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What is the etiquette for fixing up questions which have an incorrect answer that both has the highest number of votes and the highest voted answer is marked correct?

Please post example questions here as well.

Related Question: Why do incorrect answers keep getting “accepted”?


Here is a list of problem questions I compiled using the SO data dump.

Return to FAQ index

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migrated from Jul 15 '09 at 0:56

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

I think the "accepted answer" feature is stupid fullstop. You are asking the person, who is by definition unqualified, to judge which answer is the most accurate. Best just to sort the answers by votes and leave it at that. – U62 Jan 30 '09 at 11:20
No, you are asking the person to indicate which answer helped them the most, and rewarding the person who explained it in a way they could understand. It isn't, and never was, meant to indicate correctness. If it fixed the problem, though, isn't it by definition correct? – Adam Davis Jan 30 '09 at 21:22
I think it should be replaced with a "thank you" feature, that allows you to say thank you to 1-5 people who contributed to solving your problem. then have some algorithm for a once off distribution of points and a pretty thank you icon – waffles Jan 30 '09 at 21:30
@Adam (a) many (perhaps most) questions aren't of the easily tested "how do I do X?" type; (b) if that is the idea as you state, then whatever validity it does have, it gives far too prominent a position to answers that are often not the best except to the person that asked the question. – U62 Jan 30 '09 at 22:16
I notice that you did not select a best answer to this question -- were you worried that you would select the wrong one? – Jay Elston Jul 14 '11 at 3:21
up vote 9 down vote accepted

I just rolled up all the answers I like, thanks! We need more examples here please!

  • Answer the question - or better still upvote the correct answers to the question.
  • Include in your answer explicit reasoning why the other answers are wrong. Don't be personal or hostile about it, but give enough evidence to convince someone coming to the site in the future. If you need to post a new answer for this then do so.
  • Downvote incorrect answers.
  • Leave a comment on each incorrect answer, either just referring to your answer or briefly refuting the relevant point.
  • If the accepted answer is dangerous edit the question and chuck in a warning.
  • If the accepted answer is dangerous and the person asking the question has not fixed it in 24 hours downvote the question.


Example 1 - Following this advice it was fixed.

Example 2 - This one is a bugger to fix.

Example 3 - The answer marked correct is not safe for concurrent usage, I am stumped on how to fix this up without being very aggressive cause the incorrect answer has 20 upvotes. The correct answer on this question is a cut-and-paste from my blog it has 1 upvote (which is my upvote).

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Interestingly, your third example has been fixed now. – derobert Feb 5 '09 at 5:45
yerp, I think we should keep on posting examples here – waffles Feb 5 '09 at 6:02
Except now the question in the third example is even worse since it warns you about the accepted answer (which is now a different answer), which might lead readers to use the highest non-accepted answer, which is the answer the warning was meant to be referring to in the first place. – Alconja Jul 29 '09 at 5:01
I just fixed that – waffles Jul 29 '09 at 7:09
  • Answer the question
  • Include in your answer explicit reasoning why the other answers are wrong. Don't be personal or hostile about it, but give enough evidence to convince someone coming to the site in the future
  • Downvote incorrect answers
  • Leave a comment on each incorrect answer, either just referring to your answer or briefly refuting the relevant point

I had a really good example of this once - parameter passing in C#, probably - but I can't remember exactly what it was.

I'd actually regard it as slightly irresponsible not to do each of these things, if you're confident of your answer and can explain it convincingly.

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Whats your take on attaching a warning to the question (by editing the body)? So many old questions are abandoned and only show up on google. – waffles Jan 29 '09 at 23:15
Also, how do you go about fixing up a serious issue where an incorrect answer has 20 plus votes, there is no way to catch up, Im thinking SO needs a social networking thing where I would ping my mates and let them know about these things – waffles Jan 29 '09 at 23:17
Hmm... not sure, to be honest. I might edit the question (or even the answer) if the answer is actively dangerous. However, I'd make darned sure it was obvious what was going on, and it would be an utter last resource. – Jon Skeet Jan 29 '09 at 23:23
Is it fair to down vote an answer goes way too far. ie achieves an answer to the question but forces the implementer to do a dozen or more other things that (s)he did not request? – Rory Becker Feb 11 '09 at 20:52
Assuming that there are other answers that achieve the goal in far less – Rory Becker Feb 11 '09 at 20:53
@Rory: It depends on whether it's actively unhelpful. I tend to only downvote answers which are actually going to cause problems, e.g. misinformation. If a very general answer is presented, e.g. one which works for IEnumerable<T> instead of just the array in the question, I think that's okay. – Jon Skeet Feb 11 '09 at 21:00
Ok fair enough... I'm gonna go with the "actively unhelpful" definition.. Therefore no down vote in the case I'm thinking of since it is simply "a lot less helpful" but still "helpful". Thanks. – Rory Becker Feb 11 '09 at 21:50

Perhaps upvotes need to be weighted based on the applicable tags of the votees. IE C# experts with lots of points should be able to up or down vote stronger than those who have not proven themselves to be experts in a field.

