Recently there's been yet another case of a certain unpleasant situation I myself experienced to an extent shortly after joining WBSE.

Essentially, it all begins when an inadequate question is asked and closed due to its problems, but the closure occurs only after an answer has already been posted.

The question is, as of now, still inadequate and thus to be reopened it needs to be edited to fix the problems it has. The big issue here comes from the fact that, since it already has answers, which were written with the still inadequate question in mind, it can't make any edits that would invalidate the answer. This means that, for as long as the answer remains, the question essentially cannot be fixed since any edits that would solve the original problems will be rolled back as to not to invalidate the already existing answers.

Furthermore, the presence of the answer also means that the question can't be deleted by the original poster before they can ask a new one, and even if they could, unless they managed to make this new question look drastically different, it could and likely would be framed as a duplicate (if the question is still around) or even as an attempt to bypass the closure if they did manage to delete the original.

Summing up, my question is: in the situation that a user has asked a question that does not originally conform to the rules, but has already received answers that prevent them from making the necessary adjustments, how should said user solve the problem? Should they flag the question and hope it's deleted? Perhaps ask any users who have answered the question to delete their posts in order to allow for the fixes to be made? Should they simply give up on asking about the topic they wanted help with altogether because their question fell victim to this cycle?

The main reason I'm asking this is because the most recent case I've seen hasn't been the only recent case I noticed, with a second, slightly older case in which the situation was thankfully solved, but only because the user who had answered the originally inadequate question was kind enough to adequate their answer to conform to the clarifying edits made by the OP (edits which, as a matter of fact, had been rolled back for the very reason that clarifying the problem invalidated the original answer).

I'm not disputing the policy, as I understand both the effort some users put into their answers and the importance of preventing scenarios in which one can essentially ask a new question by editing an old post at any moment (even if I do believe exceptions to this rule should be available, especially for certain specific loophole problems such as this one). I'm simply seeking a potential best course of action for people (particularly new users unaccustomed with the SE's rules) who happen to fall in such a situation.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you post some examples? If there's a good-quality answer (to a wrong question) but you want different answers, you should be able to post a new question where you explain what's wrong with the existing answer. $\endgroup$
    – user7868
    Nov 2 '21 at 7:57

Difficult to See the Dark Side is

In the days of £sd, a penny of prevention worths a pound of cure... It can't be iterated strongly enough that the surest and sovereignest cure for the dreaded pox of query inadequacy is to take the time to craft as good a question as one possibly can. This means we like questions that are not casual throw-aways. The following simple guide can be used to prevent, not only inadequate queries but also a whole range of other issues and situations before they ever become problems:

  1. If you aren't really sure how to write a good question, check out the help center! And then check out the Meta discussions. A lot of problems can be resolved by using these resources to help with your question writing skills.
  2. Come up with a succinct & focused question that addresses a single worldbuilding issue or problem.
  3. Set up and format your query well. You don't need to explain a planet's whole geological history or describe the entire natural history of the inverse earthworm in order to ask a question. Your introduction should have just enough detail for respondents to address the problem you're experiencing. It's nice if you separate your question & bold it so respondents can focus on it. You should make a section that lists only key considerations & pertinent factors that you think are most important to be addressed in an answer. Your final section should relate by what standard you'll consider a response to be outstanding.
  4. ABCs & 123s! are keys to any form of written communication. Stack Exchange's "preferred language" is English. Do your best to write in the best English you can. Use a dictionary. Use a spell checker. Check your arithmetic. Edit your question twice. When you think you're done, read the preview panel and make sure your query is as presentable as you can make it.

Time to pay the piper! So far so good! But what if you didn't follow the above advice? Now it's time to pay for the proverbial pound of cure! If I were in such a situation, these are the actions I'd take:

  1. I'd first consider how bad the original query was compared to my bright & shiny edit. If I think I can get away with it, I'd just post the new question. Maybe wait a fortnight until the old question drops out of view a bit?
  2. If the likelihood of being closed as a duplicate seems very high, the next step is to write a comment under the answer, requesting that the respondent delete their answer with an explanation of what's going on. If it looks like the answer might have good potential for your rewritten query, let the respondent know to copy it as a basis for their new answer. Then, if they delete the answer, I'd delete the old question & ask the new one.
  3. Third step is to remind the respondent, after a few days of ignoring you, to please delete the answer because you're in the process of rewriting the question.
  4. Then, the fourth step is to flag the answer. As SPAM, as "not an answer" or "in need of moderator intervention". The last one allows you to write your reason why the query needs to be deleted. Refer the Mod to this Meta discussion.
  5. Finally, the fifth step is to flag your own query as "in need of improvement" or "in need of moderator intervention". Again, explain why you made the request and link to this discussion.

