Should duplicates be downvoted as a punishment for not searching first, or is just closing enough?

13 Answers 13


I have several times asked a question that the "similar questions" search did not identify that I later found to be a duplicate of an existing question when someone pointed it out. I think, then, in the general case that a downvote is probably not appropriate because it is entirely possible that the user did search and did not find a question like their own in the list. The best solution is merely to close it with the reference to the existing question unless the question is bad in some other respect.

  • 7
    Indeed - I've often failed to find questions I know have already been asked.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2010 at 18:01
  • 9
    All too often someone will post a question where a nearly identical title will show up in the "related" section. I usually do downvote in those cases.
    – user27414
    Commented Aug 30, 2010 at 18:02
  • 12
    Note that in the scenario @Jon describes, down-voting can help avoid the situation where future searches rank the duplicates higher than the original, requiring multiple clicks to actually find answers.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 30, 2010 at 18:04
  • 2
    Also, there is some subjectivity regarding what counts as a duplicate.
    – lala
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 16:19
  • 1
    @user27414 but what if the question was better formatted and/or got better answers than the original? I realize it defeats the matter of principal, but what's more important: results or standards?
    – Gary
    Commented Mar 16, 2012 at 3:00

Downvotes are not meant to be used as punishment.

That being said, they are your votes, and you should use them as you see fit.

(Leaving a comment telling the user to search harder next time will probably be more helpful than a downvote.)

  • then maybe you should disable the downvotes as such .. if you disagree, or think that the answer/question is harmful, you can just explain it in the comments. Though, it makes me wonder, how exactly a comment would help to a user who's making 3rd duplicate of his/her own question ...
    – teresko
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 20:04

I usually don't vote on dupes. However, if it was something that really should have been found in a search, I might downvote. It's not so much a punishment as it is a way of saying "this post was a waste of time".


It's an easy mistake (posting duplicates). I confess to doing it myself more than once, despite having searched before. This is simply because each person uses a different vocabulary to describe the same thing. It happens.

To answer your question, I don't downvote for simple mistakes - I might if someone made a habit of it.


According to the text displayed if one hovers over the down vote option, down votes should be doled out if a question is, Unclear or not useful. So, if, in your opinion a duplicate question is not useful (or unclear) then down vote away.

  • Not true, for two reasons. 1. if question A is a dupe of question B then both are useful in and of themselves; it's just not doubly useful together. 2. Sometimes a dupe is phrased in a way which is easier to find when searching; or just approaches the same issue from a different direction, in which case the dupe is useful even alongside the original.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 20:19

Downvotes express: the corresponding question lacks in quality.

Sure, the fact that a question is a duplicate can mean: lack in quality of doing prior research.

But depending on the subject and community, people might have done some research, and just didn't find the right duplicate. It is really not like the built-in search works that good, is it?!

Thus, it is fair to downvote a question that:

  • obviously didn't see any prior research OR
  • really lacks in quality in general

That is my criteria, and that results in plenty of "duplicate" questions not receiving a downvote, sometimes even an upvote.

One can also turn this around: "moderation work" doesn't stop with a downvote. When I vote down, I vote "close", too. And often "delete" on top of that. So a question that gets my downvote falls into the category "not good enough". And whether the question is a duplicate is really just one aspect of my considerations.

  • But those are the same criteria as a non-dupe, aren't they? Seeing how failing to find the dupe on SO is not in itself failure to do prior research.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 20:17
  • @einpoklum-reinstateMonica Yes. Look at this way: you look at question X, now. You are an expert of that tag, but no obvious dup comes to mind, and you cant find one, too. You think the question is okay, or even good, so you maybe even upvote. Now assume someone else finds a really good dup 10 minutes later. Do you know think you should undo your previous upvote? Probably not. "Being a duplicate" plays a role, but it shouldnt be the only aspect that matters.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 20:34

Simple rule:

If I think the Internet will not benefit from the question being in the Google index I downvote both the question and all answers, this makes it more likely the question will automatically be deleted.

For example:

  • if googling the title of the question find the duplicate with the first few papers of results
  • if the title is unclear so will not help someone to know if the question is useful to them in the Google results page
  • if the question is about an error, and googling the error text finds the duplicate
  • If the duplicate is on the first page of the tab of frequent question for one of the tags the author used or should have know to use.

But I will upvote a duplicate question if it explains the problem in a way that is likely to result in other people finding it on Google, but not finding the original question.

