This doesn't seem to come up often, but it did happen recently, so I figured this would be a good time to bring it up.

On the one hand, we want answers to be inclusive, complete, and (usually) not short. So, if there is a particular topic with three relevant Bible passages that cover different aspects of the situation, I would think that we want an answer that includes all three and exposits on all three. At this point, the answer would be complete in the sense that all the Biblical evidence has been included.

On the other hand, someone else might have more information, such as a commentary or two. At this point, they may not want to repeat information that is already found in a slightly older answer so as to avoid the appearance of copying someone else (especially with an eye towards rep gain), even if the "copied" bit is properly attributed. However, as stated above, I think we would prefer a more complete answer that includes or summarizes the Biblical evidence and includes the commentaries.

On the one hand, inclusiveness and completeness.
On the other hand, the appearance of copying and mooching off of others' work.

So, which one do we want? Or is this a false dichotomy of some kind and there is a better, third option?

  • 1
    To put it a baser way, we can have multiple different answers and everyone gets rep or we can have one inclusive answer that gets all the rep. Mar 15, 2013 at 8:40
  • It's not just about the rep: as a reader, I don't want to read the same thing over and over again when I'm scanning through questions that have 15 answers.
    – Alypius
    Mar 15, 2013 at 8:55
  • 1
    @Alypius: Which is why one good answer that covers all the bases and puts them in the big picture context is preferred over a bunch of piecemeal stuff. When that answer does show up, the hope is that it's good enough to rise to the top so you don't need to read through 15 answers. Frankly anything with 15 answers was probably a bad question to start with.
    – Caleb
    Mar 15, 2013 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


I don't get the feeling that one poster mooched off of another because they have a similar argument in it. I actually expect overlap on a site like this.

I do not really see an issue with the post in question, but yes it did come up. I am someone for completeness, plus I am addicted to rep (just joking, but really, I want it), so I did intentionally include all three passages in my post.

But I don't think I really owe credit to either of the other posters just because they got there first. All they really did was quote the Bible and give the common, well known (to some) argument. Most of the answers on C.SE give little in the way of original work. That actually seems somewhat discouraged.

I gave credit anyway in an effort to appear as impartial as possible, wanting to present the two theologies that I did. I used their posts as examples of typical answers for the mainstream theology and my own plus a link or two for the lesser theology.

Now I actually don't care either way. I can't help but notice that three answers with all the necessary information and one answer with all the necessary information accomplish the same task. Knowledge has been passed. The user can always take it or leave it. But the three synergistic answers gives the asker the impression that he must choose out of them when really they are all right, but in part. But the one comprehensive answer leaves the remaining answers as what? Superfluous, I guess. But don't think anyone would argue that we delete good answers, even though they may not be complete, just because there is a better, complete one. We are a q and a site. We are not writing an encyclopedia.

Alypius brings up a good point for the readers though in the comments. [Notice the credit giving here; ironic]. Having to sift though all of the answers to get all of the information and reading a lot of overlap. I say let it ride. That is just the way it is. For those marginally interested they will only read the first and maybe the second one any way. For those really interested they will likely read all the top voted ones any way to make sure they have the details. And the fanatics will even read the bad ones to see if they can catch a pearl among swine. And since when do these questions here get 15 answers? I wish we had it that good.

Ups and downs to both but I actually don't see it as a major issue.

  • "Having to sift though all of the answers to get all of the information and reading a lot of overlap. I say let it ride. That is just the way it is." This is actually what stackexchange was designed to avoid.
    – Alypius
    Mar 15, 2013 at 9:10
  • @Alypius good point. I still say let it ride. They made Stackoverflow first. Arguably, every good question on SO has an exact and correct answer. Not so here. There are a lot of ways to look at and answer most of the questions here and they can all be right.
    – user3961
    Mar 15, 2013 at 9:18
  • @Alypius: I would suggest a different angle. This holds true elsewhere on SE too. Overlap is actually often to be encouraged specifically because it means less having to "sort through all the answers". One good complete answer that covers all the bases (even if some of these bases are touched on in independent answers) should get upvoted to the top of the stack and you should't have to go on to answer 2 unless you want to hear the same thing said different ways.
    – Caleb
    Mar 15, 2013 at 13:33
  • @Caleb Yes, it should be voted to the top. The complete answer in this example is at the bottom. What should be make of this?
    – user3961
    Mar 17, 2013 at 7:20
  • @fredsbend: Time. Actually I think your answer is good, but not great and it may never make it to the top, not because the concept of a synthesis answer is bad but because of other issues. I wouldn't worry about it though. I've seen answers on C.SE float to top from 20 points behind. In this case, you are up against an answer that is popular even through it's weak. But still, really stellar answer will eventually get situated no matter how far under it starts out.
    – Caleb
    Mar 17, 2013 at 21:24

