I obtained the "vote to close" privilege this week, and today after providing a very quick and correct answer I received a downvote (among several upvotes) for answering what others determined to be a duplicate, rather than voting to close it.

I'm not worried about the downvote and can spare the two points, but I want to make sure I understand the etiquette. Is my "privilege" to vote to close actually a "responsibility" to police for duplicates before providing answers?


4 Answers 4


Unless you recall a specific question that you think is a duplicate, it's not an expectation that you do exhaustive searching to look for a duplicate.

One handy thing to check is the "Related" questions in the sidebar on the right. If some of the title seem eerily similar, check some of those out first and see if they may be exact (emphasis on exact) duplicates and act accordingly.

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    I think the downvoter was just a little over zealous with that.. Would be not unlike when a simple question gets 5 duplicate answers in a 60 second span.. Should all non-first answers be down-voted to death?
    – rlemon
    Nov 14, 2011 at 21:04
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    @rlemon those 5 duplicate answers in 60s is usually from low rep users that only occasionally visit the site or are new to it. This is different than with longstanding high reputation members. They should know better and a lot of other high rep longstanding members expect them not to repwhore on answers when they are duplicates. Same for answers that are too easy, like stackoverflow.com/a/8777466/208809
    – Gordon
    Jan 8, 2012 at 13:09
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    @Gordon You and I are, and are likely to remain, in disagreement about "answers that are too easy". When an inexperienced programmer arrives at SO without the vocabulary to understand why his code doesn't function, a helpful explanation addressing the user's specific case is, in my opinion, a great benefit to them. Immediately closing as a duplicate a question that is neither a direct exact duplicate nor obvious reference question ("what does xx operator mean") would seem, from the perspective of a new SO user or inexperienced programmer, to be the equivalent of an RTFM response cont'd.. Jan 31, 2012 at 19:35
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    @Gordon The exceptions to this are typically obvious, like "how do I format a PHP date for MySQL", where the user is almost certain to encounter a comparable, if not exact duplicate, question when the list of suggestions pops up while they're asking. In those instances, I'm right there with you to close as a duplicate. However, in 1 or 2 of the recent podcasts, Atwood referred to SO as an institution of higher learning, and when opportunities arise to educate a fellow programmer, I'll err on the side of tutorship rather than an RTFM closevote. Jan 31, 2012 at 19:35
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    The answer that sparked this meta post 8 months ago was, if I recall, one of the obvious date formatting questions, when I had just gained the closevote privilege Jan 31, 2012 at 19:40
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    @Michael yes, we will stay in disagreement. IMO, "i didnt know the right terms" applies almost never. Typing an OP's question title into Google or the SO Search usually yields enough pointers to solve a problem. Also, even if the OP really could not find the duplicate with his/her own wording, the more experienced, e.g. you, do likely know them. Pointing them to an appropriate duplicate is giving them enough help. Answering them in that case is just repwhoring and a disservice for all those who try to keep this site maintainable.
    – Gordon
    Jan 31, 2012 at 20:01
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    As for "too easy": if they cannot solve even the most simple problems, they will never become good developers. Research and Problem solving is an essential skill. Today someone asked how to add values to an array. That is RTFM material. Telling them to use $foo[] = 'bar' is not tutoring and is not higher learning. It's spoonfeeding. As for Jeff, see blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple
    – Gordon
    Jan 31, 2012 at 20:29
  • @Gordon I'm familiar with the blog post you linked, but also with "Dr Strangedupe", with which I am in full agreement. Asking how to append to an array is, I agree, RTFM material, and would get a closevote from me. However the question you linked at the top of this comment thread was not so clear, as the OP didn't understand the type of data structure he was dealing with -- a learning opportunity. Furthermore, had it been clear, would it not have been closed quickly by you, me, and other PHP lurkers, rather than after 20hrs? Feb 1, 2012 at 2:50
  • You'll get no argument from me that research & problem solving are essential skills, but our missions here on SO clearly differ. I answer 5-8 questions/day because I enjoy assisting and teaching. Along with providing answers, we provide the tools (usually in the form for docs links) to inform the inexperienced where to begin research. But I also want to enforce a positive user experience for new users, many of whom return to grow into valuable contributors. Feb 1, 2012 at 2:56
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    @Michael "Dr Strangedupe" doesnt say: lets litter this place with duplicates though. It says some duplication is good (and Jeff got lots of disagreement for this already). I honestly do not see a difference between how to add to an array and the first question linked (apart from that also being a duplicate). How to access an array is as much RTFM material as is asking how to add to it.
    – Gordon
    Feb 1, 2012 at 9:24

