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Duplicates are one of the most important features of the entire Q&A system. They are the consequence of the decision to create a repository of knowledge and to try and increase the signal-to-noise ratio compared to forums. In the old times the most dreaded response to a forum post was "that has been asked already, use the search function", without a link to the actual answer and search results that mostly lead to other poor souls getting the same unhelpful response. Duplicates on Stack Exchange sites, if used correctly, are as good if not better as real answers.

They are also one of the most hated aspects of SE that people complain about a lot on platforms outside the network. You cannot read any thread where SE or SO are the topic that doesn't have at least one person complaining about the bastard moderators that just close everything as duplicates even if it isn't a real duplicate.

And while I do think that duplicates are sometimes applied too broadly to questions that are only superficially similar, I suspect that a large part of the people complaining were not the target of a bad closure, but simply did not understand how the duplicate helps them and how it actually answers their question.

Duplicates are answers, but we try our best to make them appear as a bad thing, as shutting down the question. You get a banner with small text that does explain that the answer is somewhere else, if you read it carefully. That banner contains 4 links and 2 buttons, only one of these links leads to the answer the user is looking for (the duplicate). I can imagine that people unfamiliar with the system get confused here, especially if you account for some kinds of banner blindness.

Duplicates often are more abstract and generic. Especially on technical sites the problem a user has is often a specific instance of a much more general problem. The general problem often has been answered with a really thorough canonical answer, but especially less experienced users might get confused when their question gets closed as a duplicate in these cases. They're not getting one answer specific to their problem, but a complex set of answers meant to cover several different cases and explaining the underlying systems and ideas.

To solve the first issue I would show the answers from the linked duplicate in the answering area of the original question. That's the area where you look for answers, and putting the real answers there is more useful than having them behind a single link above the question that people might miss. There are several details here that might not be that easy to handle well, we don't want to confuse people here about the fact that the answers are from a different question. So that should be marked somehow and distinct from a real answer list in some way.

And if you think this idea is flawed and causes more problems than it solves, just put a big banner in the answering area that links in a more obvious way to the duplicate.

For the second part of the problem I think it would be useful to allow close voters to specific in a bit more detail which part of the duplicate answers this particular question. I'm not sure how to achieve this best, to some degree this is already possible by manually posting a comment when closing. But I think it could be useful to attach this more directly to the duplicate closure itself and encourage people to explain this a bit if it's not completely obvious why it's a duplicate. It would also be nice to be able to highlight specific parts of the duplicate answers for this, but that's kind of a big feature that is probably only worth implementing if it can be used somewhere else as well.

I think it is also useful to nudge the close voters towards thinking about the question "how specifically does this duplicate answer the question". If you don't have an answer to this question, maybe the duplicate isn't as appropriate as you initially assumed.

One reason I'm posting this is because I think duplicates deserve more attention than they currently get. Some parts are much harder to fix like better incentives for correct duplicate closures and better tools to handle the large amounts of duplicate questions on sites like SO more efficiently. There is a limit to simply adding more features, queues and stuff on top of the Q&A system, we also have to improve the core primitives like duplicates.

