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Is it OK to answer questions with a simple copy-n-paste from the language specification? Most significantly I notice it in C++ questions. Someone will ask a question about syntax or why they're getting a particular error and that get met with a direct quote from the C++ standard. I don't think this helps terribly much on its own. If we have to quote the standard in our answers, should we be extending the answer with our own explanation?

It seems that if a user is having trouble understanding, say, the difference between l-values and r-values, the C++ standard specification probably won't help. Plain English would be preferred.

Just a thought :)

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

It depends on how clear that section of the specification is. Usually the C# spec is reasonably clear, for example - it's more a case that the questioner is unaware of that section of the spec than that they can't understand it.

I tend to add at least a few sentences of explanation as well, but quite often the bulk of an answer is the specification - and in many cases I see nothing wrong with that.

Directing someone to an existing source of information is often at least as valuable as providing the information yourself by typing it... especially when a specification is more likely to use accurate terminology etc, and it will already have been peer reviewed.

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Posting language specs is great, as they are not only an answer, but also a reliable reference.

Posting language specs without any commentary, even if they are correct, is rude, though. Something like "you can't, see RFC XYZ:" or similar would really be in order.

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Plus there's less of chance of the standard being ambiguous. – Joe D Aug 19 '10 at 14:07

My opinion is that it depends:

  • if the section in the standard is clear enough the standard should be sufficient
  • if not, an explanation is needed

Ideally a minimal code sample that show-cases the issue/point/... should be added as those tend to make things much clearer than 10000 words.

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If it's not clear enough, I think it should still be included, and then elaborated upon. It lends itself to the credibility of the answer. – Richard JP Le Guen Aug 19 '10 at 13:14
@Richard: Sure, i didn't mean that to be exclusive :) – Georg Fritzsche Aug 19 '10 at 15:27

This isn't just a programming related issue. An awful lot of question on Server Fault can be answered by quoting the relevant RFC.

90% of the time it's OK, but it's not OK to use it as a copout for not bothering to answer someone's question. If they're asking "What is X" then it's usually OK, but if it's "Why is X the way it is" then it's usually not OK, because the official documentation has a lot of assumed knowledge.

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Hmya, the C++ language specification has a density sufficient to sink a Dreadnought class battleship. The US army has a secret project to use the verbiage as an environmental friendly replacement for depleted uranium shells. Dubbed U++0x, it was to be completed by January 1st 2010 but fell seriously behind schedule.

Kidding aside, SO users already do reward answers that are lucid over ones that are technically accurate. Just don't upvote such an answer, downvote it if that makes you feel better. In a perfect world, the lucid and the accurate answer can live side-by-side.

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