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I run a site where users can submit code to algorithmic programming problems, which is then evaluated for correctness. The site has a commenting system, and the comment area looks something like this:

Comment area

The problem is, users new to the site occasionally (frequently enough to be an issue) post their solutions into the comments, thinking them a way to submit their code. This is not ideal, since it spoils the problem for other users.

I first thought it might be a language barrier for non-English speaking users, but found that most of the code postings were done by users registered from English-speaking countries.

How can I make it more clear that the comment area is for commenting on problems, and not for solving problems? I was hoping the icons and headers (not to mention lack of syntax highlighting in comments) would be a deterrent, but it seems like it hasn't been sufficient.

I considered that perhaps the solution submission button is too hard to find, and users are resorting to inputting the only form they see — but the solution submission button is featured prominently on the page, in a box that scrolls with the page.

Full page

Since users typically spend a few minutes reading the problem before attempting a solution, there is plenty of time for them to recognize the big blue "Submit solution" button.

How can I help users submit, or at least deter them from doing so in the comments?

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the solution submission button is featured prominently on the page

Your users are pretty much telling you that it is not, and what's more, they also seem to be telling you which way they feel more natural interacting with your site.

I think the reason is permanence and flow, a user might scan the page, notice or not the submit solution button, and then read more, if at that point he wants to submit an answer, he probably already forgot where the submit button was and seeing the form conveniently there after finishing reading, might think they act in conjunction. There is also a convention in place...

If you think about it, Stack Exchange has the same sort of problem, their solution is to minimize the call to action for comments and allow people to submit solutions through the form at the bottom of the question.

So, you could recreate this UX or make a new one with what you have, a quick fix might be to make 2 calls to action, one for comments and one for solutions, you can place them below the question and modify their significance with some indicator.

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As @Keno comments you can take a look here at Stack Exchange. The way the problem is approached is:

To write an answer there is a big text-area in the bottom of the page, and to make a comment (to the question or to an answer) there is a button that opens a text-area. In your case this is approached the opposite way: a big text area in the bottom for comments and a button for answers.

Probably, users are not paying much attention to the text and just "reading" the elements in the page.

The problem might not just be a matter of visibility (as you point out) but a matter of the number of steps to perform an action.

A text-area requires one click to start an action (write), a button that opens a text-area requires an extra step.

The number of steps for answering should be the same or less than the ones needed to comment (as the main action in this context is answering).

So I think you could either: display both actions under a button, clearly visible and at the same level; or display a text-area for answers and "hide" comments text-area behind a button, so the "less effort" action is answering the question.

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I would make it really simple and obvious.

Rather than having the comment section maximized by default, I would have two buttons

  1. Post Solution
  2. Post comment

And then direct the user to the correct section on the same or different page.

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