Is it my responsibility to search for duplicates & vote to close before answering?

While no one can force you to use the privileges you have been given, I consider it community duty to exert those privileges. Closevoting is an essential act of housekeeping. You should not answer duplicates because you lower the overall quality of answers on this site. And you make it harder for everyone that actually cares to closevote to find suitable questions to close with.

One example of this problem is the neverending flow of "What does [operator] mean?" questions. Each of those will usually get a few answers before someone digs out an appropriate duplicate. Of those, only one is usually decent. This will spread the good quality answers over the duplicates instead of having one (or only a few) answer with many good answers.

Each time duplication happens, it will force the closevoters to decide which question to choose for closevoting. It takes more time with each added duplicate. If those duplicates would just get closevoted with a Canonical, we'd have a much cleaner site that is much easier to find information on.

I'm not worried about the downvote and can spare the two points

Well, sure you can spare them. But can I spare the points you got for the upvotes? Each time you get an upvote on a duplicate the upvoters are effectively cheating and punishing me for trying to keep this site usable.

Take this question for an example. It's a blatant duplicate and while the answers are quite good, there is nothing in the answers that hasn't been answered before. Despite this, the accepted answer got seven upvotes by now. Sure, the answer is correct and it will help the OP, but it adds no value to the site as a whole. It's 70 reputation for making SO somewhat harder to search.

date to timestamp question

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    Agree 100%. Rather than rewarding good canonical answers, it rewards the dispersion and duplication of knowledge...
    – ircmaxell
    Nov 14, 2011 at 21:05
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    Gaining reputation "for making SO [...] harder to search". That is an amazingly lucid phrasing. That's the elevator pitch for why answers to duplicates are generally undesirable.
    – jscs
    Jun 5, 2013 at 18:37
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    ...a blatant duplicate... Despite this the accepted answer got seven upvotes... 70 rep for making SO harder to search. Perhaps given this argument, there's a case to be had for reducing the score given upvotes on closed questions.
    – Spudley
    Oct 21, 2013 at 10:27
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    The best proposal I've seen for that sort of feature is Pekka's: Reward finding duplicate questions +10, +2, -5, @Spudley.
    – jscs
    Oct 22, 2013 at 20:39

It has been said numerous time that your privileges, and reputation overall, are completely optional. You have the right to not use any or all your privileges for any or no reason.

You should also keep in mind though that other people also have a right to upvote or downvote posts for any reason they want, including answering to a duplicate.

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    Thanks for the reply. I absolutely respect their rights to downvote me, I just want to make sure I understand my role as my rep increases. May 13, 2011 at 19:19

This is an interesting point, and I have seen this happen quite a few times.

The first guy tries to moderate the question, edit it for improved formatting, re-tagging and search for appropriate ways to help the OP use SO to ask better questions, while the second guy rushes in to get the points.

But what happens if you find a duplicate and just copy-paste (with small adjustments) the best answer? Should that get upvoted?

You are not obligated to search for duplicates, but you are probably expected to, in cases of questions that are too obvious. While it seems perfectly caring and helpful to answer the OP's personalized question, I am generally against posting "Try this" kind of answers, which is the usual answer to questions that are obviously over-explained online.

IMHO, I see SO as a source of understanding programming rather than chat with an expert and get your question solved kind of site.

So, if the question is already answered, even if it's not an exact duplicate, shouldn't we all feel obligated to help the OP learn how to search for answers, instead of pasting it for them?

P.S.: Sorry for the late answer.

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