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I've seen more than a couple of times the following phenomenon: someone asks a question, and it gets several, essentially equivalent (non-simultaneous) answers, all of which differ only in small details but which (in good cases) do not completely contain each other.

Were I the one asking the questions, I would very much prefer one answer with the union of the content present in all of those given, or non-overlapping answers, adding up to a complete one. Mostly, because having to read a handful of answers, each with its peculiar notation and so on, and then assembling the information provided in them is a quite a bit of work---specially demanding on someone who is not proficient with the content!

I don't know how this can be alleviated...

Later: a good example is this one.

(Why oh why must question titles be at least 15 characters long?

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah the minimum character limits are definitely just a bother for people who legitimately want to write short messages/titles etc.. I assume it's to stop bad/non-thoughtful comments like "lol" but flagging would probably handle that - if we could change that it would be an improvement. $\endgroup$ – anon Oct 22 '10 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @muad: Stop adding more work on us, we already need to respond to CW requests :p :p :p. (Seriously, is it really that hard to write a title having 15 characters (roughly 3 words)?) $\endgroup$ – kennytm Oct 23 '10 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ @KennyTM: I wanted the title to be Choral Answers, and I was forced to add something in order to have 15 characters. It is a bother. Exactly the same thing with comments: If a comment should be "Yes" it should be "Yes", no "Yes, and now I add something to get pass the minimal length". $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Oct 23 '10 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ If your comment is just "Yes," dare I suggest that you don't really have anything to contribute to the conversation? $\endgroup$ – Paul VanKoughnett Oct 23 '10 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Paul, Haven't you ever been asked a question to which the only sensible answer is Yes? $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Oct 23 '10 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ When would elaboration harm more than help, apart from the one on the keyboard increasing his risk of repetitive strain injury? $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 23 '10 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ When elaboration helps, it helps; sometimes it does not... At some point (measure it in "reputation" units, for example) it should be clear that an user is not going to start randomly writing "LOL" comments, that if she uses less than 15 characters, it is because what he means to say needs less characters than that and that he has judged that further elaboration is unnecessary. Phrasing things so that arbitrary limits are satisfied is a pretty dumb activity. $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Oct 24 '10 at 15:02
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If you're writing an answer and somebody else answers the same answer first, you should delete your answer. I've had to do this once -- it sucks, but it's better not to pollute the question. I'd say that an identical answer that doesn't get deleted should be worthy of downvotes, though others may disagree.

On the other hand, it's useful to remember that this sort of phenomenon is good for the site, in some of its incarnations, as it helps us become a better repository of knowledge. Yes, people approach questions with different notation, but they also approach them with different points of view, and the more answerers there are, the more likely the questioner can grok at least one of their answers. Even different notations could be a good thing because people can be more comfortable with one version of the notation or another. Finally, I really do love it when I see a question I "know the answer to" treated in an entirely different way or with an entirely different example. So such an event can be a learning experience for both the questioner and the answerers.

There are a couple types of questions that this happens to. One is the subjective questions ("what books should I buy for X"), where everybody feels that their own viewpoint matters even in its most minuscule differences with others'. The other is the easy questions, which probably look like good sources of reputation to many. In both these cases, a lot of what people answer could be put in a comment on someone else's answer. But often, there's a truly deep question that can be answered in different ways, and I think it is very valuable to have that plurality of views around.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your last paragraph is a long paraphrase of "it is good when it is good" :) Of course, when it is good that this happens, it is good. I hope that it was clear that I did not have those (rather few) situations in which it is not good! $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Oct 23 '10 at 21:40

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