Look, I can "Google search" for an answer to a question just as easily as you can, but the number of answers here on Pets that are blatant text dumps from other sites, several without references back to the source, and many which are repeated multiple times on multiple external sites, the situation is simply getting disgusting and discouraging.

Certainly link to another site; take some relevant info if you need to, but why isn't there some active paraphrasing going on instead of what appears to be blatant reputation whoring and filler? It's lazy and I don't care for it. I want to see QUALITY answers, not QUANTITY.

For the rest of us, before you up-vote an answer, grab a sentence and throw it into your browser's search engine, then call the poster on it if it shows up somewhere that isn't linked to.

This question asks why this is going on and what is to be done site-wise. I have created What should we do when we find unattributed text? to discuss what we should do with these posts on an individual basis.

  • 6
    I think we need to start culling some of these immediately.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 7:13
  • 1
  • I asked both. In the other, I wanted to know the way we should be citing and whether we should. This one is about the current several answer posts which appear to be verbatim text, some from multiple sites, others without citations, and what should be done to correct this problem.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 16:06
  • I hope that anybody who spots plagiarism (copying without attribution) is flagging those posts; that's a violation of the SE TOS. Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 17:24
  • I flagged two, and I can do more, but there are few enough answers here that it shouldn't be so tough for the bunch of us to parse through them and toss a sentence into the browser search engine to get it done.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 17:36
  • I use other websites sometimes for my help but I don't plagarize or duplicate any websites that I've used before in answers or in questions.
    – Derrick K.
    Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 20:38

5 Answers 5


I'm answering this twice, once in a general sense, and then some additional considerations since at the time of this writing we're still very early into things.

We need to be different, we need to be better.

'Reference only' answers are something that we need to actively discourage in most circumstances. What we don't want is a site full of excerpts from other sites. That's not sharing knowledge, that's just a bar above a free version of Mechanical Turk. I alluded to this when we talked about the quality of references we expect in answers:

Something to avoid is encouraging people to basically answer questions with not much more than citations:

According to Wikipedia, cats are physically incapable of cohabiting with fish inside of their aquariums:

Cats do not have gills, and can not breathe underwater. Also, they eat fish.

Indeed, we hope that no one actually has real-world experience on this topic, but should this come up, we'd hope for at least a few paragraphs teaching us why this is not a good idea.

If we have a site full of answers like this, then indeed we'd have a serious quality problem. We should not be regurgitating things that we find on other sites, we should be using our knowledge and experience to teach other users how to better care for and have more rewarding experiences with their pets. I can't place enough emphasis on the word teach.

That said, there will be the occasional on-topic and valid question that just doesn't lend well to much more than a link to a reference and a summary of what it contains. With everything else, context is key.

90 days after Pets Stack Exchange advances to public beta, an automatic community self-evaluation will be triggered where users will be asked to enter a special review queue and examine a random sampling of posts to see if we're producing better content than similar sites. Overwhelmingly, that answer should be yes. We can't be better if we're just reproducing what they have.

We're still in private beta, early detection is important!

Don't worry about it too much at this point. While we actively discourage 'seeding' content with reference questions and answers, I'm quite certain that everyone here is just trying to make this private beta an overwhelming success, and they're doing a darn good job of it, for the most part. Once Pets launches and the confetti is cleaned up, there's plenty of time to substantially enhance mostly reference answers by editing.

Finally, we've got some extremely capable hands that have stepped up to indicate their desire to serve as pro-tem moderators, and automatic community self evaluations that will trigger every 60 days like clockwork after the initial evaluation completes. The topic of pets is a new challenge for us, but we've got all of the ingredients to make it work.

The fact that this community caught this so early on assures me that this community will sufficiently address it. We'll be keeping a close eye on it, and have been, but I think this community is already showing strong ownership in its content.

  • While I agree that we need to avoid reference and quote only answers, when claiming fact, especially about medical or biological functions of pets, then a citation is approriate. If it is an opinion then it should be stated clearly as such and a good explanation should be provided for why that is your opinion.
    – user9
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 0:13
  • @Chad I think most folks do that sort of naturally, e.g. "Based on my experience with ..." or (somewhat more common) "Based on my relative's (usually mom / sister / brother) experience" - so the proper tone for the answer is set. Alarmingly, I see folks leaving somewhat anecdotal but technically complete answers in comments, which we really want to avoid to limit discussion, but that's another topic.
    – user105
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 10:41

Great topic. I've been worried about this myself. We all like to see sources, but I'd rather get the insight of the user not some random expert that I could find via google myself. Of course properly attributed sourcing is still very helpful, especially when it comes from a reliable source, but I think we can do more.

My feeling is that we need to encourage rewording and posting, not just quoting. There are several answers that are barely more than just a few words and several different paragraphs of various quotes from other sites. Everything was quoted and attributed correctly, but I just don't think that is a good answer. I would encourage users to paraphrase and write their own answers, while borrowing from other sources (probably attributed of course).

