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Given that we have quite a few questions asking for possible approaches (e.g. "how to implement", "what syntax options", ...) or considerations (i.e. "advantages and disadvantages of ..."), there are generally going to be multiple possible approaches or multiple considerations, so a comprehensive answer could cover several. On the other hand, the same answer could be split into multiple parts, each of which would constitute a valid answer to the question, since we don't expect every answer to be comprehensive.

What should our policy on this be? Should we encourage or discourage multiple-answering by the same user for such questions, or should we leave it to individual users?


To be clear, this is only seeking to establish a consensus about multiple-answering when the question invites multiple approaches or considerations; for other kinds of questions it can be possible for one user to post multiple substantially different answers each of which completely answers the question. That is generally allowed on Stack Exchange sites, and the same policy considerations do not apply.

There are a couple of related meta questions here and here, but these don't discuss the case of multiple answers by the same user.

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  • $\begingroup$ Clarification on your clarification: I'm not sure I understand what the distinction being drawn is in "when the question invites multiple approaches or considerations; for other kinds of questions it can make sense for one user to post multiple substantially different answers". Are the answers substantially the same in the first case? $\endgroup$
    – Michael Homer Mod
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ Is this e.g. "each user should post only one comprehensive answer that covers everything (or attempts to)"? $\endgroup$
    – Michael Homer Mod
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHomer To your first comment: not necessarily, only that in the first case it's definitely fine for one answer to cover multiple approaches, whereas in the second case it could make an answer confusing if it has two unrelated parts, given that a question in the second case wouldn't explicitly be seeking multiple different answers. The difference is that if a question allows for two substantially different complete, comprehensive answers then the same policy considerations don't apply. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ To your second comment: no, I'm not proposing or gauging support for a policy of requiring answers to be comprehensive ─ I acknowledge that answer-splitting still results in answers "each of which would constitute a valid answer to the question, since we don't expect every answer to be comprehensive." So if a user posts one answer which only discusses one approach or consideration, that would be fine under any of the policy options mentioned here. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ As concrete examples: Would this question about GC be the kind of thing you're thinking of that should be one answer per person, not one answer per kind of GC? (I choose this example because it's currently both, so as not to pick on anyone). And then this on implementing continue/break would be the second category where contradictory approaches should be separated? $\endgroup$
    – Michael Homer Mod
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHomer Those are some good edge cases for this policy! Yes, those ones look like the kinds of question where we would want one user to be allowed to post multiple answers covering separate approaches, because each answer is relatively long and in some sense a comprehensive discussion of one approach. On the other hand, the "continue/break" question doesn't explicitly ask for multiple approaches, so each answer covering a single approach is "complete" in that sense. The GC question does ask for multiple approaches but is arguably a bit broad, because it asks both for explanations of ... $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ ... how the approaches work and also a comparison of their advantages. I could imagine five separate questions "How does a serial garbage collector work?", ..., "How does the Z garbage collector work?", and a sixth question "What are the advantages/disadvantages of these five GCs?". Not to say that the GC question should be closed or edited, but it's not a typical example of the questions I'm inviting a policy discussion about, and the policy doesn't have to be hard and fast or cover every case. Anyway, this thread is getting long, perhaps you could write an answer with your thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:48

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I am not supportive of salami-slicing answers by posting several short answers that could just be one better answer containing all of them. This combined answer would have the chance to relate them to one another. There is a systemic incentive to post them, because it's likely each gets some passing votes, so it's something that needs to be addressed by policy.

Some questions invite substantive answers covering an approach to a problem in some depth. It's reasonable that one person may have multiple contradictory answers, or answers addressing substantially different approaches. This should be ok, and better than individual enormous answers.

Sometimes those questions could also admit a summary answer addressing the whole possibility space at once briefly, and that should often be fine (unless it's infeasible to cover the scope in that way). The existence of one of these answers shouldn't itself rule out one of the substantive individual ones, or vice-versa. Some questions do invite this comprehensive approach, and perhaps more should do.

There are cases where answers by necessity are relatively shallow, but there is a possible meaningful difference of quality — what votes are for — and significantly different options. Multiple answers posing different approaches and justifying them still seem like they are fair when that's applicable. It's not just that longer is better.

