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What should I do when I'm typing the answer of a question and someone else post answer before I finish, and I notice that answer is very close to what I'm going to write? Should I delete my own answer or finishing it anyway?

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    $\begingroup$ I think that it is better not to have two answers that are almost equal. So I will go for deleting own answer. $\endgroup$ – d80d2729a352b1366139fc119d3345 Oct 18 '14 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ Usually I just delete my answer. Some people have a problem with deleting their work when they have put some effort in it, but I'd expect them to at least delete their short answers. (In fact when two or more answers are similar, I up vote only the oldest one). Alternatively, sometimes I add something to my answer to make its existence worthwhile. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Oct 18 '14 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ This older discussion seems, to some extent, related: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/12/… $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 18 '14 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ You'd be surprised how phrasing an entire solution a little differently could make a world of difference to the one asking the question. Furthermore, with regards to the person who posted first: don't be so sure their answer is correct right away. Work out your solution, post it up, and then look through theirs. You and the asker of the question might realize that the first responder was wrong. I've seen this happen twice yesterday alone. $\endgroup$ – daOnlyBG Oct 18 '14 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think I'll put forward a lot more answers now after reading through this. (I'm a relatively slow at typing, it seems.) $\endgroup$ – Shaun Oct 28 '14 at 19:02
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People will disagree on this, so the following is just my approach.

If I see an answer where I believe that I can add something of value, then I will add an answer. I do this even is my answer is essentially the same as the ones given. I might have a different way of explaining something and this different explanation might be helpful to the OP.

If I start writing an answer and after a few seconds someone else posts an answer, then I delete my answer if my answer wouldn't add something helpful. If I am halfway into an answer and I see a new answer, then I just keep finish typing and then post my answer. In fact, I rarely check to see the new answer that has been posted. I just focus on my own answer. In general I wouldn't worry too much about having similar answers. Keep in mind that what looks the same to you, might not look the same to the person asking the question.

If I see a question that already has an answer and if I don't think that I can add anything of value, then I refrain from answering.

In general I try to focus on helping the questioner, but I have also been providing answers as an exercise for myself in explaining things in writing.

So, I wouldn't worry about it. Just provide your answers.

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For me it depends on the quality of the existing answer.

A lot of responses on the site answer questions like they are trying to score points on a test. As I understand it, the purpose of the site is to try to improve the understanding of mathematics, not to showcase the responder's quizzing abilities.

So for me, if I think the other answer is a good explanation for someone who is unfamiliar with the material, I will delete my own and upvote the other.

However, if I think the other answer is rushed, poorly formatted, an answer only a person grading a test would grudgingly credit, then I will ignore it with prejudice. I dislike the "rush to be first" that I perceive sometimes.

(From comments) In fact when two or more answers are similar, I up vote only the oldest one.

There are some good reasons to do this, especially if the later answer is very late and doesn't contribute, generally showing that the poster didn't even bother looking at the other answers.

However, I must ultimately disagree with this policy. I vote for the better answer. Which answer shows clarity and is useful to a person who needs help with the question? Even if the content is mostly the same,

  • taking the time to use \begin{align}
  • taking the time to add references
  • taking the time to add spoiler tags >! so the poster can work out some parts for themselves
  • taking time to add pictures

etc, I prefer these rather than fast answers.

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    $\begingroup$ I prefer to combine well written answers with quick posting. Takes a lot of practice to get it right, though. :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 19 '14 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ In my defense, using my definition of 'similar', whatever it may be, there is no 'better' answer. And I know who the fastest guns are, so when I don't see the answers coming up in real time, I check the history to make sure the first versions of the questions weren't just some attempt at getting the first votes. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Oct 19 '14 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ Nice link. Ultimately, I think the best approach would be people who encourage others to edit our own answers rather than be defensive about them. That's why I ask others to edit my answers in my profile. That way links and formatting and all can be added without making excessive answers present. $\endgroup$ – DanielV Oct 20 '14 at 0:12
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I think that good questions are those that can't be answered in couple of seconds and thus you don't have to hurry to answer first.

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    $\begingroup$ This. So much this. I plead guilty to having violated this rule occasionally, but If it takes me less than a minute to solve the problem, I strive to leave the answering to someone else. I recommend this to others, too. Drop a hint or three, if you cannot resist. The site will benefit more, if people spend time with questions that can only be answered by fewer peers. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Oct 31 '14 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ A question from which the asker learns something is a good question irrespective of how quickly someone can answer it. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 31 '14 at 20:36
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Probably, finish it. Votes will keep it "below the fold" (since people tend to vote for older posts if two are similar), but even a slightly different explanation will help some readers.

Little harm, some good, so probably keep.

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My comment was (surprisingly) well received, so I thought I'd post it here as an answer:

Post your answer anyway.

You'd be surprised how phrasing an entire solution a little differently could make a world of difference to the one asking the question.

Furthermore, with regards to the person who posted first: don't be so sure their answer is correct right away. Work out your solution, post it up, and then look through theirs. You and the asker of the question might realize that the first responder was wrong. I've seen this happen very frequently.

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Sometimes if I know my answer is going to take a while and the question is front-paged, I will make a short post like:

Short answer: use the froobity fribbity fringle

Long answer: (editing)

Then I take my time filling in my complete answer.

This way those who are answering just to have it answered know that someone will be answering it fully in a matter of minutes. I don't see this as a race to "first!" but more of a way to say, "I can answer this for you" before unveiling a complete answer.

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