3

The answer in question which sparked this train of thought off.


Links in general

The guidelines on links in the help centre are pretty clear:

Provide context for links

Links to external resources are encouraged, 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.

To me this says "if there's a link, it better have some summary or information about it in the question/answer"; and that is that on which I've based any suggestions to include info as a good practice.

Links for further information / additional info / tangential matters

How much 'context' or quoting is needed for a link to a resource that is useful in relation to an answer (or question), but not strictly necessary? That is, the answer (/question) already has at least the minimum pertinent information, but someone adds a link to a resource which gives information related to or beyond that.

For example, something along the lines of:

Doing XYZ to ABC will allow you to frob your widget as requested.

If you are using widgets, you may find information on the best way to do other things with your widget [widget.wiki] helpful.

would this provide sufficient context? If the link later dies; it could be updated, or replaced with an archive.org link as appropriate.

On the other hand, if the link goes down (which I would guess is the hidden assumption behind the help centre advice above) and the information isn't needed for the answer; it's arguably superfluous. Tangential information may be better suited to a comment?

Is there a grey area? A link to official documentation on 'widget-related matters' for an answer might seem more relevant and stable than a link to a forum post detailing how someone worked around some 'common widget problems'.

So, how much should be added for a link on a related matter in a question/answer?

Context, quote and/or information? A brief note of what it is in the link text only? I can conceive of valid arguments in both directions.

  • There's arguably a tacit question about what constitutes an on-topic/helpful link bound up in this; but that's another question. Given a sliding scale of on/off topic, triviality/complexity and context, I'd guess it would depend, but if there are guidelines elsewhere I've missed it would be good to know. – bertieb Feb 20 '17 at 20:36
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In my understanding, that guideline is there to discourage links provided with zero explanation of what they link to. Had the answer in question omitted the last sentence in favor of just pasting the two links in a bulleted list or something, that would be bizarre and less than ideal. Fortunately, that user answered the question and, anticipating a request for alternatives, provided a tip with a link to further information.

If the answer depends on the information from the linked page(s), a quote - or, better, a summary hitting the critical parts - is required. Saying "see this link to do a workaround" is invalid because the answer itself would contain no content. On the other hand, providing a link for further reading or a source after a complete answer is great. I personally do something like this:

To frob the widget, spin the handle while you flip the switch. Note that on some models, you need the flip the switch once before starting to spin the handle. (Source.)

Or this:

Your widget can't be frobbed in this mode. The connector between the switch and the internals is disabled when the chain is retracted.

Further reading: Chain diagrams on Widget Developer Network

Including links to further information in the middle of a sentence is perfectly fine too, as the author of the answer in question did in their first sentence. It lets the reader get the critical information without interrupting the paragraph's flow and puts the link right on what it's related to.

If a link dies, it can be fixed if possible or removed. Remember, answers that become completely useless if their links die do not qualify as answers.

I'd say the decision on whether to include tangential possibly-helpful information/links in the answer is up to the author as long as it actually has something to do with the problem in question. ("This is how you fix your computer, now here are cat pictures" doesn't cut it.) I usually introduce such links with the phrase "possibly relevant", for what it's worth.

  • I agree. This is exactly what I do in my answers. – DavidPostill Feb 20 '17 at 21:24
  • Well put, thank you for the neatly-stated clarification! – bertieb Feb 23 '17 at 13:54

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