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Situation: Lets say there was an interesting question, but:

  • It was poorly written (e.g. language, formatting, missing assumptions).
  • It was posted many day ago but got only a few views.
  • It received some comments which admonish to clarify the question. Even some close-votes for "unclear what you are asking". The OP seems to have lost interest in the question at all or does at least not change any significant part. However, once understood, it is actually an interesting and non-trivial problem.
  • It received some answers, but neither solved it completely but just gave some ideas and observations, or was itself poorly written so that most readers will not understand the problem better after reading it. Also no answer was accepted.

Question: Is it an acceptable behavior for me to open a completely new question (maybe here, maybe on MathOverflow, etc.) and

  • Include the same problem, but well-written, nicely formatted, all assumptions contained as well as all the progress made in the older question/s (including a link to those questions),
  • Earn all the upvotes to this new question.
  • Once sufficiently answered, close the old question as a duplicate of my newer question.

Everything under the assumption that editing the older question to make it fit the requirements for a "good question" is out of scope without maybe going over the top of what the OP could have done/understood. In the end, I am earning the upvotes for my effort to phrase/format it nicely. Or is it like stealing the question because we mainly upvote for interesting problems?

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    $\begingroup$ If the question you seek to replace is abandoned, I don't see anything wrong with your idea regarding our current rules or ethics. It would improve the site. The trick might be the decision that it is abandoned. And also the new version would have to be substantially improved, not just cosmetically. If it were cosmetic, it would probably be OK to edit the old question, instead. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Oct 11 '17 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ I have done what you are proposing to do. There were some objections, but on the whole reaction was positive. If you are worried about "stealing", you can make (or ask the moderators to make) the question "community wiki", so you don't earn any points from upvotes on it. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 11 '17 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ I have tried something similar, for examples see here and here. (You can find there apart from links to two posts also somewhat related discussion in chat. However, in those cases the original question was already deleted at the time of my repost.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 11 '17 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ "Include the same problem, but well-written, nicely formatted, all assumptions contained as well as all the progress made in the older question/s (including a link to those questions)", rather subjective criteria, or your abilities to do so; "Earn all the upvotes to this new question" (assuming you get "all the upvotes"?) and the post hasn't in the meantime been closed as a dupe of a question with an accepted answer(s). "Once sufficiently answered, close all earlier such questions as" dupes of my post. How would you or other users when the post is sufficiently answered. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 11 '17 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ If the question has been asked earlier, and answered by upvoted answer(s), and you think your question is better asked, then ask mods to merge those answers with any you get. Only then would I consider this proposal valid. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 11 '17 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ If you find a question that might be better phrased, that has an accepted or upvoted answer, then edit the question. But I think you step over the line, if you regularly search for questions you think you could ask "better", which you think you could take credit for by re-asking what you think is "an improvement of some other question, hoping for upvotes, then wait for answers, and attempt to close other questions, and do this repeatedly, then any upvotes you receive are unearned. Stand up and do the right thing, if you think questions can be improved, by editing them. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 11 '17 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ If any such "new (reposted question that is "better"), I'd be okay if they were made community wiki. Good idea. But I still if other questions were answered and accepted/upvoted, they earn company among any newly given answers (merging?) $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 11 '17 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak That's a big difference, reasking what could be a good question, when the question has been deleted, seems very different to me, and more agreeable than what is being proposed here. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Oct 11 '17 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ Try not to leave that question, either edit the question and make it better, or vote to close the question. If that question is really as bad as you described, something has to done with that question. $\endgroup$ – user99914 Oct 11 '17 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I do not understand most of your concerns! How is "all assumptions included" subjective? A question can only be closed as a dupe of another when the other question has an accepted answer, which it has not as I said. I do not understand the last concern of your first comment. To your second comment: I said, no answer was a complete result, maybe because no sufficiently knowledgable user was attracted by the post. You are right about "merging" but I am not sufficiently familiar with what this means for the question. So no opinion here. $\endgroup$ – M. Winter Oct 12 '17 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I agree that editing should always be the first option. But many user (including myself) vote for nicely asked question rather than (only) for interesting ones. A complete rewrite of the question might even leave OP unfamiliar with his own question. I think this goes beyond what an edit should do. Also there could go much effort in such a reformulation, including designing images etc. Do I see it correctly that you think that the idea of the question is worth to vote on, the formatting is not so much? $\endgroup$ – M. Winter Oct 12 '17 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ Could you clarify this: Even some close-votes for "unclear what you are asking". If it is not entirely hypothetical situation, if the close votes are still visible, the question is not that old. (The close votes age and if question is not closed, they are eventually removed. I am not sure about the exact timeframe, I think it is less than a month.) So when you wrote this, do you mean that the close-votes are still visible or that you remember them from the time when the question was posted? I am asking mainly because age of the question might be a factor, too. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 13 '17 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak Lets say the question is between 2 and 4 weeks old and either there are still close votes or I remember them and that OP did nothing about it. Is this what is called an abandoned question? My intention is to get the problem solved or bring attention to this interesting problem. I know, maybe a bounty would do it. What if, and this is separat from my question above, I feel like OP does not deserve reputation for such little effort he put into it? When merging or closing questions, will a moderator etc. pay attention to the quality of each post or just which was first? $\endgroup$ – M. Winter Oct 13 '17 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ On occasion I had edited (carefully avoiding treading on toes) with a request to OP to feel free to it roll back if not felt as ok and that was often seen helpful. Initiative for changes in question posing by higher reputation members are welcome. $\endgroup$ – Narasimham Oct 15 '17 at 20:48
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It depends.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question—as the extensive discussion in comments illustrates.