There are many possible variants on the theme here. At least some forms of repeat should be encouraged. Obviously plagiarism is not on the list. Let me try to break down a couple ways "repeat portions of answers" could go.

Story time. In the early days of this site we had a user* whose modus operendi was to fire of a quick one liner answer off the top of his head to every question that showed up. Then he would go search online and try to come up with an actual answer. Usually in the first five minutes (before the clock even locked in his first revision) he would be back with some verse, illustration or reference to backup his initial statement. Then over the next couple hours he would monitor the question and new answers coming in. When new ones showed up that he though were useful, he would use pieces of them to improve his own answer. On more than one occasion, (at least half a dozen that I caught) the next answer up would be from somebody who actually knew something about the issue and completely contrary to his first guess. He would edit his answer with something in his own words saying roughly the same thing (and often using the same references) as the new answer. No reference or acknowledgement, just an edit that completely reversed his answer. Basically he was rep farming and mooching off of everybody else's knowledge. I usually ended up agreeing with his answers, but only after the third or fourth revision when they were basically saying the same thing as another more knowledgeable user.

Now why did I tell that? That sort of shenanigans shouldn't be tolerated here. If you are ripping off other people's knowledge, go improve Wikipedia or something but keep it off of SE.

However in the case linked in this question, that isn't the behavior I see. While the same verses are covered and the basic argument is laid out, it is also done in a wrapper that puts both arguments in a larger context. We are looking for exhaustive answers. Cutting to the chase and getting the main point out there is good, but answers should only be as brief as the situation allows and covering all the bases is preferred over skipping the details. Often a complete answer will necessarily cover the topics other answers have covered, but might do so in a more exacting way or in a way that places them inside a larger argument. Lets have more of these. Even if you think you can make the same case but say it better in a way that will be helpful to more people, go for it. I can think of several times where I've answered a question and somebody has come along with a rendition of the same thing that expressed the concept quite a bit more clearly than mine. You can even get badges for this.

* Who will remain nameless. He eventually got suspended (partially for the same modus operendi) on another SE site and dropped off the map. I didn't mourn his departure.

  • I'm confused by this in the last paragraph: "covering all the basis is preferred over skipping the details." on the word "basis". That does not seem like the right word. Do you perhaps mean "basics" or "bases"? Despite the confusion I think I understand your post. +1
    – user3961
    Mar 15, 2013 at 17:04
  • We should also mention that the content license on Stack Exchange requires attribution if you use material from questions or answers anywhere, including in another answer on the same question.
    – wax eagle
    Mar 15, 2013 at 17:35
  • @fredsbend: Ignore my spelling. My grasp of English spelling is pretty lack luster these days. I've fixed basis to bases. Sorry for the confusion.
    – Caleb
    Mar 15, 2013 at 20:30
  • @waxEagle But what makes it obvious or not? Because I posted last it does kind of look like I copied the other two guys. But I know in my mind that I was already going to say just about what they said. So how can either side prove anything?
    – user3961
    Mar 15, 2013 at 20:44
  • @fredsbend You provided a different (or potentially synthesis) answer. And you linked to the other two posts (showing full awareness of them). That's a better answer to me. And our ultimate criteria here is "do you make the internet a better place?"
    – wax eagle
    Mar 15, 2013 at 20:46
  • @fredsbend: I think the case of your answer is obvious: whether you copied them or not doesn't matter at all since you attributed and your answer isn't the same as theirs, it takes a very different direction, it just happens to include parts of several arguments (which are common and don't belong to the other OP's anyway). You didn't just rip off their work, that much is obvious from reading your post even knowing it came later. Don't worry about it.
    – Caleb
    Mar 15, 2013 at 20:46

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