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I was looking at the following question: Color Spray vs. Small Earth Elementals, and found myself wondering about merging one answer into the other. In of themselves, I think they are both valid: diego's is succinct but only a single sentence, while Mourdos's contains plenty of useful links, but could maybe use some editing. Otherwise they contain very similar information, which is the crux here.

Now my question is not specific to this question, but ideally I think combining the answers would yield a slightly better quality answer; putting the snappy explanation at the top and the cleaned up links and explanation below for those who want some more info. I don't want to add a third answer that just contains more of the same identical information, so I thought editing one into the other (with attribution if too verbatim) might be a a good route. It feels a bit unfair and underhanded though, especially in this case where choosing which answer gets the improvement would be largely arbitrary.

Which way would be the best to proceed?

  1. Edit one into the other
  2. Suck it up and make a new answer that is almost identical to the two already there
  3. Just clean them up and upvote the both of them

I'm leaning toward 3 since most people will probably read several answers regardless of how good the first one is but I'm wondering if there is already a widely accepted method of dealing with these situations where the answers are factually identical.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Feel free to edit my answer if you feel it needs cleaning up. \$\endgroup\$ – Mourdos Aug 7 '14 at 9:56
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Better answers are better. If you see a need for and are capable of providing a better answer that goes beyond simple edits, answer it.

If you feel your answer is too similar, do more research or attach it to your personal expertise. If you want to give credit, you may do so, but we want the best possible answers at the top.

In this specific case, neither of those answers is exceptional. If you felt bad about simply merging them, you could provide suggestions of equivalent spells that would do what the querent wants to do against earth elementals or how you've disabled earth elementals with save-or-sucks in the past.

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Here's some previous meta questions about editing, to give you some guidance:

The general guideline is that editing an answer to improve clarity is great. Editing an answer to change the meaning is generally not. If you're concerned that your edits to combine the two answers would change the meaning of them, then your best bet is to create a third answer.

IMO, looking at the two answers that are there, they are saying nearly the same thing. Unless you're adding new information, any clarity improvements are likely doable with an edit.

(Mourdos said you could feel free to edit his, so in this case you've got a green light to do editing.)

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A good solution to situations where you feel that the “best” answer is not any one of the existing answers, but rather a combination of several existing answers, is to use Community Wiki. That way you can combine several answers, and not be seen as “taking credit” for it, since you get no reputation for CW answers. It’s also more polite to the original answerers, as the privilege to edit CW answers is vastly less than the privilege to edit questions in general, which means even if you synthesize answers from lower-rep users, they can still edit the result if they think you have gotten something wrong.

Editing one answer to include a second answer is usually not a good idea. That’s giving person A credit for person B’s work, which is mildly unfair, but also potentially putting words in person A’s mouth, which is quite a lot more potentially rude.

But an important caveat here is you can’t just copy and paste answers together. Your answer is still required to be a solid, stand-alone answer – after all, the whole point of this approach is to develop one comprehensive answer. You have to perform a real synthesis and bring the points together in a coherent way.

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