# What is our position on answers that consist almost entirely of copied content?

We know that plagiarism is bad, and unacknowledged citations will be dealt with.

However, what about answers that properly acknowledge their sources, but consist of nothing but quotes?

I believe such answers do not consititute sufficient effort to be actually counted as answers, and should be deleted. If a user cannot be bothered to phrase the answer to a question in their own words, or to explain and give context to their quotes, they do not deserve to derive reputation from such a post.

• But the flip side of it -- if something is so complete and well-written to begin with, why "make it worse" by requiring somebody to paraphrase it? Shouldn't people get reputation for the depth of knowledge to know of an absolutely perfect source in the field? I think, like so many other things, there is a wide enough range here that we cannot rule in or out anything and it is up to the community to weed out the bad from the good. – tpg2114 Mar 2 '16 at 18:53
• @tpg2114 In the case that prompted this question the user was quoting large swaths of the wikipedia that only almost addressed the question. And while most wikipedia articles are pretty good, there aren't many that I consider to be excellent. So I think there is a case to be made that the perfect quote can be the perfect answer, I don't think that it represent the most common case. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 2 '16 at 19:19
• @dmckee Yeah, I usually see the bad ones too. But my only point was that there is a spectrum from horrendous to brilliant and I'm not sure we can decide on a policy that clearly and objectively works. I think it's best left up to the down votes and the closing if it doesn't answer the question or is unclear – tpg2114 Mar 2 '16 at 21:23
• @tpg2114 How do you close an answer? – Emilio Pisanty Mar 3 '16 at 11:25
• @EmilioPisanty Flag it as not an answer, or low quality, depending on the case. I was writing the comment on my phone and got tired of fighting it, so I didn't really want to go back and expand out what I meant at the time. – tpg2114 Mar 3 '16 at 11:30
• @tpg2114 Just saying - language matters. On the flags - using low quality for posts which do attempt an answer has been a bone of contention for as long as I can remember, and not-an-answer only applies if it is actually not an answer. The way to deal with bad answers which do attempt to address the question is votes and comments, unless it's really egregiously bad. – Emilio Pisanty Mar 3 '16 at 11:32
• @EmilioPisanty Agreed on all points. The point I was making is the same point you made in your answer -- I feel we already have the tools we need to address the different ways these types of answers show up. Through voting, commenting, and flagging appropriately we can do what needs to be done when needed and I don't think there is any "policy" we can write down to specifically target this issue. – tpg2114 Mar 3 '16 at 11:35
• @ACuriousMind: it is not clear to me what the purpose of this site is - is it to provide answers? If so, a link and a brief response should be sufficient; this is all that I would do for a student. Or are we writing our own Wikipedia articles? It seems to me that an answer which answers the OP should be sufficient, though a well-written answer (as voted on by the participants) is worth more "credits". – Peter Diehr Mar 3 '16 at 22:07
• If a good and complete answer can simply be copied from elsewhere, I suggest that the question deserves the downvotes / closure for lack of effort... But apart from that - if it answers the question, it's an answer. If it answers the question well, it's a good answer that deserves upvotes. If someone write a comment that should be an answer, and after prompting they don't convert it to an answer, you can and should copy it and promote it to answer - with attribution, and possibly without embellishment. – Floris Mar 3 '16 at 22:08
• Just re-read your last sentence: "...they do not deserve to derive reputation...". I would argue that if someone finds a relevant link, they could comment with that link ("see also []()"), but that doesn't provide a permanent record; they can put that link in an answer, to be flagged "link only", or they can go the extra mile and provide the relevant section from the link. I think that's already three steps up from doing nothing. As a community we can choose whether to reward that; but I don't think we should discourage it. – Floris Mar 3 '16 at 22:16
• @Floris: Your comment (2 up from this one) should be an answer here ;) – Kyle Kanos Mar 4 '16 at 14:45
• This is a really bad problem on Astronomy SE. Worst case I've seen - somebody posts a fairly lame question that could easily have been answered by looking at wikipedia; they then get upvoted several times; then the person that asked the question posts an answer that simply quotes the wikipedia page and that then gets upvoted! Go figure. See astronomy.stackexchange.com/q/89 or astronomy.stackexchange.com/q/4 – ProfRob Mar 4 '16 at 14:53
• @RobJeffries: I think you have the timeline wrong there: In both cases the user who asked the question immediately self-answered it. That is, they prepared both question and answer ahead of time, and purposefully decided to ask a question without research effort so that both that and their copy-pasted answer would get upvoted. Not that that's any better. – ACuriousMind Mar 4 '16 at 14:58
• @ACuriousMind No, I hadn't noticed that - it's even worse. – ProfRob Mar 4 '16 at 15:04
• @RobJeffries: Well, self-answering questions is fine (I've done that, too). Self-answering effortless questions with Wikipedia quotes seems less fine to me. I think the self-answer feature is there so that you can write something up which you haven't seen in that way anywhere else, but which you spent some time figuring out. – ACuriousMind Mar 4 '16 at 15:26