I believe that if something is clearly wrong, then you have a responsibility to correct it, but I would leave the original content in. Post evidence as to why it is wrong in the upvoted post, and give the postee a chance to respond to your comment.

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With the new recent activity feature it should be easier to get the question askers attention as they will be alerted to comments and edits to their posts, but it might also be worth downvoting the question to make sure they get the message that something is wrong, and also to reduce it's vote relative to any similar or duplicate questions so that when they are returned in search results or the Related Questions when asking a new question the questions with more reliable answers are given prominence. If you do downvote I think it would be polite to revisit the question before the vote becomes permanent to see if anything has changed and remove the downvote if it has.

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One recent subtle example is this question:

Currently, all the current answers except for starblue's are technically incorrect. Granted, the asker probably didn't ask the right question and probably those answers really helped him better understand that stuff.

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looks like this puppy is now sorted – waffles Feb 5 '09 at 6:03

What is the potential for that taking place in an environment full of professional developers? I suppose a question could get a few upvotes, and selected as the "correct" answer, but it would seem that the vast majority of developers having a solid understanding would either suggest a better answer, or downvote the horrible answer.

In most cases it would seem sufficient to provide a better answer, and then reference your answer in the comments of the accepted answer. If your answer is better, it should begin taking on some weight.

In most cases, the accepted answers wouldn't be the accepted answers if they didn't accomplish what the author desired. That being said, accepted answers should work. That isn't to say they are the best answer, but they are at least sufficient until the best answer arrives.

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Really - see this question :… 20+ upvotes for an answer that is not safe for concurrent use – waffles Jan 29 '09 at 22:30
You suppose wrong. I have come across questions where the most up-voted answer was clearly and totally incorrect. This tends to be the case when the answer is not easy to verify. Recently, the number of such catastrophic answer seems to have gone down. – Anonymous Jan 29 '09 at 22:31
@stefan - when you come across those, do you downvote the answer and provide your own? – Sampson Jan 29 '09 at 22:36
Yes, but usually get down-voted :D – Anonymous Jan 29 '09 at 22:39
Remember that the person asking the question may not be the best judge of what answer is correct! The potential is not huge, but not tiny either. And it depends on how many people have true expertise in the area being asked. If it's a niche, perhaps a higher chance of insufficient oversight. – Eddie Jan 29 '09 at 22:41
Jonathan Sampson: so your argument is that accepted answers should work, based on... not sure what reasoning; therefore all the people who see accepted answers which are clearly wrong are wrong :D – Anonymous Jan 29 '09 at 22:45
@Eddie - You're absolutely right. Perhaps "Correct Answers" should be declared by votes from users with enough reputation in relevant tags. I'd be in favor of that. – Sampson Jan 29 '09 at 22:47
@stefan - My argument is based on the fact the author found it helpful enough to accept as an answer. Would you accept something that didn't work? I understand that isn't going to always render true answers, but when dealing with people you can't ask for much more unless the system is changed. – Sampson Jan 29 '09 at 22:48
The problem lies in the fact that just because something is A solution, doesn't mean it's a good solution. For example, I could ask the question "What's the best way to do this flow control?" If I mark the 'use a goto' as the answer, it technically solves the question but there's better ways. – Robert P Jan 29 '09 at 23:08
I wouldn't; but there are people who do not know enough about their problem to tell the difference between good or bad. Also, the answer might not be easily testable. The problem is that you're insisting that there is nothing wrong with the "system", when there is proof of the opposite. – Anonymous Jan 29 '09 at 23:09
@stefan - I'm not saying the system is working. I upvoted this question because I agree - users are stupid. I will eventually accept an answer in the future that isn't "the best" answer possible. It would be nice if "correct" answers could be voted by people with high enough reputation. – Sampson Jan 29 '09 at 23:14

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