Some portion of questions, especially by new or casual users, actually lack a clear question. There may be a decent description of the situation, and if we're lucky there's also a code snippet, perhaps even a good and relevant one. It's often easy to guess what the question is.

However, it feels like a bit of waste to answer the probable question, because the question will get a bunch of down-votes in an instant, a few comments asking what the question is, and a few "Not a real question" close votes. The question could be fixed by adding one line, but there's no point, because the down-votes are not going to go away, so even if closing is avoided, almost all down-votes will remain.

It also feels a bit questionable to edit the question and add a best-guess question phrase to it.

So, questions:

  • What is the general feelings about editing a poor question to include the missing actual question? This is guessing the posters intent, and could go wrong...

  • What would be good ways to make sure questions lacking obvious things like this aren't posted so often?

  • Added: Is it reasonable to up-vote a question after it got fixed just to counter down-votes, if you would not upvote the question on it's own merits?

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    I would comment saying "What is the question?" I'd possibly close-vote and downvote if it seems unsalvagable, or the user doesn't respond or responds incoherently. – David Robinson Mar 22 '13 at 8:33
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    "This is guessing the posters intent, and could go wrong" - that's the major problem with it. We can't read minds, and what your guess would be may very well be different from my guess, both of which may very well be different from what the OP had in mind. – Oded Mar 22 '13 at 8:43
  • @DavidRobinson If everybody did it that way, then it would work perfectly. But in practice it looks like a lot of people use down-vote to say "this needs editing", without ever checking back if editing happened. And upvoting to counter someone elses downvote... actually I'll add that to the question! – hyde Mar 22 '13 at 8:51
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    I vote "Requires a Crystal Ball" as a close vote. – Amelia Apr 20 '13 at 3:26

What is the general feelings about editing a poor question to include the missing actual question? This is guessing the posters intent, and could go wrong...

The approach here varies depending on the question.

In cases where the question seems clear, editing to include the question is an excellent approach, especially when the user may be new and unfamiliar with Stack Overflow or even how to edit question. Likewise when the OP has included the question in the comments in response to someone's "What is your question" comment. Usually when I do edit, I'll leave a comment explaining to the OP what I did:

I have edited your question based on x [your comment, what I think you are trying to say, etc]. However, if I have misinterpreted your needs, please feel free to edit your question yourself by clicking the edit button just below the text of your question.

The last portion about how to edit, I probably would only include if it is a brand new user that does not have an Editor badge.

Now in cases were it is impossible to guess, or you are split between 2 or 3 different possibilities on what the OP is asking, then the editing route is very risky and probably not worth it. This is especially true if you plan on answering or someone else has answered, because if you get it wrong, you open up the answers to undeserved downvotes (if there is an answer that answers the wrong question, a heads up via comment to the poster of the answer to let him know of the edit might be a friendly idea too).

In the cases when the question is not clear, the only choice you have is to comment. But I would try to go beyond the general "What is your question" comment and maybe try to explain to help guide the OP properly. Something to the effect of might be help

Your question is not very clear. Please try to clarify it by editing your post. From what I am reading, I think you are trying to ask x or y, but it you could confirm, it would be helpful in getting your question answered.

Then once the question is clarified, just hope that the edit (whether yours, the OP's, or anther user) is good enough to stem the tide of downvotes or close votes. If the question is not brand new, editing will also bumping the question to help get more attention and possibly attract a few upvotes, and if it was already closed, editing should also let it enter the reopen queue to see about reopening it.

To address your last point, upvoting just to balance downvotes is not a valid approach in my opinion, I would only upvote if I feel the question is worthy of an upvote. If several people vote just to balance downvotes and then 2 or 3 downvoters undo their votes, you could end up with a question that has a much higher score than maybe you think it deserves. However, assuming the edit is good and the question is clear, the question should be worthy of an upvote.

  • 1
    In your comment you can use [edit], which actually opens up an edit link to the post the comment is on, e.g. edit. – ben is uǝq backwards Mar 23 '13 at 20:53
  • Ex.: Please try to clarify by [edit]ing your post = Please try to clarify by editing your post – Doorknob Mar 23 '13 at 21:07
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    @benisuǝqbackwards Ooh, excellent tip about that markup! I wonder if it is documented anywhere... – hyde Mar 24 '13 at 9:43
  • But of course @hyde: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/92060/… – ben is uǝq backwards Mar 24 '13 at 9:48

What is the general feelings about editing a poor question to include the missing actual question?

If the implied question is clear, go ahead and add it. Add a comment explaining that questions should be explicit, that you've added what you think the question was, and pointing out that the OP can and should edit if you didn't get it quite right.

If you have no idea what the question is, then vote to close and add a comment asking for clarification.

What would be good ways to make sure questions lacking obvious things like this aren't posted so often?

Avoid encouraging bad questions by going out of your way to answer whatever the question could have been. I'm sure we've all written answers that start out: "Your question is unclear but...". We all want to be helpful, and there are times when you really can read between the lines, but if askers expect strangers to spend time helping them, they should of course do their best to at least state their question.

  • 1
    Just what I would have said myself. – Caleb Mar 23 '13 at 21:51

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