Unacknowledged or unmarked quotes are plagiarism, plain and simple, and they deserve the full weight of community displeasure to be heaved on them: comments, downvotes, and eventual deletion.

On the other hand, if an answer consists completely of well-acknowledged quotations then it deserves to stay on the site - it's not doing anything against the rules, so deletion is not appropriate. In general, though, such answers are of very low quality, and do very little to actually address the problem, so they deserve what all bad answers do: to be downvoted into grayness, with comments expressing this displeasure.

There are indeed cases where "something is so complete and well-written to begin with" that it would "make it worse" to require the poster to paraphrase it, and if that's the case - the quotation is completely on the mark that it fully answers the question in a self-contained but well-referenced fashion - then kudos to the poster and an upvote for providing a useful answer.

Otherwise, though, I say let votes show that we don't like this.

• If you want to be clear on language, may I suggest changing the sentence: "In general, though, such answers are of very low quality, and do very little to actually address the problem, so they deserve what all bad answers do: to be downvoted into grayness, with comments expressing this displeasure."? It could imply that you want people to use the VLQ flag, but that seems to be inconsistent with your reply to my comment above. Unless that is what you intended to say here, in which case carry on! – tpg2114 Mar 3 '16 at 11:44
• A late thought: plagiarism is bad, yes, but fixed plagiarism is not. So if a post contains an unacknowledged or unmarked quote, I think editing it to properly mark and attribute the quote (if there is enough information to do so) is better than downvoting and deleting, and once it's edited, everything is fine. Of course commenting to help the OP understand why they shouldn't plagiarize in the future is still a good idea. – David Z Mar 14 '16 at 14:57

If a good and complete answer can simply be copied from elsewhere, I suggest that the question deserves the downvotes / closure for lack of effort... But apart from that - if it answers the question, it's an answer. If it answers the question well, it's a good answer that deserves upvotes. If someone write a comment that should be an answer, and after prompting they don't convert it to an answer, you can and should copy it and promote it to answer - with attribution, and possibly without embellishment.

As Floris remarks

"If a good and complete answer can simply be copied from elsewhere, I suggest that the question deserves the downvotes / closure for lack of effort... But apart from that - if it answers the question, it's an answer. If it answers the question well, it's a good answer that deserves upvotes. If someone write a comment that should be an answer, and after prompting they don't convert it to an answer, you can and should copy it and promote it to answer - with attribution, and possibly without embellishment. "

;)

Seriously though I think this depends on just how much effort is put into putting the material in context. Blanket cutting and pasting is really poor and if that's all that people are doing it is no more worthy than a comment featuring a link to the page in question. I rarely upvote anything that contains big blocks of cut and pasted text.

• I like this answer! – Floris Mar 4 '16 at 14:58
• Although to be fair, I only just got the prompt to convert it to an answer 12 minutes ago... – Floris Mar 4 '16 at 14:58
• @Floris You snooze you lose. – ProfRob Mar 4 '16 at 14:59

You want as many visitors possible. Ideally when some one googles a question your site would come up foremost. Even if it is copied word from word it makes your site another good source and increases the chance for a user finding an answer. As long as there is a link to the original there should be no problem.

Google uses key words to find what the user is looking for as we all know. For example: Why does a balloon pop when it gets to high? But, there are many ways to ask that same question. Keeping the duplicates will assure a return to your site when Googled by new users more often. It is your policies that decide if you will be a Lycos or Google of Physics. Moderators should decide what is bad traffic and pseudoscience an handle it accordingly.