All that said, I suspect that the significant bulk of these salami-sliced answers are to questions like "what syntax do languages use for X". This is probably an issue with the question, since there's not really any quality control that voting on answers can do and no substantive compilation effort involved in writing them. At the moment, we still have them around, and we can see how things go; it's possible that they will be ruled out of scope themselves, and in that case a general policy like this probably wouldn't be necessary — I haven't seen many answers like this myself so far. If they do continue to be permitted, I'm not really convinced that it's worth limiting the answers to them in this way, just because admitting the questions is opting into that — and given new potential answers for this sort of question will arise over time, it seems perverse to require either editing them into the user's existing answer that's about something else or leaving them for a new user to post.

kaya linked a number of answers in the comments for safety-checking on whether they should better be split up, and I would say no to all of those. I do think it's possible that better delineating which questions are looking for a comprehensive answer and which for individual answers may be valuable at some point, but I don't think we're at the point of being able to define that clearly yet.


I also note that in the current context there are metric calculations running on the beta, and sheer mass of answers is one of them. Goosing the stats isn't a good reason to set this standard, and in any case probably won't help — it's not a mechanical process but has human review who can see that. This should not influence our decision-making or planning.

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  • $\begingroup$ I broadly agree with this. Though, I do think "what syntax do languages use for X" is actually a valuable kind of question, since it allows language designers to consider more syntax options while also keeping their syntax familiar to other programmers. That said, it would be possible for answers to go into more detail about why certain syntaxes may be needed or why they might not be options, in order to keep the grammar unambiguous depending on other syntax choices ─ but we don't currently have many questions or answers like that. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ I think there could be good questions about syntaxes in existing use, though I am not convinced that they have been seen much so far. $\endgroup$
    – Michael Homer Mod
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ you might want to take a look at and post an answer to For Catalogue Questions, should all answers be edited into a single answer? $\endgroup$
    – starball
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:38
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My position is that we should discourage multiple-answering by the same user on these kinds of question.

  • Splitting multiple approaches or multiple considerations across separate answers increases clutter.
  • If multiple-answering is encouraged, then it is harder for answers to compare multiple approaches, or weigh multiple considerations to reach a more definitive conclusion where this may be possible.
  • If multiple-answering is allowed but neither encouraged nor discouraged, then there is still an incentive for users to multiple-answer since they can receive more upvotes, and the consequences for clutter and answer quality will be similar.
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I'm assuming this is motivated by questions that draw out lists of answers (see What should be the quality standards for list-style questions?, and my answer there)

There are at least two important considerations:

  • What is useful for the ecosystem?

  • What is practical, given that everyone has varying levels of expertise and experience? (Ex. with familiarity with the workings of different existing languages)

In terms of ecosystem, we're here to go from questions to answers with no noise, and for better content to get voted up higher, and vice versa.

The problem with having an answer post per "list item" is that many of the list items will not really be "competing with each other for votes" as the voting system is really designed for, and the votes largely become a kind of measurement of what "list item" posts people cared to read instead of what they were really designed to do.

The problem with requiring every answer to be one that attempts to go into depth while also attempting to cover many approaches is that some people might have the expertise in a few approaches only, and then you'd basically be blocking them from sharing what they do know. That could end up blocking out a lot.

So my questions to determine what I think reasonable in context are:

  • How much depth is being sought by the question for each "list item"?

  • How niche is the subject-matter-expertise required to provide an answer to the sought level of depth for the average "list item"?

If the depth level is on the shallow end of the spectrum and not a lot (relatively speaking (yes- I realize this is hard to speak of in measurements)) of "niche" subject-matter-expertise is required, then I'd personally frown upon a single user firing off multiple such answers- one for each "list item". I'd rather see each user write a single answer post with their own list and see the best one voted to the top.

And if the solicited depth level is on the deeper end of the spectrum and more subject-matter-expertise is required to give that depth, I'd personally take no issues with a single user posting multiple answers- one for each list item.

Okay, but then how will the problem I mentioned above with having an answer post per "list item" be solved? One way is to put a table of contents in the question post. That's what you'll see in the meta FAQs like found in the MSO FAQ and its child Q&As and the MSE FAQ and its child Q&As. And perhaps this is just an aesthetic taste of mine, but this leads to why I'd actually prefer to see users do an answer post per "list item" for answers that seek greater depth and require more subject-matter-expertise: because then each "list item" has its own post, it will have its own entry in the table of contents (thus avoiding seemingly arbitrary groupings of "list items" in the ToC for readers who don't care about who wrote the answers they're about to read (and that's an important audience. Statistically speaking, most of the users of at least the larger Stack Exchange sites are "read-only" (no account, no contributions, not really a "member of the community"))).