The only way to change the culture though is through voting and comments. If you see an answer that is nothing more than a few quotes then encourage then lets enourage the poster to rewrite in their own words.

My reasoning here is if we base voting on quality answers on who quotes the best quotes from the best sources, our top users are going to be best googlers and not necessarily the best resources for animal information.

To borrow an SO reference, would Stack Overflow be as good as it is if all Jon Skeet did was provide "quotes" (code) from other resources instead of being an expert in his own right?

Since I am still seeing this happening more than I think is ideal, I wanted to add a bit more to this answer to explain my position here and why

  • Links and attribution to references are good.
  • Quotes (especially long blockquotes intermixed in text) are not good.

My position on Links

When presented with something that is not common knowledge or even contrary to common knowledge, everyone tends to ask "Really, where did you see this?", so the link helps fend off those questions ahead of time.

As with other SE sites, links should be there to support your post and provide additional information, but the post should be able to stand alone without the links (meaning if the link dies does your answer still make sense). Since you are using it to provide a source and for attribution, that is covered under "supporting your post".

My position on Quotes

Block quotes are fine in small doses, but a post that is a series of quotes (especially long ones) intermixed with your own words is why I am campaigning against. There are a few reasons:

  1. Like I mention above, I'd rather get the insight of the experts here than someone I can find myself via Google.
  2. Like I also mention above, it encourages us to be experts ourselves than to see who is the best Googler (or Binger or Search Engine of your Choicer)
  3. Post like this, especially in the beta color scheme, are virtually impossible to read easily. The background color for block quotes stands out so much that your own text becomes hidden and almost ignored. This takes what could be some very good insight of your own and hides it in plain site so it gets ignored.

So how should I write answers?

My feeling is if you need more than 1 or 2 quotes, or any single quote that is more than 2 lines long, you need to be rewriting it in your own words. This isn't a hard and fast rule as there could be a really fantastic quote from an expert that you need to include, but it should be a good guideline to judge yourself when writing the answer.

How should I judge other answers?

There is no hard and fast rule, and certainly don't start counting characters or quotes, but if you encounter a post that is a series of blockquotes with some original text mixed in or is otherwise difficult to read due to the quotes, I would encourage you to leave a comment and explain. But if this is a repeating pattern with someone who refuses to listen, then I'd suggest start using downvotes (or add your own answer that does a better job of not using as many quotes).


The general point I am trying to make here is fewer quotes and more of your own words (even if you have to reference another site). Not only with this help show off the site's expertise (which will be critically important when we get to the public beta), but will make posts more readable, which is good for getting your point understood, which should turn into more upvotes over the long haul


Tackle the problem by its root

Questions that are easily solved by typing the title phrase (or parts of the body of the question), don't show any research effort.
Do we really want to blame the people who actually put effort into answering the question? While I dislike answers that are a single quote and a link myself, sometimes this is just what the person asking wasn't able to do; to search Google.

We expect quality answers, but I think we should expect quality questions, too. By that I don't mean perfectly researched questions, but if someone expects an answer that took time to research and write up, I think we can expect people to put time into researching their questions, too.

I think that this will lead to better questions and answers in the long run.

This answer is related to: What is the minimal amount of research we expect from our users?
If you want to discuss / criticize my answer, please consider posting an answer over there.


So far there are only 2 two instances where I've needed to use text from other sites to substantiate my answers. What follows are copies (not direct links to, to avoid creating voting discrepancies) of those 2 answers containing what I perceive to be the correct way use external data in an answer, followed by notes which explain what was done.


I have also been told by various sources eating grass helps dogs with digestive issues. If the dogs are doing it every single time as you state yours are, they may have picked it up as a habit.

According to "A Vet's Take On Why Dogs Eat Grass" (Modern Dog Magazine), the following possibilities exist:

  • dogs cannot digest grass, so there is no nutritional value
  • dogs consume grass to aid them in vomiting (see article for details)
  • dogs chew out of a developed obsessive-compulsive habit
  • some just snack when they find a particularly succulent blade of grass
  • for reasons of past evolution
  • out of hunger or unbalanced nutrition


  • The text preceding the article reference is all my own.
  • The article referenced appears before any text from the article is used.
  • The reference uses the full title of the article and the source website name
  • The article is only found in one place, not regurgitated on several websites
  • All of the sentences in the bullets are fragment paraphrases of much longer, highly detailed paragraphs from the actual article
    • this demonstrates that I've read the article
    • this allows the article to have its own value, should it be clicked into and read


According to "Are Marshall Farms ferrets less genetically favorable" (All About Ferrets), you can identify a Marshall Farms (MF) ferret by observing 2 little blue dots tattooed on its ear. The article is inconclusive regarding a genetic issue (considering potential in-breeding at Marshall Farms and whether the Farm is actually doing anything about the concern) and relates back to the basic factors of diet and care as primary for longevity.

