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  1. Situation: The link in a link-only answer points to something helpful in relation to the question. Case one: it is just a tool, and the link contains no instructions on how to actually solve the problem using the tool. Case 2: the link contains helpful information on how to solve the problem.

    These answers just point to somewhere else to go to get an answer. In either case, would that be considered just a helpful hint rather than an actual answer? If so, would an appropriate resolution would be to move it to a comment (if the answer is not improved)?

If the answer to #1 is no, ignore the rest of this post.

  1. If moving it to a comment is appropriate, which is preferable:

    • copy the post to a comment with attribution and then flag the answer for deletion, or
    • flag the post with a recommendation that the moderator move it to a comment
  2. Situation: An old question that was on-topic when it was posted but no longer is. A contemporaneous answer is just a link to something that satisfied the question. You aren't familiar enough with the subject matter to substantively improve the answer and the author is long gone.

    • Leave it alone or move it to a comment?

    • If the answer was accepted or upvoted, does that affect how to handle it?

  • Does it have to be that absolute? If it was we could just delete link only answers ;p – Journeyman Geek Apr 5 '15 at 11:10
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In my, unofficial, non mod-hatty, long term user opinion, a link only answer is rarely meant to be a comment. If it was a comment, it would obviously be a comment posted as an answer rather than a link only answer. A link only answer is a low quality answer that might potentially be salvagable.

Might be worth considering why a link only answer was posted.

The ideal - the user dosen't know any better, and edits his answer to a complete answer. In this case commenting on the fact that it needs to be a full answer(if you're feeling charitable/loving the content on the link - editing it into a full answer) is the right thing.

If its clearly a cynical attempt at promoting a personal site, and the user can't be arsed to paraphrase his own post, and optionally linked back, flag as spam.

If its an answer that's old, link only and dead, custom flag it and explain why. Comment wouldn't hurt here.

If its an attempt to post an answer that the person writing the answer dosen't know anything about, but is trying to cynically get rep through googling and pasting links, downvote, and comment. If this happens a lot, the user probably needs a talking to anyway.

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Are link-only answers considered a helpful hint on where to get an actual answer, in which case, an appropriate resolution is to move it to a comment?

If they are helpful and it's not otherwise easily possible to fix the answer, then yes, one solution is to move it to a comment. That is, when the author's had a chance to improve it or is likely not to return to our site.

flag the post with a recommendation that the moderator move it to a comment

This is the right thing to do. It keeps the right user associated with the comment. You may personally disagree with what's being said, or it might simply be incorrect. You shouldn't be accountable for that.

Situation: An old question that was on-topic when it was posted but no longer is. A contemporaneous answer is just a link to something that satisfied the question. You aren't familiar enough with the subject matter to substantively improve the answer and the author is long gone.

If it's old and off topic, I'd probably delete the entire question. Especially if the answers are unsalvageable (because the author's gone or you can't fix it yourself), this is something we often do.

If the answer was accepted or upvoted, does that affect how to handle it?

Not really, the criteria should be the same. Of course, if there's an accepted and upvoted answer, chances are high that you're not doing anything good by deleting the post either, as apparently it was—or still is—considered helpful.

If the question is on topic and relevant, we should really be saving these posts instead of just deleting them. The whole point is that we want to host helpful information on our site.

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I'm looking for advice on how the site perceives link-only answers, so this answer is not meant to answer my own question. Rather, there is a perspective I haven't seen explicitly stated that I'll add it to the discussion.

I see similarities between a link-only answer and mention of a duplicate question. On a question, if you are aware of another SU thread that already answers it, or might be useful, you post a comment with a link to it. Other people have put work into developing answers; we don't give answer credit for "What he said", or "Your question is answered over there". Posting the link is helpful information on where to find an answer somewhere else.

Aren't link-only answers the same thing, only pointing outside SU? Wouldn't the same logic apply to those posts qualifying more as comments than answers?

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Link only answers are very helpful (to me :-) , they are just not accepted well by the community , the help pages says to include info etc. People will vote and comment on them and expect the user (who would have to exist) to add some content. Editors can/will add content to create whole answers.

No, link only answers are answers not comments , they would be better left as answers, and not converted to comments in most situations.

When the site was younger , many things were accepted and voted up , that may get harsher treatment now, I have seen old link only answers that aquired a ton of upvotes. They are still valid, they could still have content added to them. they still helped ME :-) and I assume others. They do not have to be changed, but they could improved by editing at any time.

Oh wait you said no lengthy discussion :-)

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