One of the concepts behind the StackExchange model is that questions which have the same underlying basis can be treated as duplicates, so it's possible to have a single place where the answers are 'accumulated'. That of course requires voting to close, which as we gain more users with sufficient reputation becomes more likely to be 'community-driven' rather than 'moderator-driven'. It therefore seems sensible to raise the question of how people feel this should work.

There are obviously a number of different cases. Sometimes, questions asked are clear and its easy to see that they really are duplicates of older questions. However, many questions from newer members of the site are not so easy to categories, at least without some feedback from the questioner.

My question is therefore what the 'guidelines' should be for voting to close as duplicates. (There is always some flexibility, of course.)

Some points that I think might be worth considering in an answer:

  • Closing requires five votes. Does it make a difference to how you should act if the question has no/one/two/three/four close votes already?
  • How does feedback from the OP fit it? They might come back very quickly and say either 'Yes, the link helped me' or 'I'm still having an issue because ...'.
  • Should the approach be different depending on how many questions the OP has asked before?
  • Does it make a difference if the question is very clear (i.e. to the 'certainly' of the duplication)?
Note:… is similar in a way, but is from some time ago and I think we perhaps need to have a slightly more 'guideline-focussed' question now we have more people who can vote on this. –  Joseph Wright Sep 22 '12 at 22:33
When someone posts a first close vote, it might be a good idea to add a comment along the lines of "I've voted to close this as a duplicate because currently, the question looks very similar to [link]. Note that closing a question is not final. If you feel that this question is not a duplicate you can edit it to add more information, in which case it may be reopened." –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 8:33
@Jake I disagree with your two last sentences. I believe (but I have no statistic) that especially new users will feel the closing of his or hers as final. I can only judge for myself, but I would feel a closing of my question as negative, and never tried to reopen it. –  Sveinung Sep 23 '12 at 9:10
@Sveinung: That's exactly why I think those sentences should be added, to explain that closing a question is not a way of saying "This is a bad question, you haven't done your research, into the bin your question goes". If the question is indeed not a duplicate, the asker should definitely edit it to make the differences clearer, and the question should then be reopened. –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 9:13
@jake In my opinion, the question should not have been closed before the OP has had a chance to respond, not even with 100 closing votes. –  Sveinung Sep 23 '12 at 9:16
@Sveinung: I agree in principle. However, if the OP doesn't respond, or only responds with something along the lines of "The solution at the link doesn't help" or "That's a completely different question" without further explanations, I think the question should be closed, together with the note that the question can be reopened once it's improved. –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 9:18
@Sveinung I think the point Jake is making is that there should be a comment when closing as a dupe, even if there has been a delay of say 48 h and perhaps a request for clarification –  Joseph Wright Sep 24 '12 at 7:33
@JosephWright A good idea. –  Sveinung Sep 24 '12 at 7:53
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1 Answer

up vote 17 down vote accepted

In my opinion, the base policy should be to be friendly, patient and polite. I will refer to Custom title page in report or book class?, and doncherry’s excellent comment, which can serve as an example:

Welcome to! This question is very similar to…. Please take a look at it as the information there might help you. If so, that's great, and we'll probably close this question as a duplicate just to keep the place tidy and to help people find answers quickly. If not, please edit your question here to explain why so that people can better focus their attention to help you. – doncherry Jun 11 at 22:42

This should be the ‘standard’ message to user asking question that may be a duplicate. Also, give the user a hint in which direction to edit the question to avoid closing.

And then, most important, some patience: No question should be closed within the first 48 hours after the the first (polite) note regarding possible duplicate. Not all users have the possibility to log in every day. A closing is a slap in the face, especially for new users. Also, remember that not all users have English as his or hers first language.

To the four bullets points in the question:

  • No, that doesn't matter. But what should matter is when one or more users have opposed to the duplicate claim.
  • Yes. If the OP acknowledge the question was a duplicate, it can be closed immediately.
  • No. The policy should be clear and consistence, connected to each question. Avoid discretional rules when possible.
  • No. The OP should always comment on the issue before closing. And the 48 hour rule similarly applies.

