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When I read about Stack Overflow or the Stack Exchange network in various other places on the internet, a lot of it are complaints about the moderation. There is one specific complaint I see a lot, and that is that questions are wrongly closed as duplicates.

Getting their question closed as a duplicate should actually make users happy, it is in many cases an even better response than an direct answer. A proper closure as an exact duplicate means there is already a hopefully excellent answer to their question, and we just told them where to find it. And a frequent duplicate target is likely to be a much better answer than something a user wrote quickly just for the new question.

But it does seem that users are often not happy to have their questions closed as a duplicate. While I suspect that the extent of complaints I've seen about this exaggerates the problem, I have seen a fair share of overzealous and careless duplicate closures, that aren't actually exact duplicates.

There is a way to get your question reopened, by editing it and putting it into the reopen queue. But that is not obvious or transparent to new users in any way.

What I propose is to show the asker a dialog similar to the existing one shown for questions with duplicate close votes that are still open, where the user can short-circuit the voting and close the question immediately. The user would have two options in this case for their closed question:

  • Great, the duplicate answers my question. Thanks!
  • The duplicate does not answer my question, my question is actually different, please reopen it.

If the user clicks on the option challenging the closure, it probably makes sense to also require them to edit it at that point and clarify how it is different from the duplicate. And then the question would be put into the reopen queue.

I've no idea how often this would be misused for proper duplicate closures. But then, this feature would also provide us with statistics about how many of these closures are perceived as wrong by the askers, and what the community thinks about those and whether they are reopened.

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    Hmmm, I've seen a lot of duplicate closures accepted by Community (which apparently discloses the OP accepted). On the other hand I can imagine, that users feel "insulted" somehow, if their deficiencies about doing research themselves are drawn into the public (similar like LMGTFY). – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 26 '18 at 18:00
  • I guess an easier alternative would be just put the message on the notice to [edit] the question clarifying that they are not a duplicate? – Meta Andrew T. Apr 26 '18 at 18:06
  • I agree, but only because the close banner in the bottom doesn't mention editing. (unlike all other close reasons.) – Shadow The Princess Wizard Apr 26 '18 at 18:07
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    @hey there are some easier ways to implement a similar mechanism, but I proposed this particular one in part because it can also serve as a feedback mechanism to check how the duplicate closures are perceived. – Mad Scientist Apr 26 '18 at 18:12
  • I think the response is primarily emotional, because having your own question closed as a duplicate is sort of a put-down because it's a statement that you didn't do enough research to find the target question. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Apr 26 '18 at 18:14
  • @Sonic Just what I mentioned. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 26 '18 at 18:45
  • The warning to edit exist btw guys, see an example to a question of mine today; i.stack.imgur.com/y4OeG.png, so I guess your recommandation should be to leave that warning longer, even if 5 community member vtc as duplicate ? – yagmoth555 - GoFoundMe Monica Apr 26 '18 at 18:48
  • @yagmoth555 The question does explicitly mention that fact. It disappears if the question gets fully closed (it's only shown to the OP while the close votes are pending). – animuson Apr 26 '18 at 18:50
  • @yagmoth555 and animuson: this request is to show the same type of notice even after the question gets closed, within five days of closure. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Apr 26 '18 at 18:52
  • "I've no idea how often this would be misused for proper duplicate closures." - Does it really matter? We already throw questions into the Reopen Votes queue on an edit, we just don't currently advertise that's all they need to do to get it reviewed very well. It's already fairly easy to abuse, and I'd imagine better guidance on how to edit before users blindly make an edit not knowing that they just wasted their one chance at review would probably help them and decrease the amount of bad review cases we already get (at least due to duplicate). – animuson Apr 26 '18 at 18:57
  • @animuson That was just the argument I anticipated would be raised, that this would increase the moderation burden. And it's also a bit related to a part I decided to leave out, that if it turned out that the users are careful with this option and rarely misuse it, it could be made stronger and e.g. add some reopen votes already. – Mad Scientist Apr 26 '18 at 19:36
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    I agree, there needs to be a better workflow for askers to somehow contest duplicate closures. The moderator flag queue on Stack Overflow is flooded with people who have taken to flags to state why their question isn't a duplicate of something else. Unless we just happen to be subject matter experts (odds are, we aren't), moderators have no means of evaluating these. There has to be a better way to handle this. – Brad Larson Apr 26 '18 at 19:42
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Update: As of May 2018, the bug below has been fixed. This is a huge step in the right direction, but still very subtle.


