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For a while now, we've had answers like these ones which fail to really answer the question on their own, but just add some extra information building on other pre-existing answers. They often even say as much: "This other answer already covers everything, so let me talk about some tangential extra stuff". They're consistently from users at least moderately experienced with our site, too.

I have an expectation that answers should always independently answer the question, such that if that's the only answer that exists, it should still make sense and the question should still be considered answered.

Because of this, I've been consistently downvoting these answers and leaving comments requesting that these people actually answer the question, and then provide the tangential stuff they want to - even if it's just a brief sentence or two and a link if they want to credit another answer.

Should I be doing this? Is there a better way to handle this?

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In my opinion:

  • Answers should actually answer the question. This is non-negotiable.

  • The real value of multiple answers is different perspectives.

I mean, really: five or ten answers just rewriting the same post are pretty worthless! All this really does is make sure the top 1-2 answers keep getting all the upvotes while all the other ones languish (because people read the ones already at the top, upvote them, and then get bored by other answers when they all seem to be repeating the same ideas).

When you write an answer, it's important to have the self-discipline to ask yourself: Do I have anything truly new to add? If I'm repeating what's already been written, can I actually express it better?

Sometimes, though, the answer to that question is "Yes, I really do have something to add! But part of my answer will be repeating someone else's and, quite frankly, no, I can't say what they've already said better than they can!" So, what should you do?

  • Your answer should stand alone, but it's both acceptable and useful to reference other sources — whether external sources or other answers — for detailed discussion that you can't do better yourself.

Here's an example from B&CG SE. I thought another poster already posted a great discussion of one facet of my answer. So I linked to his answer and discussed it in brief. My answer is still intelligible even if you remove the reference, but the overall question view is cleaner because the same ideas aren't being repeated excessively.

  • If you only have a small bit you want to add to an existing answer, edit the existing answer. (If you're unsure, start with comments and then make an edit once you've hashed out the idea a bit.)
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    \$\begingroup\$ and I think its the 'edit the existing answer bit' that people won't or are reluctant to do. I believe this is largely for two reasons - either they want the rep for up votes on their own answer, or they don't realise that it is an option and OK to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Feb 23 '14 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Eyeh, I have a bit of an issue with including other peoples' answers, perhaps because I started on the regular Stack Exchange where I regularly saw people get downvoted for including bits of other people's answers because the perception was that you were trying to horn in on them. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Duggan Feb 24 '14 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ what we're saying is that if yours is effectively an addendum or addition to an existing answer, you should edit that answer rather than creating your own. If the original answerer doesn't like the edit they can always roll it back (and preferably leave a comment explaining why they have done so) \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Feb 24 '14 at 9:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Phil AlexP is also pointing out, in his example at the end, another situation: if you're not interested in repeating another answer and have a substantial amount of information to add, you can summarise the answer and link to another answer explaining it better. I think that's what SSD is responding to. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Feb 24 '14 at 9:22
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Yes, you are correct. Answers should be standalone - answers which "add some thoughts" to other answers within the question are not good answers. This is what people should be using comment/edits for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, a comment that "add some thoughts" to an answer is good? Or comments are only for asking clarifications? \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Feb 24 '14 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma The addition in comments will eventually be cleaned up and deleted, so it's often more effective to phrase it as a suggestion the answer writer might want to edit into their answer. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 24 '14 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma comments are not only for asking for clarifications. Comments are for improving answers, and the two most important features they possess to this end are the ability to ask for clarification and the ability to make suggestions. Secondarily, comments allow for funnies that make everyone happy, but that is secondarily and not to be abused. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Aug 24 '15 at 6:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments also have other uses, for example reminding users of site policy and explaining mod action, but these aren't frequent and are only done by people who understand the site workings really, really well (e.g. mods, former mods, future mods, and @BESW) For an example see rpg.stackexchange.com/a/50464/14848 which has a comment from BESW explaining that the answer is super wrong and dangerous, which is useful and important for reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Aug 24 '15 at 6:15

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