This answer references this Meta:SE post, claiming that that Stack Exchange policy is to close questions only if the questions themselves are duplicates, not if an answer to one question contains an answer to another.

On the other hand, users on this site frequently close questions that are very different, and indeed whose actual answers are very different, because one happens to answer the other.

  1. Does the previously mentioned question really constitute a Meta:SE policy indicating that marking questions as duplicates based on answers is discouraged?
  2. If so, does it overrule our (apparent) policy, or is the community free to adopt a different policy?
  • @Valorum - Not exactly. I'm wondering how that decision is reconciled with an apparently incompatible Meta:SE consensus.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:52
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    My concern here is that you're not actually interested in exploring the question asked by the header, but looking to revisit a long-standing policy decision
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:52
  • 5
    @Valorum - Um, the question asked in the header is the question I'm asking.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:53
  • In the instance you've highlighted, the reason why that question is overruled by the SE meta discussion is because it would require a programming change. Would you like me to turn this comment into an answer?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:55
  • @Valorum - A programming change?
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:56
  • Yes. You can't reference an answer as a dupe, only a question.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:56
  • @Valorum - Sure, write an answer.
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 18:56
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    The SFF policy (that questions can be closed as duplicate based on having been answered elsewhere, even if the two questions are different) has been in practice for a long time, and overturning that policy now would probably mean a hell of a lot of closed questions should suddenly be reopened. So I rather hope the main meta post you mention doesn't mean we need to change SFF policy. Since that main meta post is relatively recent (less than a year old, while SFF is over 5 years old) and not from an SE employee, I suspect it doesn't mean anything; but I'll ask around and check.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 19:01
  • I'm pretty sure that duplicates being determined by answers is an SE-wide policy, not at all unique to SFF. No idea where Robert's coming from in that MSE answer.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 19:04
  • This may be a more relevant Meta.SE answer here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10841/…
    – user31178
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 20:02
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    I suspect that our policy is different because our questions and answers are different. Network policy was presumably set with an eye toward code/programming Q&A. Ask 10 programmers how to do something, you might get 10 answers. But ask 10 science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts who Luke Skywalker's father is, you'll get one answer ten times. For us, the problem and solution are handy metrics for determining duplicates, for the original SE trinity, problems alone are the useful metric.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 5:12
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    Just want to say that the reason the network-wide policy is that only questions can be duplicates is that the SFF policy of closing totally unrelated questions as duplicates is actively harmful. It's the equivalent of saying, "here's a 20-page article with some semi-relevant information, that's all the answer you're getting from us, mwa ha ha ha ha, have a nice day."
    – Martha
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 14:32

3 Answers 3


I'd reckon the closest thing we have to an official, network-wide policy on duplicates is found in the 2010 blog post, "Dr. Strangedupe: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication":

Here are my official guidelines on question duplication:

  1. Having one "perfect" form of a question that contains every possible answer to every slight variation of that question is a myth at best and actively harmful at worst.

  2. Having dozens and dozens of variations of the same question is clearly bad.

  3. What we want is on the order of 4 or 5 similar-but-not-quite-the-same duplicates to cover all possible search terms and common permutations of the question. It is also OK for these duplicates to have their own answers so people who find them don't have to click yet again to get to a good answer.

The idea of a massive canonical Topic FAQ is persistently alluring; instead of having 50 questions about a "sorting hat", you could just have one question with a few dozen huge answers! However, this quickly becomes impractical:

  • Massively broad questions don't rank as well in search results as specific, focused questions.
  • Folks with specific, focused questions tend to not read massively broad FAQs even if they do find them.
  • Finding specific information among multiple answers to massively broad FAQs is troublesome.
  • Remembering which information is even contained in these tomes is difficult; eventually, folks just start to assume that they contain everything and close new questions without worrying whether they're actually answered or not... This chokes out new information.

What does this have to do with your question? Well, normally the presence of identical answers is a pretty good indication that the questions themselves are the same (unless the answer itself is something trivial like the name of a character). But this doesn't hold if a question has managed to attract a lot of different answers - so you end up in situations like this where various answers might be applied to completely different questions even though most of the answers are inapplicable. Frankly, this is a wee bit silly, and smells more of folks being bored with the topic than anything else.

To avoid looking silly then, I would strongly recommend using answers as more of a litmus test than as a policy: if you're already pretty sure the questions are duplicates, testing the answers of one against the other can easily confirm your suspicions. But don't close completely irrelevant questions as duplicates of one another simply because there's an animated gif that happens to apply to both...

  • 2
    This seems to contradict the current site consensus policy (though I am glad you posted this as I personally am not fully in agreement with existing consensus, even if I tend to enforce said policy since it's the law of the land). As such, are you saying that the site policy needs to be changed? Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 20:49
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    I'm saying the site policy has to be at least a little bit more nuanced than "matching answers == dup", @DVK-in-exile. Otherwise... That question with the Harry Potter w/ guns-a-blazing gif answer can probably take care of a good many more questions than it already is.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 20:53
  • 3
    Ahhh ok I'll grab whatever the health-conscious equivalent of popcorn is, in case people do take up this idea for discussion :) Thanks for sounding on this, I am glad at least someone agrees with my minority opinion :) Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 21:00
  • Hi Shog, we have a similar debate over at the travel site and I've tried to summarise the official SE position here. Can you please comment/answer over there and tell me if my summary is accurate or not, and suggest any improvements if I've got anything wrong? Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 10:44
  • 1
    You got the gist of it, @user568458. My complaint would be that it's a bit of a slog to read right now; break it up into more sections, with descriptive headers: "How do I identify dups?" / "Why aren't identical answers enough?" / "What's wrong with massive topic FAQs?" / "Background and history on other sites" - that sorta thing. Keep sections small enough to read and coherent enough to read alone.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 18:13
  • @Shog9 Thanks, I've updated it to have a more coherent structure. Could you post something like this as an answer there so I can accept it? (and maybe delete these comments from here!) Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 20:06
  1. Does the previously mentioned question really constitute a Meta:SE policy...

No, that single question doesn't constitute meta.SE policy. I think this answer from meta>SE is what most people have in mind when they say that duplicate answers can make a question a duplicate:

How should duplicate questions be handled?

As that answer says:

Questions may be duplicates if they have the same (potential) answers. This includes not only word-for-word duplicates, but also the same idea expressed in different words.


Narrow issue

The reason why that particular question is overruled by wider SE meta discussions is because even if we (on SFF:SE) decided that we wanted to be able to link answers as duplicates rather than questions, a decision has already been taken on a site-wide basis not to allow that.

Since it would require a programming change and not just a policy change, this means that all the wishing in the world ain't gonna make it happen.

Obviously the flipside is that if we do decide (for some reason) to accept this as site-wide policy on the say-so of a single poorly upvoted answer by someone who's not a member of SE staff, then we'd suddenly have to reopen potentially thousands of closed questions.

Wider issue

Individual sites are allowed to make their own policy through a process of concensus and opinion. It is a long-standing and reasonably popular policy on SFF:SE (and site-wide) that where an existing answer covers a newer question, the new question is marked as a duplicate in order to prevent multiple semi-identical answers being repeatedly posted, either by the original author (wasting their time) or by a new author (leading to accusations of plagiarism).

We're probably a little more aggressive about de-duping on the basis of answers, but that's largely because we have such as well informed core of users that dupe questions are picked up more easily, even when they're less obvious (at first glance) to less experienced users.


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