The procedure:

  1. A possible duplicate question
  2. doncherry’s note regarding possible duplicate
  3. 48 hour without adequate OP response
  4. Closing if at least five votes for closing

I have until now assumed it is clear what is a duplicate. But is that true? In my world two questions with the same or similar answers, is not necessary duplicate questions. In fact, it is two questions with similar answers. And that is a difference, not only semantic.

Finally, you have to decide how to handle possible improvements to the old question: If I have new ideas how to solve the problems for the user, shall I add an answer to the ‘original’ question, even if my idea might not be the best solution of that question?

I've editing my question a bit to highlight some areas I think might be important. On the 'time delay' part, I assume you mean 48 h after the first comment is left suggesting a dupe, rather than 48 h after the question is asked? –  Joseph Wright Sep 23 '12 at 7:54
@JosephWright And I have edited answer. –  Sveinung Sep 23 '12 at 9:03
Regarding the "new idea for the closed question": If an answer would only apply to the closed question, it probably shouldn't have been closed. In that case, I think the best thing is to cast a reopen vote and add a comment explaining that you have found an answer that only applies to this question, making it not a duplicate. –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 9:27
@Jake I totally agree with you, but it is very hard work to have a question reopened. (I have tried four time the last three days.) :-) –  Sveinung Sep 23 '12 at 9:30
@Sveinung: Ah, I guess that's because people don't see that there's a reopening attempt in progress and so don't cast a vote. What might help is if you edit the question (adding in the information why it's not a duplicate), which will bump the question back to the front page. –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 9:32
@Jake It was not my questions but I was against closing them. It is not correct policy to edit others’ question just for bumping them. –  Sveinung Sep 23 '12 at 9:37
@Sveinung: Not just for bumping them, of course. But it is correct policy to edit others' questions to clarify and improve them. –  Jake Sep 23 '12 at 9:38
@Sveinung Probably the best way to get reopen votes is to raise the issue in the chat room, with a reason for reopening. As Jake says, people don't necessarily see reopen votes, and editing may not be appropriate (depends on the case-in-point). –  Joseph Wright Sep 23 '12 at 9:52
@Sveinung I second the suggestion to raise specifics in chat. I don't often check the tools/review section, but I do monitor chat. If someone says "This should be reopened because ..." with a reasonable reason then I'm usually happy to vote to reopen. So I think it really is a case of people just not being aware of reopen votes. –  Andrew Stacey Sep 24 '12 at 9:07
On the proposal, I like it. One thing will take a bit of work is bringing the question to people's attention after the 48hr with no response - again, chat is good for this. I sometimes vote to close as duplicate having seen that others have done so when I should hold back a bit. But as I just said, I don't monitor the tools section enough so then wouldn't notice that there was one which should now be closed as duplicate. The other thing to note is the "Answer the unanswered" sessions often clean up these questions so it doesn't matter too much if one slips through the net. –  Andrew Stacey Sep 24 '12 at 9:09
@Sveinung It will shift the use of chat. Instead of being about an open-close debate, it will be used later in the process as "This can now be closed". So it's still important to use chat, but at a different time in the process. –  Andrew Stacey Sep 24 '12 at 9:28
Something else occurs to me. Comments don't just have to be directed to the questioner. It's possible to leave a comment to everyone else, something along the lines of "This looks like a duplicate so I've asked the questioner for clarification. I'll check back in a couple of days to see what the response is." Then it's clear that someone is taking responsibility so others can afford to hang fire. –  Andrew Stacey Sep 24 '12 at 9:32
@AndrewStacey Is it wise to take it one step further and tag the question with missing-mwe so we can also filter all those questions if we want to? It would be also beneficial for our Answer the Unanswered sessions. –  percusse Sep 25 '12 at 13:27
@percusse Sounds dangerously close to a meta-tag to me! The difficulty I'd have with that would be when to remove it. The temptation would be for the questioner to remove it, but we all know that the first MWE is often not a true MWE. Perhaps easier to search for comments that contain the MWE link - can one search in comments? –  Andrew Stacey Sep 25 '12 at 13:36
@AndrewStacey I wish I knew. But indeed overriding the tagging didn't occur to me. It doesn't sound as good as I've previously thought now. –  percusse Sep 25 '12 at 14:41
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