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Let's say there is a user who has found a satisfactory answer to a common question asked on Stack Overflow (or other Stack Exchange website). This answer may be a snippet of code, or an addon, or a framework, or something else.

Is it acceptable for this user to formulate an answer for one question, find every related question and then copy the exact answer to each of those questions? And, if not, what should users who finds themselves in this situation do?

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up vote 56 down vote accepted

Copying and pasting the same answer for different questions is not the correct thing to do.

If the exact same answer is required for different questions, then those questions could be duplicates; it could also be the user is generalizing too much the question being asked, and writes the same answer for different question.

In the first case, it is more appropriate to vote to close the question as duplicate; in the second case, it is more appropriate to reformulate the answer, and make it more specific for the question being answered. Even if the solution to two different questions is the same, copying and pasting the answer given to one of them is not what I would do, as there is always a part that is specific for a question, such as a code snippet, or some steps to follow.

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What do you do when the two questions are on different sites (e.g. stackoverflow.com and softwarerecs.stackexchange.com)? – Martin Thoma Mar 31 '14 at 16:46
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If the question is exactly the same, and it can be tailored, I would ask the user to edit the question to ask about the aspects that are on-topic for the site. If the question is on-topic on both the sites as it is (which is what could happen with Drupal Answers and Stack Overflow, since some Drupal questions are on-topic in both the sites), I would flag the question in one of the sites for moderation attention, pointing out which question on the other site is a duplicate. (And by duplicate, I mean the exactly same question asked twice.) – kiamlaluno Mar 31 '14 at 17:20
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Ok. I've flagged the question Program to add a blank page if PDF has an odd number of pages because it is a duplicate of How can I merge PDF files (or PS if not possible) such that every file will begin in a odd page? and my flag got declined. What should I do now? – Martin Thoma Apr 2 '14 at 17:00
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Duplicate answers do not necessarily indicate that the questions are duplicates. You could have non-duplicate questions with a the answer along the line of "The root cause of this problem is X, you can fix this by doing ABC." They might not be great answered if they're not tailored to the questions, but they could still be valid and useful answers, without the questions being duplicates. – Bruno Sep 8 '14 at 13:19
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@Bruno In fact, I said "could be duplicates"; it doesn't mean "are necessarily duplicates." – kiamlaluno Sep 9 '14 at 2:51
    
@LuisMasuelli In fact, I wrote could be not are or surely are. – kiamlaluno Feb 29 at 21:48

Copying and pasting the exact same answer to multiple questions is not acceptable.

If the exact same answer truly applies to two or more questions, then those questions are duplicates. The correct course of action is to vote to close or flag the lesser question(s) as duplicate. Users with 3000 reputation can vote to close a question as duplicate. Users with 15 reputation can flag for moderator attention. Once flagged, the answer can be added to the "canonical" duplicate.

If the answer applies to many questions which are not duplicates, then the exact same answer cannot apply to each of them. Simply copying the same answer to multiple questions indicates that the person answering does not truly care about providing a good answer. Therefore, simply copying the same exact answer to multiple questions is not allowed.

Users who find themselves answering multiple similar (but not duplicate) questions should tailor each answer to their respective questions. Note that you don't need to flag copy-paste answers if you find them; these are automatically flagged for moderator attention.

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Worth noting, if the copy/pasted answer is overtly self promotional, your account might face rather serious consequences if you do this. – Tim Post Aug 29 '11 at 16:17
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It's also worth noting that some people (the "Dr. Strangedupe" side, perhaps, of the "How duplicious does a duplicate have to be?" debate) will say (see Joel's first comment, Jun 23 at 14:36) that duplicate answers do not mean the question is a duplicate. See also "Close reason proposal: Answer exists elsewhere". – Josh Caswell Aug 29 '11 at 18:22
    
Others, however -- the "Canonical Questions" side -- would say that the root problem and therefore the answer are more important in measuring dupliciousness. – Josh Caswell Aug 29 '11 at 21:19
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@Won't ಠ_ಠ: With 250 rep you can view close votes and vote-to-close your own questions, not other people's. You need 3000 rep to close questions. – Jonas Heidelberg Sep 19 '11 at 19:09
    
@JonasHeidelberg: "The correct course of action is to vote to close or flag the lesser question(s) as duplicate." – Won't Sep 19 '11 at 19:13
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I partially disagree with your statement. There are many questions outhere asking for a(n) (opensource) library recommendation that implements a feature X. An answer such that "Take a look at library XXXX + link" may apply to many different questions of this kind. GhostScript, iText, Open Compact Framework and JVCL for example come to my mind. – yms Sep 19 '11 at 19:31
    
@yms: So, there are many dupes out there looking for the same product? Hmmm... – Won't Sep 19 '11 at 19:35
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No, there are many libraries out there large enough to be applied to completelly different situations. – yms Sep 19 '11 at 19:37
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@yms: Then the answer can be tailored to each. There is absolutely no reason to directly copy and paste the same answer to each of these completely different questions. – Won't Sep 19 '11 at 19:39
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Yes, of course, a good answer of this kind would include code samples or references to specific parts of the documentation. Unfortunately this does not always happpen, but that does not change the fact that these questions are not dups.This is way I said I partially disagree – yms Sep 19 '11 at 19:44
    
@yms: I dunno. Seems like I covered both situations well in the answer. If you can edit to clarify, feel free. – Won't Sep 19 '11 at 20:31
    
Very often, obvious duplicates don't get closed. – Ciro Santilli 巴拿馬文件 六四事件 法轮功 Sep 2 '14 at 6:42
    
@CiroSantilli Thanks, captain obvious. – Won't Sep 3 '14 at 13:52
    
It is not necessarily right. Perhaps YES in StackOverflow, but definitely not in SoftwareRecs, since needing a software satisfying feature A, and needing software satisfying feature B, and both having the same answer, perhaps means that the answer supports feature A and B. This could also be true in religious SE sites, where asking about a biblical fact A and biblical fact B happen to be in the same passage. – Luis Masuelli Feb 29 at 19:59

FAQ Clean-up Note: This answer is meant to help clean up this FAQ by creating a canonical answer that sums up all the information available in the question and further explaining it. Please feel free to edit in pieces of information that are missing or unclear. Eventually, other answers will be deleted.

