I think the answer is no but I want to know more details about this.

Suppose, I asked a very complicated question on one of the Stackexchange sites (e.g, Mathematics) which relates to my research and I got a good answer from someone. I modified that answer or reframed the answer in my own words, but the idea is not from me. I now want this part of my research get published in a journal.

Should I contact the person who answered my question and get agreement or whatelse should I do? I think I cannot directly submit this work to a journal with the idea for the answer on Stack Exchange, right? So if I want the result get published, what I should do?

  • 6
    I suspect this is a duplicate. But just to be clear: are you saying that all the novel work would have been done by someone else? Or that you're just citing someone else's work as part of your own novel research?
    – 410 gone
    Nov 12, 2014 at 10:02
  • 3
    And here's the post it might be a dupe of: academia.stackexchange.com/q/7335/96
    – 410 gone
    Nov 12, 2014 at 10:36
  • 1
    I have cited Stack Overflow questions. Nov 12, 2014 at 16:24
  • 1
    At least one of my StackExchange questions has more citations than at least one of my formal publications.
    – JeffE
    Dec 16, 2014 at 1:36
  • Personally, I'd try to contact the other person and see if they'd co-author with you. Rules for citing varies with discipline -- some only allow formally published items to be cited, and would consider this to be 'grey literature' (which might be acknowledged in footnotes rather than the references list). AGU considers anything posted to the internet to be 'published' and therefore, counts as 'previously published' and you're not allowed to submit an article on it. You might want to look to see what the standards are in your field for referencing websites and/or e-mail conversations.
    – Joe
    Dec 18, 2014 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


You should consult the Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service and read through the section 3. Subscriber Content which concerns rights of the material posted on the site.

I will specifucally reiterate the following

In the event that You post or otherwise use Subscriber Content outside of the Network or Services, with the exception of content entirely created by You, You agree that You will follow the attribution rules of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license as follows:

  1. You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually displays or otherwise indicates the source of the Subscriber Content as coming from the Stack Exchange Network. This requirement is satisfied with a discreet text blurb, or some other unobtrusive but clear visual indication.

  2. You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content includes a hyperlink directly to the original question on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/questions/12345)

  3. You will ensure that any such use of Subscriber Content visually display or otherwise clearly indicate the author names for every question and answer so used.

  4. You will ensure that any such Internet use of Subscriber Content Hyperlink each author name directly back to his or her user profile page on the source site on the Network (e.g., https://stackoverflow.com/users/12345/username), directly to the Stack Exchange domain, in standard HTML (i.e. not through a Tinyurl or other such indirect hyperlink, form of obfuscation or redirection), without any “nofollow” command or any other such means of avoiding detection by search engines, and visible even with JavaScript disabled.

Apart from the specific points in the Stack Exchange Terms of Service, normal courtesy and etiquette involves always providing credit where credit is due. Even if someone posted information saying it is free for all to use, it would be appropriate to at least acknowledge the contribution by that person. In the (I assume) hypothecial case you describe in your post, contacting the person would seem like the best approach. First off, it is better to be safe than sorry, Second, by contacting the person you can avoid misconceptions or misunderstandings to accompany the post into your work and the integration fo the original idea into your work can improve. If the person upon your contact says, run with it, then fine but then you know.

So apart from avoiding to break the stated rules it is always good to contact the source and be open about the intended work or use if you work on material to be publically available through publication or otherwise.

  • 1
    I don't really understand the downvote here. But still, you can maybe be a bit more specific in what has to be done exactly? Like how the citation should look like in BibTeX?
    – yo'
    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:11
  • 1
    @tohecz I think you'd just have to follow the style guide of your journal for citing a URL. Any attribution requirements that cannot be fulfilled within the style guidelines could be added as a footnote or in the acknowledgements section.
    – Moriarty
    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:54
  • Thanks tohecz, the no-comment downvotes are truly non-constructive. I have added some more specific points beyomd the "rules" since the answr is, in my opinion, really partially a question of etiquette. Nov 12, 2014 at 12:02
  • 2
    @tohecz: in the context of Math.SE (as mentioned by the OP), as well as some of the more "academic" SEs (physics, MathOverflow, etc.), there exists a preferred citation format which gives you a BibTeX incantation to copy. Then you can just count on your BibTeX style file to do the rest. Nov 12, 2014 at 12:11
  • 10
    Copyrights and licenses and such are completely irrelevant here; they protect form, not ideas. If you discuss a problem with a colleague (no matter how and where, whether it is a conference coffee break or a StackExchange question), the same rules of research ethics apply. If both of you made major contributions towards a paper, both of you are coauthors. If both of you agree that the contribution by the colleague was a minor one, acknowledgements are in order. If you build on something published elsewhere (whether it is a journal article or a StackExchange post), you cite the source. Nov 12, 2014 at 12:47

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