Another thing is the implications for linking. You currently can't link to sections of a post, and I think it would feel a little weird or clunky for a reader of a Q&A that orients itself more toward answer-per-list-item to link to something that is really two or more "list items".

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you summarize your answer? Should we allow multiple answers or should we not? $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2023 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @NikeDattani I intentionally made no clear "we should(n't)" statement (nor is it my understanding that I am required to for discussion on meta). You can find what I stated about my personal positions in the fourth-last and third-last paragraphs. $\endgroup$
    – starball
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 17:19
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In my opinion for comparison/list-type questions, multiple-answering should be strongly enocuraged.

Stack Exchange's format is designed for everything to voted on individually. When multiple things are combined into one post, there's no quality control for the individual ones. If I post two compiler optimizations in my answer, and one is an incredibly clever trick that speeds up the code by a factor of 10, and the other is so bad it actually slows it down slightly, they'll both be getting upvotes together.

For some questions (e.g., builtin-list-brainstorming) there will be so many possible answers that combining them will be absolutely necessary, but in that case, it should only be done with options that fit naturally into categories and can be voted on more or less as a block.

Additionally, more answers for the same amount of content boosts our stats :p

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    $\begingroup$ How far should this go? For example, should my answer here instead have been six separate answers? (I'm not the downvoter, though.) $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ @kaya3 In my opinion that's fine as one answer. Firstly there's not really enough content in any of the bullet points to make them individual answers, second since it's not really a comparison there's little reason they'd need to be quality control'd individually (the worst any of those bullet points could add to the answer is nothing, if one reason you brought up was somehow the motivation for literally zero people), and third since that's a question where the answer kinda can be summarized into a single conclusive answer, whereas with comparison questions new ideas can constantly be had. $\endgroup$ Commented May 20, 2023 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I see the distinction you're making, but I can point at others of my answers anyway ─ should this have been five separate answers? Should this have been seven? Should this have been three, and if so which one should the preface belong to? I am sure I could have bulked out some of the bullet points if I were to write separate answers, but I don't think that would have added any value. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ @kaya3 "How far should this go" - I just added my answer post, where I give my perspective on this. $\endgroup$
    – starball
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ I agree. This way, they get the reputation they deserve. +1. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2023 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ @PlaceReporter99 It's not about the reputation. But I agree that if there are two unrelated answers from the same user with a substantial amount of content, they should go in separate posts so that people can vote on them separately. As to how far it should go, one can use their own discretion. I think we can treat multiple answers from the same user the same as multiple answers from different users, but since there's a bit of a conflict of interest from the extra upvotes, maybe people should be encouraged to make their answers community wikis. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 20:49
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Answers should be split up because if the person has many very good answers, they can get the reputation they deserve. This also means if you have a good answer and a bad answer, you get the downvotes you deserve for the bad answer. Of course, it is better to have one good answer than 10 one-liners.

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    $\begingroup$ I would rather they focus their energy into writing one exemplary answer rather than 10 one-line answers. $\endgroup$ Commented May 21, 2023 at 13:59
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If I've posted an answer, then an additional post would be inappropriate if all it does is improve or add to the previous answer; it should have been an edit.

But if I have three independent solutions to the problem, it would be just as inappropriate to pack them all into a single item. One might be adequate, one really good, and one bad, and the voting system will quieckly show which is which. Had they all been packed into one, the result could be several up-votes and several down-votes, and a low overall score even though it contains a solution that's far better than everyone else's answers.

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Separate answers should be required

Why? As the Tour puts it:

Ask questions, get answers, no distractions

Think about it: If two separate contributors came up with two separate answers, surely you'd expect them to be posted separately. Stack Exchange's listing of answers below a question will group them together. Who wrote the answers is essentially immaterial.

Related answers can share a single post

The Tour continues:

Good answers are voted up and rise to the top.

Here, the second answer builds on top of the first. This very answer you're reading now has that pattern too. In such cases, putting both answers in a single post ensures readability, since the order of posts is not chronological by default, but rather depends on the votes.

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