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When downvoting a post, reviewers are encouraged to leave a comment explaining how the author can improve their post.

What type of comment should I leave on link-only answers? Is there a comment template we can use for these scenarios? I've considered forwarding users to "Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really "good answers"?", but explaining my downvotes with a link-only comment feels a bit hypocritical.

marked as duplicate by Jason C, Nathan Tuggy, gnat, rene, Glorfindel May 13 '17 at 7:53

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    my typical comment (markdown) is as follows: recommended reading: **[Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer?](https://meta.stackexchange.com/q/225370/165773)** "let me be clear: **this sort of response is *not* an answer**. If you see this, flag it. Moderators, if you see it flagged, *delete it*" – gnat May 12 '17 at 17:57
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I've got a Chrome Extension installed which auto fills a comment template for me, which I tweak as needed for each individual situation. My link-only comment looks something along the lines of:

While this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference.

I like this template, because it is polite: it acknowledges that the link could answer the question, but it also points the user to a location where they can get hard coded site policy; hence, if they disagree, their disagreement should no longer be with me in particular, but with the system.*

And it's not infrequent to see people clear up their posts after seeing this comment. I typically come back and check on those posts a few hours later to see whether flag retracting or upvoting could be in order.

If the comment is to a new user, it will automatically add a "Welcome to ..." beforehand as well.

*I write should; obviously some people will try to debate the spokesman.

7

The Stack Overflow Close Vote Reviewers chatroom maintains a collection of comments that can be used with the AutoReviewComments script.

You can find the comments on GitHub here. For your specific example we have a couple in stock. We have found over time that there are multiple types of link only answers, all warranting their own specific comment.

Feel free to provide feedback on any of these, either by submitting a pull request, filing an issue, have a chat in our room or leave a comment here.

I left the formatting untouched so if you hit edit on this answer you can easily copy the comment to earlier mentioned userscript.

[A] Duplicate link only

Please don't post link only answers to other $SITENAME$ questions. Instead, vote/flag to close as duplicate, or, if the question is not a duplicate, tailor the answer to this specific question.

[A] Link only to other SE

Please don't post link only answers to other Stack Exchange questions. Instead, include the essential portions of the answer here, and tailor the answer to this specific question.

[A] Link only answer

A link to a potential solution is always welcome, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline. Take into account that being barely more than a link to an external site is a possible reason as to Why and how are some answers deleted?.

[A] Borderline Link-Only answer

This is a borderline link-only answer. You should expand your answer to include as much information here, and use the link only for reference.

[A] Borderline-spam link answer

Please be careful with linking to your own content on different sites, you don't want to be a spammer. You should be including the majority of the content here, and use the link only as a reference.


I find myself often use the third option from the above list.

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Instead of simply quoting policy, I usually try to explain why a link is not really helpful in the context of why we created these sites in the first place.

Typically, I will say something like this:

Thank you for answering, but unfortunately links sending users elsewhere to find that information aren't considered an "answer" in the context of this this site. The folks here will work hard to curate this collection of knowledge, so when someone finally finds this site through search, the last thing we want to do is send them elsewhere to find that information. Can you include the essential parts of this answer in the body of your post? Thanks.

Or if I am flagging or moderating the post directly, I might end with —

… If you would like to write up a more comprehensive answer, please feel free to try again, but I'm afraid I have to remove [or flag] this post as "not an answer". Sorry about the confusion.

1

I've used a pretty standard comment for ages:

Welcome to site. We expect answers to be self contained. Should your link be moved or go down, your answer will not be helpful to future users.

Feel free to chop and change it, but it's about as short as it gets.

  • I like this one because it's short, sweet, and to the point. – Stevoisiak May 13 '17 at 2:29
-2

If you're in the Low Quality Posts queue there's already a canned reason for link only answers.

If you're just flagging the post as not an answer for that queue to handle, then there's no need to comment at all, as reviewers from that queue will use that queue's feature to automatically post a comment.