This kind of already exists in the current UI, though it currently suffers from a bug. When looking at many duplicate questions, you see this notice:

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

This notice is actually not shown to the author, just to others browsing the question. The asker sees a slightly modified version of that notice:

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please edit this question to explain how it is different or ask a new question.

Well, this notice is still fairly subtle and doesn't really address your request. But that's not the main issue here.

This, unfortunately, suffers from a bug. If the closed duplicate question has no answers, or no upvoted or accepted answer, it shows the following notice instead to everyone (both the author and other users):

This question was marked as an exact duplicate of an existing question.

That notice is actually supposed to check the target question instead, not the closed duplicate. In other words, it is supposed to coincide with the alternate header for the target links "This question is an exact duplicate of" instead of "This question already has an answer here", which thankfully is implemented correctly. That notice should thus be very rare, and only be shown in procedural cases, because on non-meta sites closing questions as duplicates of unanswered questions is restricted.

Initially, I thought this bug was rather minor. But, as you pointed out, this is indeed a very important bug, because many of these closures are on questions with no answers, on which users are shown quite a stern warning instead of a gentle prompt to edit. While not really addressing the issue that much (since the link is still quite subtle), fixing this bug will be a big step in the right direction.

  • Crikey! How long's that bug been around for, do you know? I've assumed for quite a while that when I close a question as a duplicate I needn't suggest editing it to differentiate it from the original. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Apr 27 '18 at 18:59
  • I tested this by asking a question (as a new user), & then closing it as a duplicate of one with answers (as a mod). What I see (as a new user) is "This question was marked as an exact duplicate of an existing question. If this question is different, please edit it to explain how it is different or ask a new question". Perhaps the bug's been fixed now, or perhaps I've misunderstood something. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica May 3 '18 at 8:25
  • @Scortchi Try accessing that question while logged out, and tell me what it shows. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog May 3 '18 at 8:26
  • When I'm logged out, I'm automatically taken straight to the duplicate (the target, I mean). Logged in with my main account, I see just "This question was marked as an exact duplicate of an existing question". (This is on Cross Validated by the way - don't know if it's different on other sites.) – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica May 3 '18 at 8:35
  • @Scortchi Hmmm...I guess it does show. But it's still a bug, as the notice should change to one of the top two based on the target question having answers, not based on the closed duplicate having answers. And it's still unsolved, since the notice isn't really emphasized. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog May 3 '18 at 8:37
  • Thanks! Yes, & I think in particular eliciting feedback would be helpful. Sometimes a brief explanation is needed of why this question's the same as that one, & that may not be at all obvious to us when we close the former as a duplicate. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica May 3 '18 at 8:47
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  • Great, the duplicate answers my question. Thanks!

That's already implemented more or less

  • The duplicate does not answer my question, my question is actually different, please reopen it.

This would reduce introducing the necessary efforts in the editing needed to ask for reopening a question and cannot really be automated that way.

Just saying

my question is actually different, please reopen it

is merely meaningless and useless after a duplicate closure.


An appropriate way I could think of, is if they'll choose the second option (slightly adapted):

  • The duplicate does not answer my question, my question is actually different, I want to edit it to explain why.

and the editor window pops up to show the question + a pre-made section added (similar as for the custom close reasons):

-------------------------------------------

There's no appropriate answer for my question found at the marked duplicate 
question and answer(s).  
My question is different, because <enter your reasons here>

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