The point of this question is mostly to get a feel for whether it is better to capture the directions for a process here on GIS.se or to simply link to where they reside at their source. One sample of directions that I am referring to is the following:

Create a custom projection file in ArcMap to align CAD data

I can think of reasons either way.

You may choose to simply link to directions, especially in the case above, because they are from the authoritative source on the software, and could be updated as new versions of the software are released.

You may choose to include the directions because of the inevitable condition of Link Rot. Even in the case above, it is not unheard of for ESRI to change their link structure or reorganize their resources, thus breaking links.

Is there a standard practice for this on other SE sites?


The standard practice, which is warmly encouraged, is to make answers stand alone. At the minimum, a good answer provides a synopsis or summary of what it links to.

As with everything, there are exceptions. I will describe a couple, but please remember that these should be considered unusual circumstances.

  1. We try to be polite when responding to questions that are easily and immediately answered by linking to the top hit in a Web search: you know, the RTFM kinds of questions. But in such cases, when a canonical great answer already exists on a stable site like Wikipedia (and not, by contrast, at ESRI, which overhauls its pages every few years and destroys all links to previous ones), it may suffice to link to it with a one-line description. (Linking to lmgtfy.com is very strongly discouraged.)

  2. Another exception frequently encountered on GIS@SE is where a great answer exists elsewhere and it's quite long and detailed. Once again, a link with a brief comment may be satisfactory.

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    Thanks. I thought this was probably the way to go, but figured it was still worth asking. Jul 13 '12 at 6:57

I feel guilty about the lack of link-rot-proofing in my posts. Maybe we should encourage people to post a short quote from whatever they're linking to. For example, Googling this quote:

In ArcMap, follow these steps to align a CAD file with other data by creating a custom projection file.

... returns the article quoted. That way if Esri moves it, someone might be able to find the original article by googling the quote.

  • I agree with this comment. I read on a past meta question, a suggestion that someone start linking to more of the ESRI help documentation, as a means of showing newer users how to find it, and potentially utilize it more. I have done this, but realized that simply writing a short answer and linking to the Help document for more detail, raises the link-rot danger, hence my question. Yours is a good suggestion though, one which I'll start to adopt. Jul 13 '12 at 2:21
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    +1. Dear LazyWeb, please supply a bookmarklet, greasemonkey script, or whatever which copies the selected link in Markdown format [Article title or headline](http://example.org/the-answer-to-life). Also see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/71975/… Jul 13 '12 at 20:12

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