Several comments applied to the article from visitors are negative regarding MF ferret longevity. Commenter "spunky" supplies the following information, which I am unable to fact-check:

"... Marshall Farms primary customers are not pet owners, they are research facilities. Therefore, longevity is not one of the traits they breed for. They don’t even know how long any of their animals will live because they are either donated into research or euthanized once they are too old to reproduce [...] genetics are not a priority for them."

Do note that, unless all MF ferrets are neutered / spayed before being distributed to pet owners, the potential for private in-breeding of MF ferrets may exist. As they would be produced outside of MF, the resulting members of the brood would have the same genetic disposition, but not the identifying tattoo. This might not be true for broods resulting from the pairing of MF ferrets to non-MF ferrets.


  • At the risk of repeating myself, all qualifiers for the article listed in NOTES FOR ANSWER 1 apply here as well.
  • The sentences which follow the article reference are:
    • a single-sentence paraphrased fact gleaned from the article and noted as such
    • a short summary of the article's utility and conclusion
    • this shows I've actually read and comprehended the article, but allow the reader to draw his own conclusion by providing a link
  • The second section summarizes comments others have made on the article, again providing some proof of having consumed the article
  • A single full quote appears
    • qualified with the author of the comment
    • has unnecessary text viably excised
    • has a disclaimer that the comment might not be factually accurate
  • The paragraph which follows the quote is my own conclusion

Overall, our community really does have a great consensus. It has been pleasing and exciting to see such a diverse group of intelligent people come together and the bottom line is; barring a few minor differences, our core beliefs are the same. We love our pets, are caring, not too radical and want to provide something better for the internet.

The posts below also address what we want in our answers and this is the perfect time to create a definition, even if that definition changes over time.

What kind of answers are we looking for?

Must answers provide citations if using external sources, and if so, how should the citing be done?

  • Embedding links with lists:

    • I would suggest embedding the list within your post, rather than offering a link. Link's rot and a bulleted list will remain in place, also people are more reluctant to follow links.
  • Quoting and adding a one liner:

    • I, am guilty of this, and yes, it would be preferable for our community to create quality answers from within the expertise of our own community. Otherwise we are just creating search results in google, bringing in visitors and directing them out again.
  • When do we need to provide a link?

    • There is pressure on people to provide links or references to many of the posts. A browse of the comments will show this (I don't want to insert links, as I don't want anyone in our small community to feel left out and it's just an arbitrary thing that most of us have done).
    • If a person states; I have heard [x] is bad for [y].., it can easily be rephrased to ask, I have a [y] what are the benefits/risks of using [x]...
    • The global community in in a spiral of an ever increasing request for references. This leads to a network of links, and there is no guarantee that the original reference really has any validity. Logic, needs to be applied, and a line drawn. I heard my pet needs fresh water.. please provide proof of this. There is a part on a site like this, where common sense must prevail. We are discussing relationships, between pets and people and there is often no definitive right or wrong.
  • How do we define an expert?

    • There has been a desire to have experts on the site and to cite experts. How do we define someone or organisation as expert?
    • This can be highly subjective and my purpose of making this statement is to stop all prolonged polling and debate over sources and the like and to encourage us to have faith in our user base here and to work on providing a unique and polished site, so we encourage more experts of the nature we like.
    • There are many people here who have varying degrees of expertise. I think the use of expertise instead of labeling someone an expert is a better way to view things. We have a user here who, I would think, has a great deal of expertise about rabbits, another dogs, turtles, fish and we go on.
    • It would be encouraging to see less debate over original (as opposed to copy, paste and linked) answers. If the user has experience or expertise on the subject, it will show. The thing I would discourage is people with no experience or expertise, searching the internet and posting from outside of their experience, as it shows.

My point of this is.. why do we go out into the internet to find a link to support information we have studied and/or used successfully for decades? We need to draw a line, for the sake of the site, where we recognise that many people here have the ability to field some questions without citing proof continually. Within this idea, you must realise I am referring to questions that fall within the basic disciplines of animal husbandry, for which expertise can be acquired by study, work, breeding, training, competition, whatever.. It does not have to be a formal qualification, or a phd, or a blog. Lets' face it. The users here could all have blogs, instead we choose to pool our resources.

For myself, I have successfully studied, animal husbandry; had considerable work experience with Vet practices, farms, dog training, animal welfare organisation and even in a hospital (the medical background helps to vet - pardon the pun - and respond appropriately to medical issues) appropriately); owned and bred a variety of pets. From this I have a certain degree of expertise in some areas here, it doesn't mean I am more correct than someone else, it is one path that a pet owner can try to find solutions. The more diverse answers we can provide in this way the better really; as it provides people with choices.

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