At times I wish I could say

This question will not be useful to other people, but the author made a good effort (and it likely to be a net benefit) to the site, hence give them rep.


Closing a question as a duplicate is not a punishment.

The reason to ask a question is to get an answer, and if a question has been answered before, then closing as a duplicate is a way of saying "Hey, your answer is over there".

Otherwise standard criteria about question quality should apply, as with any other question.

  • I think you put the wrong sentence in boldface, because that one doesn't answer the question; your last sentence answers it.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 20:16

There was an instance, in which I asked a question and the question didn't get any attention until someone else later asked the same question, and got answers to the question, in which case my question was closed as a duplicate of a newer question and downvoted. I think when deciding whether to downvote an old question because it is a duplicate you should check the date to make sure it is newer than the question it is a duplicate of as an asker cannot predict that someone else will later ask the same question. More general I think if you downvote an old question for lack of research you should check to make sure that any results you find are older than the question itself.

  • Re "check the date to make sure it is newer than the question": The software ought to indicate that. Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 4:24

The only valid reason to downvote a dupe aside Jon B's answer would IMHO be to discourage answers, which may themselves be dupes of the duped question's answers or worse, turn out to be good answers the duped question itself did not have and will not be read by anyone not finding the dupe first.

However, downvotes for that reason should also be removed after dupeclosing because they only judged the fact of an already existing very similar question, but not the question's usefulness itself.

edit taking back that "dupe!"-downvote would be made easier if this feature-request was implemented.


Don't downvote a post on account of being a duplicate.

Ideally, a duplicate should be marked as such, and then either closed - with 0 votes, 0 comments, 0 answers (except regarding its dupeness); or, after marking, it is edited, determined not to be a dupe, and then this question is irrelevant.

So, I say: Don't proceed the scrutinize the question too much if you notice it's a dupe.

Now, if the dupe is difficult to read and understand; or the original itself was also downvoted (e.g. no effort shown on user's part) or closed (off-topic, opinion-based); or has images instead of code; or other blatant examples of low-quality posts - in these cases - still don't downvote. Make a comment explaining the problem and requiring changes. Only then, if the poster does not address the issues brought up in comments - then you downvote.


Very recently, with MUCH research, on answers that did not overlap my question and dealt mostly with other tangents (eg. jQuery) I received an elegantly simple, practical and knowledgeable answer that did address my situation and solve the problem. The question was marked 'Duplicate' which also devalues the clarity and situational specifics of the answer. Down voting would simply exacerbate trashing a great and to the point answer in the melee.

  • 2
    Is your problem different than the one it was closed as?
    – fbueckert
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 19:15
  • I believe so in all regards of my due diligence in checking a significant number of answers which I did before posing the question which was pointedly and elegantly answered.
    – GladHeart
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 21:57
  • Excellent. Do you believe you can edit your question to articulate why you don't believe the question is a duplicate? Being able to clearly differentiate it will help it get reopened.
    – fbueckert
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 15:23
  • Thank you @fbueckert. The question was 'Accessing body background-image opacity property with JavaScript [duplicate]' which was admittedly the choke point BUT, the question may have been much better framed as 'Create Two background-image(s) And Dynamically Modify Opacity'.
    – GladHeart
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:54
  • You should edit your question to highlight the difference. Not just the title, but also the body. But ensure that your problem is different than the question it was closed as. You will need to highlight that difference, and explain why they are not asking the same thing.
    – fbueckert
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:13
  • The question has been closed. It seems I can not access the title to initiate a change to it.
    – GladHeart
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:28
  • Closing a question prevents answers. It does not prevent edits. There should be a little edit link below your question. That will allow you to update the quesiton.
    – fbueckert
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 18:13
  • You are totally correct when the last/(right) edit is invoked. I have changed the title. The body remains succinct and to the point.
    – GladHeart
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 1:17

A duplicate is the most obvious indication that no research effort has been made. So, absolutely, downvote away.

  • 2
    Okay ;-) (No downvote was/is mine by the way!)
    – Arjan
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 16:27
  • 4
    I think it depends a bit on what kind of duplicate. Something like this - kill with fire. But for questions with a certain level of sophistication and complexity, I tend to just look up the original and be done with it - especially when it's new users.
    – Pekka
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 16:37
  • I don't see how this is any different from @PeterAjtai's answer on this very page. Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 16:41
  • @jadarnel27: He picked one downvote rationale; I picked another (one which I think is more appropriate - research includes searching, and searching yields SO answers). Commented Dec 30, 2011 at 14:47

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