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When I am voting on the answers to a question, should I vote all of them that are close to the correct answer, or just the one that's closest (assuming there is such a clear-cut distinction)? If somebody posts an answer that is better than the one or ones that I've already voted up, should I reverse my votes for them, or just vote the new one up as well?

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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I think this is subjective, up to your judgement. If you're asking for my opinion:

I upvote any answer that is helpful even if it's not the best answer. That makes the second part of the question moot, since helpful answers don't compete with one another. I figure the process of finding the "best" answer is a community one, so the answer which is present in the most users's sets of helpful answers will get the most votes and float to the top.

Ultimately, it's up to the asker to select the "best" answer by accepting one. This is often not even the highest voted answer. That's okay.

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The tooltip for the upvote says "This was helpful." So, I thought it was appropriate to upvote all questions/answers that were helpful to you.

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But are you saying the criteria is helpful to you personally, or just you think it would be helpful to someone? –  Dan Diplo Apr 30 '10 at 9:31
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@Dan Diplo: In many cases, the answers are not directly helpful to me, since they cover something I know very well. I think of it as helpful in answering the question, or dealing with the original problem. I suppose "helpful to someone" is pretty close to what I think. –  David Thornley Apr 30 '10 at 14:16
    
+1 for David; if you're randomly browsing a question you don't understand at all, how will you know if the answer is good or not? I've seen many answers with decent grammar, length and references that were ultimately wrong or irrelevant; I even unwittingly wrote one once. –  Pops Apr 30 '10 at 14:53
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As well as applying the "This was helpful" criteria from the tooltip I also think about how my votes will change the relative rankings of the answers and whether the most helpful answers will be nearer the top of the page for future readers.

If I think a newer answer is more helpful than a previous answer that already has several votes I would only vote up the better answer even if both were helpful, hoping that eventually it would move past the other answer.

I wouldn't downvote an answer to change rankings unless there was something in a higher ranked answer that would be unhelpful if that was the only answer a later reader read.

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