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I am wondering what is expected of someone who feels that a contributor has added an answer that is very similar to at least one other answer in the same post. (I may not be able to clearly summarize my thoughts here; if you feel you understand what I am trying to say then please edit my post in anyway that would make it more clear)

Scenario 1: Author of the original answer

What should I do when I see someone post an answer that is very similar to mine? (Or what should you do when you see someone post an answer that is very similar to yours?)

Example:

I wrote an answer to a question. After 1 hour, I notice that someone else has written an answer that is very similar to mine. Their answer does not add anything new to the matter. They also don't fail to address any of the points that my answer has addressed. For example, I talk about "grammaticality", "meaning", and "usage" (where the question has asked about say "difference"). Now, the new answer also talks about all those three points, nothing more or nothing less.

Now, it is possible that after seeing my answer, the contributor felt that all three points are important to talk about to fully answer the question. I can't complain about that. But if they don't have anything new to add to those three points, then I wonder why they are writing a new answer at all. They should just upvote the existing answer or add comments if they think I should clarify or add something. Is it acceptable to the ELL community that someone reiterates the same message with different phrasing? What if the phrasing is a little better though (if that is the case, they could edit the original answer)?

Scenario 2: Just browsing through the questions

Now imagine you are not involved in that post or thread in anyway. You just happen to notice that a contributor has written an answer that is very similar to an existing answer (you can check the time the answers were posted). Their answer adds nothing new to the issue at hand. The new answer may or may not be phrased in a neater way. What do you do? Comment?

What should I do as the original author or as just someone browsing the questions?

  1. Slam my keyboard.
  2. Comment: "How is your answer any different than mine or the existing answer?"
  3. Flag for moderator attention (but I don't want to bother them): "Look, look, cheater ..."
  4. Downvote their answer (but then they will downvote the other answer or my answer).
  5. Ignore and do nothing.
  6. Recognize that they too thought of the exact same points and did not piggyback on the existing answer. In which case, upvote their answer.
  7. ... (add other options)
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    I think I know who the culprit is, if it is this person she/he will eventually stop. It's rare that a late answer that basically copies or repeats what was said earlier gets upvotes. In general, late answers do not attract upvotes unless they do offer new information or a different outlook. – Mari-Lou A Jun 1 at 7:37
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    If you feel that this user is actually copying your answers flag the post to bring it to the attention of the moderators. Avoid posting comments beneath their contributions. – Mari-Lou A Jun 1 at 7:39
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks for the advice. I will avoid commenting. And Eddie Kal also suggested I flag it if I feel it is necessary. And I saw this happen a few times before (with different users) but in those occasions I was reading through questions. Now I know what we should do if we ever encounter such a case. – AIQ Jun 1 at 7:56
  • When you find a repetitious Answer, why not report it? – Robbie Goodwin Jun 13 at 20:57
  • Several times I have encountered an answer that is good, but has one or a few minor issues. In such cases, I often post a comment suggesting some improvement. The object is to help generate a superior answer. Unfortunately, authors on ELL have been rarely interested in making changes. In a few cases, I have adapted much of the content from another answer to make my own. I am not happy doing it, but feel it is the best option, having given the author ample opportunity to take full credit. I wish that overall the tone was more collective. If so, some of the above grievances might diminish. – epl Jul 24 at 1:02
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1. First, downvote it if you feel justified.

Never worry about being retaliated against. A lot of reasons justify a downvote. Retaliation is not one of them; suspected plagiarism, however, is. Your downvote may cost you 1 rep point, but it is a speech-act, an expression of disapproval of their act which you believe is pilferage off of your work. Go right at it. If your suspicion is well-founded, then that answer probably deserves to be panned. And if that user retaliates because of that, it only adds to their problematic behavior.

2. If it is serious and you think it warrants moderator attention, flag it.

Moderators will take a look at it, and mod action will be taken if it is warranted. Stealing ideas from other answers and/or combining other people's words to make their answer appear more "comprehensive" is not new on StackExchange. This Meta SE post talks of people who try to game the system by doing that and downvoting other answers. What is FGITW and SCITE?

3. It is not always plagiarism or even intentional

One notable exception I would like to mention is word/phrase requests. Every so often people come up with the same word/phrase. Also very often a later answerer comes up with several words they think fit the request, but some of them have been mentioned by previous posters. This is not a problem. Maybe other answers didn't explain the terms well enough or maybe the new answerer just didn't bother to look at those other answers. Sometimes someone who's posted an answer earlier comes to the new answer and protests/downvotes, and it might devolve into bickering. I would ask people not to mind other answers too much in this situation.

