I've seen a trend recently that when questions that are seen as opinion-based (or any number of other questionably stackable formats), the community tries to rewrite the question to something we can answer.

While that is commendable, it feels like we may be making an error because by making the question 'stackable', we may be changing what the person is actually asking about. This allows the community to answer, but it doesn't necessarily give an answer relevant to the querent.

How should we be approaching these types of questions as a community - and how can we guide the community to follow this?

What started this?

This recent meta about this this question. While there may be other examples, what I'm trying to focus on is the urge to say "Oh, just ask it this way" rather than drilling down to figure out what they are really trying to ask instead of changing the question to 'fit' our format.

Many times, experienced users see the language used in a question and offer/suggest/edit a change that removes that language so it fits. This can happen before question closure or after - but the problem remains that we instead of working with someone to figure out what they want, we just move straight to change the language to something that fits.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like giving some links to concrete examples would help here so people can see what you are talking about in detail and in the wild. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ The temptation to VtC due to the word 'should' being in the title was resisted. ;) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 21:55

2 Answers 2


Focus on what the querent wants to ask, even if it means we can't answer it here

When we edit an open question we should always be improving the question that OP asked, but we should not be changing the core of the question. Not, at least without explicit confirmation from OP that the changes are agreeable to them. This means that sometimes there is nothing we can do to "fix" a question in the case that it is clearly POB and OP either does not want to change it or doesn't respond. And that is fine. If someone else has the issue, they can ask it in a way that they think will not be POB.

Close POB questions first and then work with OP if there might be a way to change it

When a question has issues that affect its ability to be answered well, one of the first things we should do is work on getting the question closed so the issues can be worked on. If a question is clearly POB, this should be our first step always.

If someone sees a way to change the question such that it shifts the question a significant amount from what OP was originally asking there are two way to go about this and both involve working with OP before reopening the question:

1. Work with OP in the comments to change the question

If you see a way that a POB question can be salvaged and it involves a potentially significant shift in the focus of the question, pitch the change to OP in the comments and wait for them to respond. If they agree, then someone can make that edit and vote to reopen. If they decline (or don't respond), then we just leave the POB question closed.

The downside to this method is that pitching changes to OP in the comments can be very difficult especially if there is help piling going on and the OP could be overwhelmed and/or confused about what is going on.

2. With the question closed, make the edit you propose and then leave a comment explaining it and asking OP for approval

Another way I've seen this done is to make an edit to a closed question and then ask in a comment if OP agrees with the significant shift in the question. If they agree, reopen the question. If they don't or don't respond, the question should remain closed.

We should never be editing an open question to change it significantly from what OP is asking without their consent. If we did this method to an open question (or open the question without waiting for OP's consent) then answers will start rolling in before OP has a chance to even comment on the edit. This is not something that should happen and ends up potentially not being good for answerers (if changes to the question have to be made later eg) or OP (if changes to the question are not to their liking).

The downsides here are that editing a closed question into a good-looking question often does result in getting the question reopened through the review queue or people passing by that may not realize what work is being done. If you see this happening, I think flagging the question for mod attention would be appropriate. A mod can unilaterally close the question again until we get a response from them.

If, at any point OP declines the changes or if they never respond we should leave the POB question closed. If someone else has the same issue that they think they can ask in a way that is not POB, they can freely do so. However, questions should always ask what the OP intends them to ask, even if it means the question cannot be answered here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Indeed which is why the method I outlined above says to close the question first in every case. I'll try to make that clearer and to put in something specific to editing an open question. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ If we've made the edit, most users just see the edit. They don't know it may have been made without approval and then the question gets reopened. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 5, 2019 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch that is what the comment is for and mod backup if things start to slip that way anyways. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you suggest flagging for mod closure if it's reopened without OP's approval of edits? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 5, 2019 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch "If you see this happening, I think flagging the question for mod attention would be appropriate. Assuming we all agree that such edits should not be allowed on an open question without OP's consent, a mod can unilaterally close the question again until we get a response from them." \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to add an alternative to "work with OP in the comments": work with OP in the meta. Meta is definitely the place for (prolonged) discussion. Make a post "How can this question be changed to be stackable" with a link to the original question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Mar 6, 2019 at 4:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix yeah I agree meta has a place here, but here's the thing: if a meta is created it should be by OP. If not then you still have to follow the same process above to make the changes. But I agree meta needs to be talked about, I just need to think about it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6, 2019 at 11:56

