I've seen a lot of answers within the last day or two that consist largely - or almost entirely - of quotes from authors or their works. I understand that it's always important to look back at the original source to analyze it, and that it's often good to then include those analyzed passages in your answer. I've quoted the original works in almost all of my posts.

However, I think there's a limit. I've seen several answers that contain just a quote and one introductory sentence giving a link to the source of the quote. I see that and I think, "The answerer couldn't be bothered to write something in their own words." See, no explanation, no matter how well-written, is ever perfect, and you can always improve on writing you find somewhere else. One of the goals of Stack Exchange is to be the best collection of questions and answers on the Internet. Doesn't that involve writing our own posts?

I'm guessing some people agree with me, and some people disagree with me, so I'd like to get a discussion going. Just how big of a role should quotes have in answers? Should they take up the majority of the text, in some cases, or is it better to have mostly original writing?

Some examples of questions that have gotten largely quote-based answers:


2 Answers 2


Answers that link to quotes from the original text actually perform something that could be one of the more valuable services this site does: it connects someone with a question about a body of work with someone familiar with what to look for. Learning how to search a particular work is not often an easy or straightforward task.

For example, if I had a particular question about Lord of the Rings that required searching for obscure or deep content in the work, I probably wouldn't be well-equipped to do so. I have some knowledge, but not nearly as much as many other people. A Tolkien expert, however, would have the tools and foreknowledge necessary to know where and what to search.

So there's an important line. Questions (and answers) like these aren't a priori bad, but they certainly are minimal-effort. Again, that doesn't make them intrinsically bad.

The real problem arises when there is something more to say about a quote - its context, its history, its motivation - really, there's quite a lot - but the author of an answer chooses not to. In such situations, where a quote is posted and really does warrant some elaboration or more thorough explanation, I'd downvote an answer for being unhelpfully incomplete.

In other words, answers should comprehensively answer the question at hand, not just link you out to some site or quote or reference somewhere to let you piece together the context and meaning yourself. In certain cases, a quote will be able to stand on its own, as it'll thoroughly answer the question, but these cases are rare. We should, wherever possible, expect something more.

  • I definitely agree with this, especially the part about linking askers with people who know a lot about the work.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 22:38
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    This is a well-thought-out response, covering all the different aspects of the issue. I'd just like to re-emphasise that last bold text: sometimes, sometimes, a quote is all you need. I wouldn't like to see people floundering around for some random stuff to say just to pad out their answer when they've already got a perfect answer sitting there in the form of a quote from the work in question.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 3:09

Private beta is the wild west. FGITW applies double at least.

Having said that, low quality questions beget low quality answers. I'm picking this, because I'm half of the ~100% quote posters. That question shows no effort at all. Ridiculously enough we have already set the (imho terrible) precedent to embrace non-googlers. While that meta decision stands and addressing a major work of literature this is on-topic. People thend to match their effort to the questions effort to a degree. So we have a question with negligible effort and two answers with not much more effort either. Both of which are correct though.

Yet it is so basic, that there isn't really anything to say besides quoting the thousandfold available story from a wiki or quoting the source directly—which is of course better, but my copy wasn't around. So as long as we embrace such basic questions we have to embrace quote only answers for those. The more important lesson is maybe not regarding quality, but regarding triviality. Trivial questions beget trivial answers.

Short and simple and even low effort questions can be intriguing. However, most of them aren't. Two of those questions can be be answered by reading a wiki specialized on that topic. Why would anyone answering here essentially want to duplicate an existing wiki? Or re-explain Tolkien?

Thus, for trivial questions quote-only seems very acceptable. Especially that lotr questions makes that obvious.

This answer however is in my view not really helpful. The questions asks why. Why is tricky because it often sounds trivial but turns out to not be trivial at all. The answer however skips the why completely. It offers no explanation if the cough is supposed to be a plot device, or a literary device or if there's any other relevance to it. Essentially it's one of the really bad FGITW answers. That's why I proudly down voted because if one answers with a quote it should at least answer the question. That should always be the bare minimum. The fifteen upvotes seem to disagree with that assertion however.

The community seems to embrace quote only answers even if they shoot past the target. I find that very unfortunate and would very much prefer answers that have more than a simple quote on any question that asks for an explanation, as any "why-question" does.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head with "low quality questions beget low quality answers." We need to do a better job of recognizing and upvoting high-quality content.
    – user111
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 21:47
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    @Hamlet The problem is that it also works the other way around. "low quality questions and answers beget more low quality questions (and answers)." Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 21:54
  • (This relates specifically to the LoTR answer) Yes, the passage from the wiki might be enough to answer the question, but there's a lot more that could be added. The OP might not have any idea who Isildur is, or how he came to get the ring itself. Expanding more on the quote adds drastically to the value of the answer.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 22:58
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    Wikis may or may not be accurate when it comes to content analysis (as opposed to dry fact). Tolkien Gateway has a reputation for being quite thorough. Wookiepedia (and in the middle of the range, HP Wikia) have a reputation of containing tons of BS content, stemming from people taking a single fact from canon and extrapolating form it into overgeneralization fallacy at best and writing "fanficy" storification at worst. So, merely saying "answer is on Wikia" isn't a good enough approach (and, an answer that just quotes Wiki isn't necesaily even a good answer)
    – DVK
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 0:16

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