Occasionally, I will dig up some research on a question, and then discover that someone else has already given the answer, but without much supporting information.1 My general habit is just to post a comment with a link to additional support, leaving it up to the answer's author to incorporate or not.

However, occasionally an answer is so bare as to be barely an answer, and/or I have done fairly extensive research that can't easily be encapsulated in a single or even double comment. In that case, is it better practice to

  1. leave a lot of comments
  2. directly edit the other person's answer, or
  3. post an answer of my own?

A current case in point is this answer to the question Origin of "drug of choice"?. This one is more borderline than some other cases, as there is at least a link in the original answer and my research is limited to a Google Books search and some browsing through the OED (the actual OED Online, not the publicly-available Oxford Dictionaries).

I tried to nudge the original answerer toward expanding the answer, and obviously I'll wait a bit to see if that happens before taking any other action, but if nothing eventuates what is the recommended course of action? The OP's question is somewhat interesting, and I think it deserves a fuller answer than it has so far gotten.

1 Much more often someone has posted a very good version of the same answer, in which case I just upvote that answer.

5 Answers 5


There will be divided opinion on how best to handle this. Some feel that editing the missing info into the OP's answer is spoon-feeding them and not our job. Some feel the appropriate response is to down vote as not useful and move on. Or leave some kind of comment.

Your comment is perfect (imo). It's helpful, polite, and encouraging. It indirectly encourages someone to learn how rep (and ultimately the site) works. And it's a lot less work than posting your own answer. But, I think posting your own answer is perfectly acceptable as well.

When a new user posts a correct answer but not up-vote-worthy based on site criteria, I have often edited it to bring it up to par, then left a comment welcoming them, explaining why the edit was made, and letting them know they could roll back if they like (basically taking it one step further than you have done.)

Most of the time, nothing happens. Sometimes those users are grateful for the help, and a few have gone on to become regular and helpful contributors. Either way, I don't see that it does any harm, but if it makes the site less intimidating and more welcoming to the new user, then I'm for it.*

*Until they've done this 50 times in spite of helpful comments. Then I pass or downvote, depending on how far their answer falls from the mark. Does it take more time? Sure. But if I'm invested in the site, it's not wasted time.

  • 3
    This is my preference. Edit the existing answer, particularly if it's from a low rep user. It models the expected behavior for them. I would refrain from posting lots of information in comments because then moderators end up editing it into the answer so the comment can be removed. Posting your own well-researched answer is also acceptable.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:39

For the particular example you give: Allow the OP about 24 hours to respond to your comment; this takes into account differing time zones and the fact that the OP may have a life apart from ELU. Then post your answer, acknowledging the earlier answer and explaining why you are posting your answer. I would like to see a full answer to this question.


Write your own answer. You may think your answer is better, and you may be correct. Alternatively, you might be wrong. The other poster may have very good reasons not to include the information that you think should be in there. Writing a more comprehensive answer is just giving a different answer. Do it. If it's better it will be upvoted and this will be a sign that it's a positive contribution to the site. Two answers that say the same thing but say it in different ways are both good and helpful contributions to readers and to the site.


You did research then come back to find new shitty answer

To take a narrow look at your premise that you basically dug up some research and then came back to the question to find a shitty answer I would very likely answer myself. There's two simple reasons for that.

Firstly, when the research wasn't that extensive, meaning the answers are likely posted relatively close to each other time-wise. So a minute or two in case of a SWR or maybe fifteen for something else is a time where no one can really complain. Sure I'll incorporate that someone else went down a similar avenue but that's it, mostly after reloading the page when I hit post. No need to retract the answering intention just because someone else started the same time and quit half-way.

Secondly, when the research was extensive the quality difference is very likely too significant to reasonably edit someone else's post.

Basically, if one can reasonably assume that I haven't read the post or the quality difference is too significant I self-answer.

There's a shitty answer, then you did some research and it turns out it hit the target in the first place without showing why

This is a lot more interesting and it's a very clear depends. You've pointed out the options, so let's look at them.


Plus: On it's own this achieves two goals at the time you do it. It notifies the post owner of the posts deficiencies and anyone reading it that this is not really considered a good answer in the current state. Especially if the comment is up voted (like I just did with yours).

Meh: You've got to check back later to see if the poster reacted and retract the comment or escalate to editing or self-posting. In the mean-time you have to bench your research and the post stays in a low quality state. Later means at least a day considering that ELU users are all over the world and well do stuff besides ELU. Which also means your research is not fresh anymore when you do escalate to the other options later. You are not done after commenting.

There are two outcomes. Best case gives you the least effort, worst case it's the most effort of all options.

Conclusion: Use it if you think there is a likely reaction of the original poster which basically means consulting the crystal ball of your discretion. Can also be used to help new users. The profile might help. Don't bother with repeat offenders.


Plus: The research is incorporated into the answer. The overall quality of ELU rises. Yipee. The post is immediately more helpful than before. You should leave an additional comment or an edit comment explaining why you did it. You're done after editing.

Meh: As medica put it, you are spoon-feeding the user. The reputation goes to the original poster. Worst case it encourages people to just provide the basics and hope for guardian editors. Oh and of course some people really don't like people editing their posts. Retaliation may range from unnoticed rollback to angry comment to well, it's the internet. Trolls do what they gotta do.

Conclusion: Don't do it several times for the same user. Try to get the message to spent the effort when initially answering across. Don't bother with repeat offenders.

Answer separately

Plus: The research is incorporated into a helpful answer. The overall quality of ELU rises. Yipee. The Q&A page is immediately more helpful than before. You definitely have to mention the other user to share credit since the answer was there already when you started. The reputation goes to the one who did the research. (Of course, you could go CW.) You are done after posting.

Meh: Since a lot of the answers you talk about come from users who could really use more reputation you are taking the chance for them to do that with their idea. This might turn potential future contributors away. If the research difference is small, it can be perceived badly. If you do it a lot, it can be perceived as reputation stealing. If you explain that the other answer is shitty, you can be perceived as condescending (and thieving on top). Well again, it's the internet, you might very well piss someone off ;)

Conclusion: The less the other poster will miss that reputation the less he or she likely cares about reputation they missed out on. They also more likely know where meta is to rant about it. Furthermore users with a certain amount of reputation should know better than to post such garbage in the first place. The greater the research difference the less problems. Certainly do with repeat offenders. In any case, do credit the other user.

TL;DR: There is no hard and fast rule (that I know of). Generally speaking, take your effort, the original poster's effort, the post age and the poster's behavior in general into consideration when picking one of the options.


When should I edit posts?

The edit is encouraged when you add related resources or hyperlink. If you want to just add resources or links, an edit would be preferred.

Regarding leaving a comment, the newer the OP is, the less likely he will respond to your comment. That's based on my experience. You should note that it will be waste of your own time to check whether the OP has responded and wait for the OP's edit.

You can always post your answer saying "Adding to @user's great answer and according to this and that research, the answer is ...".

Related Meta SE question: Editing versus answering?

The most upvoted answer reads:

...In the meantime, if you see an answer that you could improve, but don't have the reputation to edit it, I would recommend cutting and pasting it into your own answer and then improve that version. It would probably be polite to give a footnote of credit to the person you're quoting.

I know you have more than 2K rep to edit a post, but the answer is still relevant.

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