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Sometimes I come across a question on SO that is actually a number of questions all in one. If these "sub-questions" are closely related, it's not a problem. But if they are only weakly related (or not at all) it gets ugly.

I'm now (ironically or hypocritically) going to ask a few questions of my own for the community to respond to:

  • Do you consider a question made up of a number of weakly-related sub-questions "inappropriate"? Why or why not?
  • How many is too many sub-questions?
  • What do you think is the best way to deal with such questions?

As an example, here's one such question I had some discussion about with another user. I will add a more complete version of my response in an answer below, but in short I felt that this question should be closed and many of the questions asked separately.

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5 Answers 5

The problem I find is that a person will ask three questions, and all three questions taken separately have already been asked.

Is the question a duplicate? Not literally, but each of its sub-questions is a duplicate.

To my way of thinking, that means the question should be closed.

If the sub-questions aren't duplicate, and are closely related, then they should stay with the question. If they aren't closely related, they should be branched out to their own question, and you should leave a comment indicating such.

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I don't consider a question made of of many smaller questions to be inappropriate, but I do find it frustrating.

I personally would like to see people who have a lot of sub questions to make them all different questions, but perhaps have them linked together to provide a greater context to those attempting to answer.

  • First question: as stated above, not really
  • If it is inappropriate, I think we can take the method that the Supreme Court does towards obscentity...you'll know it when you see it.
  • As stated above, I would like to see people separate their questions into the smaller questions and then link them to each other to provide appropriate context.
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2  
The only problem is when the sub-questions are conditional on something that is wrong, eg. Q: "How do I fix A to do X? Given A, how can use it with B? Is A+B compatible with C?" A: "Don't use A, H is far better. It does B and C anyway." –  detly Aug 11 '10 at 2:47

I'm for keeping a question as focused on a specific topic as possible... the narrower the better. Here's my reasoning:

  • The contents of SO should be easy to search, either by keyword searches or (specifically) using the "tags" they supply. By packing too many varied topics into one question, that can make it harder for someone to find the topic they are looking for, since questions are limited to using only 5 tags. A question that covers more than 5 general topics will therefore not have its content completely represented by its tags.

  • The answers to specific questions should also be well-developed and easy to understand. By packing a number of sub-questions into one question, each may not get the attention it deserves. The question itself may not get many answers since users may not want to write such a long answer or might feel like they shouldn't answer if they can't address all of the questions adequately. In addition, if someone is only concerned with answers to one of the sub-questions, they would potentially have to sift through a lot of other answers to get to the info they need.

In cases of multiple weakly-related sub-questions, I generally vote to close (to pause answering on a poorly formed question), then suggest that the OP either:

  • Delete the question and reask the sub-questions separately.
  • Narrow the current question to one important one and separately ask the rest later.
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I consider a "multi-question" to be in bad form. It discourages people from answering because if they don't have an answer for all of the sections, then they won't post even a partial answer.

I feel that two is usually too many. Unless the second question is asking whether or not there are alternative methods or very closely related to the first. The site is better served by having multiple small questions rather than large FAQ-style ones. Smaller, more focused questions have a better chanced of turning up in specific Google searches.

I don't know if there is a best way to deal with them. Editing out all of the extra questions and posting the extras as separate questions seems like rep-whoring (even though you are providing a necessary service and technically deserve some boost for it, but the original poster deserves some for asking in the first place). And I can't think of any other solution than telling the poster to split it up, which probably won't happen in most cases.

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Posting multiple questions as one question is bad (in my opinion) for all sorts of reasons.

I think the thing to do when someone does it is to add a reasonably gentle comment suggesting that they might not want to do that.

Add a link to this Meta discussion so they can understand why.

See, for example, the second comment at HTML Sidebar List.

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