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Sometimes I think about the best way to answer a question, and while typing my answer somebody else post an answer containing the key idea of the answer that I was writing.

If I consider that the answer is still incomplete or unclear, I go ahead and post my answer. Otherwise, I delete what I have been typing.

My question is: Is it (in any sense) unethical to continue typing and post my answer in the conditions described above?

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    $\begingroup$ If you think that you can contribute something that other answers don't point out, then it's definitely acceptable to post something - after all, clarifying another answer is not only useful to the asker but likely to others. Also, here is a related post. The only problem I can foresee is copying an existing answers, but that's a separate issue. $\endgroup$ – user296602 Mar 19 '16 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ My inclination is to post a comment on the other answer: "Well done! You must think or type faster than me." (or however you like to put it). Then wait to see the reactions to the other answer before deciding whether to discard your answer or to post it (maybe with some recognition of the other answer and what you are adding to it). $\endgroup$ – Rob Arthan Mar 20 '16 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ Good question. That happens to me virtually every time I find a question that I can answer, usually because the other answerer is more experienced than I am in the subject and because (s)he does not explain everything step by step as I like to do (I always try to immedesimate in the asker). $\endgroup$ – Self-teaching worker Mar 20 '16 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Nah. Way more unethical to hop in and answer one's own question right away to make people frustrated that they weren't first. =) $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Mar 20 '16 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ If my own answer doesn't add anything to an earlier answer then I delete my own. $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Mar 21 '16 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ Here on Stack Exchange, this is known as The Fastest Gun in the West and it's on every site with significant traffic. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Mar 24 '16 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it's already been mentioned, but there are people who incrementally build their answers from something that is no more than a hint. I'm sure you've seen it: someone posts as an answer: "Use Fermat's little theorem." Then, as you're wondering how, you see "an edit has been made to this answer," you click on the notification and you see it's a little more fleshed out. Then another edit, and another. It could be the case that as you're making sure your answer is fleshed out but without posting anything at first, you two are actually progressing through the answer at the exact same pace. $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Mar 26 '16 at 17:56
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This is one of the most frustrating things that can happen when you have invested valuable time writing up your solution. You can minimize the frustration by solving the problems for your pleasure first, then for the community here.

However, to answer your question, it is absolutely ethical to keep typing and post what you have so long as it is your own work. It is also ethical to look for opportunities to post material that the other answer(s) have left out.

Nevertheless, it is never ethical to copy material from the other answer and pass it off as yours. Make sure that whatever you pass off as your own work is actually your own work. One way to ensure this is to not look at the other answers as you are posting.

If you are really driven to be the first to answer, you can post the minimum amount of material needed to answer the question, and then fill in further details with additional edits. This is a common tactic here, but keep in mind that (a) it must be quite frustrating for the OP and (b) someone else could easily post a better answer in the time you take to post edits.

There are times that I look at my answer and see that, after everything I have done, it is exactly the same as an earlier-posted answer and I have nothing more to add. If I did not invest that much time in the answer, I may choose to delete my answer.

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    $\begingroup$ "This is a common tactic here" and it shouldn't be. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Mar 20 '16 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ It shouldn't be, but here we are. This is the system that exists because of the rep incentives. Many people answer so many questions and make this site work because of these incentives. I do not encourage the practice, but I do acknowledge that people here do that (and I have done it in the past). If we can figure out a way to encourage people to take their time, work out their full solution in private, and then post (which is how I prefer to practice), then that would be a great thing. Unfortunately, I see no way to do that, thus the tactic. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Mar 20 '16 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ "Unfortunately, I see no way to do that [encourage people to take their time]" Here is a way: comment harshly on mediocre answers posted instantaneously (and do not pay too much attention to those calling you a fascist because you did). $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 20 '16 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Did: Sure, of course, and I for one enjoy and am inspired by your torching of such rubbish. I was referring to a strategy of providing a minimally acceptable answer to an OP's question and then building on it. It happens. I don't like it, but rep provides perverse incentives. Whether such tactics lead to solutions that may be called mediocre or not is I guess a judgment call. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Mar 20 '16 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I am missing something here but if an answer needs to be "built on" after it is posted, isn't it mediocre, almost by definition? :-) $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 20 '16 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Did: I was about to disagree with you, but upon second thought you are right. an incomplete solution is mediocre in the eyes of the poster of the solution. It's just that sometimes, one honestly does not realize it is incomplete until later. However, we are not talking about such cases - we are speaking of purposefully doing it just to get rep. And, yes, it should be discouraged. If you happen to be there, I guess, you have a great solution. (Then again, how successful have you really been with changing the behavior of a certain someone who has been suspended multiple times on this site?) $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Mar 20 '16 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ Touché. And yet, such characters, while rather spectacular, are not the most serious problem of the site, imho (once it is said that, for some reason I cannot fathom, they are essentially let free to post endless garbage on the site). $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 20 '16 at 11:56
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    $\begingroup$ It's not just reputation incentives. Also badgers. You can't get Enlightened if you're not the first one to post an answer. Of course, you can't get Enlightened if your answer is heavily downvoted for posting "This will become an answer in the near future" just in order to get the first rights. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 20 '16 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ Oh my god have they added badgers? Can I have one? =) $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Mar 20 '16 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Stop perceiving it as frustrating and start perceiving it as "wow, someone really thinks I am important enough to to this to frustrate me!". $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Mar 21 '16 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks you all. Those were very insightful comments. I feel inclined to choose @RonGordon answer. I only hope nobody were typing an answer with similar ideas and was too slow to post it first. On the other hand, it is not the most important issue in this site, right? $\endgroup$ – Darío G Mar 24 '16 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ No, it's not the most important issue, but maybe it's the most relatable. $\endgroup$ – David R. Mar 26 '16 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ But wouldn't the community flag an answer you posted as a duplicate of an answer that was given before you actually posted your answer? $\endgroup$ – Obinna Nwakwue Mar 27 '16 at 20:09
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It is completely ethical to continue to type your answer and post it. After all, unless it's a very basic question, it's a little hard to be certain in that short period of time that the person who posted the answer faster than you didn't get there sooner on account of making some small but crucial mistake.

However, this is one of those cases where appearances are not on your side. If it weren't that it has happened to me, it would be easier for me to believe that when you saw the answer posted you hadn't thought of the way at all. The thirty second difference or whatever small amount of time will soon be irrelevant, and the following day both your answer and the faster man's answer will both show as having been posted "yesterday" with no indication as to which came first.

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    $\begingroup$ Re: with no indication as to which came first. Of course, when hovering above the timestamp, you get a tooltip with the exact time. See: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/236816/… $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 22 '16 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed. Mr. Brooks posted this answer at 22:14:21 (Greenwich time, I'm guessing). Also, isn't it possible for the faster person to be a woman? $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Mar 23 '16 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Robert, yes, it's Zulu time. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Mar 23 '16 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I didn't even know about that. Thank you very much. $\endgroup$ – Mr. Brooks Mar 24 '16 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertSoupe Yes, it is possible. But unlikely. Please don't read misogyny into that. $\endgroup$ – Mr. Brooks Mar 24 '16 at 22:43

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