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In response to my recent answer to the Dark Lord's latest Harry Potter question, which was accepted, the asker commented thusly:

This answers both questions really. If I could accept it as an answer for both of them then I would!

By "both questions" he is referring to that and the one to which I linked in the answer, this one. My answer answers both questions, but I answered the second one.

I'm not sure what to do. Should I close one as a dupe of the other? Should I post a similar answer to the first one? Should I just let it be?

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    Copy and paste your answer over, pick whichever question as the dupe (usually the newer, but not always) and click the close button. Simple. – Valorum Jan 30 '17 at 16:34
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    @Valorum Copy and paste what? – CHEESE Jan 30 '17 at 16:35
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    If your answer answers both without revision then one is almost certainly a dupe of the other. – Valorum Jan 30 '17 at 16:36
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    @Valorum - not always. it could simply be a super-detailed very broad answer that happens to cover two currently related but un-duplicate questions. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 31 '17 at 19:09
  • @DVK-on-Ahch-To - Hence why I said almost certainly rather that definitely. There's always an edge-case that disproves the rule. – Valorum Jan 31 '17 at 19:12
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    Answers don't magically make questions into duplicates, no matter what anybody tells you. – Martha Feb 5 '17 at 21:12
  • @Martha: on Stack Exchange, “duplicate” means “this question already has an answer elsewhere” — meaning here, answers are the only thing that make questions into duplicates. (The terminology is a bit confusing — “too localised” caused similar problems back in the day.) – Paul D. Waite Feb 7 '17 at 11:24
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    @PaulD.Waite Not true, and SE staff have even come to this site to clarify that it's questions not answers that make duplicates and that similar answers is merely a secondary sanity check. The clue is in the message: "This question has already been asked and has an answer here: [link]" – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 8 '17 at 17:42
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    @user568458: ah! Gotcha, thank you, I’d missed that. – Paul D. Waite Feb 8 '17 at 20:28
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So the official SE policy as clarified by staff is that it's only questions that make duplicates, not answers. The core philosophy is:

  • [1] Stack Overflow is not meant to be a library of reference manuals. It’s supposed to contain the same information as a library of reference manuals, in the form of millions of questions and answers. Combined with Google, that gives us the magical power of a library of reference manuals you never have to read! It’s like, you got to the library, and there’s a wizard there at the door, and you ask your question, and, instead of being told to read a book, you just got (are you sitting down?) the actual answer!

  • [2] It's far more common to have many subtle variations of a question. I think that's OK, because that's how the world works. Trying to shoehorn a bunch of semi-related things into one arbitrary container in service of some Highlander-ish "there can be only one" rule is ultimately harmful.

Ultimately we're a Q&A site whose success comes from giving the smoothest and highest quality experience to people looking for the answer to a question.

If someone asks or googles "Why did X happen to character A", and they get a confusing link to "Why did character B stop doing Y", that's not the smooth experience SE is intended to give. Maybe they'll figure out on their own that paragraph 3 of the second answer goes on to talk about character A and X. Or maybe they'll just think "This site gave me a broken link".

And perhaps more importantly, we don't want to choke out the possibility of some other person writing a really great, exceptional, detailed answer to "Why did X happen to character A", that maybe makes the same basic point as paragraph #3 of answer #2 under "Why did character B stop doing Y", but adds high quality analysis, quotes and/or sources specific to X and character A. For example, this great answer by a linguist on the meaning of the accents in Game Of Thrones couldn't have been written if the attempt to close it as a dupe of a question about Game of Thrones characters mostly having white skin had been successful. The earlier question does have an answer that mentions that the source books were inspired by the English War of the Roses, which is also part of the newer question's answer, but both excellent answers add much more different, question-specific, high-quality detail around this one shared fact.


So the best thing is, if the questions are different but you can't think of much to add beyond what the other question's answer says:

  • Write the detailed answer in whichever question it fits best
  • Write a quick summary with a link and a quote in the other question. Something like:

X happened to character A, because character B stopped doing Y. [elaborate if necessary]

I wrote about this in more detail under "Why did character B stopped doing Y", this is the most relevant point:

[Most relevant quote here] lorem ipsum lorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsumlorem ipsum]

It takes seconds, and it minimises duplication while also quickly and smoothly giving everyone the answer they're looking for.

And perhaps more importantly, it doesn't snuff out the possibility that one of our many ridiculously knowledgeable users could come along and enhance the newer question with one of those excellent answers full of extremely specific details you never even thought of!

This is Stack Exchange. Someone can do better than that one relevant sentence in one paragraph in one answer under a different question!

  • Our local policy is that answers make duplicates, not questions. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:25
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    See the link. The consensus seems to be to go with the real network policy. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 9 '17 at 11:26
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    Our longstanding policy differs from the network policy. Changing that would result in potentially thousands of questions needing to be reopened. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:28
  • See also Why is the close-as-duplicate policy so aggressive, and should we change it?. The community voted 2:1 to keep the existing policy. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:29
  • See also Why are questions considered duplicates although they ask different things?, again, the votes are running approx 2:1 in favour of maintaining the existing policy. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:32
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    The top voted answer there (why so aggressive) simply says that close-as-dupe is not "a discipline or punishment" then justifies the concept of closing duplicates in general. It ends saying "this is less of an issue when it comes to answer-dupes, but this is how the community has decided so far. Personally, I see no particular reason to change the policy as of now, but am not vehemently opposed to doing so". And it's still outvoted by the more recent network policy. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 9 '17 at 11:34
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    Shog9 is not the arbiter of policy, we the community are. Might I suggest that if you want to rehash this fight (for the umpteenth time) you re-ask the question in a more systematic way and get a moderator to 'feature' it for you. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:35
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    And you the community upvoted his policy more than any other answer in any of the questions you've linked to. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 9 '17 at 11:37
  • I think you've misunderstood his answer. He's saying that we shouldn't close completely unrelated questions merely because two answers happen to align. Which is sensible and wise. - "don't close completely irrelevant questions as duplicates of one another simply because there's an animated gif that happens to apply to both" – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 11:42
  • We currently have over 4000 duplicate closed questions. You might test the support for this policy-shift by selecting a few dozen to nominate for reopening. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 12:01
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    But that's exactly what I'm saying... Don't close two questions that ask different things because there's overlap in the answers – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 9 '17 at 13:00
  • But that's the point of closing on duped answers. If someone can instantly see the answer to question B in an answer to question A, there's no point leaving question B open. Better to simply signpost users to the (usually earlier) dupe. – Valorum Feb 9 '17 at 13:18
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    Feels like we're talking at cross purposes... because that's what I'm saying, if the questions are similar enough that you can see how one answers the other, then it's a dupe. But don't choke out the possibility of a great, detailed answer to question B because one line or paragraph somewhere in an answer to question A addresses the gist. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 9 '17 at 17:12
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    @Valorum The linked answer from Shog9 has a score of 25. It's true he doesn't dictate per-site policy, but the voting from the community there does speak quite strongly. (There's still the question of interpreting the meaning of his answer, of course, but a couple of older and less upvoted meta answers don't invalidate that fact.) – Rand al'Thor Feb 10 '17 at 1:10
  • @Randal'Thor - His answer seems pretty clear to me. We don't close questions because one answer tangentially answers another. We do close them when the answer to one question almost wholly answers another question since that's invariably indicative that the questions (albeit they may look superficially dissimilar) are in fact merely asking for the same information in a different way. That seems both sensible and in line with people's voting over the years. – Valorum Feb 10 '17 at 1:16

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