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Sometimes I read a new question, and I want to provide an answer, but I don't have the time at that moment to find the appropriate source citations.

Then, I will receive comments in my answer asking for sources. It's a legitimate request of course, but sometimes the questioner really wants a practical answer ASAP, and he can find the sources later.

If I know an answer to the question, but I don't have enough time to search for source citations, should I post an answer?

If Yes:

  • should I explain in the answer that I can't find the sources at this time?

  • should I leave an open invitation for others to comment / edit in the sources?

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    IMO, no one should be posting a question here requesting a practical answer ASAP. This site is not for practical advice. CYLOR should always be a given when posting any question that delves into practical application. – Seth J Jul 16 '12 at 15:53
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I agree with the two previous answers and would like to add the following:

Unless you have no idea whatsoever of how you know something, you should always include a source. The following are all valid statements of sourcing, and, if they're the best you've got, should be included:

  • "This is how my grandmother (who grew up in a Morrocan family in Brooklyn) always did it."

  • "I think I heard this from my third grade rebbe (in a Chabad-run school)."

  • "I'm not certain when or which, but I think R' TalmidChacham once quoted a Rambam saying this in his weekly public lecture."

The more detail you can provide, the better. If you can refine it later with a precise citation, great. If not, whatever provenance you show for your information helps other people evaluate the information and possibly check it.

  • This is valid and correct - but note that it does not answer the question. – LN6595 Aug 1 '16 at 17:07
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    @LN6595 Close enough for Meta, IMO. – Isaac Moses Aug 1 '16 at 17:08
7

I think it is better to post than not so long as you can provide some substance (not just a one-liner). You should acknowledge the lack of sources, and if you intend to add them within a reasonable amount of time (say a day) you should say that. If you're planning to add them "when you get around to it", which could be a while, then it is IMO better not to make the offer, because your saying so may cause others to decide they don't have to.

The problem with just posting a one-liner is that the answer probably needs more than just a citation; it needs that and a summary, because few questions are cut-and-dried (especially ones that make it to this site). By posting a too-terse answer and inviting others to provide the source, you give the impression (presumably unintended) of "staking out" the answer; if somebody else posts a sourced answer saying the same thing, it could lead to some minor bad feelings. (I know we shouldn't worry about reputation, but people do notice it and it's a key feature of SE.) If you provide a good answer and perhaps even an idea of where you might have heard it, then someone filling in the citation for you is -- comparatively speaking -- not doing a lot of the work. It's the same as when someone edits another's answer to fix typos or clear up ambiguities or formatting or the like; it's a small thing that we all happily do to make the site better, and nobody worries about somebody else "profiting" from his work.

So if all you can post is a terse pointer ("see Eruvin 13" or "Rambam Hilchot Teshuva covers this" or "(link)", etc), IMO it's better to post that as a comment. That way you provide what information you have but you leave it clear that the question is awaiting a real answer. Anybody -- the OP, another user, or you at a later time -- can then take that information and develop it into an answer, at which point the comment is obsolete.

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    I agree - I didn't mean someone writing a one word or one line answer. Writing "yes", "no", "permitted", or "forbidden", EVEN IF FOLLOWED BY A CITATION, is not helpful to anyone. I meant someone (like myself) who will write a few paragraphs explaining either normative practice, or what I have heard during my many years learning full time in yeshiva, but I don't remember offhand exactly who says it and on which page. – user1095 Jan 19 '12 at 15:18
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    @Will, see my answer. In the case you suggest, you should at least say something like "I'm pretty sure I came across this in either the Shulchan Aruch or one of the commentaries on the Tur when I was studying the laws of Shabbat in yeshiva." – Isaac Moses Jan 19 '12 at 15:27
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    @Will, in that case I think you should definitely post. If you can remember anything about where you might have heard it, even something as general as Isaac's examples, saying that is helpful. (I mentioned one-liners because we sometimes see those; it was not in any way a comment on you.) – Monica Cellio Jan 19 '12 at 15:45
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    +1 for put it in a comment. I will do the reverse too. If I have a link that explains the answer, but don't have time to write it up, I'll put it in the comments. – Menachem Jan 19 '12 at 15:45
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    @MonicaCellio Is your final recommendation--to post "stub" answers as comments--still applicable? – SAH Dec 8 '15 at 22:33
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    @SAH thanks for reminding me of this post. My intent there was for things like links and pointers to sources, not for longer comments and the beginnings of discussions. I've clarified. – Monica Cellio Dec 8 '15 at 22:43
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In my opinion,

  • it depends,
  • yes, and
  • it can't hurt.

