Recently a question came up as to whether it's our responsibility to look for previously answered questions on our sister site, English Language Learners. The consensus was no. But someone commented there

It's not your responsibility even within the same site.

I wonder whether this is the general consensus here.

I realize this might not be as cut and dried as a simple yes or no. That's okay. But I would like to know to what extent I should check for duplicateness before diving in to answer.

Obviously, if I see there's been a vote to close, I should look to see if the vote to close reason is "duplicate," in which case I should look at the proposed duplicate to see if I agree.

Clarification: I didn't mean to ask about the responsibility of the asker. I'm asking about my responsibility if I'm thinking about writing an answer.

  • 5
    It is the OP’s responsibility to look for dupes, yes. Though my position is (a) the general background research that OP should be doing on Google should be enough to turn up dupes on EL&U, if any, and if I see enough evidence of the former, I don’t insist on seeing independent evidence of the latter because (b) the search on SE is really subpar. Even when you know what you’re looking for, and know the ropes of the site and its search function, it can be a real beast to find. As to whether it’s the responsibility of non-OP users to search for dupes: all janitorial work on SE is voluntary.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 12:32
  • @DanBron - Clarified question. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 13:42
  • 2
    Ah, I see. I think yes, if you’re going to write an answer it’s your responsibility to ensure he question hasn’t already been answered, or for where to best post any such prospective answers, either under the most fitting Q, or even better a centralized one where a variety of different answers can be collected instead of spread out over questions and time line grapeshot. But again it stalk follow my own advice here because as I said even when I am certain the post I’m looking for exists, I have a hard time finding it, nevermind when I am not certain.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 13:47
  • @DanBron - stalk? I think I understood everything else you wrote, and would encourage you to post your opinion as an answer. It fits with what I was assuming but I wanted to check what the consensus is about answering etiquette. // Regarding the difficulty finding what to point a dupe close to, please see academia.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4099/32436 and meta.stackexchange.com/q/308722/287826. I would really like to see a SE-wide solution to this problem. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 14:04

1 Answer 1


Yes, sort of, but 'responsibility' is a bit strong. You can't be expected to know everything; after all, you have a question, that's why you're asking.

One thing you should definitely not do is, immediately upon waking up from a nap, post a question directly to ELU (or anywhere).

What you should do is first SEARCH GOOGLE. Yes, this is hard to do well, it's the old 'How do I use a dictionary to help me spell a word because I have to know the spelling to find it in the dictionary?' But you're not an idiot, you can at least try and that will get you somewhere.

Searching google, if you're lucky, may actually get you links to ELU.

But suppose that didn't work and you're typing your question into ELU.

As you type, SE is giving suggestions about related questions possibly duplicates.

Look at those suggestions.


The keyword search is not necessarily the best, but it'll give you an idea of what might have come before.

Also, on the right hand side of a question is a list of linked questions and 'related' questions (found by the SE similarity algorithm). Look at those too.

That's the kind of research that would be nice for an OP to do. Sure we'd hope that they'd scour all the online dictionaries. Or effing use a thesaurus once in a while.

But often when I go through the review queue, I'll see a question with a possible close as duplicate vote, and I'll look around at it, and there are suggested duplicates right there for the OP to have seen. You don't have to try hard.

But I wouldn't call it a 'responsibility'. So harsh. Just do a little minimal reading.

Wait, you're asking about it if you're writing an answer? Hm, yes, that is annoying when you write an answer and then that question gets closed as duplicate. I think that if there is a close vote already and it's for a duplicate, yeah you should definitely look at the link and consider strongly answering at the original.

And you should probably glance at the 'related questions' to see if there's something relevant there. But I wouldn't call it a responsibility to explicitly check for duplicates. A reasonable idea, but not a responsibility.

  • Mitch, it seems you're answering a different question from what I'm asking. I'm asking: if I intend to write an answer (not a question), if there are no close votes, and the question isn't so recent that the housekeepers of the site probably haven't had a chance to consider whether they want to vote to close yet, and any votes to close that already exist aren't for the "duplicate" reason, then shall I go ahead and write my answer, or should I make a reasonable effort to check if it's already been answered yet? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:42
  • 1) I address that at the end. 2) By chance, you're not talking about duplicate answers are you? 3) I don't think I'm being dense and, rereading, you're being very explicit about answering, but it's just not obvious what the good-faith situation is. Why would you think that it is your responsibility to check? Can you give a concrete example one way or the other?
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:00
  • Apropos of nothing, yeah, I think my answer is a great one, but for some entirely distinct question. Can somebody ask that? Or is it a duplicate?
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:01
  • But Mitch, you can ask it yourself. // We have a responsibility to vote to close duplicate questions, to help out with the housekeeping of the site. To what extent do we also have a responsibility to consider whether a question is a duplicate before we charge into answering it? Edwin (and others, but primarily Edwin) has taught me that we have a responsibility to ensure that the question is not off topic (e.g. have they made an effort, have they shown their research, have they shown how the word or phrase they seek will be used) before we dive into writing an answer. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:30
  • +1, there's no "As you type, SE is giving suggestions about related questions possibly duplicates." for answers. That's what I mean by responsibility; SE never asks you to do that. It "is annoying when you write an answer, and then..." it's closed. If you don't want to be annoyed, then keep this discussion always in mind. Don't cry foul when your 'awesome' answer gets less votes because the Q got the two more close votes it needed.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 22:58

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