There is an aspect of duplicate questions I have long wondered about: I often see questions that are similar or identical to an existing question, but the answers to the older question are poor or incomplete in various ways. What is the right thing to do in such cases? Closing the question as a duplicate, or not asking it at all (if I am about to ask but discover a duplicate without a good answer) only serves to perpetuate the lack of a good answer.


Ask your question again. Link to the existing one, explain that the solutions there didn't help you, or that there are no solutions at all. Make sure your question is a better one than the dupe (more detailed, clearer, better researched, whatever) and then we can close the old one as a dupe of yours.

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    ... if the new question gets a less lousy answer.
    – muru
    Nov 16 '16 at 15:22
  • Thank you, that's good to know. It's not clear from the dialogs.
    – alexis
    Nov 16 '16 at 18:09
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    @muru, in fact what prompted me to finally ask this was one of my own recent questions; and indeed it has a better answer already. (To avoid misunderstandings: in that case, the answers to the earlier question were not "lousy", just less than perfect.)
    – alexis
    Nov 16 '16 at 18:11
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    @alexis also, if both questions have answers worth saving, you can flag one with a custom mod flag and suggest we merge them.
    – terdon Mod
    Nov 16 '16 at 18:18

This situation is partially due to voting patterns. People don't like to downvote lousy answers, because doing so makes them look ungrateful (if only in their own eyes) and cost them rep. Add some sympathy upvotes and voila! - you have an upvoted answer which makes the question an eligible target for dupe closing.

So, if you're about to ask a question and have found a duplicate with a +1 answer which can't possibly help, just downvote that answer and ask. People won't be able to close your question if the dupe target doesn't have at least a half-decent answer: enter image description here

Of course, this advice doesn't apply to cases where the answers in question are outdated or dealing with an issue which is not identical. In that case, @terdon's advice fully applies: you should be able to easily explain why your question is not a duplicate, so there's no problem to begin with.


Close as duplicate. If necessary, answer the existing question, edit it to improve the question (there's almost always room to do so!), or add a bounty to it.

If something got a lousy answer once, asking twice isn't going to magically make a better answer appear. Better to have everything consolidated so the voting system can work.

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    There's no magic to it: New questions get read more and answered more than old ones. There's little motivation to answer an old question, where the OP has long ago moved on and the trail of low-voted answers almost ensures a new, 0-vote answer will never be read.
    – alexis
    Nov 19 '16 at 7:07
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    Anyway I often try to apply your advice to edit the question, but it's not that simple: If an old question didn't get to the heart of the issue (making it a poor or misleading question), it usually cannot be fixed without invalidating the existing answers.
    – alexis
    Nov 19 '16 at 7:14

** Not an answer but I cannot add a comment with reputation < 50 **

As a reader of forums like this I get very frustrated with sites that kill a question as a duplicate - when google brought me to the 'killed' question.

Worst of all is when it gets closed with "answered elsewhere", but no reference. While, perhaps, that might have some relevance to whoever asked the question (do your research better) - it does not help someone who comes here later and does not know how your search mechanism works - to find that other better or worse question.

So, "reputation permitting" I am going to up-vote the answer that suggests to "duplicate-tag" the earlier question, especially if "new questions" get more weight from search engines.

Request to moderators: please ALWAYS add a link to the 'other', i.e. "not a dup" question. Many thanks!

  • Do you have an example on unix.SE that was closed with "answered elsewhere"? I thought we were pretty careful about closing only with a follow-on reference
    – roaima
    Nov 22 '16 at 13:08
  • not offhand. unix.SE is not *.SE and maybe *.SE in general is much better than others. But it is a very very big red flag for me. Takes a long time for me to forget and follow links from a search engine - OR - I am extremely desperate. In short, I read the question - and past frustrations came up - I am just the reader and this does not help! SOO!! very glad to hear that unix.SE has the reader in mind! Nov 22 '16 at 13:22
  • and I wish I could edit my comment - so many missing words... but I expect, or hope, that over time I will proof-read my comments better. Nov 22 '16 at 13:24
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    Actually, it is impossible to close as a duplicate without a link on SE. The only way to mark something as a dupe is to provide the target question it is a duplicate of. So don't worry, this is one problem that doesn't exist here.
    – terdon Mod
    Nov 23 '16 at 8:51
  • As roaima says, I believe that the Stack Exchange system doesn't allow a question to be closed (indeed, doesn't allow a user to vote to close a question) as a duplicate without specifying a duplicate target.  Here are a couple of things that can happen, however: (1) Question A gets closed as a duplicate of question B, and then question B gets deleted.  This should be flagged for moderator attention. (2) Somebody writes a comment saying "this question has been answered elsewhere" (without a reference), and then the question gets closed for other reason(s).  Or maybe doesn't get closed at all. Nov 24 '16 at 20:36

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