Barring those actions, there's really no other SE legal remedy. You could always try to blank the bum answer out; you could try to blank your own question out as well. Those will possibly get rolled back as "vandalism". Though I'd argue that answering a bad question (especially one that is in the close queue) is a kind of vandalism.

If all else fails, you could simply write the new question, replace the old one with it and submit for reopening. It's entirely possible that it could be reopened without anyone checking to see if the answer is affected. If a Mod rolls it back, you could roll back the rollback with a nice note to the Mod that you've already gone through all the steps and have been stonewalled and that you're just desperate to publish a proper edit of your original question and you don't have any other options!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Reposting questions is what a lot of beginners do, but they often don't see the threshold where it's different enough to not be a duplicatoclosorus. But I guess, it leads to an even quicker closure (and annoyed comments), so at least this new question won't get an answer x). That's why I would not put it at the first position in my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 31 '21 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. This is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. A straightforward, step by step, easy to understand manual on what to do in such a situation. $\endgroup$ Oct 31 '21 at 14:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It might be good to add a section stating that this can be prevented by working to close, edit, and reopen posts quickly to reduce the amount of time that answers can "fix a question in place". $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 31 '21 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ What you wrote looks good and reasonable on paper. However, it is hardly possible to implement fully in practice. The effort and time required to repost/reopen a question are way too much compared to the usefulness/quality of the expected answers (the quality of answers of the WB.SE is rather low as they are mostly speculative). Not to mention that many answerers get hostile when asked to edit or delete their answers even if their answers are based on wrong assumptions and/or failure to read and comprehend the original question fully. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Nov 1 '21 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin That's why prevention by asking good questions, and quickly closing questions so that they can be safely edited without receiving answers is so important. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ It is also worth mentioning that the rules of closure are very subjective and quite often depend on the VTCer's knowledge, expertise, biases, familiarity with the poster's name, and whether they personally like the question (or the questioner) or not. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Nov 1 '21 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings That would make sense if the VTCers took the time and effort to explain their specific reasons for closure and actually help to improve the question. However, how often does this happen? For example, your own comments are often so general and unspecific that it is not possible for a new user to understand what you want them to change. I am referring to your 'It seems to me that this something that the characters of your story have to solve' (that's the general meaning, not the exact wording). $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Nov 1 '21 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings It is also worth mentioning that these days a rare user asks for details and clarifications to make sure that their understanding of the question and its focus is correct. Instead, they jump to conclusions and judge questions based on their assumptions. Unfortunately, it is also frequently done in a manner that would be inappropriate in any face-to-face conversation. I am starting to wonder what is the user retention rates for the WB.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Nov 1 '21 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be conflating closing questions quickly, with working with people to get their post edited and reopened. One of these is a quick action in the review queue which can and should happen quickly. The other is a slow deliberate process that requires communicating back and forth so that the edited question serves the asker's needs, and isn't just ham-fistedly contorted into something that is technically on topic. This is assuming the question is salvageable. If They're asking about character motivations or wanting help brainstorming then there often isn't a trivial edit to fix it. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Asking good questions isn't easy. Helping someone edit a poorly asked off topic question is even harder. Doing this while also navigating an incoming stream of answers, and convincing those answers to delete or modify their posts is unnecessarily hard. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings How easy it is in your opinion to open a question that was wrongly closed? Especially if the wrongful closure was initiated by a well-recognised member of this community. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Nov 1 '21 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ -1 for suggestion to flag as spam. Account with spam flags may get banned. Posting answer to bad question is not a sin bad enough. And having deleted "not an answer" answers counts towards answer ban. Again, makes no sense if it's actually a good answer. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Nov 4 '21 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot -- That's why it's down at the bottom --- marking as SPAM is a last ditch effort to get the attention of someone who can help. As for posting an answer to a bad question, actually that's not really a good practice at all. It causes more problems than it solves, hence this whole meta discussion! Best practice is to not jump immediately on a questionable question with an answer, no matter how good it might seem. Simply because once the OP tries to edit the question into proper shape, that good answer is now a bad answer because it no longer addresses the query. Let's try to avoid that! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 5 '21 at 0:37

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