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I came across a question today that was closed as a duplicate. One of the closers also answered the question (with 5 upvotes). Is the answer then considered low quality, and should be deleted? Or should it be ignored completely? It seems contradictory to me to close something as a duplicate (it has thus been answered and asked), but post the same answer for the duplicate question.

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    $\begingroup$ Whoops I apologize for doing so :( I did not know this was bad Puzzling SE Etiquette. I'll make sure to keep it in mind! $\endgroup$ – NL628 Mar 20 '18 at 4:43
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If you're gonna close the question, don't answer it.

Main Meta's discussion of How should duplicate questions be handled? says:

Should I answer it?

No, not if you think it's a duplicate. If you don't think the answers on the target question are good enough, write an answer there.

If you don't think the question is a duplicate, then by all means do answer it.

A similar question on our Meta asks Is it good form to answer questions that you've voted to close? and, in its only (and excellent) answer, notes that

Voting to close and answering is indeed inconsistent [....] The only reason I can think of to answer and close is to farm reputation for the answer, which is anti-social behavior in itself. Don't do it.

See also, for example, the discussion on this topic which has taken place on stackoverflow Meta:

  • Closing a question after answering and being downvoted, whose top answer even suggests the answerer/reviewer remove their answer if they move to close as duplicate: "The point of dupe-closure is it to remove duplication of content on SO. By leaving the answer, you're sending mixed signals."
  • Answering a question, then closing it as duplicate, whose top answer notes that "it's bad form to answer a question then immediately close it as a duplicate. If it's a duplicate, just close it. By answering it, you're hoping for a few stray upvotes on your answer, but by closing it you're depriving others of the opportunity to answer as well. That's not a very level playing field."
  • Is it OK to give an answer to a duplicate question, before hammering out?, whose answer says "You should just close without leaving an answer. What we want is all the answers in one place. Users shouldn't have to go from page to page looking for the answer to the question. It also comes across as rude and slightly mean. You've answered the question but are preventing others from doing so. If you have more to add then leave an answer on the original."

These questions specifically pertained to people with the ability to single-handedly close a question as duplicate, who would answer and then hammer the question closed; nevertheless, the reasoning is the same - a vote to close as duplicate is still a move intending to see it closed, even if it does not carry the weight of finality.

If you answered and then discovered the dup, remove your answer

Not every duplicate is obviously duplicate. It happens pretty frequently that someone will answer a question, and only after answering it will realize that, yes, that did seem a little too familiar and will then find the duplicate, perhaps after having failed to find it initially.

Policy isn't clear on what you should do then, but personally I would suggest that users remove an answer placed on a question that is closed as duplicate, and (if it would be a positive contribution on the dup target) put the answer on the original question instead.

  • This will remove duplicate content—both questions AND answers—from the site.
  • This helps to put all the answers in one place—on the canonical question.
  • This will avoid the appearance of leaving the answer in place just for the rep.

These benefits align both with the guidance on Main Meta and with the reasoning behind that guidance elaborated upon by the other answers quoted above.

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  • $\begingroup$ So since the question has an answer, is closed, but the answer is accepted (with a duplicate answer from the duplicate question), should I flag the answer to get removed? I can link the question if needed. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Mar 14 '18 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ Ideally, trusted users would vote to delete these, but we have pretty few of those and they can't vote to delete upvoted answers anyway. So yes, flagging an answer that is duplicative of answers on the original question is probably the best approach. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 15 '18 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ I really don't think mods should be deleting answers just because they were posted on duplicate questions, even if the answerer also voted to close. That will just incentivise people to not point out duplicates, or not use their votes to close, so that they can answer them instead. (Speaking from experience: I actually made this same mistake once as a mod - deleted some answers on dupe questions by people who'd VTCed - and there was backlash on meta and some people still haven't forgiven me for it.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 15 '18 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor, "...to not point out duplicates, or not use their votes to close, so that they can answer them instead..." - so this makes me think the system will be abused either way. Is there a process that users will mark as duplicate, but not needlessly answer the duplicate? Even if the answer adds value to a duplicate question, it should be moved into the location of the original question. Right now, if duplicate answers aren't deleted from duplicate questions, it defeats the purpose of the duplicate question system. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Mar 15 '18 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Jordan.J.D and Rubio: please see Should I delete my answer to a question that's marked as a duplicate? on main meta for a network-wide policy on a similar issue. TL;DR: answering duplicates is discouraged, but no need to enforce that discouragements with modhammers or anything stronger than downvotes. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '18 at 15:16
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Rubio's answer is OK, but since my addendum to it in comments was well-received, I'm posting it as a new answer.


