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Something I've noticed recently on Worldbuilding SE is an increase in the number of interlinked questions that require reading the parent question in order to get complete context for answering the question. As some examples consider the questions below.

How much energy could yeast produce? (asks about using yeast-powered metabolism to power a magic field, but doesn't mention the parameters)
What would "medieval" weapons made by birds look like
how would one design a wand for this magic system?
how to siege a small island nation that is the most powerful country in the world
https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/193497/what-would-happen-if-people-could-become-avatars

One common trend I've noticed with these questions is that a user will provide an answer, only to be told the answer is not acceptable based on additional parameters to the question not included in the present question but mentioned in the referred one. Granted, I should note this is not the case with all such questions, and many users have been very kind and provided then necessary details when asked.

It might be a good idea to adopt a policy of minimum necessary context for each question at Worldbuilding SE. Much like how Stack Overflow asks for a minimum reproducible example when dealing with programming questions, it is necessary to provide as much context as is necessary to answer the question within the question itself, rather than linking to other questions on the site. Given how Worldbuilding SE works, users might see a question and answer it thinking it exists in a vacuum not knowing it is linked to numerous other questions as part of a worldbuilding setting. However, at the same time, Worldbuilding SE users cannot be expected to read 20 questions to get the backstory of an entire setting in order to answer one. Having all the pertinent information in one place to answer a question, even if it requires restating information that has been mentioned in earlier questions, would be very helpful to answering users.

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  • $\begingroup$ As the author of one of the referenced questions, I'm curious what information you thought was missing? Offhand it seems like only the decision to use yeast in the first place, which could be grounds for a frame challenge but doesn't otherwise seem relevant. In general, though, I don't disagree, but would hope folks would leave comments asking for clarification. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Jan 25 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ There's a new question that is a good example: how would one design a wand for this magic system? $\endgroup$ Jan 25 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew Your post wasn't bad, but it was clear from the context that you were trying to get help in creating the yeast-based metabolism to power a magic system. Knowing context about what you wanted this magical system to do might help in providing better answers. $\endgroup$ Jan 25 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, I suppose that's fair. Sure wish I knew what I wanted to do with it 😉. Okay, I exaggerate... I want it to power washing machines and waste management facilities, but OTOH you're asking about chicken-and-egg details; without knowing how much power I can get, I don't know what can be done. I built that system to some very specific requirements that aren't relevant to that question and have been exploring the ramifications ever since. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Jan 25 at 19:10
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If someone says that an answer is not appropriate because of context outside the body of the question, I suggest voting to close as "needs more details or clarity". This is the textbook definition of when to use that reason to close. Leaving a comment about that in the answer would be a plus.

I think we should also change the boilerplate text in the "need details or clarity" close reason. Currently it says:

This question should include more details and clarify the problem.

I think it could say:

This question should include more details and clarify the problem. Please remember that all the context needed to answer the question should be present in its body.

Or something to that effect.


I am also in favor of keeping such questions closed when the OP says an answer is invalid, since editing it to include the missing context would invalidate an answer. A new, different question is in order.

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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. I'm just suggesting something more along the lines of an official statement in the Worldbuilding SE rules that including references to a prior question is not sufficient details or clarity. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 100% agree, I'll edit to include my support for that. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 23:16
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In general, I don't disagree, however I think judicious use of linked questions can be beneficial.

Yes, questions can have too few details, but they can also have too many details. For example, here I am asking a question which was actually the motivation for the question about yeast energy production, which in turn was a follow-up on a question about how a particular magic system might be "automated". (The chain flows from general questions to more specific questions.)

Now, I've written a ~5,000 word essay on this magic system, and it's conceivable that all those details, and maybe even more that aren't in that essay, might be relevant. However, I'm also extremely conscious of my own tendency to gloss over any question that looks too much like a "wall of text", which is why I tried to cut down the details in the waste management question.

IMHO, linked questions are a helpful tool if used properly. That is, if the linked question contains details that are relevant to the question being asked, this should be clearly stated, and ideally it should be obvious what details are contained in the linked question. The advantage is that someone is more likely to actually read the question being asked (and, hopefully, then go read the details if they find the question interesting) rather than simply glossing over it because it is too long.

If SE had the ability to collapse content blocks, perhaps that would be a viable alternative, but it doesn't.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of collapsible content. $\endgroup$ Feb 4 at 10:13

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