Are users obligated to read (or at least skim) existing answers before posting a new answer?

I can see one reason for "yes": it would reduce redundant answers. But How to write a good answer doesn't mention any such obligation.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess you are not obliged. Indeed you are even not obliged to read the whole link. But it is definitely a good idea: it's a waste of time to post a duplicate answer. Also, I won't want to be a position where it looks like I am copying others answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ The help center only gives generic pointers valid to all Stack Exchange -sites. As you said, we want to avoid redundant answers. An answer to an old question that does not add a new angle to the question is usually not received well. Do observe that the age of the question plays a big role. Answers to a new question overlap temporally, and collisions are unavoidable. Personally my expectations here go up depending on how experienced the answerer is. A veteran should automatically also skim the comments in addition to existing answers. I will give some slack to newbies, but that may be just me. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ "How to write a good answer" doesn't mention that your answer should relate to the question that was asked, that it shouldn't include racial epithets, or pornography – some things just go without saying. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ Not only should you search the current post for dupes, but you should also search the entire site. Users have been suspended for posting too many dupe/psq answers, see enforcement of quality standards. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill, at that link, there is mention of duplicate questions, but no mention of duplicate answers to a single question, which is what we're concerned with here. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ At the very least, such a user should not be surprised if, in the case their answer turns out to be duplicate, they receive downvotes or their solution is merged or deleted or something. Checking ahead of time prevents the wasted effort and avoids unnecessary frustration of getting negative attention. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jul 26 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson We discourage duplicate questions in order to avoid duplicate answers. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ It is quite possible that two people could post very similar answers within a very short time of each other. That happened to me quite a bit when I was more active on the site - I deleted a fair number of my own answers after checking near-simultaneous posts from others: I was generally second because my typing is rather slow. But sometimes near-simultaneous posts get left up. And sometimes the quickest answer may be an adequate answer, but the second one may express the same mathematical content in a better or more helpful way. $\endgroup$ Jul 29 at 17:13

3 Answers 3


There's another Help Center article, Why and how are some answers deleted?:

Answer posts that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:


  • exact duplicates of other answers

This is a bit contradictory; of course the duplicate answer does answer the question. And an answer does not need to be an exact duplicate, just like a question doesn't have to be an exact duplicate to be closed as such.

Since it's a waste of time to write answers which are later deleted, we can conclude users should read other answers before posting.


After reading a few comments on my question, here is my answer:

Strictly speaking, no obligation. But common sense tells us that users should at least skim existing answers to avoid duplication.

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    $\begingroup$ It's not only common sense but enforced site policy to strive to avoid duplication - see my comment on the question. $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque In your comment on the question, you suggest that users should search the entire site for dupes before posting an answer. If that's the case, then shouldn't this be included in "How to write a good answer?" ( math.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer ) Users new to answering might not be aware of this policy. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Jul 26 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I feel like your comment is very different from Dan's answer and might be worth a separate answer given that it may end in suspension for some users $\endgroup$ Jul 26 at 9:28

Well, because nothing tells us we have to read it, we don't have to.

But whether or not you read it, we (or at least some of us) can close your answer if your answer doesn't add anything extra (that is useful) to the question.

If you decide, though, that you just want to try to get suspended or lose reputation on purpose, that's a good way.

To quote,

Common sense tells us that users should at least skim existing answers to avoid duplication.

Generally, you should read the other answers, but you wouldn't be punished solely for not reading the other answers, only if this causes you to post duplicate answers.


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