Suppose there is a question which is rather sparse on details. Perhaps some readers won't even be able to derive the question from what is posted. But some readers understand what the question is, realize it is a good question, and have an answer.

When posting an answer to such a question, you may have to flesh out some of the details of the question in order for your answer to be comprehensible.

  • Should you just answer the question with the additional details in the answer and then leave everything else alone?
  • Should you go back and edit the question after answering it and include the fleshed out details from the answer that make the question more compelling?
  • Should you edit the question before answering and flesh out the details there, and then not have to include them in the answer in the first place?
  • Does it depend on how bad the question is without the additional details?

This post is inspired by two questions that I recently answered. In this question we are asked to resolve a discrepancy between a ruling of Rambam and a Talmudic passage, but we are not even told what the discrepancy is, nor is either source quoted or paraphrased, nor are we even given a citation for the ruling of Rambam. Simply put, the question doesn't really tell you what the question is (and there is a comment there to this effect).

Now if someone happens to know where to find the ruling of Rambam (and has enough of a background to understand both the Talmudic text and the Rambam text) they will be able to see that there is in fact a discrepancy, and it is indeed a good question, and there might be a good answer that is worth sharing.

I began my answer by actually explaining what the question is (i.e. I cited both sources and explained what the discrepancy was), and then explained how to resolve the discrepancy. But when I look back at the question I still see a "bad question". In this case should I edit the beginning of my answer into the question (and perhaps remove it from the answer)?

In this question a similar situation arose. A large portion of my answer is simply devoted to strengthening the question. This is somewhat different from the previous example because here the question as is is at least clear and understandable; my answer just made it stronger (in my opinion). Now that I answered the question, the question is still lacking the information that would strengthen it. So should I go back and edit that information into the question (and perhaps remove it from my answer)?

A possibly relevant factor to take into account is that in the first example it seems that the questioner simply didn't bother to flesh out the question. Someone else adding in the information almost certainly isn't deviating from the original author's intent. In the second example, though, the question can already stand on its own without the help from the answer. Adding that information to the question might perhaps be deviating from the original author's intent.

If you can improve a question without invalidating it, please do. Questions are more visible than answers; a well-asked question benefits everyone. Adding specific sources to replace "I heard somewhere" and clarifying jargon are especially helpful.

In some cases, doing this would break the question -- the question asks for a source or an explanation of a term, for instance. These are a minority of questions, but do watch out for them.

If you are going to edit the question anyway, then you might as well save some work by doing it directly instead of starting in an answer. I find it easier to edit the question first and then answer, so I see what is and isn't already there, but either order is fine. The important thing is to increase knowledge.

If you have already answered the question and then edit the information into the question, it's up to you whether to leave it in your answer too or edit it out. Keeping it does no harm other than possibly making later readers wonder why you repeated stuff from the question; the timestamps make it clear but not everyone pays that much attention. If it's extensive you might want to edit it down, but I don't think we have a convention for this.

By the way, there are even badges for improving questions while answering them.

  • What about in cases (like the two examples here) where I didn't think of it until after posting the answer. Should I still go back and edit the question? That would result in duplicate information, unless I also remove it from the answer. – Alex Aug 7 at 17:06
  • @alex see my edit. – Monica Cellio Aug 7 at 19:10

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