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How should I answer that further? I feel that the official PHP manual has an appropriate answer and even has comments that extend on that answer. But I don't want to simply copy/paste it here as that would be duplicating information.

What is the general policy? Should one duplicate manuals on Stack Overflow, or instead forward to the manuals?

(Assuming that the given manual actually answers the question well.)

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Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/… –  fretje Jul 25 '11 at 11:48
    
Somewhat related, interesting reading: Introduce a "General Reference" close reason –  Josh Caswell May 7 '12 at 18:27

1 Answer 1

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Linking to the manual/documentation is the correct approach, if as you said, the docs in question do indeed provide a sufficient answer to the question. This lends an "official" feel to your answer, and also gives the reader an obvious place to learn more about the topic, if they are so inclined.

However, when I see questions that appear to be so simple that they could be answered by reading the relevant documentation, I actually like to assume that the person asking the question has already read the manual, but didn't understand it. Copying and pasting the relevant sections out of the reference won't actually do the asker any good in and of itself, because they weren't sure what was meant.

Given that assumption, I always try to summarize what the manual actually says, in plain English. This has a couple of important benefits:

  1. The obvious one. It explains what the documentation says in simple terms, rather than complicated techno-babble.

  2. It helps to stave off link rot. In the case that the documentation were to go offline (either for technical reasons, obsolescence, or what have you), my answer would still be a useful and official response to the question that was posed.

  3. It avoids having to copy and paste extremely long sections from the manual.

  4. It seems to take advantage of the unique characteristic of this site that real people answer your questions, rather than machines. Google could have referred them to the documentation, but let's see Google do this! (Wait, I take that back. Probably best not to challenge Google...)

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Linking alone has one big disadvantage: what if the manual gets removed or the link is changed? –  Carlos Heuberger Jul 25 '11 at 11:39
    
@Carlos: Right, that's point number 2. Sometimes my answers are tl;dr. –  Cody Gray Jul 25 '11 at 11:42
2  
+1 for "Always summarize what's behind the link". –  fretje Jul 25 '11 at 11:49
    
+1 for "techno-babble". –  Peter Mortensen Jul 25 '11 at 15:12

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