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We see a lot of occasions where a new user posts an answer when in fact they should be asking a question; for example here or here.

Given that:

  • we want to make life as comfortable as possible for new users (the life-blood)
  • we may have a different audience, especially on SuperUser

How about the ability (moderator?) to change a user's "answer" into a new question? (presumably retaining the tags etc from the original question, and the ownership from the misplaced answer/question).

The biggest gotcha with this, though, is that in some cases this group (the people who paste an answer when they want to ask a question) are the same group that you never see again - so it might not be a 100% return...

I'm posting this as a discussion (not a feature-request) as I'm mainly interested in people's thoughts... would this be useful? or not so much?

Update: I think that is enough support to upgrade it to feature-request ;-p

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For the bounty, can we find out if this feature is being planned and/or an ETA? –  Kirk Woll Mar 16 '11 at 2:14
No fair! Did I make work for myself here? –  Marc Gravell Mar 21 '11 at 7:14
I think the answers here - and here - do a pretty good job of outlining why this is a bad idea. We've worked hard to put a lot of guidance into the Ask Question page, and that's all lost on folks who post their questions as answers; increasing the number of half-baked questions in exchange for not having to just delete answers doesn't seem like a very good trade-off. –  Shog9 Mar 7 '13 at 0:03

9 Answers 9

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Questions posted as answers are very often incomplete, depending very heavily on the existing discussion. So not only would a moderator be required to create a new question title, but they would have to generate or copy a great deal of other information from the existing question and answers to fill out the new question.

Honestly, if the big Ask Question button at the top is too difficult to use, then there's a good chance the question isn't worth asking formally.

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I think the cases where it most happens, understandably so, is when a user does due diligence to find an answer that should help them but they have trouble implementing it. So, they tack onto the question so that 1) the people who were knowledgable to answer it the first time around might see it, and 2) to keep information close together. It's not the correct action, but I see how it comes about. But I definitely agree that a moderator probably doesn't have enough context to turn it into a proper question. –  Mark Peters Mar 16 '11 at 4:39
Obviously, moderators can be expected to determine when a question given as an answer deserves a -1, a big close hammer, or the hypothetical "move to a new question" feature. –  sarnold Jan 6 '12 at 3:20

Nearly two years on - and I am entirely unconvinced that this still has merit. The type of question that gets posted as an answer is typically of very low quaility, and by a new user. At best, I can suggest maybe for new users posting an answer that includes a question-mark, offering a "are you sure you are answering [this question] - or are you asking a new question?" prompt, pushing them to "Ask Question" at point of posting. Anything else seems, based on much much experience, futile...


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You're probably right that we can't make this automatic. What about more warnings as you suggest though? Seems like we could do a bit better in preventing this (extremely common) mistake. (by the way, thanks for responding. :) ) –  Kirk Woll Mar 22 '11 at 19:53

Pointless and fruitless.

People who can't work out the distinction between posting an answer and a question are unlikely to have clear questions for upverting. There are enough questions coming through that you don't need to ruffle through the bin for more.

Good idea if you want the bot to have something to kill when it detects the deadwood.

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Converting it to a question is a good idea. If they return or not, doesn't matter. If it is answered, someone else could be helped with. The only "benefit" the questioner has now, is being voted down to some nice place in nirvana.

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I think this is a great idea. I think there should be another radio button on the Flag list to allow us to flag this sort of question for the moderators. It could even add a canned comment to the answer. Something like this:

@shalini: I see you're new here, so you may not have read the stackoverflow.com/faq yet (link at top of every page). This is not a discussion forum. It's a Q&A site. If you have a question, click the "Ask a Question" link. You've posted an "Answer", and one that has nothing to do with the question. Welcome to StackOverflow!

where "@shalini" is replaced by the user's name (obviously).

Ok, in retrospect, that needed a smiley. It's from the first example that Marc cited, and I wrote it.

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Huge credit to you sir for your polite and explanatory comment. –  devinb Jul 16 '09 at 13:54
I'm trying to grow, as a person and SO user. I used to be so, "Hey, dummy!" –  John Saunders Jul 16 '09 at 13:57

I like the idea of being able to push it out to a new question, but I think what you may end up seeing more and more often is when people will post as an answer a reply to the other answers. In this way it would generally be useful more as a comment and not a separate question.

I don't know how useful it would be, but perhaps something that allows you to highlight some text and then push it to a comment (with you being able to pick where to put it). I don't know how well this would work, though.

