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I recently encountered a low-quality question that I am interested in. I'm not going to link to the question because I don't want to single out the author or attract attention to it and cause it to be closed more quickly than it would otherwise be.

This question appears to be a fairly typical problem set question without supporting work to show what the asker has done already or specific details about what they don't understand.

For me, specifically, as someone learning math as a hobby outside of school, problem-set-style questions that I can solve in an inefficient way or can understand but not solve are very interesting since they are in my zone of proximal development.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that the problem set question is not a duplicate of any previous question or a duplicate-via-specialization of a more general question.

The problem that I run into is this:

  1. You can't answer a low-quality question. This encourages low-quality questions.
  2. Questions are not supposed to be a community effort, so you can't insert enough supporting work or context to make the question stand on its own. A question, at least a basic one, is supposed to come from the mind of a single person. Fixing a question yourself too aggressively also skews the incentives since it gives an initially-bad question a path to getting an answer.

What I usually do now is just follow the question and watch to see if the hints that knowledgeable people give to help the asker improve the question are consistent with what I think the solution method is. And if they are not, I look up the keywords they use to try to understand what they are talking about.

However, a more-or-less complete question and answer for that problem set question would have been more valuable to me, and potentially to others in a similar situation to me.

I'm curious if there's another path here, like, for example, waiting two weeks, asking the question yourself and linking to the old question and asking the old question to be duped forward into your own.

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    $\begingroup$ You should check the guidelines for context edits and rewrites. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Dec 24, 2022 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ParamanandSingh Interesting. I have not seen that post before thanks. Is there a process for salvaging a question that attracted zero answers during its lifetime? Based on reading that post a few times, it seems like only closed questions with good answers are eligible for a rewrite. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ The reason for the policy linked in my comment was to preserve existing high quality answers. Just preserving a poor question (but say a very interesting mathematical problem) does not make much sense. There is an option of self answering but self answered questions are generally put to higher scrutiny by users and reviewers here. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Dec 24, 2022 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Here is a question which was based on a poor question (which got deleted) and it received good response (I have an answer there so I could search it easily). This is supposed to be an example and users shouldn't vote on that thread based on their opinion of this current meta post. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Dec 24, 2022 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @GregNisbet If you haven't seen that post before, then do consider linking it in comments to any post you wish to see improved. Also see Guidelines for context edits and rewrites and My own experiences in rescue. Personally : following the question (by using the "Follow" feature, that is) and writing your own question after seeing the previous one through to closure is good. The situation you are in comes up very often (to the extent that I expect a dupe candidate here). $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ Another option is to converse with the OP , hope that context is generated in the comments, and then request them to lift it to the main post. That is not an option which scales well (i.e. everybody can't do it all the time, it wouldn't work because OPs need to respond) but it can work on one-off occasions. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ If attempts to engage the OP productively are unfruitful, you can post the question yourself, adding the appropriate effort and context...link to the original question, of course. To be sure, this doesn't work in cases where you might suspect the OP is posting a question from a live competition or the like. In that, frustrating, case I don't think there's much to be done. $\endgroup$
    – lulu
    Dec 24, 2022 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ @lulu I think your comment here could be an answer (that I would happily upvote). $\endgroup$
    – Mark S.
    Dec 24, 2022 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Paramanand Singh: Here is another such question, which also got deleted. In this case the question was closed after an answer appeared. I liked the answer, writing "(+1) for an example that doesn't require going to higher dimensions!", and afterwards when the question was closed (poor quality), I was asked to consider adding more context, which I did, after which (see various comments) I ran afoul of the issue (that I hadn't realized was as strict as it seems to be) of over-modification of the OP's original question. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2022 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, the question I cited is closed for having an answer elsewhere (and I'm pretty sure this was only discovered after my posting a link to that other question in my revision, but this is beside the point), which it does, but that other question is much broader in scope and the answer to the current question is buried within the answers to that other question. Before learning how strict the rules for question modification are, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a separate question that directly addressed what the OP had asked. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2022 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveL.Renfro In my opinion, that question is almost unsalvageable. It's just asking for any kind of relation between $\pi^2$ and "geometry", which is an extremely broad term. Plus , by including the high-dimensional examples, the edited post gave me the presumption that the author hasn't seen much geometry but has seen plenty of integration and infinite sums : something the unedited post doesn't indicate. That's why I believe that context edits should primarily come out of author comments : an online link to a mentioned source is useful, but I understand the comments there. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2022 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @DaveL.Renfro: I checked the linked thread and I think the question may arise genuinely out of curiosity on part of some user and the answer given is rather smart (at least I couldn't think of it). Thus there is a case to preserve the thread. In such scenario the asker should provide details of their thought process which led to the question and some information on their mathematical background may help. But such details can't be provided by someone else. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Dec 26, 2022 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DaveL.Renfro: Fortunately the dupe target also arises out of curiosity and is well received and contains the same answer so the situation is not that bad. IMHO the dupe target should have helped the asker to some extent. However what is discomforting is the utter lack of any response via comments from asker. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Dec 26, 2022 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveL.Renfro I raised a related issue in a recent question: you posting the link to the other question only resulted in the question being closed as a duplicate and any nuance distinguishing the two questions being lost. The OP not speaking up is unfortunate but this is precisely why other people should be able to do something to salvage the question from closure, e.g. add more context to the question to highlight the differences which is exactly what you tried to do. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2022 at 22:15

