I should get some other opinions on this before I let it irritate me...

What is the general view on the following scenario:

One poster answers a question correctly and pretty thoroughly. Half an hour later, another poster answers the question again, almost word-for-word, but with perhaps one small additional feature. E.g. it could be a Magic question, and the second answer gives the paragraph number of the rule in the Magic Comprehensive Rules, whereas the first answer just quoted the rule.

In some respects the second answer may be better as it has a small amount of additional content that the first answer lacked - but from another point of view, it could be deemed a sort of blatant parasitism, doing very little work other than making a tiny change that could have been suggested in a comment or edit instead.

As I say I see pros and cons to this kind of activity, so I just wanted to poll others on what they thought. N.B. I am not suggesting that one of two posters "simul-posting" an answer should be penalised due to the unfortunate accident of failing to hit the return button first... but half an hour later, it doesn't seem so likely that this is what happened, surely?

  • 1
    Mm, I'm not so worried about whether it constitutes legally actionable plagiarism, more about whether it's a slightly shady way of gaming the reputation system. I guess the worst outcome of it (aside from "unfairness issues") is questions ending up with two virtually identical answers, which may not even be a terrible thing... at least it corroborates what the correct answer is. Mar 1, 2013 at 21:53
  • Yeah, I guessed that's where you were coming from. Those related questions don't really discuss the etiquette angle too much (which is why I didn't post them as an answer). But the surrounding discussion is interesting. Mar 1, 2013 at 21:57
  • Funny. I actually asked something similar a long time ago: Etiquette: When is it ok to edit your answer to include information from someone else's? Mar 1, 2013 at 22:18
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    I'd like to just note that sometimes it takes 20 min. or so to look up a comprehensive rule, formulate an answer, then get distracted by, I don't know, actual money-paying work :), then come back 15 min. later and post the answer without noticing someone else has already answered in a similar way. Like you say, usually two similar answers don't matter. More than once I've deleted my answer if it isn't substantively different in content than a more well-articulated answer.
    – ghoppe
    Mar 5, 2013 at 16:04
  • @ghoppe Upvoted because I agree that it feels like good etiquette to delete your correct answer if it arrives later than an answer that says exactly the same... through no fault of your own. Subsidiary question: should moderators feel any need to "tidy up" the answers in the event that multiple identical answers are posted? What if someone adds an identical answer to an existing one 6 months down the line (unlikely and ineffectual though this would be?) Mar 5, 2013 at 17:18
  • I knew this question sounded far too familiar. It's been asked on this meta here (and I answered it). Is it bad form to source content from other people's answers? Mar 10, 2013 at 19:30

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't worry about it, nothing's broken here.

1) You do not own an exclusive right to be a sole answered of a question. You cannot plagerize statements of fact.

2) Answers that are posted after another answer may have been started before another answer (this might be the case because the answer took the time to quote the rule in question, format the question nicely, and link to the relevant authoritative document. Doubly true if using a mobile device to input the answer)

Quick answers are not necessarily the best answers. If you do not make it obvious that you quote from the MtG CR, someone else is likely to take the effort to do so to make it clear that the rules quote was authoritative.

  • Don't worry, I'm in favour of the actual best answer to any given question being generated on this site. The only question is whether we all aim for that cooperatively or competitively! Mar 3, 2013 at 7:52
  • Genuinely not meant to be a dig, that last comment, by the way. This entire site network has been set up on the concept of getting people really competitive in order to trick them into doing collaborative work... Mar 3, 2013 at 8:04

In my experience on StackOverflow, if two answers are equivalent preference is usually shown (in voting and in which one is accepted) for the earlier answer--and we, as voting and commenting members of the community--can encourage this behavior here.

I might take action depending on the situation--a downvote if it's very close and probably a flag if it's verbatim.

I think the ideal outcome would be a comment from a 3rd user encouraging the second-answerer to either expand his answer to make it substantially different or to self-delete.

  • Though note that if the two answers are within an hour of each other, as in the scenario I described, eventually both answers will end up marked "5 hours ago" etc etc, and it will be really difficult for the casual observer to tell which one was first. Not that "I was lucky enough to arrive on the scene first" is a good reason for getting all the glory, but then "I arrived on the scene second, and copied out the answer almost word for word" seems like an even worse one! Mar 3, 2013 at 7:47
  • @thesunneversets Yes, hours later on the same day is hard to distinguish--which is unfortunate--but once the day is gone they get time-stamped. On first reading your question I was nervous you might be referring to me in answering this question, but it's clear now that we were 3 minutes apart (and, I believe, different enough to justify keeping both up). Mar 3, 2013 at 17:02
  • @shujaa "but once the day is gone they get time-stamped." It takes about 2 or 3 days, it seems, as your answer's timestamp currently shows up as "2 days ago".
    – Joe Z.
    Mar 5, 2013 at 20:44

The etiquette I've seen on some other sites is that if there's a reasonably thorough answer that's missing one small thing, someone else will edit it in (if it's straightforward, like a source citation) or suggest it in a comment (if it might "put words in" the author's mouth). If the author edits to incorporate that information, it's good form to give a hat-tip to the commenter (since the comment will probably be deleted as obsolate later), but this isn't universal.

All that said, there's no "I got here first" lock on information; if a later answer explains the same points more clearly, for example, that might be the more-valuable answer even if it didn't start from scratch. If I'm the later answerer I only answer if I feel my post is substantially different; for smaller stuff I think it's better to improve the existing answer.

  • Nothing to disagree with here. I guess it's probably more trouble than it's worth to put "expanding on userx's excellent answer" in a subsequent answer (after all, what if userx goes on to delete their post?). But a bit of "credit where it's due" might not go amiss as a comment, perhaps? Mar 4, 2013 at 17:09
  • Actually, I've seen the "expanding on X's answer" pattern work well (where the expansion is enough to warrant its own anwwer). If X deletes or heavily revises his answer the original is still recoverable, so at worst the other answer gets edited. What I meant about credit is: X posts an answer, Y says something helpful, X edits something helpful into his answer and says something like "thanks to Y" or "h/t Y" as part of that. It seems polite to me (crediting your source), but it's by no means universal. The main point is to get Y's info into the answer. Mar 4, 2013 at 17:13
  • I'm just sore about doing that because I got stung once: I did an answer that said "actually, I disagree with X's answer"; they agreed and changed the part that was wrong; their now-correct answer went on to get a ton of upvotes; and my answer started to attract downvotes for not making any sense! ("What does he mean, he disagrees with X's answer? X's answer is right.") Never write an answer depends on context from outside the answer, is what I learned from that... Mar 4, 2013 at 17:18
  • Ouch. I'm sorry to hear that, and if I'd been stung that way I think I'd feel the same way. :-( Mar 4, 2013 at 17:20
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    @thesunnevrrsets, why not say I disagree with X's answer that [blah]. If X changes their answer, just change your answer I disagree with X's previous answer before their edit that, [blah]. Anyone who would downvote you without looking into the edit isn't worth worrying about.
    – user1873
    Mar 5, 2013 at 2:34

If you're referring specifically to Magic questions, this has been a debate for a while.

Having two answers, one with comp rules as an authoritative source and one without the citations and near as much background as a more beginner friendly answer, is much better than having one big answer. It lets the beginners drift to the answer that is easier to read, and lets the experts drift to the one with citations because they can understand it.

  • I do like the one brief answer plus one very, very complete answer format for answers to Magic questions. In this case I was thinking more of near-identical correct answers. An answer that really delves into the ins and outs of the Comprehensive rules following a correct but brief response is definitely an addition of value to the previous answer. Mar 7, 2013 at 17:40

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