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    I pondered with even more extreme idea for long time: duplicates will not make the question closed, in any way, just add a post notice like we already have in some cases, and an answer posted on a question marked as duplicate will automatically be merged into the original question. But obviously it require lots of thought to shape it properly, and I never had the time so didn't post a feature request. Aug 28 at 11:15
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    I just wish the duplicate closure notice would stopping telling people to post a new question. Aug 28 at 11:36
  • @ThomasMarkov where you see it? I see "Your post has been associated with a similar question. If that question doesn’t answer your issue, edit your question to highlight the difference between the associated question and yours. If edited, your question will be reviewed and might be reopened." on a question of mine closed as duplicate. Aug 28 at 11:45
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard it was definitely there in the past: Remove the suggestion to post a new question from the closed questions post notices. The change to what you're seeing seems to be a rather recent one.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Aug 28 at 13:16
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    @Tinkeringbell oh, that's not duplicate closure. And yes, the other close banners do suggest to post a new question, but the request here is explicitly for duplicate. Aug 28 at 13:26
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    There are excellent "generic" answers that make one's eyes glaze over that do contain the answer to a trivial question, and I really don't want to see such answers tacked onto the lesser question. In some such cases I have posted a token, specific answer, also pointing to the generic question/answer, and then voted for "duplicate". I think this will help both the current OP and future searchers for information. Aug 28 at 13:52
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard The duplicates still did suggest asking a new question. It's unclear to me when the duplicate notice has been changed to this new wording.
    – VLAZ
    Aug 28 at 16:31
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    @VLAZ hah. Well, another silent change, like too many others. :/ Aug 28 at 17:01
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    "I would show the answers from the linked duplicate in the answering area of the original question." I don't think that could be done without causing confusion, even if you used a distinctive colour scheme, etc.
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 28 at 17:57
  • @PM2Ring it's not an easy problem to solve, but I could imagine a few different options here. Maybe embedding the entire Q&A pair from the duplicate could work. Or styling the entire thing more in a kind of "related questions" way to emphasize that this is something different. But even if it turns out that these options don't work, putting any kind of notice in the answer area should be an improvement on the status quo. Aug 28 at 21:25
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    I agree that some kind of notice in the Answers area is a good idea. I also like @barbara's approach of having a small answer that explains how to apply the info in the dupe target(s) answers to the current question. You can often put that stuff in a comment, but sometimes a proper answer works better. But lots of regulars aren't comfortable when someone posts any kind of answer & also dupe-votes.
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 28 at 21:51
  • On a related note, it would be nice if we had some kind of way to rate dupe target suggestions. That could tie in with a system for rewarding dupe-hunters...
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 28 at 21:53
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    @PM2Ring -- I suspect the most effective action may differ according to what group is involved; I'm active in tex.sx and my approach does seem to be effective there. To deal with identifying duplicates, we have a "question" Often referenced questions in our meta area, where someone looking for a duplicate can check to see if a good one has been identified. it often saves a little time, and many participants have contributed to the resource. (Oh -- comments can get lost or deleted "automatically".) Aug 29 at 0:35
  • I like the idea of embedding (some of) the contents of the dup-target into the answers section. Maybe split the answers section into two sub-sections: 1) regular answers (if any) 2) a section labeled "Answers from a similar question (click here to visit the question)" and it would list the top x answers from the dup-target. The reader would have the option to read the answers directly or visit the "similar question" for more context. This sub-section can have an outline around it and/or have a different background color (or any other visual cue to indicate that it's from a different post). Aug 29 at 4:56
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    I often edit the comment “Does this answer your question?” comment to explain which answer from the other question has the answer. The duplicate is supposed to help guide people to answers, not to more questions. It seems strange that the link is to a question and not to the answer close voters think answers the question.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 29 at 10:37

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I think it would be useful to allow close voters to specific in a bit more detail which part of the duplicate answers this particular question. I'm not sure how to achieve this best, to some degree this is already possible by manually posting a comment when closing. But I think it could be useful to attach this more directly to the duplicate closure itself and encourage people to explain this a bit if it's not completely obvious why it's a duplicate.

I definitely agree. In fact, our FAQ on duplicates says one should add a comment or edit the automatic comment to explain how/why the question is answered in the target if it's not obvious, or even add an answer explaining the target's answers if it's extremely unclear.

It would also be nice to be able to highlight specific parts of the duplicate answers for this, but that's kind of a big feature that is probably only worth implementing if it can be used somewhere else as well.

Yes, a highlighting feature is absolutely useful. I often run into this when voting to close questions here on Meta.SE as duplicates of questions. Per site policy (enaction), if a question here is answered in a part of a question tagged , it should be closed as a duplicate, so users can easily find/learn about the site's policies and workings. These posts tend to be quite long, with many sections.

Generally, when closing a question as a duplicate of a longer FAQ, I edit the automatic comment to explain which specific section of the target's answer(s) addresses the question, and if there's enough room, a quote of the relevant section. However, what happens in many cases is that the author loads and reads the comment before I've had a chance to make the edit, and as the system doesn't load edited comments, they don't see the edited version with my explanation.

I remember seeing a question shortly after rejoining the site in 2017 where someone had asked a question about a specific badge. I posted an answer to their question, but then I noticed that others were closing the question as a duplicate of the FAQ on the criteria for all badges, which at the time was named List of all badges with full descriptions. I asked why the question was being closed when it was more helpful to just edit my answer with a link to that post, and was then told about that policy.

The question was about a specific criterion of a badge that was not mentioned in the system description of the badge and asking why it wasn't awarded despite meeting the system description is a completely fair question to ask. In this case, it was because the badge had already been earned and was awarded only once per user. If it were my question, I would have definitely felt mad that my question was being closed as a duplicate of what just seemed like a general list. It's like being told by a product's customer service that "your question is answered in the owner's manual".

I understand that it's good to point users to the manual so they can understand more about how the product works, but when someone asks a question, they should at least be told "your question is answered on page [x] of the owner's manual, which says [y]".

A great feature to implement would be to have a box where someone can fill in a custom comment explaining why it's a duplicate when voting or flagging to close as duplicate (so long as they have 50+ rep), which would then be posted in lieu of the default text. This would resolve the issue as to the user not seeing the edited version of the automatic comment, as its first revision would have the explanation.

Another feature would be to allow the voter or flagger to specify which specific answer in the target answers the question. This would be especially useful on canonical questions with answers covering many cases; putting the link to the answer in the duplicate notice rather than having it potentially buried in comments would make it helpful to the author and others finding the duplicate question as they don't have to scroll and find the answer.

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  • How about a feature to let the close voter expand their close vote into a pseudo-answer? I guess it could (or even should) have different styling than the regular answers.
    – tripleee
    Aug 30 at 8:43

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