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The other day I was in the middle of writing a substantial answer to a question. Half way through writing, I received notification that some other answers had been posted while I was still writing mine. At the time, I decided against posting it.

In this situation, would it be worth posting my answer too, even if most of the material was covered by the other, smaller answers?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I recommend trying to resist loading the new answers and continuing to finish and then posting your answer. The reason is that you may be discouraged from your answer by reading other answers and it also takes time to read those other answers.

In a situation where many people are answering in a short period of time, your goal should be to practice completing and posting your answer quickly but not hastily. The other answers might be too short or wrong and you could still have the first complete correct answer.

If your style of answering is to provider longer answers, you can also answer the question in two stages:

  • the initial correct answer with a minimum of elaboration
  • the rest of your answer, that you know you can complete within five minutes

This accomplishes two goals:

  • it allows you to submit your answer earlier so you can compete with the "fast answerers"
  • it allows you to answer the question in your own "style" with more details

Finally, by committing to the answer and clicking "Post Your Answer", you get more comfortable and secure with answering in a competitive situation. Then add as much detail as you can in the five minute grace period.

Only then take stock of the situation:

  • How did your answer fare in order of answers?
  • How good are the other answers?
  • Do any answers posted before yours contain basically the same answer?
  • Which answers are getting votes?
  • Finally, are you getting any votes? We sure hope so!

But if this time the clock didn't work out for you and you feel your answer just duplicates a previous answer and most especially, if you are not getting any votes, then simply delete your answer and call the whole thing an exercise!

Answering under pressure takes practice and you won't know how to cope with that pressure if you often abort your answers when you've been beaten by the clock. But using a two-stage answering approach can help a lot when your answers tend to be longer than other answers. Just be sure your initial answer stands by itself and that you can complete your fleshed out answer within the five minute grace period. That takes practice too!

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Cheers for the great strategy! How ironic that your answer arrived later, is longer, and is the best! –  aligray Jun 15 '11 at 6:04

It depends on whether any of the existing answers are any good.

There are literally thousands of questions on StackOverflow that have "OK" answers. Some of them are even marked as the correct answer. A substantial percentage of those questions could benefit from a comprehensive well-written, late answer.

I've seen a number of these well-written, late answers get substantial upvotes. I'm surprised that it doesn't happen more often. The king of sleeper answers is Eric Lippert, who averages 8 upvotes on every answer he posts.

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Is an average of eight particularly high? I don't really keep track of these things. In any event, I thoroughly agree with your point; it seems to me that a significant fraction of "marked as correct" answers are misleading, incomplete or simply wrong, though I have no statistics on the matter. –  Eric Lippert Jun 15 '11 at 20:15
@Eric: I'd say it's a pretty good average for long-tail answers. –  Robert Harvey Jun 15 '11 at 21:09

Yes it is worth, specially if you have a different answer.....

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Or the right answer. –  Pedantic Jun 15 '11 at 4:55

Here's another viewpoint for "yes, continue adding your answer even if others have already responded to the question:"

Everyone learns differently, and has a pretty personalized "mental map" of associations. You and person A and person B may essentially be providing the same answer; but if the way you present it is just a shade more understandable to the questioner (or to anyone else who may later read them) your 'duplicate answer' has helped someone else.

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I would say that in this situation you should load the other person's answer and see if it covers much of the things you were planning to post. If it does, refactor your answer and include only the parts that represent your point of view or some detail that was left out by the other answer.

Besides, only one person gets the chance to answer a question first. If any subsequent answerer got discouraged by this and withheld their answer, StackOverflow would be full of questions with only a single answer.

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now this very answer is probably an extreme example of what the OP meant. especially since the accepted answer happened on June 15, 2011. –  tehdoommarine Sep 12 '12 at 16:10
No, I believe the OP was referring to answers that are posted while you are writing your own answer (usually happens when writing the first answer to a question). Whereas answering old questions (especially those tagged "discussion") is totally fine IMHO. –  WordPress Developer Sep 12 '12 at 16:18

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