I've noticed something recently on this site. It's a weird thing, but it appears to be becoming common. Answers are seen as only being reliable if they have a source.

This isn't the case where someone points out an answer is wrong by pointing to a reference, but rather declaring that an answer needs external verification.

Imagine such a thing on StackOverflow.

Q: How do I fix this code
A: Do this. It will work
Comment: DOWNVOTED! Cite your source! 

I've seen answers on History stack be declared

Good answer, but would be an excellent one with sources.

This makes sense. This isn't someone attacking the answer, but rather being supportive of the answer. Sources for history are more important, as much of the interpretation of history is subjective.

Is it becoming site policy that answers have a URL attached to them to be considered valid? If so, I'll spend my time elsewhere.

  • 1
    You may find the answers in this discussion helpful: Submitting Answers that merely answer the question You are free to ignore constructive criticism you don’t agree with. If the criticism is not constructive, you should flag it for moderators to look at. Adding sources gives learners more confidence in your answer and helps them find resources to use for other questions they might have.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 20:31
  • @ColleenV It's not constructive criticism though. Demanding people provide a link to a dictionary or face their punitive action is just that. If users wanted to use a dictionary I'm sure they know how, and would not have spent their time coming to English Language Learners instead. And let's be honest, dictionaries are the only sources we are talking about here.
    – Stumbler
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 21:44
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    Not so about "dictionaries are the only sources we are talking about here." There are plenty of other references that can be used, such as usage examples from books or news stories, Wikipedia articles about grammar, or links to language blogs.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 22:02
  • @J.R. tbf I think that usage outside of dictionaries would probably be pretty niche. Wikipedia provides definitions of words, but grammar is pretty much out of its scope (apart from Wictionary, which again is just a dictionary). Usage in a particular context (e.g. academic paper) doesn't provide a definition, would presumably be diffcult for a language learner to interpret, and is quite weak as a form of supporting evidence (after all the person being quoted could be misusing the term in question). But asking for a dictionary definition is begging for a LMGTFY response.
    – Stumbler
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 22:14
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    Not trying to be confrontational, just trying to help explain how things are perhaps not as cut-and-dried as they may seem: I've used Wikipedia references in over five dozen answers, and this one also links to three news articles. Overall, though, I understand your point: it depends on the question, and sometimes it can be frustrating when an otherwise uninspiring answer seems to do well because of one dictionary reference the OP probably should have found on their own.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 22:27
  • One more example, and then I'll let the matter rest: this answer about the "alleys and paths" found in a cave. I suppose I could have just written: The words 'passages' and 'passageways' can be used to describe routes through a cave, but I think that answer is much-improved with the added links. Even if I happened to be an expert spelunker relying on my own domain knowledge, it's still nice for anyone visiting ELL to be able to easily verify my assertions and claims and to see the words in use.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 22:37
  • @J.R. Okay, I'll give that consideration
    – Stumbler
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


There is no policy declaring that answers must have a URL attached to be considered valid.

That said, there are a couple reasons why some in the community might appreciate a reference from a credible source:

  1. Such a reference might bolster the credibility of the answer.
  2. Such a reference can often make it easier for a learner to learn even more.

Your analogy with Stack Overflow is a little flawed. There, I might say, "Do this; it will work," and the OP can see if I'm right or wrong simply by giving it a try. Here, I might say, "That word means such-and-such," and how would anyone know if I my answer is on the money or out in left field? (I know a man who used to call sawhorses "sawdonkeys" just for humorous effect. He had no idea his daughter would eventually go off to college and one day get in an argument insisting that "sawdonkeys" was the correct term.)

Also, I looked through some of your recent answers and tried to see what exchange might have prompted this meta post. I guessed it might have been something similar to the comment beneath this answer. A few things worth remembering:

  1. Don't assume that one comment by an OP represents a viewpoint embraced by the entire community.
  2. Don't assume that a downvote comes from the same person who made a comment.
  3. Be patient with learners who might think an answer could be enhanced if it included supporting evidence from a dictionary. Sometimes seeing is believing.
  4. Because some of our learners have rudimentary language skills, their comments may come across as more rude or confrontational than intended. Try not to fly off the handle.
  5. Don't fret too much over an occasional downvote. They happen. When an answer gets, say, 3 upvotes v. 1 downvote, then clearly the community as a whole is not condemning an answer for any particular reason.
  6. Give people the benefit of the doubt. A comment like "your definition of 'scale' isn't based on a dictionary or reliable reference" could simply be an observation, as opposed to a "demand."

I'll repeat something I wrote in another meta post re. the things I look for in a good answer

  1. Is it correct? Does it provide the right answer to the question? Does it use the right grammar/vocabulary/syntax terms?
  2. Is it comprehensive? Does it take into account exceptions, alternate definitions, different dialects, possible slang, informal usages, etc?
  3. Is it complete? Does the explanation include (where appropriate) examples, images, links to corroborating sources, and anything else of substance that helps the learner retain the information?

The best answers include all three, but two of three isn't bad.

The key part of #3 is where appropriate. Many answers ask for interpretation, not definition, where there may be no easy way to provide sources.

On the other hand, suppose someone asks if it's ok to call a particular food "fish fingers". A simple "yes" answers the question, but how hard is it to link to a least one example validating this use, especially one that implies there are many, many more? Or, if you want to assert that "fish sticks" is more common, then it helps to show the relevant Ngram -- understanding that Ngram may not be a very reliable source for this purpose.

So it depends on the flavor of the question.

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    Did you include the fish fingers example just for the halibut?
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 17:32

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