It is my style to attempt to include definitions of terms in answers; which may or may not be appropriate.

I would like to know if it would be considered OK to just include a reference without details for a major site like wikipedia?

For example, if someone asked how to compute current given voltage and resistance I would reference ohm's law in the answer. Generally I try to include a reference to wikipedia as a preferred source for such definitions.

You can see my style from the preceding paragraph. Now a reference to ohm's law is probably unnecessary for 99% of the members here, but for a reference to Snell's Law a link may be helpful for many junior members.

By the guidelines of this site, I should not be simply including links; the idea being that they may go away. This is perfectly logical for personal sites etc, but for Wikipedia?

The thing is I really don't like the available options which I see as:

1) Don't bother to include a link to a definition of the term, law, formula etc. OK for senior members but less useful for newbees.

2) Include text in the answer as well as the link. While this seems OK it has the undesirable side effect of creating verbose answers that are really only useful to junior members (what real EE wants to see a paragraph detailing Ohm's Law in an answer).

I'm looking for advice and guidance please.


3 Answers 3


Personally I don't like just a reference if it's a important point to your answer. If find it annoying that a link needs to be followed to get basic information.

The reader should be able to get the basics of what you are saying from the text of the answer alone. Links are fine as long as they contain additional background that can be safely skipped by someone just wanting the answer and not a lot of detail behind it.

For example, if you think you need to teach Ohm's law to the OP, spend a sentence or so explaining it at least basically, then provide a link with additional details if you want to. I don't remember off the top of my head what Snell's law is (I probably know the law but don't remember the name), so I find your reference to it above annoying. If you spent just a few words like "relates voltage to the phase of the moon and number of apples on the table", I'd probably think "oh, right, that one".

I guess it all comes down to how central the thing you are referencing is to your answer. The more central, the more the salient points should be directly in your answer.


  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So something like Snell's law (a formula used to describe the relationship between the angles of incidence and refraction) would be appropriate then? \$\endgroup\$
    – JonnyBoats
    Feb 7, 2012 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jonny: Again, I think that depends on how central knowing Snell's law is to understanding the answer. Is it really so hard though to just add "describes the relationship between the angles of incidence and refraction" like you did above though? Seems a simple thing to do that goes a long way to making the answer more self-contained and less annoying. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7, 2012 at 19:12
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I would suggest that as the question becomes more advanced the more basic concepts in the answer take less importance in the answer and go towards becoming links. Snells law would be a useful explanation if you were discussing aligning a lens system, but if they are discussing aligning a cascade laser with a non-linear crystal to change color snell's law can probably be taken as a given for those reading the question and should only be a link., \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Feb 7, 2012 at 21:24

I agree with Olin that links aren't sufficient. Try to include the information in your answer. You can do this for instance using the blockquote if the description is a bit longer. People who want to skip it will see immediately where your main story continues. Like in the Snell's Law example.

Snell's Law describes the relationship between incident angle of a wave on a boundary between two media and the refraction.
Snell's Law: \$ \dfrac{sin \theta_1}{sin \theta_2} = \dfrac{n_2}{n_1}\$
where \$\theta\$ is the angle and \$n\$ is the refraction index.

I've commented before that I'm not so fond of Wikipedia. I agree that it's easy, one stop shopping-wise, but I prefer documents from other sources, like academic papers, or in the case of electronic products, manufacturer's publications. For example if you want a link for the LM555 timer I prefer National's (TI's) datasheet over Wikipedia's page about the IC. This may be like forcing you to read datasheets, but that's a skill every electronics engineer has to master.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally agree about datasheets over Wikipedia. I don't like Wikipedia links much either, especially where there is a definative source available. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 25, 2012 at 13:51

I see three different ways people use links in their answers.

Imagine I were to print out that answer and give it to the person who originally asked that question. Would that person be able to solve his problem looking up anything else on the Internet?

Links to detailed background information

The printed answer solves the problem posed in the original question.

However, this answer has some of its words linkified with direct links to the datasheet for various parts, links to Wikipedia describing Ohm's law, links to websites explaining the detailed operation of a boost regulator or some other relevant circuit, etc.

The original questioner is expected to have already downloaded the datasheets for all the parts he mentions (so it's OK to mention the table in section 3.2 of the datasheet for any part mentioned in the original question, without putting a copy of that entire table in the answer). The original questioner is expected to know most general electronics knowledge (so it's OK if the answer briefly mentions Ohm's law, capacitance, etc. without any explanation).

Often someone has a similar problem that is just different enough that the posted answer doesn't quite solve it, but the links help him find enough information elsewhere that he is led to a solution.

I think this kind of linking is great.

The link is the answer

Occasionally someone posts an "answer" something like "The answer to your question is at http://....." without any further explanation. This is terrible, because if that website goes offline (as websites often do), then the "answer" is useless.

No links at all

The printed answer solves the problem posed in the original question.

Sometimes person who posted that answer pasted in an answer he found by cutting-and-pasting text from some webpage, but without any attribution to the original writer, much less a direct link to that web page.

This has two problems:

  • plagiarism is wrong
  • It gives the original questioner a fish, but it doesn't teach anyone how to fish. In other words, it doesn't help future readers who come across this page, or even the original questioner, when he slams into very similar but not identical problems.

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