That is:

  • Yes, post without sources, if you will not be able to (or will not have time to) find them. On the other hand, if you are planning to add sources later, then, I think, delay posting altogether until then: what's the rush? (I know you mention in the question "sometimes the questioner really wants a practical answer ASAP", but I really think that that's an unusual case: and when it is the case, then post before you have your sources, yes, and
  • indicate that they'll be forthcoming, so people know.) Likewise, when you won't be able to supply sources at all, indicate as much, and
  • people should then feel free to add them in, though it certainly can't hurt to invite them to do so.

Again, just my opinion.

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    I agree, especially with "what's the rush?" Don't forget that we're not offering practical personal guidance here. – Isaac Moses Jan 19 '12 at 11:10
  • @IsaacMoses IMHO, the caveat of CYLOR is more to protect you, the answerer, or it, the website. There are so many Jews out there who have little or no access to anything even close to a real posek. If such a person asks a question in this forum (and such people do seem to be asking), relying on what a high-rep scoring member writes is likely better than anything they would receive IRL. – user1095 Jan 19 '12 at 13:07
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    @Will, I disagree with your first point. The caveat is a real warning to the asker. Granted, many people will ignore the warning, but many other people won't. There's a wide and graduated spectrum between people who talk to their Rabbi every five minutes anyway and people who don't know a rabbi; our warnings are targeted at a large section in the middle (and at encouraging the far end to find a Rabbi). – Isaac Moses Jan 19 '12 at 14:56
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    @Will Further, if you really think your advice is going to be used practically, then it's doubly important to check your sources before posting and to cite them. That way, you and your readers don't have to depend on your memory, no matter how much rep you have, and the community has a chance to peer-review your sources, analysis, and conclusions. I think that these considerations are much more important than speed, no matter how people are going to use the information you post. – Isaac Moses Jan 19 '12 at 14:58
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I think there is an important distinction that has been overlooked by the previous answers.

For old questions that have not been touched in a day or two, I agree with the sentiment of the other answers here that one should post what they can even if they don't have time to find all the sources inside. However they should indicate either in the post or in the first comment below it their general source of knowledge (per IsaacMoses's answer) or at least a recognition of the post's incompleteness.

However, for a fresh question that is still at the top of the front page, if you don't have a quality post to produce, then allow someone else who does have the time and/or resources readily available to track down information to take care of it. I definitely feel that we should be much more interested in quality than efficiency (per msh210 "What's the rush?") as in the long run it makes for a more useful site archive and thereby a more useful site. If you really feel that the asker is looking for immediate help OR you think your half answer will greatly help other answers in their writing process, then leave it as a comment on the question (ie "I think the Kaf HaChaim says it is assur" or "I heard a shiur on YU Torah about this; I'll try and track it down"). These comments can help everyone in their research.

In a world where you can't really trust anyone based on personal knowledge, sourced answers are the key to maintaining intellectual rigor and productive discussion. A well written answer encourages new users to return, and a deeper database of information is what can make J.SE such a valuable resource to veterans and random Googlers alike.

  • I assume throughout that concerns for reputation are negligible. That is general SE policy AKAIK. – Double AA Feb 22 '12 at 4:06
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    +1. That's an important distinction that I missed in my answer. – Monica Cellio Feb 22 '12 at 4:26
  • I believe your points would be much more relevant if this were a Wiki project rather than one where the community votes on the best answer. – Yirmeyahu Feb 22 '12 at 4:47
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    @Yirmeyahu Just because the system allows for multi-part discussions doesn't mean it is helped by clutter. If you have a different answer, post it! But we don't need multiple versions of the same thing. – Double AA Feb 22 '12 at 4:55
  • @DoubleAA Are we still allowed to do this in the comments section? – SAH Dec 8 '15 at 22:34
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    @SAH it looks like this proposal didn't get much support from the community, so don't take this as policy. It was a suggestion. (Isaac's and my answers have the most support right now, and I've answered a related question on my post.) – Monica Cellio Dec 9 '15 at 3:34
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I do not believe that my opinion is substantially different that the others posted here but since this issue has come up in the comments to a recent post I'll offer my two cents.

I believe that someone who has an answer they are confident in but is unable to provide sources immediately should feel free to answer. At the same time I believe it is perfectly appropriate for an individual to with hold an up-vote when there is no source cited. And certainly an incorrect information should be down voted.

I also think it would be appropriate for the author to note to the best of their ability where they believe the information to be found, and if they intend on tracking down specific sources to make that note in their initial answer. If they haven't done so, I think it is appropriate to ask for sources in the comment section.

If one has sources for the answer, I think they should answer the question themselves rather than edit an earlier un-sourced answer.

Time is of the essence in this format, but at the same time it is not a race. A partial post allows one to answer and fill in the gaps later. An "all now or nothing" expectation strikes me as discouraging participation.

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