Copying and pasting the same answer to multiple questions can cause different reactions depending on what answer you're pasting. The acceptableness of this behavior ranges from "highly frowned upon" to "completely unacceptable" (note that it never reaches the "acceptable" end of that spectrum). If you catch yourself or someone else doing this, please evaluate the answer and see if there is a more correct thing to do.

Are the questions duplicates of each other?

Duplicate answers most often indicates that the questions are asking the same thing. If the questions could be considered duplicates of each other, only post the answer to the best one, will you think would make the better candidate for the other to point to. Flag or vote to close the other one so that it can be directed to the better question which has your answer. If you're spotting a duplicate answer to duplicate questions, flag or vote to close the question. If the duplicate answer is at least a few days old, and then flag the answer on the duplicate question for removal (leave the other one alone). Most copy-paste answers are automatically flagged for moderator attention, so there is no point in flagging fresh duplicate answers; an older answer may have slipped under the radar and could have been edited to become a dupe or is different enough for the automatic flags to not have caught on.

Are they promotional in any way?

Duplicate answers across questions that promote external links or resources are considered astro-turfing and will likely result in the immediate deletion of all the answers involved. Most often, these answers get posted across questions which only hold some remote relevance to the link they're trying to throw out there. The answers often consist of little more than a vague explanation of what the link contains or what the tool does. Depending on the degree of astro-turfing and status of the account, a wide range of punishments could get issues, from a simple warning to account destruction.

Could the answers be more specific to each question?

If you've gotten past the other two questions, your answer may just be too vague. Answers that solve over-generalized problems are not as useful to questions - they should be tailored to address the specific needs that each question has outlined. If linking something, explain the relevant parts to the OP, or explain how the code or tool you've linked is relevant and useful to them. Don't just throw out answers thinking "this is relevant" - explain how it is relevant. It's not always so obvious.


The Community user will issue an automatic flag

Any time you post answers which are exact duplicates of each other, the Community user will automatically raise a flag for moderator attention, in order to evaluate your answers based on the criteria we've outlined above. So please, before you get other users involved in your copy-pasting business, do the work yourself and you might be able to avoid bad situations in the first place.

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"Flag or vote to close the other one so that it can be directed to the better question which has your answer." -- What if I can't flag the other one because I just wrote the answer, and when I try, it says: "This question does not have an upvoted or accepted answer" -- Am I expected to wait around until it's accepted or upvoted first? I'm likely to forget to do it by then. And they're both old questions, so it's not like they'll see a lot of activity. – Alex Feb 6 '15 at 7:05
    
1) Sometimes I close vote and I am wrong 2) Most times, I close vote and it never gets closed 3) Unlike other answerers, I searched for the duplicate and found it: being able to answer both and get more rep is a reasonable reward. – Ciro Santilli 巴拿馬文件 六四事件 法轮功 Jun 18 '15 at 17:47
    
Where can 10k users see the flags? – Ciro Santilli 巴拿馬文件 六四事件 法轮功 Jun 18 '15 at 17:54
    
@Ciro They can't. The flags queue for 10k users was removed a while ago. This was just never updated. – animuson Jun 18 '15 at 18:01
    
@Ciro A vote to close-as-duplicate will automatically add a comment, Possible duplicate of..., and even if the question does not get closed (immediately or ever), that comment serves as a signpost for users, and adds the question to the "linked question" sidebar. If circumstances will not permit flagging or voting-to-close, you can still add that comment yourself. That way, the signpost is there, and if/when the circumstances change (e.g. someone up-votes your other answer), the close actions can proceed. – Mogsdad yesterday

Duplicate answers are not always a problem.

As others have pointed out, duplicate answers can indicate duplicate questions. Duplicate answers can be an indication of spam or self promotion. In those cases, duplicates are not appropriate.

However, there are some cases in which duplicate answers are appropriate.

"Take a step back" answers

Take the case of several questions such as:

How do I write a regular expression to parse X out of HTML?

The questions are not duplicate because they are not asking about the same X. Rather they all deserve the same answer:

Regular expressions are not the correct tool for the job. Here is a list of cases in which they fail. Here are the correct tools you should be using to approach the problem.

If there is a well written, helpful version of this answer with links and references, it would be appropriate to duplicate it in each of the above questions.

"Don't treat the symptoms" answers

Another case would be a set of questions such as:

  • Can't install X because of error
  • Error when typing X on the command line
  • Error in log file for certain requests

Where the error message is similar in all cases. These questions are not duplicate. They all have different context and the errors are causing different symptoms. However the same appropriate answer might apply:

The root of your problem is X. Here is how you fix it.

Again the same answer may serve multiple questions. If the answer is high quality, the duplication of the answer is not a problem in and of itself.


In one of the podcasts, Joel Spolsky, founder of StackExchange alludes to this. He says something to the effect of "Just because two questions need the same answer, it doesn't mean they are duplicate."

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