However, I can address the points you raise one by one and explain how they do or don't factor into whether this is an acceptable or advisable course of action.

  • It was poorly written (e.g. language, formatting, missing assumptions).

Doesn't matter much by itself. If the question was understandable and was understood, or if it was ignored because of the bad formatting but you understood it just fine, you should edit it. And perhaps comment on it as well.

If your question is inspired by it but is substantially different or far more complete a question, then of course just ask your new and different question, and link to the original one.

  • It was posted many day ago but got only a few views.

A few days is not a very long time. It's certainly not enough to consider the post has been abandoned.

If a question was posted two years ago and seems unclear, abandoned, already been discussed, then of course go ahead and post a new question.

You can also check the "last seen" time on the asker's profile, to see if he/she is still around.

  • It received some comments which admonish to clarify the question. Even some close-votes for "unclear what you are asking". The OP seems to have lost interest in the question at all or does at least not change any significant part. However, once understood, it is actually an interesting and non-trivial problem.

If the question is only a few days old, edit to salvage, even if it's a huge rewrite that only preserves the nugget of the question and all the wording is different. If it's not your question and you only came upon this very interesting and non-trivial problem because of the original asker, then he/she deserves some credit even if in need of some linguistic assistance.

  • It received some answers, but neither solved it completely but just gave some ideas and observations, or was itself poorly written so that most readers will not understand the problem better after reading it. Also no answer was accepted.

This may also be a case where a bounty could be appropriate. And, on this site which has such an active chatroom, it could also be a good idea to bring it up in chat (after editing the question so it's worth reading and is clear).

Everything under the assumption that editing the older question to make it fit the requirements for a "good question" is out of scope without maybe going over the top of what the OP could have done/understood. In the end, I am earning the upvotes for my effort to phrase/format it nicely. Or is it like stealing the question because we mainly upvote for interesting problems?

This is the crux of the question. It's almost entirely a judgment call. My main criterion would be the age of the question, with its unclarity a close second.

I personally think that, providing the user asked in good faith and wasn't rudely rejecting any requests for clarification (which could get ugly in other ways), you should acknowledge and upvote the interesting problem and edit it so it's clear.

You won't earn upvotes, but you might earn the Strunk & White badge or even Copy Editor. ;) If it's old (6 months+), there are other badges you can earn. And if you edit and answer it, and your answer is good, there are still other badges you can earn.

In short, don't worry too much about the upvotes on this question. If you conduct yourself in the way that is best for the site, you will likely come out ahead.

(This isn't always the case that "altruism pays," but in this case it is the certainly the correct way to judge the situation.)

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your response :) It certainly gives good guidelines! And I realized that I may have acted in a similar way in the past. $\endgroup$ – M. Winter Oct 17 '17 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ +1 I tell my students that every interesting question has the same answer: "it depends". If it doesn't depend then the answer is straightforward, even if not obvious. That means the question is a lot less interesting. I do understand that this stretches the meaning of "interesting". $\endgroup$ – Ethan Bolker Oct 21 '17 at 13:38

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