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If I'm writing a response and when I click post, there are 0 (or, even for argument, 1) answers to a question, and my answer is right (perhaps even the same as another answer), should I delete my answer?

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7 Answers 7

Noise is bad

If your answers are identical, and you do not have extra information that you could add (to make your answer better) then you are providing NO benefit to the OP, and you are simply adding noise to the question.

This happens a lot on easy questions where people add answers and then leave. The question will end up with four identical answers and one good/great answer. That means that whenever anyone visits the question, they must wade through a lot of redundant space in order to read all the answers.

More answers is not always better, if the more are just more of the same. If there is nothing new to add, then delete your answer.

Summary

If your answer is identical to an earlier one: Improve or Delete.

EDIT

Something that came out of TheTXI defending his own post in a comment. If you post a duplicate answer, you are essentially stealing votes. All of us here recognize the phenomenon where someone will basically copy/paste your answer and then begin to get upvotes while your answer does not.

I don't really have an explanation as to why this happens, and typically it is not due to malicious intent, but the purpose of the site is allow the best answer to bubble to the top. But if you add a duplicate answer, then you are splitting the vote.

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+1 for the good summary. –  Cawas Mar 31 '10 at 18:54

I have always looked at it like this: If you are within half a minute (30 seconds) then no. If your answer is different in a way than the earlier answer, even more so no.

Just because someone was correct first does not necessarily mean that their answer is better. You could easily go in and edit your answer to provide more information and then you could start getting voted ahead.

If we all deleted our answers after the first technically correct one came in, we would probably be doing a big disservice to the OP.

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You can draw your own timeframe conclusions if you do not agree with 30 seconds. That is just my personal preference because answers posted within 30 seconds of one another are mostly just coincidentals and you might as well say they posted at the same time with no previous knowledge of the other's answer. –  TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 12:46
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(-1) I disagree. If your answers are identical you must either edit it with more information, or delete. If you leave it there you're just adding noise. –  devinb Jul 21 '09 at 14:03
    
devinb: must is probably not the best word to be using. There is no concrete rule or biological imperative that makes what you say true. It may be highly recommended, but it definitely is not required. –  TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 14:09
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I use must in order to indicate that (to me) it is unacceptable to leave a duplicate answer. This is assuming that you recognize it is a duplicate, and that you have nothing more to add. If you know it's a duplicate, then you are purposefully just taking up screen space in order to try and steal votes. –  devinb Jul 21 '09 at 14:11
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If your answer is relevantly different, then leave it. Absolutely. If you can add context or information to make it better, then do so, absolutely. But if you just leave an answer there because it is "just as correct" and "practically identical" to another answer, then you are just stealing the votes of the person who answered first. –  devinb Jul 21 '09 at 14:12
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devinb: I don't know how you can say that I would be stealing votes from the person who answered first if I decided to leave an answer up there. You are more than free to vote on multiple items (and not allowed to vote twice on the same item) so that is a fallacy right there. –  TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 14:22
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"If your answer is different in a way than the earlier answer, even more so no." Disagree - that should be the only situation where you wouldn't delete it. If your answer is, for all practical purposes, identical to an existing one - even if you posted yours within seconds of theirs - then leaving it there accomplishes nothing. Please, either add something new, or remove it. I absolutely hate questions where 5 people all decided to respond with the same answer, and then leave them to sit, clogging up the page. As a reader, it just wastes my time. –  Shog9 Jul 21 '09 at 14:52
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Unless it's character-for-character identical, I'd at least leave it for a while - sometimes people pick up on small differences you hadn't thought of, and they will comment/vote based on better phrasing or subtle differences. After a while (perhaps a day) with no such comments, I'd delete. –  Draemon Jul 21 '09 at 16:27

devinb writes, "Noise is bad" - this should be your guiding principle when writing for SO.

Atwood has speculated that readers who are truly interested in a question will read every answer posted... if this is true, then by leaving answers that are effectively duplicates you're wasting the time of every interested reader who follows.

