I agree that this wording still needs improvement, several years after this question was first asked. For duplicates where there is a large amount of similarity it works great, but I've seen a lot of examples where the similarity is not apparent.
I'd like to quote David Fullerton here (although in context he was talking about a different message to the user):
it sounds a bit like those old forum stickies that said “PLEASE SEARCH
BEFORE POSTING YOUR QUESTION” – somebody already asked this exact same
thing, so please stop bothering us. It's strong wording practically
invites the user to argue: "My question is not identical! I used
So what do we want to tell the user instead? Something like, “Somebody
already asked this. If that other question doesn't solve your problem,
please clarify your question to explain how it's different.” Perfect:
if the other question helps them, they're happy because they got an
answer. If the other question doesn't help them, they know exactly
what to do. No argument about how exact an "exact duplicate" needs to
The way I see it, there are several sources of the problem here:
- The terminology makes sense to moderators* and long-time users, but
the "possible duplicate of" terminology is confusing (and even
offensive in some cases) to unfamiliar users.
- The terminology was designed with obvious duplicates in mind, but not duplicates that aren't immediately obvious.
- Different criteria are used to vote to close, including flimsy criteria like "you should just read this canonical guide so we don't have to explain why you're doing it wrong" or "Part of this answer to this question offers a great explanation", and these criteria are all being exaggerated and distorted by labelling them with the comment "possible duplicate of [Question X]".
Duplicates are a trickier subject than they appear at first, and are a tricky enough subject that we can't expect new users to completely understand it. Whole blog posts have been written about it. We use the term "duplicate" to refer to the whole set of copy-and-paste duplicates, same-exact-question-different-wording duplicates, and borderline duplicates. This includes the frequent situation where you have Q1 and Q2 that have a very similar answer, but Q1 is more general (or just plain different entirely). From my understanding these shouldn't always be closed as duplicates. Confusingly, in this case the auto-comment on the question still reads "duplicate" when the duplicate is evident only in the answers.
For example, we have the popular question How to Securely Hash Passwords. Some questions are obvious duplicates where the OP immediately understands why its a "duplicate":
However in other places "possible duplicate of" and similar comments appear for reasons that aren't immediately obvious, especially when the evidence for the duplication is in the answers, not the question itself:
The last example is particularly salient because the user is looking for a very specific answer about sha_crypt and being told his question is a "possible duplicate" of a long comprehensive page that doesn't even mention his specific hash. At least one of the users had the courtesy to say "Welcome on Security SE. You will most likely find your answer in this thread: How to securely hash passwords?, in particular in the area following..."
We shouldn't be counting on every user to do what this user did and modify the auto-comment to explain things. This last example also shows how the use of the term "possible duplicate" is not very intuitive or explanatory. I would recommend we change the auto-comment as you suggest to something like:
"This question was possibly answered in... If this question and answers don't
solve your problem, please clarify to explain the differences in your
This wording avoids all these terse and technical-sounding "possible duplicate of" tags on these borderline duplicates.
*Note that I use moderator to refer to power users who spend a large amount of time voting on and flagging questions, not just actual system moderators.