Here's what occasions my question: I submitted an answer (the first answer) and in the course of the next 24 hours three other users provided essentially the same answer. Until now, my conduct has been to hold back posting an answer when I see that this answer has already been submitted? What is the community protocol on this?

  • I asked a similar question at probably a similar point in my career here. The site has matured in three years, so that question and its answers are really only of historical interest. – Andrew Leach Feb 25 '15 at 6:25
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    @Andrew Leach, Thank you, Andrew. I believe I will cleave to FF's advice. All is good at EL&U. – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 15:37

In the big picture, answers that merely repeat existing answers aren't good for EL&U. Intentionally duplicating someone else's answer and relying on a higher site reputation score to poach votes from the earlier poster would seriously transgress against the site's rules and against the collegiality of this site. I don't think I've ever seen it happen here, though it might on very rare occasions.

My sense is that the repetitions that do occur are almost always accidental: A person doesn't read the earlier answers closely enough (or at all) or somehow doesn't recognize the great similarity between the existing answer and the newly submitted one. After all, it's not as though duplicate answerers are trying to get away with plagiarism; anyone can see that the other answer says the same thing and was posted earlier.

In my experience duplications occur most frequently in single-word request answers, where a finite number of relevant short answers are possible, and where multiple people think of the same word and then scan down the list of answers to see if anyone else has already posted that suggestion. It's easy to overlook an earlier suggestion of the same word in that situation.

I'm usually pretty good about not offering answers that significantly overlap other answers, but I blundered into that situation within the past 48 hours, just because I wasn't careful enough in reading a response that someone had already posted. If the author of that earlier answer hadn't pointed out to me the overlap in our answers, I still wouldn't be aware of it, so I'm grateful for the notification I received. The author of that post was a good sport about the whole thing, and I decided that there was enough non-overlap in our answers to justify me in leaving my answer up rather than deleting it. But the experience served as a reminder that being a good reader of other answers is a skill that requires a person's whole attention.

Pointing out a duplicate answer to a later answerer may encourage that person to pay more attention to existing answers before posting, thereby reducing the number of duplicate answers in future. We all benefit from being more careful in our reading of other posts and in our crafting of our own. Still, I would hesitate to call someone out for an answer that duplicated mine if the duplication were simple and obvious (as when both answers suggest the same single-word answer).

The most effective strategy in that situation (somewhat surprisingly) may be to wait for a third party to point out to the answer duplicator that your answer already gave essentially the same answer. News of the duplication may well come as complete surprise to the later answerer.

When a third party intervenes (whether or not any site participants downvote the later answer for not adding anything new to the discussion), the late answerer is most likely to recognize the disinterestedness of the criticism and to take to heart EL&U's disapproval of needless repetition in submitted answers. At the same time, a third-party intervention helps the person who submitted the original answer avoid sounding unduly proprietary or point-conscious.

Since you don't submit answers that others have already posted, Little Eva, you are already following the appropriate standard, in my opinion. The question of how to deal with situations where someone else duplicates an answer that you posted earlier is harder to answer; but if you start from the assumption that everyone participating at EL&U means well and wants to help questioners find useful answers, I don't think you can go far wrong.

