Some questions and answers are very long an most of the time just quotations from other sources. With discussions happening in between.

Perhaps it would be better to give the link, citations and reference to the source and keep the Q&A concise. These is no loss of clarity in doing this. Anybody wishing to go to the sources can do so if they desire. Also less distraction in extracting the points out. One benefit (as I see it) of the Q&A format is to the points that matter.

Alternatively the quotations can be moved to footnotes and endnotes. This way the reader who is familiar with the material can skip it while going with the flow of the answer.

E.g. Wikipedia has the following:

With regard to clean up. We don't have to go to this extent but perhaps revisit some Q&A when time permits and occasionally do a clean up.

  • 4
    Could you give an example of a question or answer you think is too long? Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 9:33
  • 2
    Perhaps you experience this problem because you're using a mobile to view the site. On a large (PC-sized) screen it's easy to scroll, and it's clear (from the format and color of the text) what's quoted versus what's original, and where blocks of quoted text begin and end.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 20:54
  • +1 on examples of too long questions/answers, as I was very concerned with this while writing my last answer
    – user382
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 17:21
  • Not your answer I had in mind. General observation. As long as it is distilled and you extract the relevant point from any quotation it is OK in my opinion. Idally if you can read and understand skipping the quotes then it is fine as quoting is to support your discussion. Out of curiosity this is the question of your you though I might have referred to? Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 17:56

4 Answers 4


On any Stack Exchange site it's a good idea to follow guidelines for academic writing. Nobody has to adhere to them exactly, but they should be kept in mind. Guidelines abound, for almost every university has published its own set of best practices in academic writing. I particularly like the University of Toronto's advice on using quotations:

The focus of your essay should be on your understanding of the topic. If you include too much quotation in your essay, you will crowd out your own ideas. Consider quoting a passage from one of your sources if any of the following conditions holds:

  1. The language of the passage is particularly elegant or powerful or memorable.
  2. You wish to confirm the credibility of your argument by enlisting the support of an authority on your topic.
  3. The passage is worthy of further analysis.
  4. You wish to argue with someone else's position in considerable detail.

Quotations can be powerful tools in your answers, and they should be exactly as long as you need them to be--and no longer.

Finally, on a site like Buddhism, it is to be expected that answers are a little longer than we see on many other sites. Questions on sites like Stack Overflow tend to have specific, finite answers. Buddhism SE, on the other hand, falls into a category more similar to Philosophy SE. On sites like these, questions are a little more open-ended and answers demonstrate understanding, explain broader concepts, and indeed may contain opinions that need lengthy defense.

I don't think Buddhism SE has a length problem, but it's never a bad practice to make sure your writing is clear and concise.

  • The main thing is you should extract the relevant point so the understanding is not affected if you skip the quotes. As you said quotes should be defence and support, not the main content. Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:31

Short answer to this question:

  1. Don't merely provide a link to an answer because if the link breaks the answer will be worthless.
  2. You can add a summary to your longer answers (like I've done here).
  3. Do revise and shorten your own answers when appropriate, but don't do this with other people's answers.

Long answer to this question:

Short answers are great, but may not cover all the important aspects of a question. The more difficult the question and the more factors are involved, the longer a good answer will be. Of course there is a limit. A question can be too complex or broad to discuss properly in a limited amount of words, but those questions should be closed as being too broad.

What I myself sometimes do when I've written a long answer, is to start the answer with a brief summary with the main points of my answer. This way the OP can have his/her detailed answer and other less-interested readers can use that summary to see the main points and then decide whether they are interesting enough to read the full answer.

I think you should be careful with your suggestion to shorten answers and mainly refer to other references. Links tend to break over time and we want an answer to be valuable for a long time. If the linked webpage or document is gone (parts of) an answer can become worthless. That is why it's policy on all StackExchange sites that link-answers are not real answers and why we should encourage users to summarize the contents of a linked page in their own words. The linked page should merely be provided for extra detail for interested readers.

When it comes to other references such as books, the same does apply. A book doesn't go missing like a link, but it may be difficult for people to find the referenced book.

Finally, with respect to doing clean-up; I think it's great if you revise and improve your own answers from time to time, but I don't think it is a good idea to completely revise other people's answers. Small improvements are ok of course, but removing parts of an answer because you yourself feel it is long is a big no.

  • +1, Generally agree. What I meant not just providing link but extracting the point and providing a link than long quotes followed by a discussion point followed by long quotes / explanation, etc. Also when quoting you have to read the whole quote where the point may need only a phase od sentence as a discussion point which is relevant. By the time you come to the end you are sometimes exhausted / overloaded. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 7:47

You didn't identify any specific questions with this problem, so I can only answer in general.

I hope that an answer may include:

  1. Some text written by you: your own thoughts in your own words, your answer to the question, even when your thoughts are informed by (are a paraphrase of) some scripture; if you don't do that, and only quote or reference scripture, a reader might not understand how that scripture is relevant to the question
  2. A citation/reference (perhaps a hyperlink) to some relevant scripture; because a good answer doesn't only express your personal opinion (people are trying to ask questions about "Buddhism", not only asking about your own personal opinion)
  3. A quote from the referenced scripture; you don't have to quote the whole scripture, maybe just quote enough of it so that someone who is reading your answer will understand why you referenced that scripture, and how that scripture (or which part of that scripture) is relevant to the question.

In a longer answer, this structure may be repeated; perhaps something like:

Text written by you. This reference says,

Quoted extract from the first reference.

More text. Another reference says,

Quote from the second reference.

Another quote from the second reference.

Further text. Etc...

I suppose the ideal is some kind of middle way between two extremes: the two extremes being 'not quoting at all' and 'quoting everything'.

Quoting some of the scripture is useful:

  • Readers can see why the scripture is relevant to the question
  • The scripture's words are a better answer to the question than yours are
  • A quote within your answer remains even if the reference disappears because of Link rot
  • The scripture may be long and only a little of it directly relevant to the question; quoting the relevant part identifies which part within the scripture is relevant
  • It allows people to read and understand your answer in its entirety (including quotes and not just references) without reading the references or before they read the references.

I don't mean this as an invariable rule: some good answers have little or no text, some good answers have a reference but no quote (there are also answers which quote without referencing).

If the OP is suggesting that answers should reference, but need never quote at all, that would be going too far.

  • I am saying you should quote by all means but should be like a foot note in a book. I.e., towards the end in most cases. If you have 5 lines of quotes, one line discussion 10 lines quotes, 2 lines discussion then it is difficult to fish around for the relevant facts. Also some question are more of a copy and past job than taking the trouble to get the facts / points communicated. I do not want to reference the question as not to create a negative vibe. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 13:42
  • Also I have never seen another site which quotes this much. Average answer lengths are shorter. Also, quoting should be to support your claim not the be all and end all. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 13:45

May be one way would be to push the quotations and explanation towards the end of the write up. Someone needing this can read it it desired. Keep a summary of the relevant points extracted towards the top.

  • I prefer quotes which are integrated with the answer. It's important (for clarity) to show how and why they're connected to and part of the answer. IMO these quotes should also be no longer than necessary, and less than the whole page being referenced (unless the reference is short e.g. a dictionary definition or a short sutta). The length of the quote affects whether it seems to me to be fair use. If you put one or more references at the end of the answer, in that case maybe links are sufficient with no need to quote them.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 16:03
  • My preference is otherwise and I plan to tick to this format when it makes sense to me. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 11:31

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