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What should I do when I know multiple different ways of doing something asked in question? Should I add them as separate answers or as one comprehensive answer? I think they should be separated, but some others think not.

Why not keep discussion/voting separated for different ways of answering the question?

  • For this question, I posted two different answers because it was unclear which OS was being asked about, and so I created a separate answer for two major ones (Unix/Linux and MS-Windows) since I figured that users relying on just one of these OSes could benefit: superuser.com/questions/323612/… – Randolf Richardson Sep 7 '11 at 17:16
  • I really like the idea of seeing multiple solutions posted for the same problem. As a Perl programmer, this is particularly interesting to me because "more than one way to do something" is one of the hallmarks of Perl that make it such a wonderful language. With more solutions available to users, the content on this web site actually increases in value. – Randolf Richardson Sep 7 '11 at 17:20
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    @Randolf Obviously multiple solutions are good, you don't need to study Perl philosophy to realise that. The question is whether to put them in one or as separate. – barlop Sep 13 '11 at 1:02
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Well, there is no general "policy". Jeff once said:

In general there should be one answer per person per question; if you need to amplify your answer, edit it!

The reasons why I think there should be one comprehensive answer on Super User:

  • The question asks for a solution to one problem, so your answer should contain everything the user needs. You can always logically split up one answer into multiple parts, using horizontal lines and headlines.

  • Posting multiple answers was useful when we had poll questions, e.g. "What is the best XY to do this and that?", "What was your best moment in a programmer's life?". This would allow people to individually vote on suggestions based on their personal preference or opinion. These kinds of questions are not really acceptable anymore. If a question has an unlimited set of answers, and every answer would be equally valid, it should probably be closed.

  • Voting should primarily be based on the usefulness of your answer. Your two answers were probably equally useful and very much alike, I don't see why they should be completely separate. I don't think there would have been upvotes on an individual solution, and I also don't think there would have been any individual downvote.

  • Posting multiple answers could make sense when you have two very different solutions likely leading to diverging vote behavior (e.g. a full, complete solution vs. a workaround).

  • Discussion about a solution should belong in the comments anyway and result in an edit explaining further details if needed.

  • If both answers work, only one can be accepted.

And finally:

  • You're essentially gaming the system. By posting two answers that could also stand as one, you're getting double the reputation. I absolutely don't mind you getting reputation (I even upvoted your answer), but there should be no reason for users to gain twice as much as others do just because they posted another answer.

  • I've never really seen people answering a question twice on Super User. It really deviates from what we usually do.

  • There are certain cases where users post a non-working solution and instead of editing it to correct it, they post another one, and yet another one. This occasionally happens and shouldn't be encouraged.

Note: This is rather focused on the topics of Super User. As I said before, poll-types of questions rather encourage posting multiple individual answers, but they are not allowed here.

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    Example. I'm still not sure whether that was a good idea back then. I generally put all solutions in a single post. – Daniel Beck Sep 5 '11 at 8:45
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    Right. The thing I don't particularly like about it is the reputation involved – because users could do that all the time, still they don't. – slhck Sep 5 '11 at 9:32
  • See my answer addressing @slhck's points. – einpoklum Apr 20 '13 at 11:26
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    @einpoklum Which answer? If you're hinting at the recent post of yours where you offered two solutions, keep in mind that you if you're tweaking someone else's suggestion, that could be better suited as an edit or a comment to their post. – slhck Apr 20 '13 at 11:31
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Almost all the time the correct answer is, one answer per person per question -- and make it awesome.

However, like all rules, there are valid exceptions.

If you are proposing two radically different solutions, sometimes they belong in different answers so that they can be voted on independently.

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    I sometimes have that problem when reading an accepted answer. "now which of the three solutions presented here did actually help that user?" – Daniel Beck Sep 10 '11 at 12:37
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    if all the solutions in the answer are related, it's usually OK for the upvote to count on all of them. If they are radically different.. – Jeff Atwood Sep 11 '11 at 8:43
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    @Daniel Beck maybe if the user had chosen another that'd have helped, so who cares which helped the user. Which solution works well is something worth knowing, or which has issues, but comments show that. +1 I agree with you Jeff.. that generally one, but may be exceptions. – barlop Sep 13 '11 at 1:18
  • Different answers does happen, especially when the question is not clear. A person could give a good answer for something, but then the problem is found to be different, so a different answer is given. This happens with different users (one user gives an answer to the question and a different user gives an answer to the same question with a different interpretation). I suppose the original answer can be completely replaced with the new one once the problem is better understood, but then the other good answer gets hidden away. – Bobson Sep 21 '11 at 5:48
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Like everything in life I guess its not a hard and fast rule. Single answers per person are recommended because it avoids discussion. The emphasis is to try and get people to update their first answer with any new information or thought or even responses to comments.

This is not traditionally the way people did it, instead they would post another 'answer' in a threaded discussion. The One answer per person policy was adopted to try to prevent threading.

If you truly have 2 separate but equally valid answers to a question I'm sure no-one will mind you posting twice.

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    OK, going to use multiple answers if I feel that discussion/voting should be separate (e.g. if there is good, but complicated solution and quick hacky fix). /* Sometimes I answer multiple times to my own question */ – Vi. Sep 5 '11 at 7:10
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Use "edit". One comprehensive answer is better (in my opinion). and BTW the "thinks" isn't a good link.

1

I'd put them in one and it allows for a)a super duper post, b)some commentary comparing the solutions i've done, and allowing me to indicate a progression of some sort if there is one.

0

I believe that it's a good idea to consider multiple significantly different solutions to the same problem as acceptable, and often even positive.

Regarding @slhck's points:

  • A single problem has more than a single solution
  • While poll-type questions are unacceptable, there are many "how can I do X" questions which naturally lead to multiple answers, each with its own pros and cons, and it's quite conceivable that the same person would have two separate answers to offer.
  • True, voting should primarily be based on the usefulness of your answer - but different answers can be equally useful in different ways, or for different people (not just the OP).
  • While it is true that two different solutions lead to diverging vote behavior, this is a secondary consideration. If anything, this might mean we should consider fractional acceptance, or a more complex voting system, or just encouraging people to vote for more than one good answer.
  • Multiple solutions are not discussions of the solution. Each distinct solution is discussed in its own comments.
  • While only one answer can be accepted by the OP, other readers might be interested in the alternatives, e.g. because their system has different software installed, or they want a different trade-off of resources etc.

And the claim that "You're essentially gaming the system." - that's, well, kind of offensive. Let's be positive and assume people provide answers to benefit the public. And if they don't - so what? So they'll get a few extra points. Big deal. It's not costing us money right?

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    I don't necessarily disagree with your arguments and think you have valid points. But if you say that one person has two separate answers to offer, then they actually have two solutions to offer. Whether they have to be in separate answers altogether is debatable. After all, I'd much more enjoy reading a complete post that discusses two different solutions, nicely glued together, rather than two answers without connection. – slhck Apr 20 '13 at 13:20
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    Don't forget about cases where users see that one of their solutions isn't working—it might be downvoted—so they post yet another answer with a different solution – and so on. This has already happened. – slhck Apr 20 '13 at 13:21
  • @slhck: I think we need to separate those cases in which a correction is posted as a separate answer, and those in which one valid approach is rejected on some grounds and another is suggested in a second answer without withdrawing the first one. – einpoklum Apr 20 '13 at 14:02

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