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To what questions can answers be accepted which basically consist of citations and the link to it? Lately we have quite some of these anwers and I am split between "at least this is an answer" and "is this a proper answer".

The help center on references states:

Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. And always give proper credit to the author and site where you found the text, including a direct link to it.

While giving proper credit is not an issue, I see the part "use their words a nd ideas to support your own" is not fulfilled. To better understand what kind of answers I'm referring to see e.g. the answers here, here or here.

What do you think about this? Is this an issue or is this ok?

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I think it is fine to quote something verbatim. I would always take care to write an article or a report in my words but I believe, for a Q/A sort of forum, if it suffices for an answer, then a section of the reference can be quoted (this is of course better than link-only because you have highlighted the region to look at). I am not a great fan of elaborate answers and would stick to short answers that serve the purpose.

Having said that, I would not appreciate long sections being copy-pasted. Only the key points or some few lines that are pertinent to the question should be quoted.

There are occasional questions like: is there any scientific reference for some xyz-conjecture. For such posts, simply quoting the reference (where it concludes the point in consideration), in my opinion, is sufficient.

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  • $\begingroup$ I tend to agree with this. In a strictly scientific context, directly quoting would be plagiarism. That said, we're not writing formal publications here. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Oct 28 '14 at 3:31
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You are right. It's better to have our own on-site references for things. If possible, write your answer content yourself, and if possible, make it more thorough than the other sources you find. You can quote small sections of text, but not as the main part of your answer.

I'd usually craft my own answer, either from my own research, or work others did, or a mix, and I'd clearly link my references at the end of the answer. I may sometimes quote others, but I use this to stand behind my answer, not actually entirely comprise my answer.

Now, this is the ideal. Don't expect everyone to follow ideals, but you, yourself, can do it to the best of your ability, and if you see any stereotypical cases of laziness, such as an answer comprised entirely of copy/pasted material, and reference links, you can add a polite but short comment asking the user to put more work into their answer, and link to the help center for their benefit.

Answers should be as short as possible while answering the question in it's entirety, but should show at least some effort from the answerer.

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Based on your examples, I find the first two ok but the last one more of a comment than an answer. As @WYSIWYG write, as long as the passages are brief and properly referenced they could suffice as an answer, and the poster can look further into the references if he/she find them useful. However, I think we need to distinguish between acceptable/sufficient answers and great answers. Given the choice, I would prefer an answer that e.g. includes both quotations but which also comments on and interprets the information. This still doesn't need to be a long elaborate answer, but it will make the answer more self-contained than if it only relies on quoted passages. Also, only having quoted sections is in many ways similar to link-only answers, which are discouraged.

For the record, I think I'm guilty of one or two of these types of answers. These were cases when the Q was rather vague and the materials I referenced were wide-ranging (i.e. hard to summarize) and meant as examples or entries into the literature.

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  • $\begingroup$ Speaking in a strictly scientific context, this would be plagiarism, no question. But since this is not our context here (strictly speaking) this can be seen a bit more relaxed I think. But how do we treat answers, which are mostly made of citations? I am struggling here how to sort them. Marking them as "this is not an answer" is not true, but it is not an own answer. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mod Oct 28 '14 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ Oh yes I would appreciate the interpretation and personal comments part. But some answers tend to become textbook chapters which, IMHO, is unnecessary. Precise answers suit SE better. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Oct 28 '14 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Was this meant here or for the answer above (seemed to fit with canadianer's comment)? I'm not sure that plagiarism is the best label, in cases where the source is included. You can quote passages in scienctific papers as well, as long as there is a reference to the source (and not in excess). For me, the main thing is if the answer is useful for answering the Q. If not, the best way to handle it is to downvote I think (or comment). I dont think flagging to close is a good solution, except in cases of unreferenced plagiarism. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Oct 28 '14 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater It is not unreferenced, from this point its ok. But there are some answer which are mere citations. $\endgroup$ – Chris Mod Oct 28 '14 at 13:48
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One more point to note would be that the "don't just cite" works best with code. When a OP is asking about how to use a command in a specific sense, it is not ok to quote the manual verbatim and leave it at that. It needs to be explained further and the specific case must be answered. This does not apply largely to sites like biology unless the question specifically deals with an issue for which the answer must be derived from the citation.

Broadly speaking, "what" questions can have answers that are citations while "why" questions may need further explanation based on specific question.


That said personally I am OK with answers that just cite verbatim as long as it completely answers the question and it's not too chatty.

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