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Suppose a question has a good answer, but I have a correction or further information to add - more than would work nicely in an edit or a comment. How should I add my incremental improvement answer? In either case, it seems clear that I should link to the original answer (vs. refer with text to the "accepted answer") to give credit.

Should I rely on the link to direct people to the answer's content and just include my incremental content in my answer? Or should I incorporate a copy of the original answer's content so that my answer stands alone?

Distinction clarification: This question is distinct from Should posts be self-contained?, which solely addresses links to outside material. This question is about links to material within the same question on StackExchange. See my answer for implications of the distinction.

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    @MarkKirby No. That question concerns "linking to outside material". In this case, the link is to material within the same question on StackExchange. StackExchange has no control over the lifetime of outside material, whereas it has a robust process for controlling the lifetime of material it hosts. – Edward Brey May 31 at 13:06
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    As I mentioned in a related question, the point is the same. If the question you link to is removed or changes in some way, and if you have not made your own answer self-contained, then your answer becomes meaningless. That aside, it's simply annoying to have to go somewhere else to read something, and then return. It doesn't matter where the other content is—outside Stack Exchange, on a different Stack Exchange site, or in a different answer in the same question, you shouldn't be writing anything that doesn't stand on its own. – Jason Bassford May 31 at 13:22
  • @JasonBassford I added a clarification to the question and an answer that elaborates on the distinctions between linking to internal versus external content. – Edward Brey May 31 at 15:20
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Incorporate short answers but not long, high-quality answers.

Readers often look at multiple answers. By presenting a delta, it's easier to tell how you answer differs from the one it was based on. For instance, if an answer has lots of sample code that you aren't changing, it's not helpful to have that sample code appear twice on the same page.

For short answers, the cost of describing the delta outweighs the cost of a visitor reading duplicate content in both your answer and the original answer.

For long answers, the benefit of a clear delta outweighs the downsides of a link without copying. This is especially true since the key problems of external links without copying don't apply to internal links:

  • An external source may go away for any reason. An internal source only goes away according to the robust StackExchange process. If you're basing your answer off a solid answer, the risk of it going away is insignificant. If the answer is questionable, it's safer to copy the content you need or not base your answer on it at all.

    Even if an answer you based yours on does go away, there is still some benefit to not copying its content. For example, an internal source can go away if it is poor quality, in which case that part of your answer likely should go away, too. It will if you've linked only and not copied. Alternatively, an internal source can go away because the poster decided you answer is better. In that case, he can edit your answer to copy in his content before deleting his answer.

  • There's no guarantee of a history of external content. StackExchange keeps a history. Normally, you don't think about it much, because you want to pick up edits to the source. If you copy content, you have to detect and incorporate the edits into your content. If for some reason you want to link a fixed version in time, you can link to a particular version of the answer.

  • It's jarring to move from StackExchange to another site with a different layout. When you follow a link to another answer, however, you're just moving to another place on the same page.

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