I was asking a question about the 100+ definitions of "life" referenced in the Wikipedia article

I am active on math.stackexchange where everyone is encouraged to show the thinking that they've put on a math problem in their question. I added details on what appeared to be an obvious definition but which I knew was wrong. I was told that I should not say what was obvious to me and that this is not a place for "asking why is this wrong?" questions.

That's fine. I removed my naive statement. Actually better. Less work for me in posting a question (I spent 2 hours trying to specify my thinking in a concise manner that made it clear that I knew it was a naive assumption).

I found a great technical reference on what is wrong ad right with the 100+ definitions. The Wikipedia article references an abstract but does not give the full details.

Today, someone said that if the article was worth referencing, I should provide it as an answer and deleted the article from my question. This surprised me.

I have already accepted an answer. From the comments received, the article I found, and the answers provided, I really do feel that my question was answered.

I was just unsure on the value of deleting a reference to a 50+ page article that provides solid analysis of 100+ definitions of life. Is it biology stack exchange's policy to keep questions as simple as possible and not includes link in the question to articles that provide value to others who will pose the same question, it suggests me that it is encouraging questions to be short and sweet but lacking nuance.

What do people think here? Was the poster right to delete the link and ask me to instead summarize the article in my own answer (I do not feel qualified in my knowledge to do this)? Is it preferred on this site to keep questions as simple as possible and to only reference an article if one is asking about the content of the article cited?

I am fine with this answer. I am also fine to change my mind on my thinking if someone could explain to me why plain and simple is better than nuanced. I wasn't clear if the commenter was correct which is why I am posting here.

Thanks very much.

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    $\begingroup$ While I agree with Bryan below that questions should be answered with actual Answers, I wholeheartedly disagree with the edit that was made deleting the newly-found reference. Instead, the user who made the edit should have commented why the link's placement in the question was not appropriate. At the very least, that user should have left an edit comment explaining the deletion. I'm tempted to roll the edit back, but the OP has already created an answer with it. I would not at all recommend proceeding this way with future questions. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I reposted the link as an answer as the commenter had suggested. I think that it works out well. So, even though I had originally disagreed with the edit, the result has changed my mind. I do agree with the suggestion now. I agree with you, too. it would have been better to make the suggestion without editing my question. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ While I agree with Bryan as well, I also agree that the editor was out of line. (I was the user who told you I thought it was a helpful read.) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @MattDMo you didn't read the comments section did you... I posted this immedistely after editing out the link: Hi @LarryFreeman please don't answer the question in the original question - if you think the article you shared answers the question, summarise it and add it as an answer. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – user438383
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


See also:

Best way to deal with questions answered by the OP in the question instead of in an answer

Answers should be in Answers, not edited into the question.

Indeed, it's good to provide context around why there is a problem, but if you've found an answer to your problem, it should be posted as an answer. If you've found something that partially answers your question, you could certainly include it in your question but you should also explain why it's not a sufficient answer: what's missing or conflicting with something else, for example.

For certain questions that we label "Homework" questions due to being exam/homework/course assignments or appearing similar to these, we do ask that question askers show their attempt at an answer, but the question should still be about something that is missing or unknown.

More generally, whether a source is used in a question or answer, we should always try to make the content on StackExchange stand for itself. That means not just linking to an outside source, but also providing some summary of the content here. It doesn't need to be (and typically should not be) a comprehensive summary, just enough to capture the main points that motivate or answer the question.

Remember also that StackExchange is creating a repository of Questions and Answers, not just answering your questions. The format of Q&A is meant to assist future readers, not just the person who originally asked the question.


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