Answering duplicate questions - a classification

In general, answers on duplicate questions are unlikely to serve much purpose, or even get much attention in the form of votes and views, since people will click through to the dupe target instead.

  • If you know the question is a duplicate, then there's usually no need to post an answer to it - either it's already been answered elsewhere, or it hasn't and you can post your answer on the original question rather than the duplicate. Answering a duplicate question can even look like a rep grab, posting an easy answer to get upvotes before (or after) the question is closed.

  • Of course, there's nothing wrong with someone posting an answer if they didn't realise the question was a duplicate. They've presumably put work into their answer and posted it in good faith just like anyone else. They deserve upvotes for that effort too, and shouldn't be expected to delete their answer just because somebody else discovers the question is a duplicate. Up until that discovery, the puzzle looks just like any other and there's no reason not to solve it.

  • That leaves the edge case of when someone answers and then realises it's a duplicate. What should they do in this case? Vote to close and delete the answer they worked hard on, losing their well-earned rep? Not vote to close because they fear retribution for answering and VTCing, and leave duplicate content around on the site instead?

Basically, intent is important. If someone answers a question they know is a dupe, just for the sake of a rep-grab, feel free to downvote their answer. If someone answers a question in good faith, they should probably be given the benefit of the doubt. Of course, intent is also notoriously hard to judge. It'd be possible for someone to realise a question is a dupe, answer it for rep, and then VTC it, or not VTC it at all. Conversely, it's possible for someone to answer a question in good faith and then later find it in the review queue, accept that it's a dupe, and help to close it.

What can/should mods do with such answers?

This isn't mentioned explicitly in Rubio's answer, but it's touched upon in comments. There are various possibilities for what mods could potentially do where someone's answered and VTCed a dupe.

Answers shouldn't be mod-deleted just for being on duplicate questions. Partly because intent is hard to judge, and someone might have put a lot of work into solving a puzzle and posting their answer in good faith, before finding a dupe and then VTCing in good faith. Partly also because it won't stop the users with actual ill intent - if you start deleting answers from people who've both answered and VTCed, then the people who post those answers just for rep will simply stop VTCing, which could result in duplicates being left open and a net negative effect on the site. A policy of deleting answers from VTCers would impact the wrong people.

(Incidentally, this is a lesson I learned the hard way: on Science Fiction & Fantasy where I'm a mod, we once decided to delete a bunch of answers on duplicate questions. The community pushed back hard and we ended up with a very clear consensus that such deletions aren't appropriate.)

See also Should I delete my answer to a question that's marked as a duplicate? on main meta for a nice network-wide consensus against deleting answers just because they're on duplicate questions.

However, there is a very useful mod tool for these situations: merging questions. Merging is a mod tool which transfers all answers on a duplicate question over to the original dupe target. It should be used with great care, since it's irreversible, but it can be very useful in cases where a duplicate question has garnered good answers. Especially when those answers have already got upvotes: asking people to delete and repost their answers is all well and good, but they're likely to lose rep by doing so, since few people upvote new answers to old already-answered puzzles; whereas merged answers retain all the votes they originally had.

If a question is very clearly a duplicate, and has got good answer(s) which would also fit on the original, then moderators should consider merging those answers over. Less heavy-handed than outright deletion, less likely to lead to drama over destroying people's honest work and hard-earned rep, and the best possible way of preserving good content without leaving answers to moulder away on duplicates.

(Note that I said "consider merging", not "merge". Sometimes a merge might not be appropriate for some reason. It's a judgement call. The default situation, without mod intervention, is to close the question as duplicate and otherwise leave it and its answers alone apart from up/down voting them.)

