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Should a Question be flagged as a duplicate if there is an existing Question/Answer that solves it, even if the way the user is phrasing their problem is different?

This is inspired by these two questions:

In each case, the root cause of the problem was the user choosing the incorrect ArcMap tool (Define Projection, rather than Project), and so the solution is the same. However, the problem descriptions are different because the issue was showing up later in their different workflows.

I can see the value of retaining each one, since a frustrated user of each type would Google for different terms to solve their problem. However, I also feel a little silly providing the exact same Answer twice (particularly since they were asked about an hour apart from one another).

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    It took me a while to figure out that threads closed as duplicates still remain visible to all users and accessible to searches. Thus, closing a question as a duplicate keeps the value you see in retaining the question but adds the value of pointing to a single thread where a coherent set of answers and comments can accumulate and be improved over time. (IMHO we should close many more questions as duplicates. I suspect there are several hundred extant threads that are answered with some variant of "project the data, don't just redefine their projection.") – whuber Jul 25 '14 at 18:33
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If the best answer to the other question actually does answer the second question, mark it Duplicate, and add a comment to fine tune (not absolutely necessary but nice; a straight "this is dupe" can be off-putting).

If other question's answer is correct, but needs rephrasing to fit current context, then do so as an answer and still mark as dupe.

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This issue came up in the Canonical Question question I asked a while back here on meta. How do you find that canonical answer which is the same when the question might be very different? My original question title for that was something along the lines of canonical answers vs canonical questions.

In fact, I actually voted to agree with the dupe flag on your second example but of a different question - an older and more highly voted answer that covers the same define/project explanation. As whuber has commented elsewhere, 'this might be the number 1 faq question on this site'. I had answered it myself a couple of times to varying degrees, but I'd never have found that canonical answer on my own. Someone beat me to flagging a question as a dupe using it before I was able to flag the question as a dupe of one I'd answered which had immediately come to mind.

I would suggest doing some searching before flagging though to see if you might be able to find a better prior answer (or question) - as I discovered, the first one that comes to mind might not be the best candidate to mark it as a duplicate of. PolyGeo covered some of that in his answer at the question linked above.

  • This is a good point. In this case, the recency of the other question artificially inflated its appropriateness as a good canonical answer :) Also, the terminology is good to know. – Erica Jul 25 '14 at 21:09

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