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    That only applies for the low quality posts queue. That isn't an option outside of the queue. What does the auto-posted comment look like? – Stevoisiak May 12 '17 at 17:50
  • @StevenVascellaro I'm aware of that, which is why I have two sets of instructions, one for when you're in that queue, and one for when you're not. – Servy May 12 '17 at 17:51
  • I'm not sure whether the "Not an answer" flag applies in these scenarios. "This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question." I've had a few of my flags denied in the past when I tried it – Stevoisiak May 12 '17 at 17:59
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    @StevenVascellaro If the answer is nothing but a link, then it's not an answer, its a reference to something else that might be an answer. If the post is an answer (and not merely a reference to an answer elsewhere), but also contains a link, then there's no problem at all, and no reason to flag or comment. – Servy May 12 '17 at 18:00
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    I can tell you, moderators are going to reject a NAN flag for link-only answers because the author did attempt to answer the question it just fails other quality checksum – Ramhound May 12 '17 at 18:50
  • @Ramhound I can tell you, moderators are not going to reject a NAN flag for link-only answers because the author didn't attempt to answer the question. But anyway, if you happen to come across a moderator incorrectly handling a flag (which does occasionally happen from time to time) feel free to either bring it up on meta or contact SE about it. – Servy May 12 '17 at 18:51
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    @Servy Well I have flagged link-only answers before and had those flags declined. So my experience says that a custom flag should be used if flagging is even used. – Ramhound May 12 '17 at 18:53
  • @Ramhound And I've flagged hundreds of link only answers as NAA and not had them declined. (And note that moderators aren't even handling most NAA flags, the LQP queue is.) But several orders of magnitude of evidence aside, the official policy is that link only answers aren't answers, and it has been stated definitively and repeatedly. – Servy May 12 '17 at 18:56
  • What moderators (and reviewers) will do with NAA flags varies a lot by site... so you're all right... depending on where you are – Cai May 12 '17 at 19:58
  • Servy even at SO one risks a decline if they flag an old, high score, accepted answer. This seems to be usually followed by meta complaint and thorough beating of declined moderator but still. (It probably happens less frequently after this cleanup, at least I notice less of meta compaints about declines) – gnat May 12 '17 at 20:57
  • @gnat Sure. It doesn't change the point, or the policy on the matter. – Servy May 12 '17 at 21:08
  • @Servy any chance you could point me to the policy? I've also had many (not hundreds, admittedly) declines for flagging link only answers as NAA, on Stack Overflow mainly. I'm also positive I've seen meta answers from Shog/Bill Lizard etc down the years saying do not flag link only answers as NAA, because they do attempt to answer the question. I'm not arguing with you, if this is a policy I'd love to be able to make use of it, I just don't know where to find the official spiel on the subject to quote back to declining mods – Clive May 12 '17 at 21:16
  • don't let SO specific trick you. "Another castle" is a network wide guidance and particular sites can choose to override it. What makes it such a firm policy at SO is that it was additionally confirmed by multiple discussions at respective per-site meta (MSO). It's generally not criminal to override like that. At other site I bumped into rejection to follow castle-guidance (I didn't escalate this to per site meta though because I've found an acceptable compromise) – gnat May 12 '17 at 21:18
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    @Clive meta.stackexchange.com/questions/225370/… I'm sure you've seen Shog mention plenty of cases where a post has a link in it (and perhaps is fairly short), and is still an answer, which is of course more than possible, but an answer that really is just a link is concretely Not An Answer. Then of course there's the whole point of the answer itself, which is that the LQP queue has a specific deletion reason/comment for link only answers in response to NAA flags, so that's support built into the system itself. – Servy May 12 '17 at 21:18
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    @Servy Never mind, that link has it all in, just didn't read it properly – Clive May 12 '17 at 22:00
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My comment template I often post for such link-only answers is like so:

This looks pretty much like a Link Only Answer. To reduce the risk it gets deleted via moderation, I suggest you try to improve your answer somehow (e.g. by including a relevant quote from the link you mentioned).

And to actually post that comment, I created a keyboard shortcut equal to -loa (that is: I just type those 4 chars ...). For more details about this shortcut (and some other ones), refer to my answer to "How to deal with non answers? Automated ways preferred".

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