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A recent question appeared to me to be a duplicate of another.

I flagged it as a potential duplicate. I also answered the question, restating the essential portion of the answer provided in the putative duplicate.

Another user, however, suggested that my actions were not in accord with best practice. Multiple other users requested a MWE. The suggestion WRT my response was:

  1. The duplicate nature of the question cannot be determined in the absence of further information.
  2. If it is indeed a duplicate, my answer worsens matters, by "simply adding to the duplication."

I provide my own rejoinders to these allegations in turn.

Firstly, it is worth noting that the title was prefixed with "Urgent Help". In my experience, this suggests that the OP has some deadline and likely lacks the time to provide a MWE. One could of course argue that others' need not expend their effort to answer a question posed with such minimal effort. I was, however, already aware of the putative duplicate to this question. Accordingly, I could easily respond and provide that answer. I maintain that:

  1. My flagging the question as a duplicate, to suggest that moderators to evaluate it, is the correct course of action in this circumstance. Even absent further information, while we cannot be certain this is a duplicate, it is probable and this is sufficient.
  2. The provision of an answer directly within the posed question, in this circumstance, is of greatest benefit to a time-constrained OP. Accordingly, my quoting from the duplicate answer is useful and is (as far as I can tell) often done.

The user who composed the answer to the (possible duplicate) that I linked to has replied, providing reasons why my answer is unlikely to be helpful. They also kindly updated their answer.

I would appreciate feedback from this community regarding this matter, especially any links to any relevant established policies.

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note that

My flagging the question as a duplicate, to suggest that moderators to evaluate it

is a bit misleading, it doesn't (directly) bring it to the attention of the moderators. It just means that you think it is duplicate (and if 5 people think the same then it is closed as duplicate).

But in general I think there is no harm in answering a question that ends up being duplicate. It often happens that I answer a question, then someone suggests a duplicate, and if I agree I'll vote to close as duplicate, I very rarely delete the answer already posted.

In practice I don't do things in the order that you suggested (vote to close as duplicate, then answer, for anything for which you have a tag badge that isn't possible anyway) But since the end result on the site is the same whether you answer then vote to close or vote to close then answer, I can't see it matters much either way.

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Allow me to express a dissenting opinion (it may turn out not to be as dissenting as initially thought, but bear with me).

Comment First off, I think you were absolutely right to leave a comment suggesting the duplicate. Even if the OP had already tried that solution, at least others can benefit from finding it. This is especially useful since the original question mentioned other questions and answers without linking to them.

Early close votes I would refrain from voting to close (or flagging) as a duplicate so early, though, doubly so without input from the OP. Timing and "premature voting" have already been discussed extensively on meta. Definitely in the early stages when it is likely that the OP will respond, duplicate suggestions should not be used to suggest to moderators to evaluate the question, but should rather suggest possible solutions to the person asking the question. In this particular case it is doubtful that anyone besides the OP could evaluate the merits of a possible solution from the original version of the question. The idea here is that especially so shortly after a question has been asked the primary concern should be to help the user and solve her problem, while concerns about "keeping the site clean" should come second or third.

That is not to say that I never vote to close. I think it is perfectly reasonable to vote to close if the OP agrees that the question is a duplicate (assuming I agree with her) or if there has been no reaction for a while and the question is deserted.

MWEs I would like to take up the "insistence upon MWEs" from your title. "Insistence" has a slightly negative ring to my non-native ears, so please allow me to comment on that as well. It is true that many people on this site (including me) often ask for an MWE if a question lacks one. It is also true that not all questions require an MWE to be understood or answered (Are there questions where we can recognize that a MWE is not necessary?, automatic check for MWE). Even then an MWE can be helpful to get started and test possible answers, so while I am "guilty" of asking for an MWE even if it may not be "required", I at least try to make it clear in my comments that this is the case. On the other hand, there are many questions that I believe cannot be answered properly without seeing an MWE (Why does TeX require such elaborate MWE:s). While it may be possible to guess the right solution, there are just too many variables we don't know about. MWEs are particularly helpful if the OP confuses package names or other terms in the text of their question or in the tags (e.g. "I'm using natbib" when only biblatex's natbib compatibility mode is used, biblatex vs BibTeX, adding the LaTeX3 tag for no reason, ...).

In this case the OP mistakenly tagged their question with the biblatex tag and mentioned that package explicitly in the title and body of the question, even though they actually used the BibTeX style ACM-Reference-Format.bst. This only became clear after an MWE excerpt of the preamble was posted.

I appreciate that the OP had time constraints and that they may not have been able to invest time into making a truly minimal MWE, but I believe that time is better spent creating an MWE than being sent on a wild goose chase of possible solutions.

Answering duplicate questions Like David I believe that there is absolutely no harm in answering a question even if it is indeed a duplicate. If writing an answer is quicker than finding and linking a good duplicate, then surely that can only benefit the OP. If the new answer puts a different spin on things, or shows how to implement a solution in the context of the new question then that is fine as well.

I don't really see the point in restating an answer if there is little additional value to be gained from doing so and the duplicate link is already at hand, as was the case here. If there would have been an MWE, additional value would have been gained from implementing the answer with the given MWE. I personally would only have added such an answer after the OP replied that they had problem getting the suggested answer to work, but if you think that the OP benefits from that right away, who am I to stop you?

What I do object to, however, is simply copying over an answer (I'm not suggesting you did that, this is purely to explain my views). That does not really add value to the site or the OP. The OP is only one click further from the solution if you simply link to it. Even if they are really pressed for time, I cannot imagine that being a huge disadvantage. At worst, copying an existing answer is harmful because it means that two answers spread outdated information after a while (one seemingly being more up-to-date than the other), and it means that two answers need to updated. In case the answer has flaws or bugs, there are now two places where they can be reported.

Copying over only bits of an answer might work, but if done badly can actually combine the two disadvantages of simply linking and copying the answer. Originally https://tex.stackexchange.com/revisions/422015/1 was not really helpful without the link to the existing answer, since there was no indication whatsoever as to where the code changes needed to be made. This is worse than a simple link because the answer gets the OP's hopes up and requires cognitive load to be processed, only to then find out that the answer lies elsewhere. In that case a simple link and a short note to look there would have been more efficient.


I appreciate that this particular case has not been very kind to your approach.

  • It turned out that an MWE was actually useful, since it cleared up a confusion about biblatex vs. BibTeX.
  • The suggested duplicate was not actually the suitable answer here.
  • The answer in the suggested duplicate was improved by updating.

If one or more of these had turned out otherwise, in hindsight your approach would have been more successful.


My strategy for cases like this is to ask for clarification/an MWE, so that possible answers can be found and evaluated. If I know of a possible duplicate, normally I only leave a comment with a link and maybe a short explanation. I suggest you do not flag or vote to close at that point. Instead wait for a response. If the OP is happy with the duplicate, flag and vote away, if the OP agrees it might not even need to go through the normal review queue. If the OP has trouble getting the suggested duplicate answer to work, I'll then proceed to post an answer.

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