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To what extent is editing answers allowable? There is an answer to a question that is almost a link-only answer, but it is a pretty good link.

Would it be OK for me to expand the answer by incorporating more information from the link? If so, how long should I wait after commenting on the answer before making the edit myself?

Solid Faraday cage with a hole for a wire

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    \$\begingroup\$ Link only answers are no good, encourage users to write better answers or flag them as link only answers \$\endgroup\$
    – Voltage Spike Mod
    Sep 1 at 4:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did make a comment on the answer encouraging the user to write a better answer. I didn't flag it, but I suppose I could still do so later if no changes are made. \$\endgroup\$
    – mkeith
    Sep 1 at 4:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith - Hi, FYI the author of the original answer has, following your comment on their answer, now updated it to include a quote from the original source and added some analysis / commentary. IMHO nothing would prevent you writing another answer (as I suggested in my answer here) if you wanted to include different analysis / commentary or a different quote. But if that updated answer now includes what you were going to add, then the situation may now be resolved. (Thanks anyway for raising the question. In this case, the original author did respond, but not all authors will do that.) \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Sep 1 at 13:08
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Here's my view (and the solution below the heading):

To what extent is editing answers allowable?

Not much! We have to remember that it's their answer, so we have to be sure that they wouldn't (or, objectively, couldn't) disagree with any changes we make.

So...

Fix a broken link? Yes. Improve ambiguous or poor grammar, when we're sure we know what it should say? Yes. Copy (without any commentary) factual parts from an existing link in an answer? A conditional yes, because they have included the link anyway, but only if the answer doesn't include any part of the linked material already - because the original author might not agree with everything in a link they give, and they might have already included the only part they agree with. Therefore doing this is risky.

But... Add anything subjective (commentary, analysis etc.)? No, because we don't know the author would agree with something subjective that we might write. (I know they could rollback an edit, but we don't know if or when they would see an edit, to then decide "no, I don't agree with "my" answer saying that".)

There is an answer to a question that is almost a link-only answer

(See later update ** below) I've seen the answer and currently it is IMHO a candidate for being deleted as "not an answer" (NAA) (see here for the relevant Meta article explaining that link-only answers are NAA).

but it is a pretty good link.

(See later update ** below) Agreed, and that is why, if someone flagged that answer as NAA and I saw the flag, I would convert that "answer" into a comment (for the reason explained here on the use of comments - see point 3 under "What are comments for"). The current lack of explanation of how that link answers the question, lack of summary of relevant info from the link, or analysis in pointing out the most important points etc. - all the things which make a good answer, good - mean that as soon as that link "dies", the answer is unfortunately almost useless.

[** Update: The explanation above applied when this Meta answer was first written, and would apply to similar situations of link-only answers in the future. However the original version of the specific answer on the main site being discussed here was subsequently updated and much improved, after this Meta question was first asked, and it is now definitely not a candidate for deletion as "not an answer" (NAA).]

Solution

Write your own answer!

That solution to this situation is suggested in this answer on a relevant Meta question.

Include a link to the existing answer and credit them for providing the external link originally (you must also include the external link in your own answer, in case the original answer with that external link is ever deleted - you can't rely on it "staying around").

Then write your own answer with whatever additional explanation, summary, commentary etc. you were previously thinking of editing into their answer.

That decouples you from needing to wait for, or otherwise influence, the original answer's author to agree to add your edit to their answer. You can write your answer at your own pace. It also keeps ownership (and therefore responsibility for the contents) clearly separate between the two answers (yours and theirs).

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Somewhat contrary to what Sam advises, I have on occasion improved an answer that was mainly link only when it was clear that the link was extremely useful and the answer was in danger of being VTC'd. This usually involves precising some material from the linked site with maybe some added comment.

This usually results in a positive user comment or no comment.
I believe that doing this is within the site guidelines, but is something I'd do on only limited occasions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Russell, I respect your opinion. Not sure what you mean about an answer being VTC'd (answers can't be VTC'd, only questions. Did you mean in danger of being deleted as NAA?). As you see, I also mentioned adding information from an external link into a link-only answer, if there was nothing quoted from the link already in the answer. So we agree there :-) "maybe some added comment" If you mean commentary within the answer, then that's where we disagree. Edit guidelines say we can "clarify the meaning of a post without changing it" & IMHO adding commentary (subjective) is a change. \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Sep 2 at 14:30

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