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Recently, there have been a series of posts when a user's comment has been transformed into an answer or long excerpts have been quoted from various English websites.

First of all, just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with copying a user's comment and making that into an answer. On Stack Exchange, copying comments and correctly attributing the author in answers is good practice. It's especially an asset on ELL as can be seen by the stream of lengthy comments by the same two or three users to questions that are on-topic.

What I find objectionable is reaping the rewards of these acute observations i.e. in the form upvotes and reputation. Users who wish to preserve valuable comments should be encouraged to do so but if they are unable or too busy to expand on these comments=answer then the copied content should be made into a community wiki post.

The upvotes would not go to the original commentator nor the user who copied the comment in an answer. What is auspicious is that users do not refrain from voting. If a comment can attract 5 upvotes, why is there silence when it's transformed into an answer?

Secondly, when copying directly from books, exam papers, and websites it is recommended that a link to the source is included and the text is shown in block quotes. Unfortunately, too many users fail to perform this simple courtesy. Sources must always be attributed, otherwise it is plagiarism. But even when the source is mentioned, this is not enough. The author, if easily identifiable, must also be attributed. So, if we are quoting the grammar book Usage of English we should also mention the author's name, the person whose hard work we are quoting from. In some cases this is Raymond Murphy but in others it might be Martin Hewings.

If we're quoting an excerpt on the origins of a proverb vis The Phrase Finder, then it should be clear whether the author of the piece is the same creator and owner of the site or only a reader who has posted a reply on the forum. This applies to any website that is quoted in length, be it Quora, English Club, Grammarly, WordReference etc.

Here's how to attribute a source that supports your answer

Why Do I Have To Do That? Scholarship, Attribution, Citation, and Plagiarism

Citations serve two primary purposes:

  1. They give proper attribution to the original creator of a piece of content. In that way, citations are a recognition that ideas have value. By citing the author of a work, you are giving credit to that author.
  2. They increase the cogency of your argument. Including citations demonstrates to your audience that you are not making your ideas up in a vacuum; […] By including the full citation information, you also allow your audience to locate the source and ascertain that it supports the argument you are advancing.

Source: University of Maryland (UMD)
31 July 2014 By Cinthya Ippoliti

I welcome hearing the opinion of users, especially those who disagree or believe the procedure suggested above is unrealistic.



Further reading and references

So, you found a sentence or phrase... (Why you should cite your source)

