I was curious after reading this answer. At what point do we disallow answers which are primarily a quote (or quotes) from others without much substance in the way of personal additions?


6 Answers 6


It depends on the type of question. Most of the time it is okay IMO. The question you linked to asks

How is this inconsistency explained by theologians of the various major denominations of Christianity, especially the ones that believe in Biblical inerrancy?

What is wrong with an answer that presents the attempts at reconciling this inconsistency by five theologians? The question isn't asking for personal thoughts, it's asking how theologians have looked at the issue before, and that's what the answer presents. If fact, none of the other answers actually address this question!

The only improvement I'd like to see for the answer is for the denominational affiliations of these authors to be shown, because it's unlikely that very many people will be familiar with all the authors quoted.

  • 1
    My main concern is questions that quote from one source, which is the vast majority of "quote-only answers". Answers, like the example you cite, that quote from multiple sources are pretty rare... In general, there is no reason (other than laziness) to post a long quote and nothing else instead of summarizing what the quote says in your own words.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 0:48

I'm the "author" of the answer in question. You are right in that it is just a series of quotes. I "wrote" this back in Feb 2012. If it is breaking the rules of this site, then I am fine with it being pulled. I meant no ill will.

The question was:

"How is this inconsistency explained by theologians of the various major denominations of Christianity, especially the ones that believe in Biblical inerrancy?"

so I quoted some theologians who hold to inerrancy. I've updated my answer to include which denomination or theological framework they came from to maybe be a bit clearer.


I see three scenarios in answers that exclusively or nearly exclusively quote other content:

  1. The quoted material is in the public domain and the source is cited here
  2. The quoted material is not in the public domain and the source is cited here
  3. The source of the quoted material is not cited

Number 3 is clearly plagiarism, and should be immediately cited or removed. Examples of number 2 need to be carefully considered; they are likely copyright violations, as fair use probably doesn't apply.

Examples of number 1, on the other hand, are neither a violation of copyright law, nor plagiarism, and thus should be allowable. Of course, they usually won't be ideal answers, and may be more susceptible to downvotes.

  • I would think type one would be a link in a comment to the question and not an answer to the question. It would cover the "author" well. Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 17:37
  • 1
    Copyright only permits 'fair use', the definition of which varies according to the importance of the material and other factors. Typically, fair use allows literal citations of up to 2 consecutive paragraphs or literal citations of a greater amount of non-consecutive material, depending on the length of the source document. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 0:32

Thanks for raising this issue!

I personally do not upvote any answer that is only quotes without analysis - whether the quotes come from the Bible itself or commentary, and sometimes post a comment complaining. In short, I don't think someone should earn reputation for simply posting someone else's work - it is essentially a "link only answer" with the link content posted instead of linked to. The proper way to post someone to a helpful source is via a comment.

Besides the reputation issue, there is a serious copyright issue here. While it is perfectly acceptable to quote a portion of a work as part of a larger body of work, when you post only a quote you quickly get into a legal/ethical gray area because "fair use" is not clearly established. (I certainly don't expect publishers to actually sue, but I would expect C.SE to respect copyright laws.)

So, what to do? Unattributed quotes are unambiguous copyright violations. They must be fixed or deleted. Beyond that, the first option should always to be encourage the OP to add analysis or convert it to a comment. If that doesn't work or the answer is old, the situation is trickier. I have supplied what I view as the two main option in separate answers so that people can upvote/downvote each option separately.

  • Even when copyright is not an issue (eg copying large chunks from the KJV, which is out of copyright) there is still the issue of plagiarism. That is not only an ethical issue but bad practice for anyone undertaking tertiary studies because habits are hard to break. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 5:03
  • @DickHarfield True. The primary issue is ethical, not legal. That said, attributing the quote makes it not technically plagiarism, regardless of copyright status, but does not always satisfy copyright law.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 18:15
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    I agree with the sentiment here but think most of this is mis-applied to the specific answer being called out in this meta post. Finding and combining quotations that satisfactorily answer the question is a form of effort in itself and even without additional copy produces something that uniquely valuable that didn't exist before. In most cases if properly credited (as the answer in question was) this is also not violating copyright law.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 6:07

This answer refers only to answers that are nothing but a single, attributed quote

Assuming gently asking the answer to revise their answer does not work, in most cases ignoring the answer or downvoting it is sufficient. Although an answer that is only a quote does not take much effort, it still may be useful to some readers.

  • At minimum, I think (if all else fails) we should edit an otherwise useful answer so that it ceases to be a copy-only post. Even if we are a secular site, my view is we should still take ethics seriously Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 21:17
  • @DickHarfield are you implying that non-secular groups are generally more ethical? I know several churches who show movies to their members and do not have a public viewing license for the movie. As a past theater owner, I can tell you that this is a very real thing with stiff fines. This is just one less than ethical example of non-secular groups who get away with otherwise unethical behavior. avsforum.com/forum/44-movies-concerts-music-discussion/… Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 12:45
  • @TheFreemason No, that is not my view - although I think some non-secular people probably believe they are inherently more ethical than those without religion. I believe we can be a secular site (which we are) and an ethical site. I respectfully disagree with Thaddaus because keeping illicit material on the grounds that it is useful to some readers would itself be unethical. Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 21:26
  • @DickHarfield To be clear, it is my view that such materials should be removed. I offered this answer as an option, as I thought it was the bare minimum that anyone would agree with. Apparently I was wrong - the majority does not see any problem whatsoever in quote only answers. That is a real shame. As such, my/our only option is to personally DV quote only answers and register my/our complaint in a comment, since there is no community appetite whatsoever to remove such answers.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 19:03
  • @ThaddeusB None of my comments has been addressed to you, and my impression has always been that you are ethical. Perhaps if we called it a 'sin' to breach copyright or to plagiarise, we could get a better response. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 21:32

This answer refers only to answers that are nothing but a single attributed, quote

An answer that is only a quote should be treated the same way a link only answer is. That is, it should be deleted if the OP does not correct the problem in a timely fashion. Simultaneously, a comment on the question can be added with the source information, which will be sufficient for later readers to find the information. We want to encourage high quality, original content, not mere research assistance.

Answers that are quotes defy one of the site goals - they are not redistributable under the CC-BY-SA licensing because the poster has not supplied any creative effort that would copyrightable. (That is the original writers copyright is the only thing that applies to the post).

  • For the record, this is my preference (since I can't +1 my choice).
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 21:20
  • This is my general approach to single source quoted answers as well, but I cannot upvote in the context of the question that was asked because this answer does not deal with the other case of multiple sources pulled together to form an answer with little original content. These answers (including the one specifically called out in the question above) tend to be much more than the sum of their parts and, I think, shouldn't get lumped in with this treatment.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 6:04
  • I'd consider arguing that link only answers are better in that they give proper credit to the author by linking to their site. Sometimes we get sloppy on our citations. Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 12:48
  • @Caleb I have revised my answers to make it clear I am referring to single-quote-only posts.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 14:15

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