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What makes this community. Is it the questions and answers or the people?

I would limit the functionality to promote some thing to a question to some one who has a high reputation. As has been pointed out, people who ask question's in the answers section would most likely be passing through and not contributing to the community.

So to answer the question above. Its the people who make the community. If some answer really needed to be turned into a question let some one in the community who understands that it needs to happen do it. Does that mean we need to create functionality like migrating an answer to a question. Maybe, it could make it easier for the community to create those questions and accept an answer. A quick look at the number of unanswered questions makes me think that we will just be increasing that number significantly. I don't think people will be taking responsiblity to accept an answer and provide feed back on the problem check out this question and answer to see what I mean over 20 comments. This is what makes stackexchange, SO, and the other sites work. Its the people.

If people are not using the site in the way it was built is? Is it because it is difficult to understand or because the are not really interested in the community. If they are not interested in the community should the community really take up the slack and do a lot of extra work trying to maintain all those extra questions. If it is because the site is difficult to use and understand that is a septate problem.

May be some stats on the number of answers with comments which propose that the answer should be posted as a question would be helpful to understand how big this problem really is. I don't know how to do this type of query on the SO database. May be some who who works on the SO site could do it. May be this post need to be turned into a question.

About the site being difficult to understand, I think we / stackechange / SO have taken a very narrow view of questions and answers. A question should be concise and have one possible solution? This is ok for most questions but there are some that need more explanation and deeper answers. Which community wiki provides the functionality or as posted above active member participation. This post is related in the problem that is being talked about here. How answers and questions should be viewed.

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The question posed it in the context of moderator functions; re numbers... let's just say: "lots" - however, most of these are of such little quality that I don't think they are salvageable –  Marc Gravell Mar 22 '11 at 9:05
@Marc-gravell hence my point of creating a lot of work for the community, But is there going to be a return on the work. Is it going to make thing better. Just marginally or significantly. I don't think it will be significant improvement in the site. I posted this as a possible change. –  nelaar Mar 22 '11 at 9:43

It's disappointing to come to Meta and find out that a feature I'd really like to have has been shot down in flames already.

phoenix said:

I think this will be a burden for the moderator. He has to look into each and every answer a new user posts and should decide whether it should be moved to the question or not. When the user group grows to an enormous one this will be a huge task for the moderator.

Well, tough beans -- I already have to look at the answer because someone has flagged it as 'not an answer' so what's the big deal?

A lot of the old hands have answered from the perspective of long-time SE users who are already familiar with the format. What about the brand-new user?

New users are not so stupid that they post an answer instead of leaving a comment -- they can't post a comment because we won't let them, because they don't have any rep. They can't come into the chat room and talk to us before they post, because we won't let them, because they don't have enough rep. All they can do is plonk their comments down as an answer.

So then the mods have to come in and clean up, and say, here's where the help center is, here's the tour, here's how to ask a question. No matter how friendly I try to be, I'm stuck with the job of telling them you can't be a part of the community without doing homework first. It's unfriendly as hell. Aren't we supposed to play nice?

If I could take these answers which have the seed of a new question in them and spin them off into a new question, retaining the authorship of the person who posted it, it would give them the chance to earn some reputation, maybe enough to be able to use the chat room, where we could talk to them and encourage them to participate more.

These not-really-an-answer posts are going to be work for the moderators anyway. Having the choice to turn them into a comment OR promote them to a new question would give me a tool so I could do productive work instead of non-productive work.

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I agree - this would be especially helpful for Beta sites who are trying to get a critical mass of content to help them towards graduation sooner. It could be a very useful tool in the hands of a proactive moderator and does not need to be used by moderators on sites where a fire hose of questions are already arriving. –  PolyGeo Mar 15 at 23:22

I think this will be a burden for the moderator. He has to look into each and every answer a new user posts and should decide whether it should be moved to the question or not. When the user group grows to an enormous one this will be a huge task for the moderator.

If there's an option to vote the answer to be moved as a question for users with reputation above a specified level then it could be useful. Then the moderator will get a list of the questions that has been voted to move as a question.

Also if the provided answer is no way related to the new question then he has to enter new keywords also for the new question.

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Note that something like the vote happens now; simply, people flag it for moderator attention. This wouldn't increase or decrease that, but from experience it isn't a big burden. –  Marc Gravell Jul 16 '09 at 11:48

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