I'm wondering if there is an etiquette or rule to follow regarding answers.

Say someone answers a question, then someone else answers with a near duplicate of the first answer and that one is accepted.

Or the second answer was the opposite of the initial answer, then was talked about in comments to then be modified to be in line with the initial answer to then be accepted, as if the first answer didn't exist.

What should happen then? Should the initial person just deal with it and call it a day or is it a punishable offence?

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  • Thanks, I hadn't found this particular question and the answer enlightens my question quite a bit. It is certainly a gray zone though... – Louis Aug 10 at 18:53
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    providing a useful answer that you arrived on either by your own knowledge or research and a bit of help is never an offence, let alone punishable. – rene Aug 10 at 18:54
  • @rene I completely agree, and if the answer was written at the same time then sure, but having near identical format and text is what I mean by duplicate. – Louis Aug 10 at 19:03
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Say someone answers a question, then someone else answers with a near duplicate of the first answer and that one is accepted.

Well, it happens often that two (or more) people are writing more or less the same answer at the same time, especially if it's an 'easy' question to answer. If person A hits the Submit button earlier than person B, who spends a minute more to check his/her post on spelling mistakes, should (s)he be punished for that?
On the other hand, if it's clear that person B copied person A's answer without referencing, that's against the Terms of Service and the spirit of the site, and person B's answer is liable for deletion.
Of course, there are situations in between, where B copies A's answer with attribution but adds something extra. We can't force person O asking the question to accept either answer; for all we know, that extra bit might actually be crucial to solving person O's problem.

Or the second answer was the opposite of the initial answer, then was talked about in comments to then be modified to be in line with the initial answer to then be accepted, as if the first answer didn't exist.

Again, it might be that person B, writing the second answer, completely misunderstood person O's problem. Yes, they could delete the answer and write another one, but editing is fine as well. The same rules apply as above.

If you feel that you can make a case that one person is actually plagiarizing the other, rather than independently arriving at the same, or a similar, solution, then you can bring it to the attention of a moderator. This is pretty difficult to prove, especially for very trivial, solutions, well known solutions, or solutions in which there is no other approach that could possibly be used.

If someone is providing a solution that's similar to other existing solutions, but is demonstrably not plagiarized, and the earlier solution(s) have been around long enough that it's clear the new poster ought to have seen them, you can certainly make a case for asserting that providing the solution again isn't useful. If you feel that a given solution isn't useful, you're free to reflect that opinion in your voting on the answer. This doesn't merit moderator action. When the posts were posted at around the same time, such that they were most likely being written concurrently, people typically don't consider this when voting.

This can easily happen accidentally. Generally speaking it's no big deal. Sometimes, if a short answer is added long after all the others, and just repeats what's in those others, people will downvote it as a form of punishment. But if several answers are added in the same short time period (short depends on the site, could be a few minutes or a few hours) then any overlap between them is just something that happens.

Ideally people would upvote both answers, since they're both useful. Being a minute or two faster doesn't mean you deserve all the upvotes and the other person deserves none. Sometimes the second answer is better, because although it builds on the same core fact, it includes a code sample or a diagram or a quote from the official documentation.

If the two answers now seem about the same, can you make yours amazing? Can you add something to yours to make it clearly a better answer? If so, do that. For everyone's sake.

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    case in point: three of us gave essentially the same answer in the same minute. – Kate Gregory Aug 10 at 18:55
  • And I wish I could accept them all. The grey zone in this situation is that the accepted answer is, at least in my opinion, a duplicate and made by a very high pointed user, and clearly later than the original answer. I guess the best solution here is to flag the answer? – Louis Aug 10 at 18:58
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    a custom flag, but what is the mod going to do? Delete an answer that is upvoted and generally found useful? They are not. They can't move the accept. I don't see your flag getting you anything. – Kate Gregory Aug 10 at 19:02
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    I see what you are saying. It is in the hands of the better judgement of the question OP then. – Louis Aug 10 at 19:04

There is also a difference in the quality or scope of answers.

I've seen some questions that have had an answer of only a couple of sentences. While I've agreed with those sentences, I've felt that the same thing could have been said more effectively with more discourse, references to external sources, and so on.

In these cases, the quantity and quality of things that I'd like to add to an existing answer are ineffectively relayed in a few comments. As such, I've posted my own answer. Most of the time, mine end up being quite more detailed than the original answer.

On the other hand, if I'm mostly satisfied with an answer but think it could benefit from an additional point, I comment on the answer suggesting that the author add that point. There is no benefit to duplicating something simply to add one or two lines to it.

The real question is, will your answer add significant value to what's already there. If it won't, then don't post anything. But if you think it will, then it makes sense to add your own answer.

(I believe the other answers here sufficiently address the issue of near-duplicate answers. I wanted to give this answer in order to provide a slightly different viewpoint.)


As for something being rewarded or punished, the voting should generally take care of that.

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    Yes this is a valid point. A sad reality though is what prompted me to initially ask this question was exactly that: answers that didn't add to my own answer at all, some had different wording and one even made a 180° turn to become similar to mine and they both trumped over mine. Now I'm certainly not looking to whine. If the OP had his answer in the end then awesome! But posting an answer for the sake of votes is what this looked like. – Louis Aug 10 at 23:50
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    @Louis All you can really do is keep doing what you're doing and try not to be bothered by other people's behaviour. For example, I stopped being worried by downvotes after I got to around 3k reputation. By then, I had learned that those were far outweighed by the upvotes I was getting, and that they weren't representative of anything personal anyway . . . (But I did take them personally at first.) – Jason Bassford Aug 10 at 23:55

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