  • Thank you, Sven. I should add that the answer I'm referring to wasn't the most comprehensive, and it didn't have all the bells and whistles and pictures, but still I was the first person to answer this question and my answer was linked to a referenced website for dermatological issues and the answer was "sunlines". Still, this question is, for me, about going forward and not really so much about looking backward. – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 3:31
  • Sven, I apologize for "assuming" my answer established a proprietary claim, others have let me know that my answer was so "reference-light" that my assumption doesn't really hold water when it comes to yours. But, even if that's the case, that still leaves two others who gave the same answer but are not superior to mine. I left a comment to one of those asking if they had not noticed my answer and provided the pertinent details. Any thoughts on this? – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 10:54
  • @LittleEva: With regard to the "sunlines" question, it seems to me that you were trying to answer the question, What [are] sunlines? (which was, after all, the question the OP asked). I was interested in a somewhat different question: What did Dashiell Hammett mean by sunlines, and (if he didn't make the word up) what did it mean in the 1920s? As a result, from my perspective, there is very little overlap between your answer and mine. I don't agree with the idea that EL&U's goal should be to produce a single best answer to each question. Language and usage questions... – Sven Yargs Feb 25 '15 at 20:00
  • …unlike, say, simple mathematical questions, have many facets that can be productively explored. So different answers can contribute to a better overall treatment of a question than any single answer of tolerable length. In the “sunlines” question, I thought that the answer that included a photo of the wrinkles in question was a worthwhile contribution to the discussion—even though the site you linked to had photos illustrating the same thing. Different readers find different answers especially useful, which is why different answers receive upvotes. That’s a good thing. – Sven Yargs Feb 25 '15 at 20:00
  • Yes, Sven, and along with your great answer, Hellion, medica, and then an old FF answer via Andrew, brought me back to what was the priority--good answers--and so I've got the resolution I needed. As you might imagine, I was aghast when you were the first one to answer this Meta, sorry for the confusion and thanks, again. – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 20:13
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    Well, I was surprised, too, to discover that my EL&U answer was part of the problem you were writing about. The incident I talked about in my answer above involved a situation where I had paid too little attention to an existing answer, and so ended up making an argument that, in its conclusions, was very similar to those of the existing answer. If that person (anemone) had resented the overlap, I would have deleted my answer because I should have seen the similarity. But anemone was very nice about it, so I took the episode as a reminder to try to be a good reader of others' answers. – Sven Yargs Feb 25 '15 at 20:30

If your answer is not bringing something new to the table, then you aren't doing anybody any favors by attempting to siphon off some rep.

When I see duplicate answers, I will only upvote the one that has the earlier timestamp. Sometimes I will also leave a message to the duplicate-poster (especially if they are new) indicating that an answer should have something to distinguish it from others. Occasionally even a downvote may be in order, or a flag for "should have been a comment" if the post is of the form "I agree with X, who said Y." I believe that this is the generally accepted strategy of the community.

Occasionally, of course, honest duplication happens (often checking the timestamps shows that the answers were posted very close together). If I find myself the duplicator in such a situation, I'll either work to distinguish my answer, or delete it; if I see an honest duplication, I'll probably ignore it.

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    A good, succinct answer. And a good illustration (given the time stamps of our two answers) that virtually simultaneous answers are far from rare on this site. – Sven Yargs Feb 25 '15 at 3:06
  • +1 Hellion. I appreciate the advice. I'm just trying to understand how the community views such an occurrence when it happens. I found your experience helpful. I don't think my answer was the best but it was the first, and all other answers (3) were the same answer but one had better references and the other had pictures and dancing bears or something ornamental. So I didn't know if I could say "I've already posted that answer." Anyway, it definitely is not my goal to create a big soap opera. I want to handle things with a long-term perspective. – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 3:48
  • When I see near identical answers posted, I will leave a comment and direct the answerer to the post that contains the same answer. If the answerer does not edit his or her post, (obviously I wait a bit) then I will flag it. I may even vote to delete it. Two or more identical answers are pointless.

  • But if the later post contains information, shows some research, has a different angle and/or is obviously superior to the original, then I won't flag it/them. And I probably won't leave a comment either. Let the community decide which answer(s) they prefer.

  • If I myself have posted an original "answer", and others come along and "steal" my research, copy my ideas, and post them as their own, then that is plagiarism. I don't think this has ever happened to me, but I would feel mighty upset. Ultimately my hope would be that other users leave pertinent comments, flag and/or downvote the offending post.

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    I wouldn't worry about it. You're a nice person!! I posted my answer only because I think it's useful for any newcomer to understand why a correct answer might be deleted or downvoted. – Mari-Lou A Feb 25 '15 at 10:27
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    I think you should step back, relax, and realize that none of the answers are exactly groundbreaking. (I'm terrible at diplomacy :), so forgive me for being blunt). However, it's clear from your comments and interactions that you want to do what's "right", and that's very commendable. Hell, in the beginning I was posting on Meta almost non-stop! – Mari-Lou A Feb 25 '15 at 10:44
  • Oh, believe me, I am well aware that the answer is nothing - my concern now is how to negotiate the overlap with others. Thank you for your time and attention I really appreciate it. – user98990 Feb 25 '15 at 10:48

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