It's more important to actually work with querent to determine what their question is and if it's actually a good fit for our format.

Although the process might be slower, it feels like we should be trying to dial in what issue the querent has and then figure out a way, with them, to make the question into a stackable format.

Providing the right 'language' for asking something may change what they are actually asking. I understand that there is a strong desire to answer questions (and to help people!), but I feel like the desire to answer is overriding the need to answer what someone is actually asking.

It may take longer, but we should try and work with the querent to determine what they actually need. If we can answer that need, we can reformat the question to fit. If we can't, then we shouldn't try and force the question through with a change of language - we should direct them to another site where their question can be answered in the right format.

We are not here to answer questions. We are here to answer people. This means making sure questions are clear so that we are providing the person with the answer they are trying to find.

But how do we get the community to follow this?

This is something I don't know, other than using comments to try and help the querent understand what they are trying to ask instead of recommendations on language changes that 'fit' our format.

  • \$\begingroup\$ One point of ambiguity here (and I realize guidance is never going to cover every case) is that often it is faster and clearer (once you have a good idea of what you think OP wants to ask) to edit the question yourself and, crucially, then ask them if the edit asks if it still is asking what they intended it to. Comments are a clunk, confusing, and cumbersome way to do a detailed rewrite of a post (esp for a new user). Can you maybe elaborate on this technique and how it fits in here? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I'm realizing I don't really have an answer, but felt that this wasn't necessarily part of the question :/. I can either try and flesh it out more, or do you think it could go into the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 5, 2019 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well it feels like the start to an answer, but I'm not sure what I would recommend you to do with it. The information seems relevant but not really to the question itself? This is meta though so I think you can let it stand and see how people react to it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 5, 2019 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wholeheartedly back this up...the question I posed that brought this up was, in hindsight, not very well suited for the format here at all. The edits that got made to it really torqued what I was trying to ask (no great loss, it was opinion-based and better suited for a forum) into what felt to me to be a different question entirely. I would have preferred someone going "this doesn't seem like a great fit...what are you really asking?" and then removing it if it didn't fit over "here's how you can make this answerable" by altering the foundation of the question itself. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2019 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose, one step that seems to be missing from your "close it, edit it, and ping OP" idea above (which actually seems pretty good) is pinging OP before you edit so you can confirm context and what OP's really asking about. Maybe it just slipped your mind, maybe I'm not grokking the process enough to read between the lines and know that that was an unspoken obvious step. Comments may be clunky, but better to get some of the confirmations out of the way before we go through multiple iterations of edits trying to get what the real issue is. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2019 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MissMisinformation so in my answer above I had two options. the first one as your say involved working with OP in the comments first before making the edit. The second option was to edit first and then get approval. The is very useful with major changes that would be very hard to describe in short comments. Much easier to edit and then say "does that look good?" but importantly only when the question is closed. My answer stressed that the only time it should be reopened is when/if OP approves the change either way. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2019 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, I did notice that. I guess my question is, what happens next if OP doesn't approve it? You point out that comments aren't great for extensive conversations, but at that point it kind of forcibly moves there or to chat if you don't want to go through multiple iterations of edits whilst guessing at what OP actually meant. I was suggesting a simple "did you mean X?" one-time ping beforehand in case there is a mismatch between actual question and intended question-if yes, great! If no, resolve further. (and sorry for not being more deliberate in prior comment, I had...many thoughts) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2019 at 2:57

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