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Given that one answer should contain one solution (with similar variants)1, how should we handle answers containing multiple solutions?

  • Are we supposed to split them up, and how can we then give credit to the original poster of the answer?
  • Should we repeat each of the solutions in multiple answers? Possibly causing very similar answers2
  • Should we downvote and comment on the multiple solution answer?
  • Should we just leave them, although these answers being bad examples, hoping that the community will stop posting multiple solutions in one answer?
  • (Please leave multiple solutions like: If A doesn't work, then try B, out of this discussion3)

Some example displaying this behaviour:

Other examples are easily found, but the questions remain: How should we handle answers containing multiple solutions?

1 See Should answers contain multiple solutions? for a recent discussion of this topic
2 See How should similar answers be handled?
3 Order of solutions to try should become obvious when sorting answers by voting, I think...

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Although I can't say I've been doing it myself here, we have a similar thing going on at Gardening & Landscaping beta, with questions. People were asking multiple identification questions in one, and although they are answerable, we don't want that. They are closed as too broad usually, but that doesn't affect our problem here. When I find questions like that, I edit out all but one question, and leave a comment (linked to the related meta post) explaining why I'm butchering their nice new post. People are generally nice about it, and post their separate questions separately.

I think a similar approach could work here, in the context of multiple solutions being posted as one answer. If people have time, a quick edit to bring it to one solution, as well as a friendly, helpful comment directing the user in the right direction would be fine. If not, a flag with a custom note (like 'multiple solutions) could bring it to the attention of moderators and let them deal with it. I wouldn't downvote, because that makes some people get on edge, and try to defend their position for no reason. As I said, being friendly, understanding, and welcoming to new users is always best.

Once everything on the site is as it should be (relating to this problem), I expect we will see a lot less of those answers. People tend to follow examples, and cleaning up the site a bit could help a lot.

About very similar solutions, if a solution could be considered a 'variant' on one of the other solutions listed, and is that similar, it's better to leave it in the answer with the nearly identical solution.

  • I don't know on which of these meta posts I should comment, but since you know me, I'm trusting you'll tell me if it belongs elsewhere! I’m a low-voter here, partly because of answers with multiple solutions. For instance, the first part of the accepted answer to the question about labeling storage bins, is great, and the second directly contradicts what the OP asked for. I don't know if I should upvote anyway, leave a comment on it, flag it, or ignore it. I end up not voting at all, which doesn't help the site. Therein lies my dilemma! – Sue Aug 14 '15 at 20:14
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The premise that “one answer should contain one solution” is flawed.¹

An answer that states “in situation 1, do X; in situation 2, do Y” is superior to two answers that state “do X” and “do Y”. Therefore we should encourage the first type and discourage the second type.

If someone posts an answer with multiple solutions but does not explain how to choose between them:

  • Edit it to add such explanation if you feel it is uncontroversial.
  • Otherwise post a comment requesting an explanation.

You should upvote or downvote based on your opinion of the answer as a way to solve the problem. Given the problem in the question, do you find the answer to be a correct and clear set of instructions how to solve it? If so, upvote. If not, downvote.

Editing an answer to remove a part of it would be vandalism, unless that part is irrelevant to the question.

“If A doesn't work, then try B”² is often a perfectly fine way to solve a problem: first try a cheap solution, and if that fails fall back to something more expensive. Splitting A and B into separate answers would make no sense.

¹ Yes, I know that it has been requested by a Stack Exchange employee, but it makes the site inferior, so it should not be done.
² Why would this be left out of the present discussion? It's absolutely relevant.

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