activity/all actions/comments) to see if they can be removed. If a discussion does break out, consider moving it to chat, or custom flagging for a moderator to do it for you (or take whatever other action is appropriate).


This is the more interesting one:

  • a guess at a possible answer (especially ones that depend on info not provided as yet);

I understand why people do this, and in some respects it does fit in the original model:

The Venn diagram

It may help the question author (forum) but isn't terribly useful in the longer term (blog/wiki); worse, it is most often counter-productive. My view on this is that unclear questions ought to be placed on hold until they are clarified, and this should be done as soon as possible.

Guessing at an answer and leaving it in a comment has two main possible outcomes:

  1. The guess is wrong. Noise has been added that someone has to clean up. No one can down vote the wrong answer or edit it to make it better. Sad!
  2. The guess is right. The answer is now not in an answer, and the question author has learnt nothing about Q & A format (and will likely ask more unclear questions in future). Again, someone else will have to convert the comment information into a useful final state.

If you have a useful (maybe partial) answer you'd like to contribute to the community for improvement, leave it in an answer marked Community Wiki. This is quite likely to happen to answers in comments eventually anyway (if they're not simply deleted). I see this quite often: a good answer left in a dozen different comments by three or four different people. Often all that is needed to make a really good answer out of them is to add a quick code example or a documentation link.

People are already community-building good wiki answers, they're just doing it in the wrong box (comments), with a terrible UX.

As a general rule, try to ensure that whatever you contribute to the site improves it in some way (how ever small), and definitely avoid making it worse (including by making work for others).


If a comment asking a question (and leaving a suggestion of an answer) gets a response that makes it an answer, I will enter it as such. The suggestion can be a part of the clarification process; by including what could be an answer, one can prompt the poster to clarifying what they're actually looking for.

  • If you're inviting them to improve their post, leave a comment.
  • If you're providing an answer (complete or not), write an answer.
  • There is no reason you cannot do both.
  • Comments and answers (unless accepted) can be self-deleted at any time.
  • Use your best judgement.
  • If in doubt, ask in The Heap, or here on meta. Provide a specific example if you want specific feedback in a borderline case.
  • One of the reasons I selected this was the point about not making work for others (for instance, say, the moderators) - worth keeping in mind. – RDFozz Aug 23 '17 at 17:00
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Edit: Seeing as your question changed slightly I have modified my answer.

Being around DBA.SE a while I would answer your questions as follows:

  1. A partial "guess" answer could can be appended as a comment to allow others to build upon the information provided by yourself. But then again, why not provide the partial answer as Community Wiki to allow the community as a whole to provide a complete solution? Some people don't answer because of the possible outcome of downvoting. If you unsure of your answer, then ask to clarify the question before you answer. Quality before quantity maybe?

  2. Yes, I would do the same and place such remarks in the comments section.

  3. Yes, adding your own questions to clarify the details of the question should be posted as comments, because they aren't answers and would otherwise be flagged. Opening up a chat with OP1 can reduce the amount of clutter in the comments section.

As for the person asking questions and assuming you know more: Well if you don't know more, then just let them know. No shame in admitting you don't know everything.


1Provided they have enough reputation or are otherwise granted access by a moderator.

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