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I have recently started partaking in the joys of SE. And at first I aspired to have thousands of rep points and badges, so I started answering questions and asking questions. But now I don't care about the rep points I just like knowing that I am helping someone, the same way some SE user has helped me in the past.

That being said I have recently found myself checking SE frequently and answering the questions right as they come in before most others probably had the chance to. Is this wrong? Should I back off a little and let others answer the questions? I mostly answer the easier ones :$

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    $\begingroup$ Somebody has to answer first, and there is no advantage to anyone to delay that. However, accepting a answer should be delayed a while. Sometimes OPs accepts the first plausible answer without seeing what others might have said. I'd say as a rough guide don't accept a answer until you have at least three answers with a little time for others to vote them up or down, or two days has passed, whichever is earlier. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 2 '14 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @OlinLathrop: Not sure why your comment isn't an answer ;) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 2 '14 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Olin Lathrop: The act of acceptance is reversible (as long as OP is around). $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Mar 2 '14 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Kyle: Because I mostly talk about accepting as apposed to answering first, which is what the question is about. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 2 '14 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Qmech: Acceptance if reversible, but doesn't change anything. Just the fact that a question has a accepted answer causes others to skip it over and not bother looking at it or answering. I know I do this routinely on EE.SE. I have limited time, so if a question already has a accepted answer I probably won't even read it, let alone spend time answering it. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 2 '14 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Olin Lathrop: Statistics shows that you are unfortunately spot on correct. But I wish that potential answerers (who feel that they could contribute with something not already covered in existing answers) would submit an answer anyway independently of whether or not an existing answer has already been accepted. I try to live by that rule myself. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Mar 2 '14 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Qmech: Sure, if you have infinite time. However, I don't and I suspect most people here don't either. It's not about "should I answer this question" in isolation, but rather "given that I have 5 minutes to spend, does this question or that one look like the most fruitful way to spend it?". Also, you won't usually know if you have something to contribute since you won't even go into the question. Answering resources are finite, so questions compete with each other for those finite resources. If one question gets them, others won't. Questions with accepted answers have lower returns. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Mar 3 '14 at 0:18
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Time isn't really (or isn't intended to be) a factor on the SE platform. The goal is to get the best answers to the best questions. If you see a question that you can answer, you should answer it. It doesn't matter if the question is a minute old or a year old.

Of course, for the sake of the questioner, the sooner they get a (good) answer, the better. Overall though, we want questions and answers that are useful to more than one person so answers aren't meant to just help the original questioner.

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Go forth and answer!

Now there are some sites where this can lead to issues. For example, on StackOverflow a number of users race to be the first to post minimally helpful links, since that gets the most reputation per unit effort, resulting in a bunch of decidedly unhelpful tidbits that look like they were drawn from a live help session. As long as you are posting good, thorough answers, this isn't a problem.

Another concern on TeX is that there is a very small core of very good answerers (mostly the people who developed TeX and its brethren), and if they answer all the easy questions, new users will be discouraged from participating in the community. I doubt we will ever have that problem here. Between the number of questions we get and the breadth of topics they cover, no small group of people could answer them all (at least not well).

The only other catch I'll mention is that you should not just blindly answer things. Take a look around at what established users take to be good questions. For example, if someone posts their homework assignment expecting us to just do it for them, we (high-rep users) will close it, and probably throw a few downvotes at it too. Our efforts at keeping up the quality and integrity of this site are made more difficult when new users quickly post solutions to these questions before we react.

You should keep up your enthusiasm. My own experience is that after reaching 10k rep I grew far more picky in terms of which questions I would spend time answering. There are certainly posts where I know I could write a good answer, but I'm tired of explaining the same topic (e.g. the expansion of the universe) for the umpteenth time.

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