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Just now I answered a question I remembered answering before. However, I can't find the question I previously provided the same answer to. This might very well be because it was a long time ago and I probably wasn't the first to answer it.

However, I don't know what the best thing to do with questions like this one is. The problem is that the asker usually doesn't realize what his question actually is. Instead, he'll be asking help with his attempt to work around the thing he misunderstood, which means that while the real question is always the same, the actual asked question is different most of the time. As an answerer, if you know about the common misconception you can usually confirm it with a single question in the comments.

Now the issue is that one could think of it as a duplicate question. On the other hand, future users with the same problem won't know what they are facing either, so it might actually be good to have the same underlying question lying around under different "titles".

What's the correct thing to do?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The correct thing to do is find the duplicate and close the new question as an exact duplicate of the other, assuming they really are exactly the same question.

Keep in mind that closing isn't deleting. The closed question will still be around, and it will be indexed by search engines. People can find the closed question (if it's wording happens to come up in certain searches) and be led to the original.

If the questions really are different, and can just be solved with the same answer, then it's appropriate to provide that answer to both questions without closing either. (Note that the answer probably shouldn't be a straight copy/paste; it should be tailored for the unique aspects of that question even if the main approach for solving the problem is the same.) You may also want to link to the older question in comments (or within an answer) as a "related question" that's just not a duplicate, so that they can see other similar problems and other solutions that may be applicable to them.

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I've flagged as a duplicate (in this case, one where the underlying question was explicitly asked). Before accepting your answer, I'll see if anything else pops up here and if the question is indeed closed as duplicate. – Jasper Nov 15 '12 at 19:40

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