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  • Thanks for answering Eddie Kal. I really appreciate you took the time to write this while moderating the site. – AIQ Jun 1 at 7:51
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    One other possible scenario is when the original answer is a good suggestion but is so poorly written that it's hard to follow. In those cases, the overlap might be less about stealing ideas and more about trying to add an answer that doesn't need to be read several times just to make sense out of it. – J.R. Jun 1 at 9:24
  • @J.R. It's really good to see you. And yes that actually makes sense. – AIQ Jun 1 at 10:24
  • +1, especially for the last point; I know I’ve written an answer at pretty much the same time as someone else, and only realised that it’s the same when I posted it. – Fivesideddice Jun 3 at 9:49
  • @Fivesideddice That has happened to me as well a few times. But I clearly remember that when I realized both my answer and the other answer was exactly the same, I deleted mine. And sometimes you are able to clearly tell if an answer is original or if it is a copy of an existing answer. – AIQ Jun 3 at 18:40
  • @J.R. don't be a stranger! Your experience and writing skills have always been an asset for the site. Come back! – Mari-Lou A Jun 25 at 8:54
  • Would it not be warranted, before downvoting, to ask, "My answer seems to address all the same points as yours, and was posted earlier. What further value do you think you might be adding by this answer?" – epl Jul 23 at 10:10
  • @epl I agree. It would be. But very often it will be received negatively and reacted to strongly. I would suggest avoiding things possibly leading to spats. – Eddie Kal Jul 23 at 18:19
  • @EddieKal: Sure, avoiding some action that would provoke a fight may be wise. But if a user responds poorly to some polite inquiry, then it would point to a problem with that user, which might demand another kind of remedy, and would give further justification to some eventual downvote. The larger idea behind my suggestion is to open with a charitable stance rather than a punitive one, by giving someone an opportunity at least to explain. – epl Jul 23 at 19:33
  • (@EddieKal: Trying not to labor the point excessively, I would add that I personally find myself more likely to adopt a combative attitude when I feel that someone has sidestepped civil discussion through invoking some indirect feature of the system, like downvoting (or closevoting), before giving me a chance to explain my intention or position, or to change electively to a course that others might find more agreeable.) – epl Jul 23 at 20:21
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  1. Slam my keyboard.

It might make you feel temporarily better but it won't improve your experience as a contributor, and the user who posted a very similar question will be none the wiser.

  1. Comment: "How is your answer any different than mine or the existing answer?"

This will definitely make you feel better but it is has a strong accusatory tone, one that will attract a defensive, and possibly aggressive reply and might lead to flared tempers.

Sometimes users don't bother to read answers that have been posted, especially if there are already a ton of them. Call it absent mindedness, laziness or just carelessness.

It has often happened to me that I begin composing an answer but for whatever reason I have had to leave my keyboard, by the time I return and submit my contribution another user has posted. If I see our answers are virtually identical, I will delete mine. However, if I think I can add an interesting twist, explain something more thoroughly, I will.

  1. Flag for moderator attention (but I don't want to bother them): "Look, look, cheater ..."

Flagging is never a waste of a moderator's time if used judiciously. But I would refrain from calling a user who has posted a similar answer cheater, I save that epithet for users who have sockpuppets. But that's just me, your mileage might differ.

  1. Downvote their answer (but then they will downvote the other answer or my answer).

Revenge downvoting is a possibility this is expressly why voting is anonymous. You can upvote someone's comment to let the OP know that you agree with the criticism but if no one has said anything, resist the temptation to comment and just downvote. Nothing wrong in using downvotes when done objectively.

  1. Ignore and do nothing.

For newcomers and first time offenders, sure. Why not? Anyone can make a mistake the first time. But for users who post duplicate answers as a habit, don't. Flag the offending post(s) to bring it to the moderators' attention. You're doing the community a service.

  1. Recognize that they too thought of the exact same points and did not piggyback on the existing answer. In which case, upvote their answer.

If the answer is correct, you like it and feel it is well written you should upvote it, even if it does replicate some points made by earlier contributions.

On the other hand if it is clearly a duplicate answer, please flag it.

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  • Thanks a lot for the detailed answer and for elaborating on point no. 2. I think I made a good decision asking this question here before making such a comment. I did feel like commenting but I stopped myself and thought I would first ask here. And you are absolutely right about "for whatever reason I have had to leave my keyboard". Sometimes, I start writing an answer and for various reasons it takes me an hour to complete it. Btw, I was just joking a bit when I said "cheater". – AIQ Jun 1 at 9:59

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