I have noticed several times that when answering a question, someone who wrote an earlier answer will edit their answer by adding the content of my answer to theirs (as an alternate solution, or to make their answer more complete).

This is often a good thing for the community, because we want accepted answers to be as good as possible, but it seems unfair to the people who made the effort to provide the original content.

This is inherently a problem with the fact that answers are not collaborative (i.e. the site is not a wiki) but is it possible to solve this problem in some clever way? Or is it something we just need to deal with?

  • 6
    The best way to improve someones answer is to simply leave a comment, helping them out. That way, the original poster can just edit their answer, incorporating the additional information. It also shows who helped them out.
    – alex
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 14:18
  • 4
    One important point is that CC-BY-SA requires crediting the original author. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 10:24

7 Answers 7


I actually have no probem with this practise under one condition. The answer must then be switched to a Community Wiki (CW). For example on the question Outlook 2007 won't close, Joel himself on this answer added a part of mine. However he also immediatly switched the answer to CW.

I think that should be the suggested practise. Alternatively give credit to the person that did provide that part of the answer, by linking to his answer or alternatively to his profile, so someone can vote up another of their answers.

  • 2
    It's always nice to give credit, even if it was only a comment that helped you put together the final answer. In the end, we are a community.
    – alex
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 14:14
  • "In the end, we are a community." But only if everyone agrees to act as a community. Those who choose to ignore the suggested practices because it suits them, end up stealing from those who follow the suggestions. It's a parallel with our society around us but here we rely even more on people voluntarily playing along because we have no "suggested practice enforcement" to jail those who don't play nice. Commented Dec 16, 2010 at 13:49
  • The Community Wiki angle is a really nice one I didn't know about. However, the descripton of how to use it (stackoverflow.com/privileges/community-wiki) is very subjective: use it "when you feel your post would benefit from less concern about voting affecting the reputation of those participating in it." Some more explicit examples (referencing consensus from this kind of meta-discussion) would be handy, but I don't know if that's appropriate for those generic 'how to use SO' pages. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 14:29
  • 7 years later: this is not what Community Wiki is for. Community Wiki is intended to make a post a wiki - easily editable by the community. There's no reason to do that just because you've included someone else's work - you just need to attribute them correctly. Remember, it's still CC BY-SA 3.0 even if you use content from the same page.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 10:20

I think the random sorting of answers makes this problem worse. Previously, if someone copied an answer they would appear later in the order. Now there's a 50-50 chance they'll appear first on any given view, which makes it more rewarding to do (imho).

The goal however is to get the best answer possible. Making a new answer that combines several other incomplete answer is encouraged (Joel has mentioned this as a way of gaining rep). The only negative form of this behaviour for me is if an answer is just a copy that adds nothing.

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    Even if it's encouraged, it somehow doesn't feel right.
    – alex
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 14:13

Well, I don't think there's much you could do, especially with the now random sorted answers. To the person viewing the two answers, there isn't much difference between somebody who posted quickly, then waited for a correct answer, and edited to add correct content, and somebody who just didn't post at all, waited for the correct answer, and reworded to make it look like their own.

I think that if you noticed this happening (with proof in the edit history), you would be completely within your rights to downvote the answer, and leave a comment as to why you were downvoting. If people start getting enough downvotes for this type of behaviour, they may stop.

  • 7
    Aye, it is now the Slowest Cheater in the East problem. And I vote that we kill them with fire.
    – Eric
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 1:31
  • (-1) Joel has specifically said that this is acceptable behaviour. In a podcast he said that you can gain rep by "finding a question with four or five good answers, and combining them into one great answer". That's not a verbatim quote.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 12:10
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    There's a difference between combining 4 or 5 different answers, into something that is more complete, and taking a single answer, and copying it almost verbatim, in order to try to get a couple up votes without actually contributing anything of value.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 19:08
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    "I think that if you noticed this happening (with proof in the edit history), you would be completely within your rights to downvote the answer, and leave a comment as to why you were downvoting." - I actually did saw this a couple of times, the problem of doing this suggestion is that it will only start a fight in the comment section. Which we don't want (trust me I tried and it was a bad idea). Also, I don't think I'd have any credibility when the user has more rep than me. But I do find this behavior really sad. IMO it's same as if someone would copy code from someone else and claim it.
    – ForceMagic
    Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 21:42

I don't think there could be any stealing stuff. The aim of SO is to provide the best answer.

If I write a good but not best answer, and that someone else write a very good answer, it is likely that I'll edit my answer, add what he though and I didn't though, and I'll add more details.

And if someone takes what I wrote, well good for him, as long as the OP will get his answer, I'm ok with this. If you are worried about reputation and so on, don't worry, these kind of people that knows nothing usually don't stay long, or ends stuck a N points of rep. Have faith in the system my friends ! ^^

I think the aim of SO isn't only to provide answer, but to "capitalize" good answers. Lots of time when I went to SO to ask a question, I found the answer using the search box.

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    There's an aspect of respect and credit to take into account, to each his motivation, but it would be lying to ourselves to say that the reputation system is useless and stealing rep is okay. It drives most people to answer, it quantify the effort they make on the site. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 14:38
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    I've seen it before where people with >10,000 reputation make edits that are basically elaborations of another's answer.
    – jvriesem
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 23:04

How about a referencing based system. For instance, lets say I wanted to provide the user with the best answer possible. I could "reference" another post, and quote him/build on his ideas, and all reputation earned while this reference property is active... is split with him. It's not perfect, but it's an elegant solution imo.


Someone could test whether this is really a problem by creating a sockpuppet users specifically for the purpose of copying answers (their own answers, of course).


Perhaps an option to merge two answers if the two users agree? The result would be CW and contain the content of both posts (hence deleting the original posts).

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