Are answers which consist only of block quotes acceptable

Commenting vs. Answering

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    I have had comments of mine copied and inserted into answers, sometimes with a courteous acknowledgement, sometimes not. I do not begrudge the people who do this any upvotes or reputation points that they get. I personally feel that an excessive preoccupation with reputation points is unhealthy. The satisfaction of providing a decent answer should be its own reward. If I am too lazy to write an answer, and instead only post a comment, and someone else gets points for repeating it, well, that's my look-out. May 29, 2022 at 12:48
  • @MichaelHarvey Fair enough and good for you but I've also seen these types of answers, consisting of only copied material, get downvoted, and the user delete a perfectly fine answer probably because they thought it must have been a bad or wrong answer. If a user copies a comment and then adds original content, I feel it stands a greater chance of being upvoted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 29, 2022 at 12:58
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    Between ELU and ELL, plagiarism feels like a losing battle. The average amount of attribution for a question is "something I read" and it's not uncommon to see a (single) word request question that has half its answers copying definitions from dictionaries without any attribution. (Yeah, maybe I'm ranting.)
    – Laurel Mod
    May 29, 2022 at 19:41
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    Tend to agree, but I'd like to make a couple of points. Comments on answers are intended to be suggestions for improvement. So if you comment on an answer you should do so intending the answer to include your comment. It is right and proper for the answer to copy and paste the content of your comment, if they think it would improve the answer. Secondly If you are getting comments "stolen" regularly examine if you are misusing the comment system to write answers. There is very little point in writing a comment that answers a question. If it is 30 characters or more, put it in an answer!
    – James K
    May 30, 2022 at 10:15
  • @JamesK I'm not aware of anyone complaining about stolen comments=answers, but users who cannot resist commenting, should openly invite the community to transform/expand on their observations. Then again, if someone has the time to write two or more comments under a question, they have the time to write up CW answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 30, 2022 at 10:21
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    I am painfully aware that I overuse comments; I think it would be ungracious of me to complain (even if I felt like it) if people took and, hopefully, expanded upon them. May 30, 2022 at 12:09
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    @MichaelHarvey the number of comments is off-set by the number of excellent answers you provide. The problem is when the ratio of comment=answer far outweighs the posted answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 30, 2022 at 19:36
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    @Mari-LouA - I once, a while ago, got banned for a week for making too many comments. May 30, 2022 at 19:45
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    Harsh sentence!
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 30, 2022 at 19:49
  • @Mari-LouA - well, I thought so too. May 30, 2022 at 19:53
  • Any one would. But comments, due to their brief nature, can also sound brusque and could make users feel not welcomed, or convince them that you despise their English! :P So maybe one too many flags... who knows.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 30, 2022 at 20:06
  • @Mari-LouA I think the perceived problem was too many jokes and long winded anecdotes. May 30, 2022 at 20:08
  • Is it alright to quote someone's comment fully as your answer (you did not add anything)? I once did so, and got downvoted quickly, so I deleted the post, thinking it wasn't allowed
    – DialFrost
    May 31, 2022 at 4:42
  • I might add that a possible reason why there is silence when the comment is transformed, is probably due to the hesitation of "giving" free reputation to another user, which this sort of "competition to see who has more rep" may be quite high. (I may be wrong). Another alternative is that the answer was posted late and attracted no attention. This "no upvoting thing" is quite common I think, maybe due to the community is affected by "oh this guy has a lot of rep, lemme upvote" sort of idea, and overlook the fact that upvoting is meant for when the answer is actually helpful.
    – DialFrost
    May 31, 2022 at 5:21
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    @DialFrost - votes are cast by people, based on their evaluation of an answer's quality, or they should be. If I saw someone's comment reproduced exactly as an answer without anything added, and with a later time showing, I would think that such an 'answer' showed no effort. I might also think it looked like reputation chasing or a desire to increase the poster's answer count. Preoccupation with these things give a bad impression. May 31, 2022 at 19:42

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I mostly agree with Mari-Lou A's post but would like to add one further suggestion and one point of disagreement.

  1. If you see a comment that would work well as an answer, it is polite to suggest kindly that the author convert it into an answer and to give that person some time to do so before copying the text into your own answer. (This wouldn't necessarily apply in some situations, e.g. if the comment were very old.)

  2. If you do end up converting someone else's comment into an answer--even verbatim--then I do not think it necessary to mark it as "community wiki". In other words, I think that it is fine to make yourself the answer's author (as long as you properly attribute the text to the person who wrote the original comment, of course). There are two reasons for this: 1. The other person had a chance to write an answer first but apparently forewent that opportunity. (This is especially true if you prompted that person to write an answer but he or she chose not to.) You're therefore not really "stealing" that person's reputation. 2. Even though you didn't add any new text, you made the effort to read the comment, recognize that it would work as an answer, perhaps do some light editing (formatting, etc.), and actually post it. I see no problem with earning a little reputation for that effort.

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  • Point 2 is not about plagiarism but about content. Copied content, even if correctly attributed, should not be rewarded unless that it is fruit of your own research. Copying a comment that was posted on the same page is not what I would call "effort" but your mileage may vary as they say.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 5, 2022 at 7:59
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    If someone takes the time to convert a comment into a proper answer, they deserve the reputation for it. If they just copy and paste it without further elaboration, it should be a community wiki.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 5, 2022 at 21:27

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