I would go so far as to suggest that even if you do add something new in your answer, you should still consider removing it if you see another answer posted, before or after your own, that covers more of the topic or is better written than your own answer. You can always take the unique portion of your answer and edit it into the better answer, or request that the author does so himself via a comment. Alternately, remove all duplicate information from your post, cite and link to the other answer, and follow with your additional information.

Again: fewer, better answers means less wasted time for those who eventually read them looking for help.

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Hear Hear! and thanks for the shout-out. –  devinb Jul 21 '09 at 15:10

I'd say it's up to you.

I tend to delete if my answer turns out to be virtually identical to another one that came in whilst I was typing.

Other answers that are basically the same I've left and then gone back and deleted later, but I've never systematic about this. That's meant that occasionally I've gained one or two up-votes days (or even weeks) later. So clearly someone saw something in my answer.

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Not necessarily.

It happened to me once (^_^). I arrived late, but posted a superior answer. Unfortunately, the community didn't responded as well as I expected, and basically a concurrently placed answer got a way more upvotes, than mine. Besides this, a small argument wars began on my answer's comments. At this point I decided, I delete my answer - there was an equally good answer available and upvoted - and mine had 6 votes - just enough for a Disciplined Badge!

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If you post a superior answer to someone, when you post it should be irrelevant. If I knew for a fact that my answer was better than the first poster, I would not delete it. Eventually the better answers will tend to bubble up to the top. They might not get accepted, but they will still probably get good votes. –  TheTXI Jul 21 '09 at 12:48
    
@TheTXI: I deleted my answer approximately 1.5 days after the post. I waited for the same events to unfold you described, but did not happen. Since I'm here on meta, I already know why. –  kd304 Jul 21 '09 at 12:57
    
Out of curiosity, do you happen to have a link? –  mmyers Jul 21 '09 at 14:36
    
@mmyers: If you can see deleted posts, sure. Just look me around ^_^ –  kd304 Jul 21 '09 at 14:54
    
Are you referring to the one you linked in your profile? If so, your answer didn't get as many upvotes because you didn't actually do what you suggested. Concrete examples are almost always going to win. –  mmyers Jul 21 '09 at 21:58
    
@mmyers: You are absolutely right, as the concurrent answer didn't get its code sample right at the first time. But I felt, I would attract downvotes after the other post had included code samples - It would have seemed as I am the one who was duping the answer. So, to keep it clean, I didn't modify my answer. And I got enough upvotes for the Disciplined badge anyway. –  kd304 Jul 22 '09 at 6:39

I usually delete my answer if an almost identical one was posted a few seconds earlier. There are a few users who will downvote answers they consider to be "duplicates" even if there is nothing really wrong with your answer.

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Downvote, yes they do. And ignore the timestamps and argue about why you posted a dupe. –  kd304 Jul 21 '09 at 13:04
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I've downvoted duplicate answers. There were four answers, each five minutes apart. The fourth poster should definitely have noticed that there were three prior answers using practically the SAME WORDS. –  devinb Jul 21 '09 at 14:09
    
I downvote duplicate answers. If they are otherwise identical, I downvote the ones with the later timestamp –  endolith Sep 3 '11 at 13:28

No.

By leaving your answer, you are accomplishing a few things.

First, you are providing an alternative wording. There's no problem with that at all. In fact, the variations in wording might make the difference between someone getting something and learning and them still having problems.

Second, by having a variety of wording, there are more possible searches that can be brought to a page. That should make it easier for someone using a search engine to find a page on an SO site that has their question and a number of answers.

Third, your wording might help an answerer realize they were vague in one aspect and edit their post, creating a new and better answer.

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This can be a legitimate reason, but i would not go so far as to say that duplicates should always be preserved for wording or SEO purposes. If you're able to take a significantly different approach to explaining the answer, then fine - you're adding value. But if you're just phrasing the same basic information in a slightly different manner, delete it - you're just adding noise. –  Shog9 Jul 21 '09 at 15:05
    
Taking from devinb summary, this just means it's not an identical answer. –  Cawas Mar 31 '10 at 18:55

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