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I've recently noticed a spate of answers submitted that are chock full of block quotes. Now, I think it's a very admirable quality and mark of how seriously this community is taking its mission that it feels that important points need be referenced, but to be honest with you, when my eyes come across a vast chunk of text that requires me to parse content its written in the obscuring language of scientific discourse, my eyes just glaze over, and I find myself skipping the meat of the post and coming away with little. These answers are mitigating one of the great strengths of the Q/A format here on StackExchange: That you can get your answers addressed to you at your skill level, in conversational language. There are "answers" to be found all over the Internet, but little understanding.

I suspect this is coming from what I foresaw to a possible problem for a Skepticism Stack Exchange, in that for many different questions most users will not be familiar with the jargon and language of the topic they're investigating. E.g., a physics student on Physics SE will be able to post sensibly using jargony terms like "D-Brane" and "Kaluza-Klein theory", but here, users will be continually stumbling into fields whose ontology and vocabulary they are unfamiliar with. Thus comes the understandable tendency to block-quote because it's tough to translate a field is one unfamiliar with. It's a kind of laziness, unfortunately.

My suggestion to this community? Specialization. Choose questions to answer that you have studied at length beforehand, whose language you at least partially familiar with, and don't go undertaking research to answer every single disparate question that comes your way. Can you explain your answer and the jargony terms in it to a sixth-grader in Simple English? If not, you probably shouldn't be answering that question. If that sounds like a recipe for slower growth for this site, it is, but the converse, and ultimately worse result is unsatisfied questioners and thus an unengaged community. It's best to translate block quotes to something written in your words.

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    Without examples, this is useless. Everyone agrees that vulgarizing the scientific stuff is important. Everyone also has different opinions on what is vulgarized sufficiently. Feel free to use my answers as example. – Borror0 Mar 10 '11 at 2:57
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Too much block quoting?

Not nearly enough block quoting, I'd say!

The point of block quoting is not to dazzle with information and lull your readers into a stupor. A block quote should:

  1. Summarize your source (as opposed to merely referencing it with a link).
  2. Mitigate the effects of link rot.

Consider the following example answers to the (admittedly silly) hypothetical question "Do hairdryers cause earthquakes?".


Answer 1

No. Earthquakes are a well-known phenomenon which can be chalked up to plate tectonics. You can find an explanation of plate tectonics at <third-party website>.


Answer 2

No. Earthquakes are a well-known phenomenon which can be chalked up to plate tectonics. This excerpt from [third-party website] explains plate tectonics very well:

Insert succinct quotation(s) from source here.

(Make any clarifications or explanations of the quote here, after the quote. Either define the jargon in the quote, if present, or replace the jargon with equivalent terms using brackets.)

For further reading, please refer to this [third-party website].


The second answer is better, because:

  1. It does the heavy lifting for the reader by distilling a vast amount of information into an easily-readable chunk of block quote. As you said:

    One of the great strengths of the Q/A format here on StackExchange [is that] you can get your answers addressed to you at your skill level, in conversational language.

    A link should not be the meat of your answer-- your words should. If the reader wants more details, the link is there for them.

  2. It is much less prone to decay over time. If in the future, the link changes (as links do), or the website goes away, we won't have a totally broken answer, because the relevant information is still here.

In summary, block quotes are a good thing when used properly (i.e. short, to the point, and alongside a link to the original source).

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    Spot on answer. Needs more blockquotes. – Borror0 Mar 23 '11 at 17:27
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I see three parts to your complaint.

1) The title and first paragraph complain about blockquoting.

Blockquoting is seen as a good way to deal with the fact that links eventually rot, so extracting the key few words from the linked section means the answer will still make sense in the future.

2) That answers are too jargony.

I think the voting system will best deal with that. Clear - but accurate - answers are likely to be selected by the OP and other browsers as the best answer.

3) That people are answering outside of their area of expertise.

(Strangely, I thought that was likely to reduce jargon rather than increase it.)

I agree that getting an expert opinion is better - hopefully these answers will tend to get voted up.

However, I am definitely seeing that many questions being posted are easily answered by basic research skills and a little common-sense. I would like to think that seeing that people can actually quite easily answer these questions for themselves, with a little Google Fu and a skeptical mindset, and without necessarily requiring years of study in the field, could provide a good example to others.

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