Comment etiquette

On Stack Exchange, somebody asked for tips for posting civil and informative comments. This was my advice:

Another way to make a comment more friendly is, when possible, to cast it as a question rather than a statement. Consider the difference between:

  • (Answer) doesn't work because of X.

and

  • When you do that, how do you account for the problem of X?

It could well be that X isn't a problem -- your assumption is wrong. If you assert it you look bad; if you raise the question the poster isn't put on the defensive, and if it's a problem he can fix it (and thank you for the help).

I used to leave comments like the following that I thought were friendly and helpful:

  • This question/answer could be improved by adding (details/a source).

I realized that comments like the following got better results and also that I preferred them when on the receiving end:

  • Could you add more details about X?

  • Do you have a source?

This approach doesn't always work (e.g. for site policy). It's also most important for the initial comment, before you and the other person are engaged in a dialogue.