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    $\begingroup$ 1. On other stacks there is residual value in keeping duplicates because they can add an additional title phrase / search target by which people can find the answer they’re looking for. On Puzzling, where challenge questions predominate, it’s far more than likely you’re only searching for a question to see if it’s been asked before because you’re considering posting it yourself as a challenge—finding the answer isn’t your goal at all (you already know it!), just finding the question is. I think that difference may matter here. I’m not saying delete all dups, but their value is diminished here. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ 2. I don’t suggest all answers on dup questions be Mod-deleted. But here the value of the question in part depends on the answer, which the asker knew and the answerer is discovering and explaining how and why it’s the solution. Successful solutions are thus going to cover the same ground and be far more likely to be duplicative and provide no additional value beyond the first answer that solves the puzzle—and this holds true regardless of where the answer is posted. We already do delete duplicative answers, so deleting one on a dup question because it’s a dup answer should be fair game. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ 3. Merging is probably appropriate if a duplicate question garners good answers the original question didn’t have. This seems less likely here than it might on other stacks, but it’s possible and that would be a good mechanism for addressing that scenario. But we’re usually pretty good at spotting dups before they attract time consuming and effort laden answers. Here specifically, where we assume good faith by a VTCer who discovers the dup after having answered it, if they see that their answer is entirely duplicative of answers on the original, one would hope they’d self-delete in good faith. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio Yup, that would potentially be a reason against merging: if the answers are essentially a rehash of those on the dupe target, so adding them there would serve no purpose. The point about deleting people's hard work remains though. Even if the answers on the dupe aren't a particularly useful addition to the site, they're not really harming it either. And dupes still have value as signposts: if question A, a differently worded dupe of question B, gets deleted, then chances are someone will repost A at some point, who wouldn't if they'd seen it in the "similar questions" thingy. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '18 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Deleting answers on dupe question because they're dupe answers seems to me similar to deleting simultaneous dupe answers. We generally assume that if two users post the same answer at the same time, one of them wasn't just copying off the other. If someone answers a dupe question and there's no reason to think they've seen the older incarnation, shouldn't the same benefit-of-the-doubt apply? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '18 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ ^ The benefit of the doubt no longer applies if the answerer also is a VTCer, though, which is what this question is about. That's more analogous to someone who posts a duplicate answer well after the fact, and then has someone point out their answer was already given previously. Should they leave their answer because "well, I didn't see that!", and we be ok with that? Or is the right answer still to delete it, even though it was given in good faith, because intent notwithstanding, a duplicate answer is a duplicate answer? $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ 4. Finally: "... users with actual ill intent - if you start deleting answers from people who've both answered and VTCed, then the people who post those answers just for rep will simply stop VTCing, which could result in duplicates being left open and a net negative effect on the site. A policy of deleting answers from VTCers would impact the wrong people." For a VTCer acting in good faith, self-deletion is a good faith response. If we impact those in it "just for rep" who'd stop VTCing if it costs them rep, then we're impacting the right people, not the wrong people. This helps the site. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ Benefit of the doubt can still apply if the VTC comes after the answer (I don't remember if us plebs can see when each VTCer cast their votes, but I know mods can). As for deleting the answer, I think it's OK to encourage people to do so themselves, and maybe downvote if they don't, but outright mod-deletion will only lead to bad feeling. (Again, if we crack down harder on people who VTC as well as answering, the most likely consequence is less VTCing, which is a bad thing.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '18 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio To your last comment - I think you misunderstood my point there. People who'd stop VTCing if it costs them rep are precisely those who won't be affected. Working out the answer and posting it, then realising it's a dupe and VTCing, then leaving your answer because of all the work you put into it, all strike me as (at least plausibly) good-faith things to do. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '18 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway. Good discussion. My answer falls short of saying we should mod-delete (I'm still contemplating that, myself); but as guidance to users, I think it stands. Your cautionary points are good food for thought as guidance to the mods, and I'm taking it gratefully in the spirit in which it was offered. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ (My final comment, responding to your last comment - I didn't misunderstand. Putting in effort and hard work isn't rep-worthy by itself; many people expend tremendous energy to write answers that are entirely wrong, and get voted into oblivion. What gets upvoted is useful answers, and duplicate answers are almost never useful. I stand by my belief that a good faith response to finding your answer is duplicate is to remove it. If the good faith folks did so, only the rep seekers' answers would remain to be impacted by a hypothetical delete-dup-VTC-voter-answer policy. Hence my comment.) $\endgroup$ – Rubio Mar 18 '18 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio, "We already do delete duplicative answers, so deleting one on a dup question because it’s a dup answer should be fair game." I think this is the most direct answer to my question. I really appreciate both of your inputs on this. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Mar 19 '18 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry to pull you both back into this discussion but a counterpoint I would like to make to @Randal'Thor you mentioned "delete the answer they worked hard on, losing their well-earned rep", but the same argument could be made for the original answerer that is now losing possible reputation from the duplicate answer. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Mar 19 '18 at 16:01

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