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Who Answers It Better? An In-Depth Analysis of ChatGPT and Stack Overflow Answers to Software Engineering Questions

Samia Kabir, David N. Udo-Imeh, Bonan Kou, Tianyi Zhang

Over the last decade, Q&A platforms have played a crucial role in how programmers seek help online. The emergence of ChatGPT, however, is causing a shift in this pattern. Despite ChatGPT's popularity, there hasn't been a thorough investigation into the quality and usability of its responses to software engineering queries. To address this gap, we undertook a comprehensive analysis of ChatGPT's replies to 517 questions from Stack Overflow (SO). We assessed the correctness, consistency, comprehensiveness, and conciseness of these responses. Additionally, we conducted an extensive linguistic analysis and a user study to gain insights into the linguistic and human aspects of ChatGPT's answers. Our examination revealed that 52% of ChatGPT's answers contain inaccuracies and 77% are verbose. Nevertheless, users still prefer ChatGPT's responses 39.34% of the time due to their comprehensiveness and articulate language style. These findings underscore the need for meticulous error correction in ChatGPT while also raising awareness among users about the potential risks associated with seemingly accurate answers.

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