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Ask a high-quality question of your own. Provide all the context, motivation, and background that should be provided to make your question of high quality. Be good about responding to any comments that people might leave on your question.

While you can wait if you want, there is no requirement to wait to do that. You can post your question immediately. If your question gets answered, vote to close the other as a duplicate of yours.

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    $\begingroup$ I hear where you're coming from, but this strikes me as kind of unfair to the original asker. If we do this, they're getting a worse outcome (question closed as duplicate) because their question was interesting; it just failed to clear enough of the Stack Exchange hurdles. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2022 at 6:10
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    $\begingroup$ @GregNisbet, Our purpose is to advance the mission of the site -- specifically, to build a high-quality archive of knowledge, in the form of questions and answers. I believe this is the best way to advance the mission, and so I don't see any problem with it. I also don't see it as unfair. I don't see how they get a worse outcome. Their question will only be closed as a duplicate if your question is answered: so if their question gets closed as a duplicate, that means they are getting an answer to their question, which they should be thrilled about. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Dec 27, 2022 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with Greg. At the very least, credit should be given to the original asker, without which, you, nor anyone else would even think to ask their question in another post, to get credit for the question, and invariably, the answer they want to post. I think the work around posted here is at minimum, dishonest, and it only accommodates users who feel jipped for wanting to answer the initial PSQ posted. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Dec 27, 2022 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy, If this site had a culture that was welcoming of edits, like most Stack Exchange sites, then a better solution would be to edit the original post. But this site discourages those kinds of edits. I think that's a mistake, one with unfortunate consequences, but my proposal is a work-around for that unfortunate policy. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Dec 27, 2022 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ If this site had a culture that didn't aid and abet users by doing their homework for them, and editing their questions to say what they didn't say to start, we;d all be better off, @D.W. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Dec 28, 2022 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question lacking context should first be closed for that reason before the new question is created. Also, due credit has to be given to the author of the first post, even if their question is deleted eventually. Finally, I don't think that questions which are unclear ("needs details"), broad or opinion based should be edited to salvage them : this almost always leads to the original question being obfuscated. Context addition should be reserved for situations where the question is completely clear, but lacking context, and only that. That isn't the case in this question. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2022 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it just be closed as a duplicate of the original low-quality question? $\endgroup$
    – David Lui
    Dec 31, 2022 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidLui, no, it's not that simple. It's complicated. First, people (other than diamond moderators) can only vote to close as a dup of a question that has answers, so if one is answered and one is not, the one with answers will be the dup target. Second, I would hope that, to the extent it is possible, people would use their judgement in voting to close and vote to close the low-quality question as a dup of the high-quality question (rather than the other way around). $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Jan 1, 2023 at 1:24
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    $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer, it sounds like you and I have different perspectives on this, and I doubt that you and I are going to resolve our differences of opinion, so I would recommend that you write a separate answer with your advice and answer to the question that was asked. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Jan 1, 2023 at 1:25

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