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If you've answered more than five questions on SO, this has probably happened to you.

Answer that solves immediate problem
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    Some Code
    //Lovely comments in Code
    Some more code

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Questioner(Comment): Well that works but ...

You can answer the additional questions in comments, or build a super answer, but then your answer starts having little to do with the question that was actually asked.

When is it reasonable to ask the user to ask another question or come talk in chat?

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Related: perhaps this, as well as this one. –  Grace Note May 25 '11 at 12:21
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@GraceNote related, but not the same. My experiences aren't quite so pathological ... –  C. Ross May 25 '11 at 12:29
    
Seems to me that you already answered your own question: "[when] your answer starts having little to do with the question that was actually asked." –  Cody Gray May 25 '11 at 12:32
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3 Answers 3

Perhaps this is a bit of a draconian approach, but if the user asks questions in the comments that fall outside the scope of the question, then I suggest that the user ask a new question, and explain that it falls outside the scope of the current question. I also stop responding to comments at that time and updating my answer unless the question is modified and falls within scope.

If the user updates their question, adding a new question which deserves to be on it's own, I will typically comment to the poster that they should create a new question, as it is now two separate questions, and then I flag the question for an administrator, indicating that there are two separate questions being asked and they should split it up/lock it, etc.

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It's important to understand the distinction between a question that takes on new meaning/direction as details are revealed and a related but separate question

In the case of the former, sometimes you start with a moderately vague question or a question that has a lot of depth to it, and then through comments or attempted answers that don't work details are revealed that then subtly influence the question into a new direction that makes the resulting question fairly different from the originally asked question. The "problem" here is that answers that do not track these changes can become outdated and some of these may have been voted up at the time they were placed because they were good answers to the question in the state it was in at the time of the answer.

However, we do not want to encourage folks to simply re-ask the same question with more details even in these cases. Stack Overflow is collaboratively edited for good reason and we shouldn't avoid this just because it can lead to a disjoint relationship between question and answer in some cases. In the case of the former, you should not suggest asking a new question.

The latter is more clear. It tends to take on a few flavors:

  • the asker's problem is solved and they have a new question that arises as a "next step"
  • the asker's question wasn't really the question they wanted to ask in the first place so even though they may have gotten valid/useful answers, they really wanted to ask something else
  • the asker simply asks a completely separate question within the original question

In all of these cases you should suggest a user start a new question. The original question body and tags don't really bear much on the actual issue at hand and are actually detractors from a search standpoint because of all of the unrelated stuff that is being associated with this new question.

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It's a good question. Also, comments are just to express our ideas on questions and answers, not for asking chained questions. Also, if anyone asks questions or answers questions. Add a comment asking him to add

EDIT

or

UPDATE

and have to update their chained questions and answers.

Another way is just to post a new question.

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