What do you do when you want to ask a question, but find an exact duplicate that doesn't actually have a useful answer? This has happened to me multiple times in the past, so I figure it probably happens to others as well and is therefore worthy of discussion.

To give a recent example: I wanted to find an answer of mine that I'd deleted on SO, so I searched meta to see if this was possible. I found that someone had asked the same question in July last year, but it doesn't have any (real/useful) answers. Now, in this case the real "answer" is probably just "you can't", but it's also entirely possible that things have changed since the question was asked.

So, how do I go about getting an answer to my question?

A few obvious options are (with associated problems):

  1. Bump the old question by editing it (or its tags)
    • not possible for low rep users
    • creates revision noise
  2. Bump the old question by adding an answer
    • creates unnecessary noise
  3. Just ask the duplicate question
    • more noise
    • duplicate will probably just be closed anyway
  4. This suggestion to create bounties on other people's questions
    • been [status-planned] since July, so may never actually be possible
    • your question may not be so burning that you want to create a bounty (especially for a low rep user), but that doesn't mean the question has no value

& of course I'm sure someone will close this as a duplicate of an old, stale, unanswered question just for the beautiful irony (I did search, but didn't find anything).

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See also meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/7046/… –  Ether Feb 24 '10 at 0:24
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My observation is that this case isn't terribly common, but it is very vexing when it does occur. –  dmckee Feb 24 '10 at 1:58
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1 Answer

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Firstly consider why the old one hasn't been answered (is it badly written, is it unanswerable, is it in the wrong place, etc).

Ask your question, making sure you avoid the mistakes the old one made.

Make a note of the old question on your new one, (and explain why any answers that the old one has are no good to you).

If appropriate (and if you have enough rep), vote to close the old one as a duplicate of your new one, and add a comment on the old one stating what you have done with a link to your new one.

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+1 for "vote to close the old one as a duplicate of the new one" ... the older question isn't always the best choice to leave open when deciding which dupe to close. –  quack quixote Feb 24 '10 at 0:23
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+1 for "avoid the mistakes the old one made". –  Greg Hewgill Feb 24 '10 at 2:04
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Good answer. I guess I hadn't considered the fact that a duplicate is not always "bad" and that closing things as duplicates doesn't have to be done based on chronology. –  Alconja Feb 25 '10 at 5:04
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